According to the 2011 Loyalty Census survey by Colloquy Research, the members of an average American household are thought to, between them, belong to an astonishing 18 different customer loyalty programs.
Maybe this isn’t so surprising when you consider that there are known to be in excess of 1,000 loyalty programs available for Americans to join, and the actual total is thought to be ‘thousands and thousands’ although no-one really knows because there’s no formal way of counting them all.
Keeping track of all the different programs you, your spouse, your children and your parents belong to, keeping track of their point/mile balances (and possibly expirations), and also keeping abreast of the various different incentives that the different programs come out with from time to time has become a close to full-time task and one which few of us optimize, potentially wasting substantial bonuses and benefits.
How many loyalty programs do you and the others in your family belong to? Think not just of frequent flier programs, but also other travel programs such as rental car and hotel programs. Then add in store loyalty programs too, and you’re probably already in the double digits. Now add in the new ‘daily deal’ type programs, restaurant programs, and so on. Then think of others you’ve not joined because it is just too much bother to add another program to the list, which is already too full for you to adequately manage and keep on top of.
If you’re like me, you may find yourself now refusing to join new programs, even when they are free and offer tangible benefits, just because you’re already overloaded with too many programs.
Computers and Websites to the Rescue
Various computer programs and internet sites have made half-hearted stabs at providing a centralized manager for some of your different programs and points, but until now none have come close to truly being a comprehensive service that can help you handle all your programs.
Perhaps the grand daddy of all these programs is Randy Petersen’s Mileage Manager program. As you probably know, Randy Petersen is generally regarded as the ultimate guru when it comes to anything and everything to do with frequent flier programs, and has several very popular websites such as Flyertalk.com.
So it is reasonable to view his mileage managing program as the sine qua non of such things. His service helps you consolidate information from some 80 different loyalty programs, and is priced at $15/year. There are other products from a number of other companies too, with pricing ranging from as low as free up to considerably more than the $15/year asked for Mileage Manager.
A new company has now emerged, and it is actually the company that anonymously provides the back-end for Randy’s Mileage Manager service, and it also has Randy as a strategic partner and one of their Advisory Board members.
The company is UsingMiles.com, and is impressively headed up by Jon Nordmark, the guy who for ten years helmed eBags, and who was instrumental in many of its pioneering developments in the ecommerce world.
Add together two pre-eminent experts in their fields such as Randy Petersen and Jon Nordmark, and a decent dollop of VC funding, and the net result is UsingMiles.com – a site and service that is already impressive, and which is getting better every week, quite literally so.
We say that it is getting better every week because currently the service supports 210 different loyalty programs, and each week is adding another 5 – 10 additional programs. It also currently has more than 16.2 billion miles and points under management for its members, and that number is growing rapidly too (this time last week it was 15.9 billion).
What UsingMiles Does
The service does many different things, all funneled through an integrated ‘dashboard’ that presents you with the key vitals of all your different memberships in the one place.
It automatically goes and talks to your membership sites to get your updated account information, point balances, and so on, plus also pulls up any warnings about expiring miles. It also checks for any specials and bonuses and other deals relevant to your programs and advises you of those, too.
If you are booking air tickets or hotel stays, the system will sometimes (but not always) tell you about both regular fares and mileage award travel opportunities. It will soon add a rental car booking feature too.
This is one of its strongest features – integrating award earning/redeeming/special offer type information in with your regular information returned from an air or hotel availability request. We all know that sometimes the lowest/cheapest result isn’t the best one for us, especially if making a different choice for only a few dollars more refreshes the expiration date on a bunch of miles, or gets us a double bonus offer, or pushes us over the top of an annual elite qualifying requirement.
If you have a favorite booking/search engine for your travel arrangements, it may offer to pop that up too (ie currently Expedia, Priceline, Fly.com, Dealbase and sometimes Kayak).
The service doesn’t rely only on you to ‘wake it up’. It will automatically send you email alerts when your miles or points in any program get close to expiration. And it is clever enough to realize you probably need more advance notice for potentially expiring miles than you do for potentially expiring points in, eg, the Best Buy program.
What UsingMiles Doesn’t Do
Unfortunately, American Airlines has chosen to block all third-party programs from accessing Aadvantage program information. So neither UsingMiles nor any of the other similar companies/services out there can automatically track your Aadvantage miles. Similar restrictions apply with Southwest and Delta too. UsingMiles says ‘we are very close to reaching an agreement with American and are in very friendly discussions with Delta’. So hopefully two of these three holdouts will soon be on-board.
UsingMiles also can’t provide award inventory for every airline out there. It says it can provide information about award seat availability ‘for at least 16 major airlines’.
Those are the two areas where UsingMiles is obviously less than ideal, and we say this not to criticize the service (because all others suffer from a similar limitation) but to indicate, in general, what all such services can and can’t do.
One could also perhaps say that UsingMiles can’t help you if you belong to programs which aren’t numbered among the 210+ they currently (late October 2012) support. (Update, 9 Nov – now they are at 236 programs.) As the numbers suggest, they are adding another 5 – 10 programs each week, and if there are programs you want added, you can request them; an act which may bump programs up the priority list as more and more members ask for them.
UsingMiles says they are working through a list of 500 additional programs at present. No doubt by the time they’ve finished that, there’ll be another 500 more programs on their list!
Currently the system is primarily designed for a regular computer interface. It does work on portable and mobile devices too, of course. In addition, they will shortly be releasing custom designed apps for Android (early November) and iOS (December) making the mobile experience even more convenient.
Further down the track, but also on the development roadmap, is a plan to add card images to the mobile programs, so instead of having a membership card scanned, you can have an image on your phone scanned (for programs with bar coding on their membership cards).
As I created and started using my membership, I had a couple of challenges. Unfortunately the site doesn’t have phone support, but each of my two emails were answered sensibly and in good English within an hour or so, making it almost as good as phone support.
Special Premium Membership Free to Travel Insider Supporters
And now, leaving the best until last, UsingMiles is offering all Travel Insider Supporters who have contributed $30 or more in 2013 a free lifetime premium level membership – something you’d otherwise pay $30/year for.
They do this because they are keen to grow their marketplace presence, and are keen to develop a core of active and intelligent users, and where better to find them than in the august ranks of Travel Insider supporters! Oh, I guess they’re also pleased to help encourage you to support The Travel Insider too. 🙂
If you’ve not already supported us this year, you can go here to send in any amount you like, and assuming it is $30 or more, we’ll send out details on how you can get your free membership. No matter what your thoughts are about the Travel Insider, spending $30 once to get a $30 value this year, and then continuing to get the same $30 value each year into the future, at no further cost to you, is surely a heck of a deal that doesn’t require a great deal of consideration. Oh, and there are two other benefits you get as a $30 supporter, too…..
If you don’t want to spend any money at all, there’s still a solution for you. Unlike some of its competitors, who only have fee based services, the UsingMiles service has a very good free service too that does most of the same things their premium service does – you can see a feature comparison list here. So if you’d rather not spend a single penny, you can join for free, and if you like it, maybe you’ll subsequently choose to become a Travel Insider Supporter so as to then get a lifetime premium membership for free.
Good for All the Family
There is no need for each person in your family to sign up for their own individual UsingMiles membership (although there’s no reason why they couldn’t do this with the free Travel Insider membership offer currently available).
However, many people will find it most convenient to concentrate everyone’s miles in the one place, through a single UsingMiles account, and then simply creating multiple sets of loyalty program memberships within that account.
That way, when you are perhaps booking a weekend away for you and your spouse, you can see the state of both of your frequent flier accounts and maybe discover that your spouse has enough miles to buy the flights for both of you!
It is also helpful to be able to keep track of the status of miles and other things for younger children in your family, all from the one account, rather than needing to log in to multiple accounts sequentially.
My sense is that UsingMiles has a lot of exciting enhancements to their product. Frankly, there are some rough edges to it at present – I encountered a number of logic bugs and minor issues while exploring around its system.
But based on their responsive replies to my emails, and based on their senior leadership, and most of all, based on their free offer to Travel Insider Supporters, I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of their current product, and I’m excited about some of the new things shortly to be released, some of which I’ve been given sneak previews of already.
Summary – UsingMiles
This service is a great example of using computers the way they should be used – to collate and manage data.
If you already belong to a similar program, you know some of the good things they can do for you. Why not try the UsingMiles service to see if its dashboard approach and its added value items prove to be even more user-friendly and helpful than the service you’re using at present.
And if you’ve not used any of these programs before, why not try UsingMiles and see if you too can quickly recognize and enjoy the benefits it offers. You can join entirely for free direct from their site and get most of the functionality you’d get as a premium member; and if you are (or now become) a Travel Insider Supporter, you’ll be given details on how to get a lifetime premium membership completely for free.