The best apps for tracking your trips

Welcome to the world of travel planning and tracking apps. These apps allow you to import all of your reservation details, mostly automatically, and keep an organised listing of each reservation that you can easily refer to.

Advertisements

Remember the days when you had to physically print your airline tickets and take them with you to the airport? As a child I vividly remember spending an extra 3 hours in the car on the way to the airport in another city as we realised halfway into the long journey that we had left our travel reservations behind. Skip forward a decade and now you don’t even need to keep copies of your emails on your phone. Welcome to the world of travel planning and tracking apps.

These apps allow you to import all of your reservation details, mostly automatically, and keep an organised listing of each reservation that you can easily refer to. Push notifications for flight delays and gate changes, combined with suggested sightseeing directions and itineraries, can really make your holiday a breeze.  

Here’s my top 3 recommended apps for Aussie travellers.

TripCase

My personal favourite is TripCase. The product was launched by Sabre in 2013 and its strength lies with its deep integration with the network of airlines and travel agents using Sabre reservation technologies.

For airlines such as Virgin Australia, flight delays and gate changes will occur within TripCase often before they are announced at the airport.

Many corporate travel agencies in Australia will link all of your bookings automatically with the app if you sign up with your corporate email address.

For all other reservations, you can forward them to the TripCase email address for automatic import or manually add each detail.

Pros

  • Solid and reliable app
  • Free instant notifications for gate changes and delays
  • Automatically syncs with Sabre’s reservations network (110,000 travel companies)

Cons

  • App design is fairly dated and not as nice as Google’s
  • Sightseeing and food recommendations leave a bit to be desired

Google Trips

For Google users, one of the easiest apps to start using for tracking flight and hotel reservations is Google Trips. The app ties in with Gmail and will automatically pull reservation information from your emails without any manual setup. It’s simplicity is one of its best features; it makes it super simple to locate details that are usually buried deep down in your emails. The app also offers a very pleasant and intuitive design.

The killer feature from Google’s offerings is their ‘Things to do’ and ‘Day Plans’ features for holidaymakers. This feature ties in with Google Maps recommends activities and specific routes to take in cities to see the sights. This is one of the features that only Google can offer, for it relies on vast amounts of data and insights to be crunched. For people short on time, it really takes the stress out of planning sightseeing tours. I personally found some of the plans really helpful on a recent trip to Barcelona. 

Pros

  • Beautiful and intuitive design
  • Fully automatic for Gmail users

Cons

  • No flight delay or gate change notifications
  • Cannot manually add reservations
  • Lacks many of the more advanced features offered by TripCase and TripIt

TripIt

TripIt is a real work horse when it comes to organising and tracking your travel reservations. Probably the most feature packed solution on the market, TripIt can almost handle any type of reservation with ease. You can forward your reservation emails or have the app scan your email account automatically. 

Unfortunately I find the app a bit too clunky for my liking. The design isn’t very aesthetically pleasing and not overly intuitive with a lot of features tacked on in certain areas. This is also one of its strengths, with a lot of advanced features, albeit that require paid accounts. Features such as seat selection notification and flight re-routing suggestions.

While the app is very powerful, unfortunately not even flight update notifications are free, which is disappointing for such a basic feature. The free version of the app still has helpful features but is littered with ads and I find the app less appealing than TripCase.

Pros

  • Handles almost any type of reservation
  • Can be setup to automatically scan Gmail accounts
  • Powerful paid features like seat selection notifications, alternate flight searching and points tracking

Cons

  • App has a very poor design 
  • Flight notification updates require paid accounts

New Sofitel Darling Harbour opening in September 2017

Work is well underway on Accor’s latest Sydney flagship property located in Darling Harbour with a scheduled September 2017 opening.

Work is well underway on Accor’s latest Sydney flagship property located in Darling Harbour with a scheduled September 2017 opening. The new 35 story hotel will be located within the new Sydney International Convention Centre precinct with many of the 600 rooms offering views of the stunning Darling Harbour.

 Sofitel Darling Harbour rendering
Sofitel Darling Harbour rendering

The hotel will feature a pool with great views of the city along with an Executive Lounge for LeClub Platinum members. Stay tuned to AirlinePoints.com.au about more details around the hotel’s opening later this year.

 Sofitel Darling Harbour pool views
Sofitel Darling Harbour pool views

Special offer

Time to start saving those LeClub points for September 2017! Thankfully AccorHotels is running a bonus points promotion at the moment for LeClub members for Accor reservations made before 12 February 2017 for stays until 9 April 2017.

  • You’ll get 500 bonus Rewards points for your 1st stay
  • You’ll get 2,000 bonus Rewards points for your 2nd stay
  • You’ll get 3,000 bonus Rewards points for your 3rd stay

You simply need to activate the offer before booking by visiting the promotions page and signing in. Given the recent changes to the LeClub program, unfortunately these bonus points don’t count towards your status anymore.

Earning points from ride sharing services

In Australia, the two primary options for points earn are Uber and GoCatch, here’s a summary of what both offer. 

Some changes were announced yesterday that affect the way you can earn loyalty points from taxi and ride sharing services. In Australia, the two primary options for points earn are Uber and GoCatch, here’s a summary of what both offer. 

Uber

SPG has just announced changes to the points earn rate for Uber. Previously SPG members could earn 1 Starpoint per USD spent with Uber, effectively 0.7 Starpoints per AUD depending on the exchange rate. Unfortunately as of 1 Feb 2017, this will reduce to 1 Starpoint per $2 USD spent, or approximately 0.35 Starpoints per AUD spent. 

There is a bonus applied during hotel stays with SPG where you’ll earn 2 Starpoints per USD, which offers a fairly good points earn rate. During stays in the month of Feb 2017 SPG is offering a massive 5 Starpoints per USD as a promotion.

All points earn with SPG and Uber require members to complete a qualifying SPG stay each calendar year. 

GoCatch

Ride sharing and taxi service GoCatch offers 1 Qantas Frequent Flyer Point per AUD spent. 

The good news for business customers is that GoCatch allows you to book and pay for regular taxis, as may be required by your corporate travel policy.  

Keep an eye out for regular promotions from GoCatch that offer bonus points for your travel.

Double Qantas Points promotion

Qantas is offering up double Qantas Points for any bookings made between 19 January and 23 January 2017, for travel between 1 February 2017 and 7 January 2018.

Qantas is offering up double Qantas Points for any bookings made between 19 January and 23 January 2017, for travel between 1 February 2017 and 7 January 2018.

If you’ve been planning some Qantas travel for a while, now is a good time to book to take advantage of this offer.

Register for the promotion on Qantas’ website!

How to maximise points from supermarket shopping

One of the simplest ways to start earning frequent flyer points without spending any extra money is reviewing your grocery shopping habits and making sure you’re getting the most from your spending.

One of the simplest ways to start earning frequent flyer points without spending any extra money is reviewing your grocery shopping habits and making sure you’re getting the most from your spending.

Supermarket loyalty programs

In Australia, both major supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths offer their customers the opportunity to earn points from spending. IGA doesn’t have its own loyalty scheme, but bonus points can be earned through the right credit card. Unfortunately Aldi doesn’t have any loyalty scheme.

Flybuys

Flybuys is Coles’ supermarket loyalty program. Most regular purchases from Coles earn 1 flybuys point per $1 AUD spent. Flybuys is partnered with Velocity Frequent Flyer. Converting your flybuys points to Velocity Points at a rate of 2000 flybuys points to 870 Velocity Points equates to 0.435 Velocity Frequent Flyer points per dollar spent.

The earn rate is fairly low but is on par with Woolworths. The real strength of the flybuys program comes from fairly regular targeted promotions. Some promotions ‘challenge’ participants to spend $50 per week at their local Coles over 4 weeks to receive 10,000 bonus flybuys points. Participating in this offer brings the Velocity Frequent Flyer earn rate to 22 Velocity Points per dollar spent. A very good return.

The amount that flybuys challenges you to spend each week is generally just above your regular weekly expenditure, which could be much higher than $50. You may benefit from having multiple flybuys cards and switching between them to trick Coles into thinking that you spend less per week.

Flybuys points can also be converted into Etihad Guest Miles at a rate of 10,000 flybuys points for 4,000 Etihad Guest Miles. This gives shoppers an effective earn rate of 0.4 Etihad Guest Miles per dollar spent.

Woolworths Rewards

Woolworths allows customers to earn 1 Woolworths Reward point per dollar spent. A partnership with Qantas Frequent Flyer allows you to convert 2000 Woolworths Rewards points into 870 Qantas Frequent Flyer Points equating to an earn rate of 0.435 Qantas Points per dollar spent. This rate is the same as can be obtained from Coles.

Credit card bonus points

Perhaps the best way to earn airline points from your supermarket shopping is not through the supermarket at all, but through a credit card that offers bonus points for your spend. 

American Express Platinum Edge

The Platinum Edge Credit Card from American Express offers 3 Membership Rewards points per $1 AUD spent at all of the major supermarket chains in Australia; including Woolworths, Coles and IGA.

American Express Membership Rewards points are a very valuable currency that offer 1:1 conversion rates for many airline partners; such as Velocity, Etihad and Singapore Airlines. Unfortunately Qantas Frequent Flyer is not a transfer partner.

The Platinum Edge costs $195 per annum but includes a $200 travel credit to use on American Express Travel.

American Express Local Champion

An additional unique benefit to American Express issued American Express cards is Local Champion. Once a card holder has opted in, Local Champion can be accessed via the American Express mobile app. This feature is not exclusive to the Platinum Edge and works with most American Express cards. 

The app allows you to nominate up to 10 places where you use your American Express card to try to become the ‘Local Champion’ at that shop by making more transactions than other card holders. Unfortunately not all shops participate but you’ll find most major supermarkets and chains. The number of transactions it takes to become the ‘Local Champion’ depends on how many others are playing the game at that vendor, sometimes it’s 1 transaction, sometimes it takes 20 or more.

If successful at becoming the ‘Local Champion’ at your supermarket, it can be a great way to boost your points earn for groceries.

 

 

Coles branded credit card

Although not as generous as the American Express earn rates, Coles offers a branded MasterCard that gives card holders 2 flybuys points per $1 AUD spent anywhere, which equates to 0.87 Velocity Points per dollar. When using this card at Coles along with your flybuys card you’ll take in 3 flybuys points per dollar, equal to 1.3 Velocity Points per $1 AUD.

The earn rate is reasonable for a MasterCard and comes with no international transaction fees and an $89 annual fee. This card may appeal to people with an already healthy flybuys balance that they are looking to boost for transfers to Velocity or Etihad.

Summary

If you or your family spends a fair amount of money at your supermarket every week it’s worth taking a moment to check whether you’re getting the most value from your spend, depending on your travel or points goals. For me, the Platinum Edge with 3 points per dollar is the real winner, and then using my Woolworths Rewards or flybuys card depending on which store I’m at. 

What’s your strategy?

The best hotel chain for airline points

A comparison of which hotel chain offers the best value for airline point transfers.

Hotel bookings can be one of the most lucrative sources of frequent flyer points, with the likes of Qantas Hotels offering 3 points per $1 AUD and Virgin Australia Holidays offering up to 6 points per $1 AUD for Velocity Platinum members. Combined with regular promotions from Qantas Hotels of up to 9 points per $1 AUD, these can quickly add up to very healthy frequent flyer balances.

Unfortunately the biggest downside to booking your stays through frequent flyer portals, and any online travel agent (Hotels.com, Expedia, etc) is the lack of loyalty benefits and recognition at the hotel itself. There are many benefits to be obtained from acquiring status with your preferred hotel chain; such as free upgrades to bigger rooms or rooms with preferred views, late checkout, and complementary breakfast.

The good news is that almost all of the major hotel chains allow you to collect points from your hotel stays that can be converted to airline points. Infact, most hotel chains have a very large pool of airline points and miles currencies that you can select.


Accor LeClub

LeClub points transfer 1:1 to Velocity Points, Qantas Points
LeClub points transfer 2:1 to Asia Miles, Emirates, Etihad

Spend ($ AUD) Classic Silver Gold Platinum
$1 at Accor* 1.75 2.17 2.59 3.08
$1 at ibis, ibis Styles 0.88 1.09 1.30 1.54

*except Adagio, Adagio Access, ibis, ibis Styles and Mama Shelter

Using 1 AUD = 0.71 EUR. LeClub points based on spend in Euros.


Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)

SPG points transfer 1:1 to Velocity Points, Asia Miles, Emirates, Etihad

Spend ($ AUD) Preferred Gold Platinum
$1 1.48 2.22 2.22

Using 1 AUD = 0.74 USD. SPG points based on spend in USD.


Hilton HHonors

Table shows earn rates for Velocity and Qantas Points once transferred from HHonors Points.

Spend ($ AUD) Blue Silver Gold Diamond
$1 1.67 1.91 2.08 2.5

Using 1 AUD = 0.74 USD and earning style set to Points & Points. HHonors points based on spend in USD.


World of Hyatt

Table shows earn rates for Qantas Points, Asia Miles, Emirates and Etihad once transferred from World of Hyatt Points.

Spend ($ AUD) Member Discoverist Explorist Globalist
$1 1.48 1.63 1.78 1.92

Using 1 AUD = 0.74 USD. World of Hyatt Points based on spend in USD.


In summary, even if your goal is maximising your airline points, there is still the possibility of earning a solid amount of airline points by booking directly with your hotel chain instead of through a frequent flyer portal.

The decision comes down to whether you value the hotel status benefits above the extra points you may have obtained from booking via a frequent flyer portal.

Example — Qantas Hotels vs SPG Gold

For example, booking directly via SPG if you’re Gold will earn 2.2 frequent flyer points per $1 AUD spent. This is 0.8 points less per $1 AUD than if booked via Qantas Hotels. Aussming the hotel is priced the same on SPG and Qantas Hotels, if the value of the booking is $300 and you value your frequent flyer points at 1 c per point, you are missing out on only $2.40 worth of value, which is easily offset by the extra benefits obtained with the SPG Gold status; such as room upgrades and late checkout.