I just smile and say “Don’t be silly, I’m not paying for these trips.”

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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview: Indulge the Wanderlust

Jeff writes the Indulge the Wanderlust blog, and has used his miles and points to visit Costa Rica, Turks & Caicos, Paris, Rio, and Santiago.  He’s also a romantic at heart and proposed to his wife outside the Lourve in Paris at night so I was waiting for our Friday chat!

Indulge The Wanderlust – Interview with  Jeff

Hiking over the old lava flows at the Arenal Volcano

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My first time collecting miles and points was actually collecting Southwest Airlines flight credits back in college.  I was going to school in Massachusetts and my wife (girlfriend at the time) was going to school in DC.  We made great use of the $39 one way fares from Baltimore to Providence.  Not only did we earn free flights by accumulating enough credits, but they were almost always oversold and we were happy to be bumped and spend another day together.

I might have missed a few days of classes due to being bumped to a flight the next day, but we made out like bandits with the vouchers.  The vouchers were often $100-$200 and sometimes more, so being bumped from a single flight would make the next few visits absolutely free.

Once we were out of college, we were soon married and no longer needed to fly regularly to see each other.  Collecting miles and points fell by the wayside as I became one of those people who thinks they do not fly enough to bother signing up for a loyalty program.  As much as I cringe when someone tells me this today, that was me for many years.

My current obsession with miles and points started about a year and a half ago when I was looking at flights to take my family of four to France for a few weeks during the next summer.  The last time we had flown to Paris, we paid around $450 a ticket (about 10 years ago) and I couldn’t believe that prices were coming in at almost $1,000 higher than that.

There was no way we could afford to spend $6,000 for just the flights and I knew there had to be a better way.  I started doing some research and stumbled upon the Frugal Travel Guy’s blog.  A few nights of reading that, along with anything else I could find online, and another miles and points junkie was born.

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it? 

I have always had a passion for travel.  Not a day goes by that I am not  planning or dreaming about the next trip I will take.  As I started learning more and more about collecting and using miles and points, I began to realize how little the people around me knew about the subject.  I started this blog to try to change that.  I know that there are lots of blogs out there, but if it took me this long to find them, it is possible that many of my family and friends never would.

I thought that if I were to begin writing informative posts with easy to follow explanations, it would help to expose a whole new world of travel opportunities to an additional group of people.  I was confident that my friends and family could benefit from the information I am providing and I soon realized that there are lots of others who could too.

Indulge the Wanderlust is my way of giving back to the miles and points community.  I don’t always have the most inside track on information and might not be the first one to post a deal.  I’m just a regular guy trying to share what I know in a helpful manner.

From loyalty program promotions to trip reports, I plan to help people learn as much as they can.  Using myself and my readers as examples, I will take everyone step by step through how to earn, plan, and redeem the various types of points and miles. There probably won’t be a post every day and I would rather refer you to brilliant write-ups than try to re-invent the wheel, but you can bet when there is important news in the world of miles and points, you will be able to read about it at IndulgeTheWanderlust.com.

If it weren’t for the bloggers who have come before me, I would still be paying full price for flights and hotels, and this is my way of paying it forward.  If I can help just a few people to travel for less, then writing this blog is well worth my time.

Indulge The Wanderlust – Interview with  Jeff

My wife Chrissy and I, at an alpine lake in Alaska

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles? 

I think credit card bonuses is the easy answer to this question, but I would be surprised if anyone reading this doesn’t already know that.  My secondary answer would be to pay attention to limited time promotions.  There are so many opportunities for double miles, triple points, and more. In addition, there are sometime fixed number bonus earnings on certain transactions.  A lot of people that I talk to don’t realize that many of these promotions are also often stackable.

There is nothing worse than finding out you could have earned 36 points per dollar right after making a purchase where you only earned 1.  By paying attention to the offers that are currently available, you can multiply your earnings with transactions you are already making.  If companies are willing to give you the miles and points, don’t make the mistake of leaving them on the table.

What’s your most memorable travel experience? 

Although I have had many memorable travel experiences, the one that is most special to me would be when I flew my wife (then girlfriend) to Paris to propose to her.  I loved reading your stories about Emily saying yes in London, so I thought I would share my story here.

For a little background, my wife Chrissy and I met on a mission trip to Africa back in high school, but we lived in different states.  We immediately made a connection and talked regularly when we returned home.  As time went on, those talks became less and less frequent and by the time we entered college, we were probably only communicating once or twice a year.

During my junior year of college, I was lucky enough to be selected to do a 3 month project in Copenhagen, Denmark.  My buddy and I were planning to backpack through Europe for 4 weeks after the project was completed and were looking for places to stay.  I remembered Chrissy saying she would be studying in Paris at around the same time, so I gave her a call.  We talked briefly about our schedules and agreed that I would call her when my friend and I had a more concrete idea of what dates we would be in Paris.

My next call to Chrissy was from Amsterdam, the night before we were going to arrive in Paris.  We were not big on planning ahead during our backpacking adventure, so this was all the notice we could give.  Thankfully, she had a very understanding host family and they agreed to let us stay with them for the next couple of days.  We first met up with Chrissy in Paris right outside the Louvre in front of the glass pyramids.

Although that seems like a lot of travel background to get the memorable trip part, it was necessary to help you understand the meaning behind my proposal.  After reuniting in Paris, Chrissy and I came back to the States and started a long distance relationship.  Things between the two of us quickly became more serious and by the next year, I had decided that I wanted to marry her.  I talked my parents into loaning me the money for a ring (I was still in college, so I had no real source of income) and started planning how I would ask her.

I wanted everything to be a surprise, so I told Chrissy that I would plan our spring break.  I got everything in place for the trip.  I bought plane tickets, talked to her host parents so that they would pick us up at the airport and we could stay with them, and even snuck in a trip to Pennsylvania to ask her father’s permission.

I then proceeded to give Chrissy a series of misleading clues until she was so convinced that we were going to a tropical island that we went swimsuit shopping the day before we left.  That night, I told her where we were really going (mostly so that she would pack appropriate clothes) and she was super excited.

In spite of a brief issue with a flight connection, we made it to Paris and on our first night there, we went out for a nice dinner with her host parents, Pam and Gilles.  During dinner, Gilles started giving me a hard time, joking about when we were going to get married and why we weren’t engaged yet.  I played along, Pam and Chrissy joined in, and we all had a good laugh.  What they didn’t know was that I actually had the ring in my pocket and was planning to propose later that night.

After dinner, Pam and Gilles headed home and Chrissy and I went out to see some of the lights of Paris at night.  I mentioned that it might be nice to wander by the Louvre and she agreed.  When we got there, we had the place to ourselves and in front of the glowing pyramids, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.  Chrissy was incredibly surprised and as you can probably guess, she said yes.  We spent another hour or two strolling the streets of Paris and then went back to the apartment and she called pretty much everyone we knew.

We spent the next few days exploring the city and even took a day trip to Disneyland Paris.  Overall, this was one of the happiest and best vacations of my life, and once we got home, we started with the excitement of planning our wedding.  This April, Chrissy and I will be back in Paris, using miles to take our kids and my parents there for Easter.

While we are there, my parents will celebrate their 40th anniversary and later that month back at home, Chrissy and I will celebrate 11 years of marriage.  Those 11 years have been filled with travel and as we continue to plan and take trips year after year, I will never forget that spring break vacation when Chrissy agreed to be my wife.

My wife Chrissy and I, at an alpine lake in Alaska.

Chrissy and I enjoying a sunset in Jamaica

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby? 

I guess that would depend on which friends and family you are asking.  People mainly fall into two different camps.  Those who love the potential rewards and those who think I am just plain nuts.

I have a small group of friends who think what I am doing is great.  They ask questions, read the blog, and genuinely want to learn how to earn miles and points.  I have a couple of friends in Philadelphia who were even taking British Airways award flights before I knew what was going on, and Howie, who writes for the Frugal Travel Guy, is a good friend of mine from college.

In addition, I think I am close to getting my parents on board.  They are not quite ready to start using all of the tricks for earning miles and points, but they are pretty excited about the award tickets that we got them for our upcoming trip to Paris.

On the other hand, there is a much larger group of friends and family who think I am crazy.  They can’t imagine signing up for a credit card just for a bonus and no matter how I explain it to them, they just don’t seem to get it.  I have actually had people say to me “Must be nice being rich enough to take all of these vacations.”

I just smile and say “Don’t be silly, I’m not paying for these trips.”  Soon after I got started with credit cards, my father-in-law pulled my wife aside one day and asked it we were going to get into trouble and if there was a chance I was going to get arrested for doing this.  Like I said, some people just don’t understand.

 Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby? 

I would say that my favorite tool is the vast and incredible knowledge of the members of the miles and points community.  I know this is kind of broad in scope, but chances are that for most things in miles and points, there is someone who has done it before.  In general, people are very friendly and always willing to help.

I have yet to see a question that couldn’t be answered by someone and there is often no better resource than others who share your passion.  From forums like MilePoint and FlyerTalk to blog comments and Twitter, there are lots of ways to connect.  In my opinion, the more people you know, the better off you will be, and the more likely you will be to get in on the next big deal.

Indulge The Wanderlust – Interview with  Jeff

Rappelling down a waterfall in Costa Rica

 What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points? 

Since really getting in to the miles and points game, I am pretty well aware of earning opportunities.  There is rarely a surprise because I am trying to earn some type of miles or points with pretty much every transaction that I make.  That having been said, the dining programs are something that I am not very well in tune with.

There is only one participating restaurant within 20 minutes of my house, so I tend to forget about this opportunity unless I am trying to get a hit in the Grand Slam.  I have my cards registered with dining programs just in case, and after returning from San Diego last fall, I found points posting from two of the restaurants we had eaten at.  Of course I was using my Chase Sapphire card for double dining points on those meals, but the surprise airline dining miles were a nice added bonus.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out? 

When I started out, I threw myself in and ramped up my knowledge pretty fast.  I think my biggest regret is that the first credit card I signed up for was the Citi AAdvantage Visa.  At that time, I had no idea that I could have been approved for the Citi AAdvantage Amex on the same day and doubled the miles I earned.  In fact, I didn’t learn about that trick until after I had applied for the card for my wife as well.  Between the two of us, that lack of knowledge cost us an easy 150,000 miles.

Other than that, I just wish that I had learned about all of this years ago.  There have been some amazing opportunities that I missed out on in the past, but at least I got in when I did and won’t let any more get away.  Who knows, maybe I will even be the one to come up with the next huge earning technique.

 What would your readers be surprised to know about you? 

Indulge The Wanderlust – Interview with  Jeff

Flying up above the clouds. Wait, did we forget the plane?

Other than when I was an infant, the first time I was on a plane was my senior year of high school.  My family went as far as Florida and Colorado on vacations, but we always drove.  That first flight I took in high school was a mission trip to Zimbabwe through my church and waiting at JFK for that flight was the first time I met my wife.  I didn’t know it then, but that flight and that trip would change my life forever.

One other thing people should know is that I am just as comfortable jumping out of planes as I am riding in them.  I am a licensed skydiver with over 65 jumps under my belt and at this point, I have taken more flights in a Cessna without seats than in any other type of aircraft.

If anyone has been wanting to try skydiving and can make it to Northeast PA, let me know and I will be glad to go up with you.  Of course, you will have to pay for your jump, but I can probably get you up in a plane with the world record holder for the most skydives.  With more than 39,000 jumps and counting, he still goes up several times a day and every time he jumps, it’s a new world record.

 Any parting words?

Whether you choose to read my blog or not, I urge everyone to take every opportunity they can to get out of the house and see something new.  There are so many amazing places and people in this world, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to travel.

If you have a dream vacation, don’t put it off for someday in the future.  Use the incredible resources that are available to you and make that trip happen as soon as possible.  When you get home, dream up another trip and do it all again.  Airlines, hotels, and banks are trying their best to show us the world for free so get out there and experience more, spend less, and travel the world.

Indulge The Wanderlust – Interview with  Jeff

My boys, Ryan and Cole, and myself, searching for natural treasures at the Cabrillo Tide Pools in San Diego

Jeff – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

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12 responses to “I just smile and say “Don’t be silly, I’m not paying for these trips.”

  1. I LOVE your interviews! Keep up the great work.

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  3. need to hear more on the doubling citibank points with instant approval!

  4. “Soon after I got started churning credit cards, my father-in-law pulled my wife aside one day and asked it we were going to get into trouble and if there was a chance I was going to get arrested for doing this. Like I said, some people just don’t understand.”

    LOL, Jeff! I’m always thankful for those people; it’s because they DON’T play the game that we can WIN it. 🙂

    Enjoy your trip to Paris at Easter, and congrats to your parents on their milestone.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I agree that the father-in-law story was hilarious!! 🙂

  6. Thanks for the interview. Just a nit when people claim they aren’t paying for trips. How can that be? You’re paying for the trip with miles or points and you didn’t get those miles or points for free. They cost you a credit inquiry, spend, time, effort, risk, equivalent cash back, and/or some form of opportunity cost. Yes, it’s certainly cheaper than paying full price, but you’re still paying for it. If you donate a spare kidney is it free? Nope. Once per lifetime opportunities have opportunity cost.

    “They can’t imagine signing up for a credit card just for a bonus and no matter how I explain it to them, they just don’t seem to get it.”

    Really? The friends I explain it to have no problem understanding. They don’t travel enough to accumulate points but are more than happy to sign up for e.g. Chase Freedom (30K = $300), Sapphire (50K = $500), Ink (50K = $500) and let me buy their points from them. I explain the points are far more valuable to me, and that the $500 I’m paying them for 50K points allows me to fly first class domestic for $500. They understand I’m still paying for my trips, just not full price.

  7. Great interview… and to hikerT: yes, you are a nit. We all know that accumulating points takes time, but its time well spent in a fun way. Its not like work, nor is it like actually spending money. When Im collecting points, Im also always subconsciously working on planning my next trip, which just makes it all the more fun. Your nittiness makes it sound like its hard work or that a credit pull actually affects you in any way (If youre playing this game properly, all of your credit pulls should NOT be affecting you in any negative way, as you would know not to apply for all these cards before applying for loans, etc).

    Either way, good luck to you, and no need to be such a nit.

  8. Well thanks. 😀 Apologies, but I do think it’s important not to gloss over the opportunity costs. There’s one blogger who’s particularly bad about this. I recall one post where he claimed his last trip was “free”. On his next churn he was scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of credit card offers. So how free was that trip? Like I said, just a nit of mine. I’ll go sulk in shame now.

  9. I will add to the nitpicking, my time is not free, points/miles are not free, they do have a cost, some people spend hours gardening or whatever, I spend my leisure time in this hobbie, if you do want to put a $ amount, you could easily use a 2% cashback card on your spend and be a few $$ moneywise richer. I think we all agree that “Value” is much more than “Cost”…sorry for rant but this is my weak spot.

  10. Jeff, I have a specific question, since it seems that you have been in the miles/points game for a while, I want to ask for your opinion.
    So many people’s success stories are from their awesome trip from using sign up bonuses from credit cards. But these people are relatively new and used the first time bonus for the first trip.
    So what do you do when you have already signed for everycard and used up all the bonuses and participated in almost all of the “easy” miles earning avenues.
    I am interested in the 6th, 7th…10th success story.
    I have been in this game 10+ years and am fortunate to be upwards of 10 success stories for highly subsidized trips, so what do you do as a veteran..I have average income, average spend and do not have a business and refuse to do any schemes like giftcard churninig.

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  12. @HikerT, @Sam, @ORD-TGU – My apologies for using the word “Free” in what was perhaps the wrong way. I understand that these trips are not fully free in every sense of the word. When speaking to friends as I referenced, what I meant was that I am not paying the thousands of dollars per trip that they think I am. Instead, I am using miles and points for the majority of the costs. Of course there are costs involved with getting these points or in some cases cash back sacrificed. In my case, the value of the redemptions that I get from the miles and points far outweighs any costs I had to get them or any cash back that I would have received using a different credit card.

    @HikerT – Yes, Really. No matter how many times I bring it up, some people around me just don’t think that earning miles and points would be of value to them. I can’t imagine any of my friends would be willing to sign up for a credit card just so I could buy the points from them. That seems like a great situation that you have worked out there. Until I exhaust the possible credit card bonuses myself though, I don’t think I would want to be buying points at those amounts when I can still earn them for far less.

    @ORD-TGU – Although I have been around for a while, I have only been earning miles and points seriously for a little over a year. I am far from exhausting all of the credit card opportunities and although I have booked several trips, I still have a lot of miles and points waiting to be used. That having been said, I think your best bet would be to really pay attention to the limited time promos that loyalty programs run. For example, the 50k point bonus that Club Carlson ran for staying one night at a Raddison late last year. My wife and I checked in, spent less than $200 total and earned 100k points. The US Airways Grand Slam is another great earning opportunity. Sure it takes some time commitment, but the rewards can be great. Last year, my family earned a total of 254,223 miles and spent only 722.99. That works out to .28 cents a mile if you completely ignore all of the goods and services that we got by spending that money. Promos like this, if they keep happening, will allow you to earn big amounts of miles and points in short amounts of time and help you to keep traveling on those dream trips for less.