“I now ask myself, if I could fly anywhere in the world, where would I go?”

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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:  The Points Guide

Derek writes The Points Guide to help people earn free travel, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!  He’s also giving away 25,000 Delta miles on his blog.

The Points Guide – Interview with Derek

Great Pyramids of Giza, Cairo Egypt – May 2011

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I started collecting America Express membership rewards points in late 2007 but didn’t realize the power of collecting those points until I met my, soon-to-be, father-in-law in the summer of 2010.

I used my membership rewards points for free travel, but it wasn’t until my father-in-law showed me how I could gain an extra 20% to 50% more miles, thus helping to stretch my miles even further.

When you use rewards points to book your travel, like with the membership rewards portal over at American Express, you can pay for your airline ticket with points, but the overall cost of those tickets are higher.  You gain miles since the ticket is being paid for, but you lose value in redeeming your rewards points because you are exchanging your points at 1 cent each.

What I learned from my father-in-law changed how I managed my miles and points.  As you can say, it was revolutionary to me, but it wasn’t new.  I never knew Delta offered transfer bonuses; I also never knew other airlines offered these same types of bonuses.

I started taking advantage of these ‘extra’ bonuses, so my rewards points went from 100,000 points to 120,000-150,000 airline miles.  Not only did I gain extra miles but I am also redeeming my miles at a higher value.  I also got an instant Silver Status with Delta and soon got 3 First Class upgrades.  That ruined flying economy class for me!  It’s all about the First Class!

Once I learned this tactic from my father-in-law, I started reading everything I could about gaining more miles and points so that I could gain more on these transfer bonuses.  Just last year I earned over 600,000 points/miles and this year I expect to be closer to 700,000 points/miles.

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

I started ThePointsGuide because I wanted a place to share my knowledge of being able to travel for free.  When I was a kid my family never had the money to fly anywhere.  In fact we would drive everywhere we went. I always wished we could have flown but I’m also grateful for the places I got to see while I was growing up.  Being able to see most of the USA is more than most people are able to ever do.

I also realized that most of my family and friends never registered for miles and points accounts.  I think back at how many miles and points I could have had, had I started collecting when I was 18 years old!

Hopefully my blog will inspire others to register and capture all of the miles and points they are missing out on.  This includes Dining programs and shopping portals!

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

The easiest way to gain miles is to CHARGE EVERYTHING!  My wife still has a hard time with this concept because growing up you are taught credit cards are bad!!  But if you are able to manage your debts and pay them off, then why wouldn’t you charge everything and earn miles or rewards points on your purchases!

Just by charging everything, you could earn enough rewards/miles for a free ticket every year.

The Points Guide – Interview with Derek

Whitewater Rafting the Nile (Class 5), Uganda Africa – September 2009

The second best way of gaining miles or rewards points quickly is by signing up for a credit card with a large bonus.  My wife signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which at the time came with 40,000 bonus points after spending $3k within the first 3 months.

Since we were planning on getting our new lawn installed, we knew we could meet any reward’s bonus requirement. Paying $6,000 for our new lawn, the Sapphire Preferred card will give us back 40,000 rewards points plus another 6,000 for the purchase.  46,000 rewards points with Chase = $460… free.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

My absolute most favorite travel experience was with my wife for our honeymoon to Egypt in 2011.  I didn’t use any free miles or rewards points because it was a gift from my father-in-law.  We spent 3 weeks in Egypt and had an amazing time.  I could spend months there touring the entire country and probably would never get bored.

The Points Guide – Interview with Derek

On top of Mt. Sinai Egypt – May 2011

Egypt was in turmoil until late April when the rioting stopped.  We were there for 3 weeks and everything was calm.  We left early in the morning on a Friday, the same day that the protest broke out again.  Both my wife and I looked at each other and said we would be back, but with all of the recent uprisings and de-stability of the area, it’s hard to say when it will be safe to travel back to Egypt.

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

Once I started earning hundreds of thousands of miles and rewards points, my family loved it and now does it on their own on a much smaller scale.  For Christmas I give the gift of free travel to my family members, so you know… they love what I do!

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

I’ve found it better to earn rewards points and then transfer those points to my airline of choice, usually the airline that is offering a transfer bonus.  Taking advantage of those transfer bonuses from American Express to Delta or American Express to British Airways can really add a lot of miles to your account.

I would rather transfer 50,000 rewards points into miles, which can usually give me 2 free tickets, if I were transferring to Delta.  Otherwise if you were to have 50,000 rewards points with Chase, the value of those points is a measly $500.  Transferring points to miles will give you a bigger payday, especially with getting free First Class tickets!

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

Every thing I do I try to earn some form of miles or points.  I was surprised to receive an email from SkyMiles Dining (Delta’s dining program) that I had earned miles.  Whenever I travel to Washington I take my parents out to eat.

I wasn’t able to see if the place we were eating was part of the SkyMiles dining program.  A few days later I learned that I had earned 356 SkyMiles plus a 300 bonus for the meal.  I earned 656 Delta SkyMiles for something I was already going to do, so the way I see it, I got free miles.

If you earn miles, then you need to be registered with your specific airline’s dining program to earn miles for just eating out.  We all eat out; why not earn miles for it.

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

Sign up for everything that is free!  Everything can pay you a dividend of either rewards points or miles; you just need an account for it.  Every time I stay at a hotel or rent a car I capture the points because I never know when I might need those extra points or miles.

I now ask myself, if I could fly anywhere in the world, where would I go?  Because really, once you have 600,000 airline miles in your account, it really opens the doors to where you could travel, especially in First Class!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Since getting serious about miles and points, I have earned over 1 million miles and have flown First Class multiple times without paying for the ticket.  I’ve giving free airline tickets to family and friends over 10 times, giving them the ability to travel for free when it was never possible.

I love to give and believe that giving should be a way of life!  Currently I am raffling off 25,000 Delta SkyMiles* on my blog and hope to do multiple raffles, as my blog gets more and more popular.

*These miles come from my personal account and have not been given by Delta or American Express.

Any parting words?

Look into First Class seats.  If you compare the price of First Class with the number of airline miles needed, it’s usually a better deal going First Class.

The Points Guide – Interview with Derek

Edfu Temple (most intact temple in Egypt), 60 miles north of Aswan, Egypt – May 2011

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

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14 responses to ““I now ask myself, if I could fly anywhere in the world, where would I go?”

  1. Awesome Daraius! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story. And thanks for helping with promoting my 25k Delta SkyMiles giveaway – http://www.thepointsguide.com/thepointsguide-25000-delta-skymiles-holiday-giveaway/

  2. I don’t understand what you mean at the end about first class being a better deal. You aren’t implying it’s cheaper to fly first class are you? If not, then isn’t it just up to the flyer how much the upgrade is worth it to them?

  3. David, I think he meant it’s a better value points-wise. Not being as points rich as he is, my calculation is different = I can have 2 trips in coach, or 1 in first class. I choose coach most of the time.

  4. Nice post…but how do you rack up over 600000 miles in a year without being a high end business spender?

  5. ^^ Yeah, a quick search shows a high (peak) delta trip from the US to EU will cost 2.5X pts flying first class opposed to economy, however purchasing the ticket outright would cost 5X the price in dollars.

    ^ I have about 250,000 miles after a year and that’s with converting all my AMEX and Chase pts straight to cash. If I had converted them to miles I’d probably have about twice that.

  6. my sentiment with “Deep” how do you do it without spending $$$$, I also play the game but no where near racking up that much. I like to see if he give a full disclosure of his account and I mean every steps he takes to achieve this. If true then we all can learn from his wisdom but otherwise, I m a little skeptic of achieving 600k in one year.

  7. another thing to add, I realized he likes to travel in F with Delta but to redeem with top notch world airlines, it will cost you more. an example, F for UA cost 120 k to asia but for SIA or CX its 190k. its a no brainer that aisian airlines products are much better quality than domestic legacy airlines.

  8. @David – Of course First Class is always more expensive in $$, but if you look at it in terms of points its a better deal (sometimes) to fly First Class, comparing the dollar amount verse the miles amount. Sorry if that was unclear.

    @Lise – Yes you are correct. I think once you have built up hundreds of thousands of miles, you might want to give First Class a try, at least on longer flights. I just flew from ANC to TPA (long 8hrs worth of flying), First Class was 62,500, economy class would have been 32,500 – 40,000, depending on the dates we could fly. If I am flying short distances I usually go economy class. Its not really worth spending the extra miles on short distances.

    The cost of the first class ticket would have been $2100+, so to me its a better deal to fly First Class in terms of $$/value. The cost of the economy ticket was $650+. Flying from Alaska makes my travel expenses higher in most cases!

    Value of First Class ticket by using miles makes my miles worth $0.0336/each, economy value between $0.02-$0.0163/each. The higher the number the better the deal. I do realize you have to take into account that I could purchase two tickets at that price, therefore diluting the value of the First Class ticket somewhat, but I didn’t care, Id rather fly in comfort. Plus most flights leave ANC at 12am and I can’t ever sleep on a plane!

    Try getting the same value with Chase Ultimate Rewards points. They value every point at 1 cent each. IE. If you bought a ticket using their portal a $400 plane ticket would cost you 40,000 points/

    @Deep – Its a combination of credit card bonuses, personal spending and business spending. I put everything you can imagine on credit cards. Every single dollar my wife and I spend goes on to a credit card. Some trips we take, we purchase the airfare in order to get the miles/points. (it all depends on the math and if its worth the miles).

    I realize that some credit cards are out of the reach of the average person, such as the AMEX Gold card I got that had 75,000 bonus points, then turn that into miles if and when Delta or BA or any other airline offers a bonus transfer. Transferring to BA when they had the 50% bonus would turn those 75,000 points into 112,500 Avios.

    @David0603 – you turned all your points into cash and purchased airfare in order to get the 250,000 miles?

    @Choi – That’s the catch.. you have to spend money in order to rack up a massive amount of points. Every credit card bonus requires a spending amount. For most people, they can’t match what Daraius and his wife do with signing up for 5 cards all at once. That bonus spending limit gets extremely high for a 3-5 month period. But the goal is to take action.. who cares if you can’t get more than 100,000 points/miles in a year, at least you are getting more than 99% of the travelers out there. Most people like my family never even had a frequent flyer account. I look back at all of the missed miles and points I could have had over the past 10 years before I really got into this game.

    I do have a small business, which allows me to get those business cards much easier. By have a couple of business licenses it does make it easier. But in the end, everything my wife and I purchase goes onto a credit card, so far everything but our mortgage. Lately we have slowed down tremendously due to a change in my work, so we aren’t getting as many points/miles or signing up with credit cards as much. Its all a matter of what you can do and what you are comfortable with.

    You are right.. I fly Delta most of the time. I do not fly internationally much. In fact I will be taking my first International flight next month, the first time in almost 2 years. Most of my flying is to visit family or go on short vacations with my wife. For me, flying out of Alaska is expensive, at least much more than I was used to when I lived in Seattle.

    I agree with you.. would love to fly SIA one of these days.. or to expand my ‘travel experiences’ internationally.

  9. @Derek – If you want to redeem a Chase point towards travel they value each point at .0125 not .01

  10. You can’t redeem in first class with Skypesos for int’l travel (only economy and bus. cl is allowed).

    @Deep & Choi- As mentioned in the article Delta had a transfer miles promo with a 100% bonus. It works out to buying miles for 1.1 cents per mile.

  11. @ Derek, great interview! Have you decided how you’re going to earn miles on your mortgage yet? This Bluebird card might make it much easier.

  12. Chase points worth that little? What about turning them into UA and BA miles, where their redemption options are then much better than Skymiles? Or even Korean Air, where you can then fly KE F instead of being stuck with KE J on Skymiles?

    I recently redeemed 70k UR points for a $10k F ticket and will be looking to clear out another 50k for a $15k J ticket. A poor use of UR points? Erm…

  13. Furthermore, if you are transferring UR points to BA miles, there is great value in short direct domestic hops e.g. JFK-ORD, which is only 7.5k UR points (i.e. $75) one way, much less than the 12.5k one way that DL/AA/UA would charge. Oops, 25k. Forgot that DL doesn’t do one ways.

  14. In addition, it is not true that every rewards card has a large spending prerequisite to get the bonus. The Ink Bold gives you 25k UR points on your first purchase. The Amex SPG gives 10k Starpoints on first purchase. The US Airways Mastercard gives 40k on first purchase. I could get the bonus on these 3 cards by just spending $3. Of course, you might argue that it will take more spending to get the final targeted bonus, but it all boils down to how many points you want to get out of it.