travellers find the sheer volume of online booking tools to be overwhelming. So
this is the third in a month-long series that highlights a
handful of websites that will change the travel game in 2013. Previous posts
were on GetGoing and Flightfox.
metasearch websites, including Kayak and Skyscanner, search for aeroplane tickets from
multiple sources, sorting the results by cheapest first. Yet the most
affordable fare might not be the most valuable one if you take into account the
miles and related bonuses you could earn by flying a different airline.
November 2011, the US-headquartered metasearch site Superfly lists airfares in order of “net
value” – basically the cost of the ticket minus the cash value of the miles
you could earn and someday redeem for rewards, such as free flights, seat
upgrades and status upgrades.
covers more than 100 loyalty programmes run by airlines, credit cards, hotel
chains, train lines and car hire companies worldwide, and, after you sign up,
takes into account your current mileage balances, so each user will see
different search results based on their differing travel histories and
to make its calculations, Superfly doesn’t just count the number of miles a
flight crosses, but also accounts for the weird quirks of frequent flyer
instance, people who have status in a major loyalty programme typically benefit
from a greater redemption value on the miles they collect – a factor, or “multiplier”, that Superfly
considers when determining net value. Similarly, if you’re buying a first or
business class seat, Superfly will account for each airline’s mileage bonus for
that type of ticket. That said, you only see potential reward opportunities for
programmes you belong to, and in all of its calculations, the site assumes you will
fly often enough to eventually earn rewards.
searching for a direct flight in May between Chicago and London, and Superfly
finds tickets that are the same price, $934, on British Airways and United – two programs
where you have the same mileage balance and no status level. While each
flight is the same number of miles and costs the same, one could prove more
rewarding if it were on an airline that makes it easier to redeem the miles for
a free flight, a seat upgrade or a status upgrade.
On a recent
test search for this ticket, Superfly estimated that United’s miles were worth
$118 in eventual rewards, reducing the United ticket to a net value of $816.
Meanwhile it predicted that British Airways’ miles would be worth only $59 in
rewards, creating a net value of $875.
route, the British Airways ticket isn’t as valuable because the carrier
requires more miles than United does to reach a status level that leads to cash-equivalent
Flaws that need fixing
doesn’t let you see any airfares until you create an account, so a user can’t
sample the site until he or she has already invested several minutes in signing
up and recording which loyalty programmes they belong to.
2012, Superfly added an experimental feature to speed up the process of plugging
in frequent flyer information. Rather than enter your membership numbers
manually, a traveller can authorise Superfly to scan his or her Gmail inbox for
messages that contain frequent flyer information. The site then extracts point
balances from those emails daily.
scanning service doesn’t yet work with Microsoft Outlook, Hotmail or other
e-mail services, though the company says it will launch compatibility with Yahoo! Mail and AOL Mail on 15 March.
can manually input membership information for up to 100 programmes, the site’s
email-based system automatically recognises frequent flyer information for only
11 brands: Air Berlin, Alitalia, American, American Express, British Airways,
Delta, Indigo Airlines, Hilton, Southwest, Starwood and United, thought the
start-up says more brands will be added this year.
In a drawback,
Superfly doesn't show you the potential net value of tickets on airlines or
alliances whose mileage programmes you haven't yet joined. That’s a problem if
you’ll be travelling on new routes often and will likely come across many
airlines you haven't flown. After all, it would be impractical to join all of
those programmes and enter the membership numbers into Superfly merely to see
which one would be the best to invest time and money in. So the site is useful
primarily for travellers who plan to concentrate their mileage-building effort,
flying repeatedly on either one airline or on a limited number of airlines.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech
columnist for BBC Travel