“Flying across the water in business class was nice and staying at the Hilton Budapest was excellent, but none of those things made the vacation.”

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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:  Help Me Travel Cheap

Craig is a former missionary to Papua New Guinea.  He also writes Help Me Travel Cheap blog where he helps his readers on earning and using miles and points for free flights, so I was excited to chat him on Friday!

Help Me Travel Cheap – Interview with Craig

Riding Elephants in Phuket, Thailand

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

When I moved from Canada to the States I realized that credit card companies would give cool bonuses if you sign up for credit cards.  The first credit card I signed up for was for a free T-shirt (at a hockey game).

I decided I’d see what other bonuses I could get for credit card applications.  That’s when I discovered mileage bonuses for new credit card applications.  That would have been about 15 years ago.

I do clearly remember that the first mileage credit card I applied for was the Delta SkyMiles card.  Man, have I learned a lot since those early days.

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

I started my blog three and a half years ago.  I actually started two blogs on the same day – one in the personal finance niche and one in the travel space.  After a year or two, I noticed that most of my readers didn’t really know about miles, points, and credit card bonuses, so I decided to make that the sole focus of my blog.

On my blog I want to reach everyday folks who have an interest in collecting miles and points but need a little extra guidance.  I don’t write articles for ‘experts’ who’ve been doing this sort of thing for years.  I don’t write articles for people who want to spend 10+ hours a week doing crazy things to earn miles.  Help Me Travel Cheap is my attempt to simplify the game of nearly free travel.

What’s unique about the blog is that I only post two times a week.  My goal is teach people who want to do 20% of the work, but earn 80% of the benefits.  Since most of my readers are new to the mileage game, I give each of my subscribers a free e-book – How to Travel Anywhere in the World for Next to Nothing.

Oh yeah, another thing that’s special about my blog is that the title is grammatically incorrect.  Yes, it should be “Help Me Travel Cheaply!”

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

I wish I could come up with some wise statement that would shock your readers.  The only thing I can do is blab on about credit cards.  There simply isn’t an easier way to earn multitudes of miles.  People will get the biggest return for the least amount of work by focusing on credit card sign up bonuses.  Sorry, no deep revelation here.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Help Me Travel Cheap – Interview with Craig

The Ford family in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Since I often travel with my family (wife and kids ages 7, 5, and 3), the most memorable travel experience was earlier this year when my wife and I got to go to Budapest, Hungary ALONE for our 12th anniversary.  For many of you, an exotic trip is first class flights and five star hotels.  For us, it was the opportunity to spend quality time together.

Flying across the water in business class was nice and staying at the Hilton Budapest was excellent, but none of those things made the vacation.  It was memorable because of the long walks my wife and I got to enjoy along the beautiful Danube River.

Aside from that trip, we’ve always enjoyed visiting friends who live overseas.  We’ve been able to visit friends in Papua New Guinea; Sydney, Australia; Sendai, Japan; and Quito, Ecuador.  We have so many friends around the world that each time we get to reconnect it’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

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

Help Me Travel Cheap – Interview with Craig

Playing with my son on Waikiki Beach

Most of my friends and family don’t collect miles to the extent that I do.  However, most think it’s pretty cool that our family gets to travel as much as we do.  Most of them like having a travel resource they can contact if they have any travel related questions.

It’s been fun because I’ve been able to help a lot of friends and family craft a plan to collect miles and points that’s saved them a lot of money.  That’s one of the most rewarding things that I’m blessed to do.

Most of my immediate family is Canadian, so they’re just jealous that they don’t have the same opportunities as the folks who live in the States.

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

Organization is essential for this hobby.  I’ve heard of a lot of people who forget to make payments, forget to cancel cards, and such.  You can’t play this game without at least some basic organizational skills.  Granted, there are great tools to help you get organized.

Personally, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and record when I apply for a card and when I need to cancel it.  I also immediately set an appointment on my calendar and set up a reminder to call when it’s time to cancel a card.

From there, if all a person needs to do is to subscribe to several of the fantastic travel blogs, they’ll be ready to start earning serious points.

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

Back in 2002, an airline mistake netted my wife and I each over 120,000 US Airways miles.  We were flying from Los Angeles to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  At the time, US Airways was having a triple mileage promotion.  We registered for the promotion and enjoyed the trip.

When we returned home, there were some issues getting us credit for our flights, and somehow they posted the miles twice (each with the triple promotion).  We ended up with six times the miles on a flight from the US to Papua New Guinea.

I contacted US Airways and notified them of the mistake, and they said they couldn’t undo it.  The next year we took my in-laws to Switzerland on the miles.  We were also able to fly on a domestic US flight (2 passengers) all on the miles we earned from one trip to Papua New Guinea.

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

I wish I had taken some time to learn the key differences between each of the reward programs.  I thought 12,500 miles on Delta was the exact same as 12,500 miles on American.  However, over the years I’ve discovered that each program has different features that make them more or less valuable.

Before spending a lot of time earning miles, I’d educate myself on the basic features of each airline.

Also, over the years I’ve discovered more ways to increase my spending without spending more (like the list of ways to meet a minimum spend).  That’s opened up the possibility to get more cards as I can now reach larger minimum spends.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Help Me Travel Cheap – Interview with Craig

Kids at the Petronas Twin Towers in KL

I was born and raised in Papua New Guinea.  I lived in the country for a total of 16 years, but I’m a Canadian citizen.  People find it ironic that I’m targeting a US based audience even though I’m not a US Citizen (yet).

In 2012, I traveled to Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, and Ecuador with my wife and three kids (7, 5, and 3).  As a family we’ve spent 70+ nights in hotels this year alone.  Yes, most of the travel has been on points and miles.

All of my three kids have flown before they were six weeks old.  In fact, my second born flew at 13 days old and my third born flew at 15 days old.  Both were 2 days old in their Passport pictures.

I’m also a minister.  I have a Masters of Divinity and have been working with churches for the last dozen years.

Any parting words?

Help Me Travel Cheap – Interview with Craig

Our Family enjoying the view at San Carlos De Bariloche, Argentina

Thanks to Daraius for giving me the opportunity to join in the interview series.  Thanks to you for taking the time to read the interview.

Take advantage of the wealth of information available on all the fantastic blogs in this niche.

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13 responses to ““Flying across the water in business class was nice and staying at the Hilton Budapest was excellent, but none of those things made the vacation.”

  1. It’s nice that you can take your family with you—that’s no small feat to get tickets and rooms that will accommodate 5 people!!

  2. I also can’t believe he’s doing all this with such a large family.

    My only question is: how is a Canadian citizen getting all these credit card deals =0

  3. I’m eager to check your blog out… more points bloggers need to talk about the use of points for families. That’s a different approach: rarely first class flights, tougher use of hotel miles internationally, etc.

  4. @bluecat – we often book a full 10 months in advance as it is hard to get 5 seats. Of course, we rarely fly business or first.
    @Corey – I’m a Canadian citizen, but US Permanent Resident. That’s all you need to apply for credit cards in the US.
    @Jeff – Good suggestion on focusing on redemption options for families. It wasn’t until you mentioned it that I realized how infrequently most bloggers talk about it.

  5. Craig:
    How do you achieve ‘Permanent Resident’? My girlfriend would like to know because she wants in on these credit card deals 😛

  6. She’s also Canadian, too.

  7. @Corey After my wife and I got married I paid the fee and filed the paperwork to become a permanent resident. It takes a few years to finalize everything.

  8. Sigh, okay.
    Guess I need to find another way =\

  9. I like you :). You remind me of me.

    Just returned from a long trip Beijing – Siem reap Cambodia – Osaka Japan – Singapore – Bangkok – hong kong – Beijing all Business top airlines

    Hilton Beijing – Le Meridien – Lebua – Grand Hyatt Hong Kong – Park Hyatt Beijing.

    But the flight from Beijing to Chicago was on united economy and couldn’t care less. I am like you that like to take family members more then caring about what class of service.

  10. Hello Craig,

    It is great to see a regular guy like yourself using your miles to spend quality time with your family. Some other bloggers are going to these fabulous places on first class flights and staying in beautiful hotels but have no one to share it with. What a shame.

  11. dil, I was wondering if your trip involved sex tourism. To me, you sound like a dirty Indian pervert.

  12. Love seeing another average family that has figured out that traveling the world isn’t just for the rich and famous! Cute family you have! Love that you are serving the Lord too! 🙂 Thanks for the great post! I would be happy to have you guest post on my site sometime as my site is geared towards family travel. I’m sure you have many great family adventures to share.

  13. @Dil and @Jonathan – if I had to chose between traveling with family in economy or alone in business/first then I’d definitely pick the family. If I had to pick between traveling alone in economy or in business/first with my wife … that would be a different story. 🙂
    @milesmomma – We’ve been so blessed to be able to travel on an ‘average income’. Guest posting sounds like a good thing for us to explore. I’ll be in touch.