Centralized Look-Up Tool for Free Flight Award Rates

Discussion in 'Milez' started by Phlee, Jan 5, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    We recently launched milez.biz in the hopes of making the flight redemption rates from the various frequent flyer programs more transparent. The motivation for this project stemmed from our own frustration from finding the most optimal award rates for certain routes. We noticed that there are sometimes widely varying rates, depending on the program and destinations.

    Milez.biz is very simple: type two city names into the “From” and “To” fields, select from the auto-complete and let the calculator figure out what the rates for return flights between the two selected cities are. The rates in our database correspond to the rates published on the programs’ websites.
    You no longer need to figure out which zone a city belongs to, or if it is even part of a program, milez.biz does it all for you. We currently track over 40 programs and will be adding more soon. We track both zones and distance based programs.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Scottrick
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    Scottrick Gold Member

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    Since you're assuming people have multiple award accounts in different programs (this is partly a mileage cost-comparison service, right?) then is there a feature now or in the future that will also account for transfer programs? For example, if a certain flight requires XXX airline miles, could it say next to that how many SPG points you would need to transfer?
     
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  3. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi Scottrick,

    Thanks for the question.

    You are right that currently the tool is useful primarily for people w/ multiple accounts. One of the next adjustments we'll make to the tool is to allow people to filter by program. I.e. users will be able to indicate exactly which programs they want to look at.As we add more programs to the calculator this will make it more meaningful.

    And also since the majority of the programs don't have a calculator at all the tool will then also be useful to users who are even just members of one program.

    We have not looked at the mile transfer logic yet. For now we are still trying to flesh out the data with as many programs as possible. We have made note of this feature though.

    ph
     
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  4. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    Neat tool.

    Out of curiousity, what logic is the site using to select which options to display? Depending on destination, I can get different numbers of e.g. skyteam options to show up. It seems like there are a few holes.

    Alaska Airlines would be a great addition, as would the ability to process airport codes like MSP rather than forcing you to choose the autocomplete.

    Transfer logic for even just SPG, Amex MR, and Chase UR would be great.
     
  5. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi mattsteg,

    The logic is as follows:

    1) The application finds all the FFPs that have the 2 cities selected by the user.
    2) Then it checks which zones the cities are in
    3) Then it checks whether there are rates between the zones
    4) If there are rates, it displays them for each program.

    Sometimes a program may not have a rate for a route even though they have both cities in their destination list (this is mostly true for the programs in an alliance).
    Some programs calculate rates by distance in which case we first compute the distance between the airports and then apply the corresponding rates (this sometimes means adding distance to/from a connecting city as well).

    You will get different rates from the individual alliance partners (this is what kind of prompted the project in the first place); every partner in an alliance has its own rates. If you look at the Star Alliance rates they can vary greatly from member to member.

    If you can point us to the conversion logic for the programs you mentioned we can have a look at integrating that.

    If I remember correctly, the award rates at Alaskan follow a different scheme, no? We could theoretically add them too, but it would defeat the idea of the comparison.

    ph
     
  6. mattsteg
    Original Member

    mattsteg Gold Member

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    There are some holes in the logic, I think. Different domestic US destinations return different skyteam partners when the programs in question have the us as a zone. Some redemptions that I know exist weren't showing up. Alitalia and Korean in particular I noticed right away. Step 1 may be culling too much(It's unclear what you mean by an FFP "having" a destination. Maybe the alliance stuff isn't working properly), or there may be a glitch in the zone logic.

    Sorry about the lack of detail - on my mobile at the moment.

    Spg's partner transfer options are listed at http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/account/starpoints/transfer/airline_partner_list. The others I don't have a list handy. The biggest value in comparing rates is when you can choose which to spend, and the big transfer programs ans their partners offer the best chance at that.
     
  7. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    Nice clean look and feel. Some random thoughts based on 1 search...

    The results seem to be sorted alphabetically. Ordered by number of miles would seem more useful.

    Can you figure out fuel surcharges? With some programs that would be a key factor.

    Auto-complete seem to have some issues (try FRA).
     
  8. James Elkins

    James Elkins Member

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    It would be great to explicitly put the standard rates next to the saver (or low/mid/high, depending on the carrier) rates for a comparison (when available).

    The nomenclature of "return flight" is confusing. Why don't you use "Round trip" ?

    In your algorithm, you say you compute the distance between the two airports (for programs like ANA or BA). How do you do this efficiently? Do you have some table with the distances between all routes for those particular programs?

    Also, how do you deal with the fact that some mileage programs have different zone classifications? For example:
    http://www.aa.com/i18n/disclaimers/free-ticket-award-chart.jsp has North America as a grouping when going to China. So you could go from the Bahamas to China. But http://www.united.com/ual/asset/United_Star_Chart_eff_after_6_15.pdf separates the Caribbean out. Do you simply have a different zone classification for each program?

    +1 for being able to order by # of miles.

    Great job!
     
  9. Titans26

    Titans26 Silver Member

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    Great start!

    I don't feel you are assuming users have multiple accounts. It's a great tool to help users decide which FF program is best for them.

    If the user plugs in several dates and destinations they can see which program has the best award availability for their travel needs.

    Its a valuable tool for most frequent and non frequent flyers. There are new passengers everyday trying to decide which FF program is best.

    We all can purchase miles, transfer miles from hotel programs, shopping, dining, status match, elite challenge for most FF programs. We can instantly start a new account and switch our flying to suit our award redemption needs.

    Good Luck!
     
  10. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi again mattsteg,

    Thanks for looking at this again.

    - Could you give me an example of the US destinations issues you saw? That way we can try to figure it out. I do think, though, that it is a data issue, not a logic issue.

    - The way we fill the db is by entering the destinations, zones and rates per program. So the alliance programs fill out gradually as we add more of the partners. The Star Alliance one is currently the most complete and the oneworld the least complete.

    - For MilleMiglia only the Alitalia rates are in the system right now; same is true for Korean (only Korean Air). Our next data update should include SkyTeam rates for both of these programs. Adding the alliance rates is sometimes complicated bc they conflict with the program's regular rates.

    - We have found the Alaskan rates, we'll try to include those soon as well.

    - Thanks for the transfer options link. We'll do some analysis to see if we could integrate them.

    ph
     
  11. iolaire
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    iolaire Gold Member

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    So my first three or so searches failed because I entered BKK and DCA, then BKK and JFK. It turns out you will not return results from a three letter search, instead you have to select the airport from the Ajax popup then it tells you it is searching for BKK -> DCA.

    Travel folks get savvy quickly, please let us use three letter codes directly.
     
  12. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi Titans26,

    - The results are order alphabetically by program and then by points (ascending) within the program. I think it's best to keep the results per program together, no? If we order purely by points the results page would somehwat unruly.

    - The auto-complete is something we are looking at; people in this forum may know most airport codes so that "FRA" should automatically jump to Frankfurt. But normal people would then not know how to find Toronto, Rome, Osaka, Bucharest, Moscow to name just a few big ones. Let alone Caribbean islands or Indian cities.
    The auto-complete actually works on airport code, city name, airport name and country (for those islands). So someone could enter "toronto", "pearson", "yyz" or even "canada" to find toronto. We're trying to make this as user-friendly as possible so we're trying different things.

    - Some surcharges are already added (Qantas domestic taxes) and in some cases where they can be covered by points they are in the description (topbonus). Adding all the surcharges that can be covered by points will require some more research.

    ph
     
  13. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi James,

    - Wording has been changed to "round trip".
    - We have GPS coordinates for the airports in the db and then measure distance for the segments flown if the rate calculation requires it.
    - Yes, we have different zones in every program (that seems to be the main difference w/ the programs, i.e. how places are zoned determines the cost of an award ticket).
    - We've built the logic so that a destination can be in multiple zones within the same program, the calculator will just show the best rate.
    - And some programs have two entries in the db bc they have conflicting rates (cf. SAA Voyager vs SAA Voyager Star Alliance if you enter JNB to GBE).

    ph
     
  14. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi iolaire,

    Understood about the airport code (see post above) ...
    We actually originally only had the codes, but that is not really usable unless you know all codes. Most people probably know a few codes; we currently have over 1,500 active airports on the system.

    ph
     
  15. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    It would be nice if you could still use the codes, without fighting with the autocomplete. On forms like this, my preference is to fill in one text box, press tab to go go to the next, fill it in, etc. If I do that with this page, empty results are returned. While few would argue that the autocomplete is not very helpful to new users, it'd be nice to not be forced to wait for it to populate.

    The specific issues I had with skyteam were alitalia and korean not showing up (you explained why above) and GOL showing up for some US domestic routes but not others. Specifically, gol doesn't appear to show up for routes where delta (regional) is the only airline serving the destination - eg MSL, HIB, INL, DLH. DLH also doesn't show any star options, although United (express) flies dlh-ord. MSP-CMX gives only skyteam options (dl, kl,CI) but is currently served only by UA. MSP-TOL gives AA and skyteam options (including GOL) when I believe only AA serves TOL. MSP-CLL returns results from AA and GOL (I think GOL got miscategorized as oneworld in domestic US?), and is missing star alliance results (co flies there from HOU). On another note, GOL correctly shows up for flights to RUN, served only by skyteam.

    Admittedly I picked out marginally-served corner-case destinations to test with, and in many cases service to a few of these destinations is in flux. It looks like GOL is an easy fix. I don't know if a better source of data for who flies where is available. I imagine the coverage data is "good enough" for most purposes as it is. These airports are small and poorly-served for a reason. With that said, I imagine there are others who seek out the obscure as well.
     
  16. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    http://www.membershiprewards.com/catalog/travel/newpointstransfer.aspx has the transfer options from Amex.

    Chase/UR is UnitedContinental, Korean, British, Southwest(which I would not expect you to add).

    A lot of people have large numbers of MR, UR, or SPG points, so an option to evaluate the different options available for transfers is a huge help for these people.
     
  17. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi again mattsteg,

    Thanks very much for the thorough testing and the details you sent.
    All of the issues you described have to do with the data, maybe some of the lists we got for AA, Delta, and United were not completely accurate (I fear that it might be near impossible to get completely accurate lists, but we try as best we can).

    - HIB we have as a Delta destination (and hence a SkyTeam one as well)
    - INL we have as a Delta destination
    - DLH we have as a Delta destination
    - CMX we also have a as Delta
    - TOL we have as both AA and Delta
    - CLL we have as AA

    - On the GOL website it lists AA, Delta, KLM, and AF as partners in the miles redemption program. But it does not list it as a Skyteam member. It could be that not all Delta regional destinations were transferred into the GOL program. We will have to look at that.

    - We don't have Continental in the system yet. We were unsure about adding it since it is supposed to merge w/ United. Is this a fact now? I.e. is it safe to add all the Continental destinations to the "United universe"?

    ph
     
  18. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    Correct on GOL - there have been talks with skyteam, but nothing official. The main issue seems to be that they're missing from some Delta regional destinations (all that I checked that were not served by AA as well)

    Delta doesn't currently fly to CMX or TOL. CLL is AA and CO - CO is now under the same operating certificate as UA and they're the same company. Not sure when the CO code is going away, but it's probably safer to add CO destinations to UA than it is to not add them, assuming the info is up to date, although destinations with no UA codeshare may be candidates to discontinue.

    I understand that getting (and maintaining) accurate lists can be a challenge, especially for airports that few actually use.
     
  19. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi mattsteg,

    - The destinations you mentioned have been adjusted based on your feedback, thanks!

    - Auto-complete now looks up nothing but airport codes if the user has entered exactly three characters, i.e. entering "FRA" will now only show Frankfurt, if a user keeps typing then the auto-complete search is expanded to city name, airport name and country name. I think this will make finding airports a lot easier especially if you know the airport code, but you can still call up longer lists.
    It is still necessary to select an entry from the drop down but the tabbing seems to work (although this has not been tested in all browsers).

    - We're planning to do a data update in the next few days.

    ph
     
  20. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi everyone,

    We have just added some more data to the calculator:

    - TACA/Avianca LifeMiles
    - IberiaPlus
    - Alsaka Airlines
    - MilleMiglia (Alitalia) SkyTeam rates
    - TAM hi and lo season rates

    Cheers
    ph
     
  21. geclub1
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    geclub1 Silver Member

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    Just tried my first set of destination: SFO-NRT. It looks the tool is returning wrong miles for ANA.

    ANA has two charts: one for its own metal and one for partner. The values returned by the tool matched none of them:

    ANA Mileage Club [​IMG]
    Round trip in Economy
    50,000
    Round trip in Business
    80,000
    Round trip in First Class
    110,000
     
  22. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi geclub1,

    Thanks for getting back to us.
    The distance we calculate b/w SFO and NRT is 5,112 miles each way, so 10,224 for the round trip.

    The regular season rates for this distance indicated on the ANA website are:
    50 K, 80 K, 110 K for Eco, Bus, First. This is the same in our calculator.

    The example you entered is actually the example quoted on the ANA website and it does show 50 K for the route:
    https://www.ana.co.jp/wws/japan/e/asw_common/amc/reference/tukau/kokusai.html

    We have the ANA flights in the system, not the partner flights.

    Thanks
    ph
     
  23. geclub1
    Original Member

    geclub1 Silver Member

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    OK, I misread. Thanks.
     
  24. Jeff the Wanderer

    Jeff the Wanderer Silver Member

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    I just tried a PHL-ORD search since this was an award I recently booked (one way). Results showed lowest rate of 20k miles, but it can be booked for 15k Avios booking through BA but flying on AA. BA results showed a minimum of 80k miles going through LHR. Do you have plans to address situations like this where you can book using a certain airline's miles but fly on partner metal? It seems that this would be a common situation where a person would want to know what program's miles to use to book a flight with for the lowest rate. If I know there is an AA flight, I would want to be able to search to see what OneWorld carrier will let me book that flight for less.
     
  25. Phlee

    Phlee Active Member

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    Hi jeffbrownson,

    For BA we only have the BA flights/rates in the system. We would like to add the oneworld alliance flights/rates as well but this is quite tricky. The oneworld rates for BA are based on miles flown, so unless we know where a flight goes through we cannot really calculate the rate for a flight accurately.

    We could assume that flights are direct and apply the calculation to that mileage (which would have been accurate for the PHL-ORD AA flight) but it would not work for many other flights and then we'd show wrong rates. We are trying to figure out a solution for this. Entering all oneworld routes into the system is an option but it would be very tough to manage.
     

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