Reader J. Clifton asked,
What is a good way for someone to get into award booking? After getting involved in this hobby, I’ve thought it might be a fun way to earn some extra money.
I’m a big fan of developing multiple income streams, don’t quit your day job but trading idle time for a side business can really make a difference at the margin.
And one way to know what skills you have that could be marketable is to ask what questions are people always asking you, or things they’re asking you for help with?
If one of those things is how to use their miles and points, you may have a market.
Do go in knowing though that:
- It’s actually harder than you’d think with all the possible problems you can encounter
- There’s a lot of competition in the space
- It’s hard work and difficult to scale
And have a point of view on what you will do if:
- You have someone transfer points, and the seats they wanted become unavailable? Or if the website you searched space on was showing phantom availability?
- You aren’t careful and suggest a routing that actually violate’s a carrier’s routing rules?
- A ticketed award gets screwed up — maybe a flight cancellation happens, and the issuing carrier doesn’t notify the traveler or you? or a flight number changes, the ticket doesn’t get auto-reissued, and the space gets cancelled?
- You present an itinerary to a client that you get approved, but it was connecting — and they also specified non-stop only — and now they’re unhappy?
- You’re dealing with miles in a program that won’t speak to you — and will only talk to the client?
There can be innumerable frustrations along the way, clients who don’t like what seem like perfect itineraries or people searching for awards but not ready to actually pull the trigger when you find exactly what you’ve asked for. And you may present an itinerary only for them to go off and book things on their own.
All of these scenarios are things you need to think through because they can happen. I’ve always taken the view that I only want happy clients, and don’t take money until we’ve been able to come up with an award itinerary that meets agreed-upon parameters. And I don’t sweat the small stuff, if overall you come out ahead then if a given itinerary doesn’t make someone happy when it should so be it.
I’ve also on more than one occasion ‘made itineraries right’ when I probably didn’t have to, and spent many hours escalating things with airlines on behalf of clients.
People often come to me as well wanting me to push the envelope on what programs allow, or to buy or sell miles. And while there are itinerary tricks I might pursue for friends, I will not break airline rules for compensation, period. That’s a line I draw and I think everyone needs to think through their own lines as well.
There are also clients I don’t really want to work for. I declined to book an award for a woman to take her 8 year old daughter to Iran and leave her there. I don’t especially want to book for folks that already have awards and want to get rebooked to save on taxes and fees — a legitimate pursuit, but I prefer my time to focus on making travel possible not merely helping people improve at the margin. I like it when people feel the service fee is the best money they’ve ever spent, something I hear often.
Point is: it’s hard to get into this space and do it well, precisely because award booking can be hard (hence the existence of these services in the first place) and because you’re depending on airlines whose agents and systems are of variable quality but the whole point of the service is for you to take these vagaries out of the equation on behalf of the client.
If you’re prepared to do this, and you’re experienced in booking awards enough to do this, then you face myriad competition from established players in the space — folks like Lucky from One Mile at a Time and Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly (not to mention me and my award booking partner Steve).
Nonetheless, it’s incredibly enriching to help people make their dream trips come true — to give them something that they would never have been able to experience on their own. The honeymoons, the 25th anniversaries, the dream trips and family vacations and the trips abroad to adopt a child. Award booking can be incredibly enriching.
The way I got started was that I frequently get requests for help because of the blog, and I would pull up awards for folks regularly, I was asked for a bit more hands on help one day and nearly six years ago I decided to charge. Then I spun up a website. And it was early on and I managed to catch the attention of some media and got exposure.
I can’t tell you how to get started other than to spin up a simple website yourself, and to start charging the people that already ask you for help. And to ask them to spread the word.