I Charged For An Award Booking

I’ve written in the past about how frustrating it is to offer help to people who don’t appreciate it.

And for awhile I became disenchanted with doing the legwork for all of the folks contacting me that I didn’t know, whose awards I would make possible, but whom I would never hear back from with even a simple thank you. (Frankly, if I help a party of four book premium award tickets to Asia, a “hey, can I send you a nice bottle of wine?” might be an appropriate response.)

I think readers of this blog will agree that I give away plenty of information for free. There’s very little that I know that is truly ‘secret’ or unique to me, though some certainly has been. I’ve just accumulated knowledge and through practice have learned how to use it. I like to share that.

But the real legwork — “can you find me an award on x date for y people on z dates using m miles” — that’s quite a bit of effort, it isn’t just pointing someone to a past discussion of how to do it themselves. And truthfully not everyone wants or needs to learn how to do it for themselves.

I’m happy to do it. I enjoy doing it. And I can make the process easy and lucrative for someone without the knowledge on their own.

So I decided to charge for my soup-to-nuts award bookings. And I just completed one for a very satisfied customer. Pricing was $150 for the first passenger, $100 each additional passenger on substantially the same trip (because as many of you know, finding more seats on the same flights really limits options and increases the amount of effort in finding the seats).

They had plenty of Amex points and at first were undecided between an open jaw Europe trip in late spring for a cruise versus an open jaw Australia/South Asia trip in winter for a cruise. It was a group of 4 passengers, and I presented them with options for each — all first class, all business, and 2 passengers in first/2 in business (as they were working through what sorts of travel they most wanted to do for their miles).

In the end, the amount of time they wanted to take off work for the trip fairly well dictated Europe, and the short hop across the pond led them to choose business for fewer miles rather than splurging on first. We added a stopover to their open jaw to see a new city, kept all four passengers together on all flights, and the specific itinerary booked would have priced at $7800 apiece. Instead they spent a few miles and some modest taxes, plus an average per person fee of $112.50 to me.

Once I had their approval on the itinerary, I handled the points transfer and I made the award booking for them, and I spoke to the operating carriers to obtain the best possible seats. I’d have assisted with hotel stays too (for while they’re not on their cruise) but they were happy to do this on their own.

And I have to admit, I feel good.  It really seems that folks appreciate it more when it’s a service they’re paying for, rather than just advice from someone they don’t know on the internet.  I was able to provide a full integrated start-to-finish service.  And I was paid modestly for doing so.  And that helped put the fun back in it for me!

So anyone out there wondering how best to use their American Express points, their hotel points, or their other airline frequent flyer miles — and really just wish someone coud take the hassle away from them and manage the whole process start to finish, just send me an email.

I’ll work to understand your needs and come up with the best possible itinerary to meet those needs, advise you on the best airline products you can enjoy for the trip, and deliver you your award tickets.

For folks who find it hard to find seats, it isn’t just saving the frustration of the process (which for many is worth the price alone), it’s about making possible an $8000 or $20,000 (retail) airline ticket instead of using many more points for the same ticket or redeeming points at a penny or two apiece for coach flights.

In the past I have saved my corespondents hundreds of thousands of miles, showing them how to get ‘saver’ inventory when they were going to pay double miles and showing folks which airline programs to use to spend fewer miles on the same trip while getting a nicer airline product to use in the process (eg three passengers JFK-LHR roundtrip in Virgin Upper Class for 63,000 miles apiece rather than Continental business class for 100,000).

I’ll still offer the same advice I always have, here on this blog.  Now I’ll just offer a value-added service of making your bookings for you.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. hmmm, interesting ! You are telling the IRS about these profits, eh?

    It does seem like a good nitch bussiness for a travel agent. I bet most agents would laugh at the idea of finding deals with flier miles. Or if they did take on the task, not do a very good job of it.

  2. Gary I will be refering my readers that ask me for that service to you.

    Personally, I’d rather teach someone to fish, than hand them one.

    Best of luck with your endeavor.


  3. @jerry, I live in fear of the IRS, I report all my income.

    @rick, some people want to learn to fish, others prefer to buy theirs at the fish market. I will continue to offer lessons (public lessons free, perhaps I should charge for private tutorials?). But the catch of the day has a price 🙂

  4. Gary – 3 quick and somewhat random questions:

    1. Mainly out of curiosity, how do you go from offering advice to offering a paid service? ie. did you bring up the idea of doing this for the traveler for a fee, or did they offer first?

    2. Does your fee cover your time? For complex awards, you are going to spend at least a couple of hours on them, if not more, right? Is there a trick for speed / automation? I would imagine you will need to find a way to scale up as your customer list grows?

    3. I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of trust involved here. You are providing this end-to-end, right? (ie. you don’t stop at ‘here is your itinerary and routing, now call the airline to book it’, you get the tickets issued). If so, I would think the traveler will need to provide their names, address, mileage account login information, credit cards, maybe passports? Is there a way around that, that will allow you to deal with a broader audience? Or would you envision this being a referral-based offering where trust is easier?

  5. @AS,

    1. I actually offered some specific suggestions for the award, and then said I have started to charge for a more comprehensive booking service and mentioned the price, suggested they let me know if they were interested.

    2. I do have tricks that speed it up. But my time is actually rather pricey. Still, I enjoy the process and the challenge. and I’ve done much of the work free in the past, so the price here is better than nothing 🙂

    3. This does involve trust if you want me to make the actual booking, involving frequent flyer account and credit card info. But Google me a bit and you’ll see I’m pretty easy to track down, have a reputation, you can probably trust me if you choose to 🙂

  6. Gary,

    Good for you. You have a fantastic blog & I can personally say the service you offer is second to none. Bravo!

    – Mike

  7. First, if I do this for someone and they don’t even say a heart felt THANK YOU, bam, it never happens again – nuff said. I would usually expect a bottle of a nice wine, or a nice restaurant gift card. So, if that has happened before and you’ve continued to do it, you are more of a saint than I already thought.

    I like the idea of charging someone for this, we all know how much time, effort and IP it takes. But, I would have a hard time hitting up family, parents in law, good friends, etc. And of course, these people ALWAYS contact me know I can find them the deal.

  8. I just read your previous entry and am astonished that, after you helped people book stunningly complex trips, the only thing you got was “thx.”


    Unfortunately, that’s where we are as a society: No manners or appreciation for others.

    Let me tell you, I’m going to be booking my first major international trip next year, and was going to bug you about help, and you’d better be damn sure you’ll get more than a “thx” from me. I’m appalled at some people.

    A nice bottle of wine, a nice gift card, 10,000 Starwood points, give SOMETHING better than “thx.”

    Gleff, you provide a service. Even to perfect strangers like myself. It is appreciated.

  9. I, too, have helped many people in my field without so much as a thank you. Not to stereotype but it seems that younger people like those I have helped find jobs out of college are the worst offenders. I think your solution is a good one – I find myself pulling back and not not being as welling to respond to colleagues.

  10. Gary

    You REALLY helped me! I paid a membership fee to that other club that helps and they couldn’t find anything.

    You helped book my Mother a First to BKK on SQ, TG, and OZ all in F!

    Thanks so much

    I’d gladly pay again!


  11. Bully for you for getting some compensation! I know how much time it takes to find travel deals and as such only do it for family and close friends. I’m not skilled enough to start charging yet but it’s nice to know there’s help out there if needed. I liked the “catch of the day” reference.

  12. Perhaps the best thing about charging is the added presumption that your clients are SERIOUS about booking travel. Like many folks reading your blog, I help lots of friends and family with their travel arrangements. Nothing annoys me more than tracking down a suitable deal and then having my friend or family member decide not to travel! I’ve actually thought of telling folks that I will help them for free, but if they decide not to go, then they have to pay me. I haven’t yet gotten up the nerve to do this to people I know. But it’s coming!

  13. Please contact me about signing up for a FF program for my children – don’t worry I will say thank you or pay you whatever is fair!! I got your contact details from The Travel Advisor.

    Thanks, LH


  14. Dear Gary,
    please contact me about your service asap. I am planning a trip to Europe (Spain, Italy) in May 2009 and would like to book some business or first class tix. Thanks Charlie

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