“You don’t need a lot of money to have amazing experiences.”

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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: Heels First Travel

Keri is obsessed with travel and blogs at Heels First Travel blog along with her friend Jeanne, so I was looking forward to chatting on Friday!

Heels First Travel – Interview with Keri

Sea World’s Kracken Roller Coaster: Jeanne & Keri’s crazy experiences extend beyond flights

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My first employer made me sign up for a frequent flyer number in 2001 but I didn’t start collecting miles in any meaningful way until 2005 when I needed miles to take advantage of my first mistake deal — a $500 upgradable fare to London in August.

I’m ashamed to say there were several years of a long distance European relationship in between where I just went for the cheapest flights rather than the most strategic…

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

We started it early this spring when Jeanne was going for a US Airways status challenge.  We were lucky because we had friends really knowledgeable about travel and willing to coach us through mistake deals and status runs, and we felt like there were probably others out there who would like to get into travel and points, but like us, were not advanced enough to just jump right into travel blogs and forums without an interpreter.

And of course, we tend to egg each other on to crazy travel plans and we thought those experiences might be generally entertaining.

Heels First Travel – Interview with Keri

Making United 1K status through a 36 hr trip to Sydney, Australia on a United Tware fare

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

This is a hard one, I keep going back and forth.  If I had to pick, I probably go for getting a good mileage/point earning credit card and putting EVERY expense on it.  $1 sodas, everything!  It adds up.

However, simply making sure you get credit for all your flights and choose one airline per alliance to credit everything to has the biggest impact.  And it’s been one of the things that has been hardest to convince others.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Forgetting the international date line.  A $98 mistake deal Los Angeles to Taipei came up in Malaysian Airlines Business class right before I was leaving for work. I managed to snag tickets that left LA at 2AM the Sunday of Labor Day weekend arriving at 6:30AM and getting me back to the US that Monday afternoon.

A quick overnight that didn’t require taking time off work!  Except while Orbitz indicated it was an overnight flight, it did not say it arrived the next day.  It wasn’t until the deal was gone a few hours later that I realized I’d booked flights that had me in Taipei from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm on Monday.  But I got a guide and saw a lot in my 9 hours, and Malaysian Air has amazing satay in business class.

Heels First Travel – Interview with Keri

Golden Triangle, Thailand Side

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

For years they’ve thought I was slightly crazy (they probably still do), but they definitely respect it and get excited for me about each new adventure.  Sometimes my hobby does get translated to others as “Keri can find you airfare for <$100 to anywhere you want to go at anytime”.  If only!

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

My favorite tool: using AwardWallet to track my balances.  It is so much easier to stay on top of what has and hasn’t credited when you can see it all at once.  My trick: book first, ask questions/check your schedule later.  Jumping on a deal immediately is often the difference between getting in on it or missing out.

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

Through FourSquare.  I’ll admit, I never got into letting everyone know where I was at all times but once I heard about Top Guest I was hooked.  It credits 50 points/miles to your account every time you check in at a participating location, so I rack up about 1500 United miles, Hilton points, and Priority Club points every month, roughly 18,000 points/miles in each a year.

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

I wish I had known that responsible credit card applications have little impact your credit score so I could have started years earlier when there were fewer limits on signing up.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I love going to different destinations but I don’t actually enjoy flying.  I’m quick to feel changes in cabin pressure and easily fall victim to motion sickness.  Many of my flights have been less than enjoyable.  I’m just glad I didn’t fall in love with cruises or I’d really be sunk. 😉

Any parting words?

Heels First Travel – Interview with Keri

Sporting motion sickness wristbands the entire time on the QM2 North Atlantic crossing.

You don’t need a lot of money to have amazing experiences.  You just need to know where you want to go.  I always encourage friends to keep a wishlist of their top destinations and get a feel for breaks in their schedules so if a mistake deal or great opportunity comes along they can act quickly without waiting to do cost benefit analysis.

In 2005 I had very few miles and practically no knowledge of loyalty programs, but I knew where I wanted to go.  So when that first mistake deal came along, I jumped on it and got to experience England during the summer on a ticket I never could have afforded.

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

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13 responses to ““You don’t need a lot of money to have amazing experiences.”

  1. Nice interview! I have started reading Heels First recently and really enjoy it. Guess we share the same taste in fine wine and fine travel, preferably combined!

  2. Can anyone report whether they have been receiving the United 50 miles for topguest/foursquare check-ins? Mine stopped on 6/18 even though I check into the same airport as before.

  3. @TK, thanks for flagging this. Just checked the Top Guest website and discovered that United is no longer listed. Virgin America is now the only airline. Boo.

  4. Have been following Heels First. Great writing– authors aren’t interested in impressing you with how sophisticated they are. They seem to entertain you with the excitement of their current trip.

  5. Terrific article that is also a motivator to try travel deals! Keri is amazing! I love checking the blog to see where she’s been and get her helpful hints.

  6. @TK – no this died around 6/15. There is a not saying the partnership no longer exists, so it is “officially” dead. All good things come to an end….

  7. Thanks for the update, I have since removed my auto4sq checkin 🙁

  8. Good to know about topguest/foursquare!

  9. How do you collect points on FourSquare? I downloaded the app, but not sure how to go about collecting points. Can someone advise? Thanks!

  10. “mistake deal”
    Forgive me for being a newbie but uwhat does this term refer to?

  11. @Ivan, sign up for TopGuest at http://www.topguest.com then link your Foursquare account.
    @Pete, mistake deal is when a hotel or airline misprices a ticket or fare, often by leaving off a zero or two on the cost or pricing it in the wrong currency. My favorite was when overwater bungalows in Moorea were about 10% the usual price because they priced in Congolese Francs (CDF) instead of French Pacific Francs (CFP).

  12. Pingback: The End of My Favorite Source of Points?

  13. I’m embarassed to say I know nothing about travel reward points having never participated in a program myself. Having recently paid for 6 flights (2 people) including US to New Zealand long haul I fear I perhaps should have…