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PhoCusWright 2010 Innovator: UsingMiles

I spent three action-packed days in Scottsdale recently at the PhoCusWright 2010 conference. While some of the companies that were at the conference have products that are so behind-the-scenes the average traveler may never know about them, some are very much consumer-oriented – so I thought I’d highlight a few of them that might be of particular interest to business travelers.

Keep reading to find out how to get a special invitation to use this company’s services, which are currently in private beta!

You don’t have to be that George Clooney-esque character, Ryan Bingham, from “Up in the Air” to be the kind of business traveler who’s a little obsessive about earning frequent flyer miles and hotel points. You’re doing all that traveling for work, often to places you wouldn’t go by choice, so it only makes sense to cash in on rewards, right? Keeping track of all your various mileage and reward programs can be a challenge, however, and even if you have a handle on that part the even more difficult task is figuring out when it’s better to use your miles/points and when it makes more sense to just pay for an airline ticket or a room.

That’s where UsingMiles comes in.

UsingMiles is an easy-to-use tool that tracks your loyalty programs – at the moment, that means airline programs and hotel programs, but the company is soon going to add car rental programs and credit card programs to the mix as well. On your account screen, you can quickly see at a glance how many miles you have with each program, what status you have with that loyalty program, and even what the estimated monetary value of all your miles/points is. During the demo I saw at PhoCusWright, one of the founders called it “Mint for loyalty programs.” The system is set up to alert you before miles expire so you don’t lose them, and depending on your goals – elite status or free trips – UsingMiles will show you ways to achieve them faster.

This is a valuable enough tool, but UsingMiles offers a unique twist on tracking miles – you can search for award flights and rooms and compare them to what you’d pay for those tickets or rooms if you didn’t use your miles. In this way, you’ll know right away whether it’s better to pay for an airline ticket or a cheap hotel in San Francisco rather than use your miles – or vice versa – without needing to do any complicated math.

Here’s my account page – with a few numbers blurred out, of course – so you can see how easy it is to see everything on one screen.

Because you have to enter not only your frequent flyer numbers and hotel rewards program account numbers but also your passwords for those sites into UsingMiles, I asked about security. Those passwords, after all, are likely to be passwords you use for other sites, too (no matter what the internet pros say about that, we all do it). UsingMiles takes your privacy very seriously – they’re authenticated with VeriSign, and the site is an https: URL for added security. If you do happen to use the same password for all your loyalty programs that you do for other things (like online banking or email), you might consider changing your password on just your loyalty programs before you sign up with UsingMiles – but remember that anytime you change your password on the airline or hotel websites you’ll need to update UsingMiles records as well.

It’s worth noting that UsingMiles has the endorsement of one of the top names in the world of frequent flyer miles, Randy Petersen, the founder of FlyerTalk. Of course, if a business traveler is fiercely loyal to only one airline and one hotel chain, the confusion of tracking several different programs may be a non-issue. Still, the potential for tracking air miles, hotel points, car rental points, and credit card points all in one place – and then seeing when it’s better to use miles/points or just buy a ticket outright – is potentially appealing enough for even the Ryan Binghams of the world.

UsingMiles is free to join, but as it’s currently in private beta it’s by invitation only. The founders have generously given readers of WhyGo Business a special invitation to join UsingMiles – all you need to do is click on the link below to create a profile, enter your loyalty program information, and start playing with the site to see just how valuable it can be to you.

>> Join UsingMiles

>> Read what we thought of the UsingMiles presentation at PhoCusWright