Accumulating reward points and miles is getting easier, especially if you take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses. But keeping track and redeeming them? That can be challenging, which is probably why websites for organizing and tracking miles have become so popular. For a price, some also offer tools to help you get more bang for your reward buck.
A look at two of the best reward-tracking sites and how they work:
AwardWallet tracks nearly 26 billion points and miles across more than 500 airline, hotel, retail, car rental, and credit card loyalty programs. As of this month, the program has more than 114,000 active members.
Free version: Registering for AwardWallet allows you to enter your login to any of the site's partner loyalty programs. Your points and miles—and those of family members—will be automatically tracked, so that each time you log in, you'll see the current balance. You can also enter and share travel plans.
For a price: Registering free gets you three months of AwardWallet Plus membership. You're then automatically downgraded to limited access, unless you pony up for another six months (tip: or use the code free-fdzgxo or GoBack6mo). Paid membership gets you OneCard, a plastic card with a magnetic strip listing up to 30 loyalty programs that you can swipe at airport kiosks to check in for flights. It also allows access to extra reward account properties, lets you export reward balances to Excel, and chart the history of your account balances.
Worth paying? If you don't travel that often but have award points scattered around, help with organization may be all you need—and that part is free. If you have many points in many programs, it may be worth $10 every six months to have AwardWallet alert you when a loyalty program account balance is about to expire, like those miles that expire if you don't fly on the airline (or use your miles) for 18 months. Either way, you can try out those features before you buy.
Note: AwardWallet depends on cooperation from the loyalty programs it represents. A couple major airlines have denied access—including American Airlines, Southwest and, most recently, Delta—causing concern that other airlines will follow suit. To date, you can still track miles on United, US Airways, Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, and Virgin.
ExpertFlyer is another popular site for frequent flyers. If you want access to the best seats available on a flight, this site may prove helpful.
Free version: Allows you to check all available seats. Got stuck with a middle seat? You can set up seat alerts that will let you know the minute an aisle or window becomes available. ExpertFlyer claims 74 percent of members get better seats.
For a price: If you have generic travel points or miles in more than one frequent flyer program, a $5/month subscription gives you limited access to available award seats and upgrades on more than 400 airlines and lets you compare options on different airlines flying similar routes. For serious flyers, $10/month allows unlimited access to award seating deals, allows you to track changes and award-seat availability for up to 30 flight segments, and archive flight queries for future use.
Worth paying? If you fly enough (or nearly enough) to qualify for elite status, a basic subscription will probably pay for itself in access to upgrades. If you don't fly that much, stick with the free seat alerts. As of August, you can get seat alerts via iPhone or iPad so you're never out of the loop, even on the fly.
Which is best for you? AwardWallet is a great, user-friendly organizational tool for tracking all your reward points at a glance—unless the most important ones aren't listed. If your miles are with Delta or American and you're interested in seat upgrades, ExpertFlyer may prove more useful.
Fodors.com contributor Cathleen McCarthy is the rewards expert for CreditCards.com and covers entertainment and travel deals on her own network, Save on Cities. Her stories have appeared in The Washington Post, WSJ, Amtrak ARRIVE, Town & Country, and inflight magazines.
Photo credit: Credit cards via Shutterstock