Meet AwardFares Creators: Interview with Philip Bergqvist and Richard Simko (2023)
AwardFares is one of those tools that, after you’ve found them, you can’t think of going back. With a modern and fast user interface, it lets you search for award availability across multiple frequent flyer programs in just seconds. In addition to searches, there are some great key features, such as alerts to monitor award availability, seat maps, and flight schedules.
We’ve been using AwardFares since 2019 and actually published the first video tutorial on our YouTube channel! Over the years, it helped save dozens of hours searching for bookable and convenient award seats and particularly helped me utilize my EuroBonus points more wisely.
But what’s the story behind the tool? I decided to reach out to AwardFares creators Philip Bergqvist and Richard Simkko, to get some of the “behind the scenes.” I hope you enjoy this interview post with the creators of AwardFares!
Don’t miss the new version release of AwardFares, packed with plenty of new features! Read more here.
Meet AwardFares Creators – Philip Bergqvist and Richard Simko
Richard is a software engineer in Stockholm with a diverse background, from building iOS apps for startups to working with distributed systems and microservices in social media scaleups and fintech. With a passion for traveling and collecting miles, AwardFares presents an excellent crossover.
1. How did you decide to start with AwardFares, and when?
Philip: One of the primary motivations for building something like AwardFares was after I booked my first First Class award redemption trip with Lufthansa and Asiana. I spent weeks searching through different frequent flyer programs, keeping track of dates in a spreadsheet, and trying to fit all the different flight schedules together until I eventually managed to book my trip. After this, I knew I had to build something better to solve this.
Richard: Back in early 2018, Philip was building a tool called Eurobonusexpert.com with various excellent features targeting Eurobonus members. After stumbling across Philip’s name on businessclass.se, I reached out and offered to help improve the tool since I’d recently gotten into the miles collecting game myself. At that point, it wasn’t doing award searches but several different things.
At that time, there was another tool (but recently defunct) called Awardhacks. Philip came up with the idea of building a similar thing but for all of Star Alliance. We initially launched the product to a smaller Facebook group of frequent travelers and got a great response and later rolled it out to the more general public.
2. Was there a plan from the beginning? How did the tool evolve?
Richard: On my part, there wasn’t a well-defined plan from the beginning other than this being a tool that we both needed. Plus, as a software engineer, that’s how many of my side projects start. But as we released it to a small group, we added the possibility for people to give donations, expecting at least it would cover server costs and perhaps a coffee or two. When this money rapidly started adding up to a lot more than I was expecting was when I realized that it would be possible to build a serious business out of this.
Philip: I have spent more than 10 years building different tech startups and businesses, which I really have a passion for. So for me, turning an idea into a well-built tool that has the potential to scale into a business is just the natural thing to do!
Richard and I have also worked together in the past on my first startup, so when we realized we both have a passion for “point hacking” and travel, it turned out to be a perfect fit to work on this project together!
3. How long did it take to implement, and what was the most challenging part?
Richard: I think building the initial version of the site took a few months, with Philip doing most of the groundwork. After that, when we pivoted from being some clever tools to being a more severe award search platform, it took a few weeks to integrate the first few providers (United and SAS). That was in early 2018, and since then, we’ve expanded continuously with more providers and features.
Philip: The most difficult part has been maintaining all the connections to different airlines. The airlines run on very old legacy systems, which clearly shows when searching for award flights. Since we want to provide a product that lives up to users’ requirements for modern tools in terms of speed, reliability, and stability, it has definitely been a challenge to work around those systems.
4. What’s the user base as of May 2023?
Philip: AwardFares has 30.000 registered users and a few thousand paying customers across our two product tiers, Diamond and Gold.
5. How long have you been involved with SAS EuroBonus and Star Alliance?
Richard: I’ve been a member for quite a long time, but I only started getting more serious about collecting miles in 2018 when I started a job that had me traveling a lot. This correlated very well with Philip creating Eurobonusexpert and beginning to develop that into what’s AwardFares today.
Philip: I’ve been a SAS EuroBonus member since 2008, but I only got more serious about collecting miles around the same time as Richard. Before 2018 I only used my EuroBonus points for Business upgrades on SAS, since I traveled quite a bit to the US. However, since then, I have spent most of my points on Star Alliance redemptions.
6. What are your favorite frequent flyer programs?
Philip: Since I’ve been moving around a lot during the past couple of years I’ve ended up jumping around between Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam. For award redemptions, SAS EuroBonus is still by far my favorite, thanks to their good award pricing tables, reasonable taxes on award redemptions, and their MasterCard and Amex credit cards. For travel, I enjoy flying with Oneworld, but I haven’t figured out a good strategy for collecting a lot of miles with them yet.
Richard: I’ve only used Eurobonus, so I can’t make a fair comparison to any other program. Having HON Circle status with Lufthansa would be a dream, especially if living in Frankfurt due to the free access to the First Class Terminal. I’ve also heard good things about Qantas’ program from friends, where they can open up award availability on almost any partner flight if you have a good status with them, indeed a luxury compared to the more restricted inventory we get access to with EuroBonus.
7. What do you use AwardFares for?
Philip: I’ve spent much time living in Asia, so I used to travel between Europe and Asia frequently. Since travel has finally opened back up since COVID, it has become quite difficult to find business class redemptions between Europe and Asia, so for me setting up alerts to monitor routes and dates is an absolute must-have feature that I love!
Richard: I’ve used it for all my award travels. The first time I really used it was around mid-2018 when I made my first First Class trip to Japan, but I’ve since booked five similar trips and a bunch of shorter trips using it. Alerts are definitely a key feature for me; being able to be notified as soon as a particular leg of the trip is available or if a better flight opens up is a must.
8. Can you share some upcoming features or a bit of the roadmap ahead?
Philip: Most important is to expand to more airlines beyond Star Alliance. We’ve received this request many times from users, and something we want to provide.
In addition, we’re also looking at different features that can make it easier to spend your miles intelligently, such as computing prices for various routes, showing exchange rates between other programs (or credit card points), etc.
Finally, we also want to improve how alerts work since we do see this is one of the most appreciated features. This could include allowing users to create “wide” alerts (For example, “Send me an email if there’s any First Class seat available from Europe to anywhere in the world”) or better possibilities to create many alerts (for example, if you want to monitor award availability on a whole week on a certain route or monitor multiple destinations).
9. Favorite or most memorable travel experiences, routes, or destinations?
Philip: My first time flying Lufthansa First class is probably one of the most memorable travel experiences ever. Since then, I’ve also tried Singapore Airlines First Class and Asiana First Class. I’m also a massive fan of Qatar Airways Q Suites, which I’ve traveled on quite a few times.
Richard: I will never forget my first trip in First Class, flying with Lufthansa from Frankfurt. Even though I had read quite a lot about what to expect, I was overwhelmed by the crazy level of luxury. Although I’ve flown in First Class several times after that, there is still some disbelief whenever I describe the experience to people. On the same trip, I also got to fly Asiana First Class which was a unique experience in its own way with the individual suites they used to have (extra special to have tried it since they discontinued it!).