“There’s not a lot of hobbies out there that make you money instead of costing you money”

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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:  Discover with Andy

Andy and Becki are your average Midwestern couple who like to travel cheaply and effectively so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!

Discover with Andy – Interview with Andy

Andy and his wife on the Mississippi

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I first really took a notice to travel hacking after seeing a class for it being offered on Dabble. The class description spoke eloquently of traveling around the world for only hundreds instead of many thousands of dollars.  The instructor had already flown roundtrip to Russia for under $450, to Peru and back for about $280, and was planning a full round-the-world trip in the future.

That was about a year ago that I went down the rabbit hole.

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

I started my blog because I got tired of seeing a certain paradigm in most budget travel publications.  I noticed that in articles written in many magazines, they’d go on and on about finding the old laidback Flipflop paradise of the Caribbean, where a hut on the beach was only $30/night, margaritas cost about $2 at the bar, and movie starlets were nowhere to be seen.

After lavishing the most detailed of praises to finding this true travelers paradise, they’d write something like, “or, you could stay at the boutique hotel down the way for $700/night”.  And guess which hotel they’d give you the website and phone number for, and which they wouldn’t? How is that budget travel??

I wanted to give detailed information to people about the high quality, low cost places I had been to.  Not just to save money, but to show people that they can travel the world and have amazing adventures without being rich that  it’s possible for myself, for them, for everyone.

Discover with Andy – Interview with Andy

In Door County, on the shore of Lake Michigan

But the blog has now grown and changed over time.  Now I’m married and my wife Becki travels everywhere with me.  We still seek out unique mom-and-pop places and tell everyone about them, but we also include more stories to engage people, in addition to boots on the ground information.

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

Credit card applications are the number one way to get miles.  Other than that, I’d say pay attention to the special promotions often run through the airlines’ online malls.  Just recently I saw that you could get 10 miles/dollar spent on flowers for Valentines Day, and now you can get 6 miles/dollar spent at H & R block since taxes are coming due.

Lots of times they’ll have specials on things you’d do anyways, so you might as well get extra miles for them.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Discover with Andy – Interview with Andy

Marriage in Puerto Rico

My wife Becki and I just got married right on the beach in Vieques, a small island just off Puerto Rico.  Between dealing with a wedding planner that almost did more harm than good, coordinating travel plans with our family, and a ceremony that was an inch away from disaster but ended up being perfect, we went through so many ups and downs that I wasn’t sure if we were in the Caribbean or riding Raging Bull at Six Flags.

Add to that the sheer joy of getting married, enjoying the sun and sand, and sharing the breathtaking beauty of nature with our families, and you’ve got a travel experience we’ll never forget.

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

They’re pretty suspicious of it.  They all assume it’ll ruin your credit score (it didn’t), that it won’t amount to much (it did), or that it’s too much work.  It is a lot of work, but no more than couponing, or your actual job.  And if you do it right you’re definitely making money by travel hacking.

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

Yes, I really like Award Wallet (feel free to enter your Award Wallet link here if you don’t have one, here’s mine) to help keep track of my miles and points.  We’re still getting ready for our round-the-world trip, so I haven’t looked into many of the tools that help you use your points more efficiently.  So far we’ve only redeemed hotel points for staying in downtown Chicago $ 370/night room on the river for only $20? Yes please!

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

When we go out with friends I think it’s fun to offer to pay for dinner on my credit card (signed up for the dining bonuses, of course 😉 and have everyone give me cash. They wonder why someone would do that when it’s a hassle to take the cash to the bank.  I tell them I’m doing it for the miles and they all laugh and think I’m joking 🙂 

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

I wish I knew how important it was to get multiple cards at the same time.  I was getting them one after another, and that does make more of a ding on your credit score.  Applying in an “app-o-rama” as Daraius calls them is the best way to go you just have a plan for how to meet the minimum spending on all of them.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I once got hit in the head with a lawn jart.  Seriously.  If you’ve met me in person, that’ll probably explain a lot.

Any parting words?

Discover with Andy – Interview with Andy

Andy in Namibia

Theres not a lot of hobbies out there that make you money instead of costing you money.  If you’re already collecting miles and points, keep on going you know the succulent fruits of your endeavors.  If you’re reading this and contemplating a dive into travel hacking, just know this: it isn’t an easy hobby, and it’s not for everyone.

Making yourself some spreadsheets, and coming up with a game plan isn’t easy if you’re already doing that 50hrs a week.  But to get an extra $5,000 to 6,000 in travel money per year? Worth it. 

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

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22 responses to ““There’s not a lot of hobbies out there that make you money instead of costing you money”

  1. Excellent interview! I actually like those Caribbean travel magazines and the Caribbean is by far my favorite travel destinations. But I guess the difference is that I stay in those luxurious $500-$700 a night hotels for free with points most of the time. 🙂

  2. Enjoyed the interview. Did you travel to Namibia on miles?

  3. Something happened to the formatting at the end of the article – that’s supposed to read “$5-6000 not $56000” – I can only dream of getting $56000/yr out of travel hacking 😉

    @The Miles Professor – I know what you mean – I may never pay full price for one of those rooms, but I’m definitely okay with using points for them

    @Traveling Well For Less – I didn’t unfortunately, as that was before I knew about travel hacking. Just put in my 2 week notice at work though, and we’re taking 3-4 months off to travel, so we’ll be putting our miles to good use very soon 🙂

  4. Great to hear of another Wisconsin points collector-thought I was the only crazy one in this neck of the woods!

  5. Your article gave me an idea. I could teach a class on getting almost free travel by CC signups. Too bad I am speech impared due to head/neck surgery because of cancer. I’ll find a way to do that!! (handouts, powerpoint, etc). On the other hand,I may not want our secrets to get out–most of that is public knowledge but one has to know how to access it!!!

    My wife & I do moderate CC signups for the bonuses. We keep some CC’s (some w/annual fees) for the anniversary bonuses (free hotel nights) and not to appear we are just signing up for cards and cancel after the bonus posts. (mostly chase cards we keep like Hyatt, Priority Club, Marriott, etc). We also keep cards with no annual fees (credit union, other no annual fee cards, etc) to keep credit history and high FICO’s.

    This hobby is great!! We get alot of free travel from CC signups. Even though I have advance stages of cancer (Stage 4B), I keep quite active and am responding well to chemo. I recently spent 9 days in the hospital 100 miles from home (rt hip fracture)and I got 2 more CC’s approved (SWA Personal/Biz cards for companion pass–thanks to Darius/Emily’s blog) calling the recon lines while in the hospital.

    In the near short term, I can’t travel but when my hip heals up (4.5 weeks more), I will have the SWA companion pass and be ready to travel. SWA Companion Pass will complement our “stash” of AA miles for long haul intl Biz/F travels.

    Bottom line: I enjoyed your article!! Glad that you are benefiting from this hobby!! Free/inexpensive travel is the way to go. Alot of people do not “get” it. More treasures for us that do “get” it!!

  6. To add another point:
    Our credit scores are excellent: Mine 750+ (after heavy CC churning (10) , 3 mortgage refinances plus sold rental house paying off 2 mortgages over the past 9 months)
    Wife: upper 700’s with lite/moderate CC churning. Will soon do a heavy CC churn.

    We both are in our mid 50’s and have very deep, established credit files. Credit reports have no negatives, low utilization, perfect pay history.

    Bottom line: Our churns are much more conservative than other bloggers. (FTG for example). Our FICO’s are decent in spite of the CC churning! We do have decent income. (upper 5 figures household income).

  7. “There’s not a lot of hobbies out there that make you money instead of costing you money” unless you count coin collecting, stamp collecting, memoribillia collecting, investing in real estate (flipping), investing in commodities, gold prospecting….hmmm I thought of 6 in 15 seconds.

  8. Why would applying to one card every month be worse than applying to three cards every 3 months?

  9. Can he please explain the difference between a lawn jart and a lawn dart?

    I have no problem with hotel loyalty credit card sign-up bonuses and specials. Hotel loyalty, for someone who travels as infrequently as Andy says they do, or who travels on a budget, is a scam. Get thee to hotels.com via a portal. h/t WA

  10. ” “There’s not a lot of hobbies out there that make you money instead of costing you money” unless you count coin collecting, stamp collecting, memoribillia collecting, investing in real estate (flipping), investing in commodities, gold prospecting….hmmm I thought of 6 in 15 seconds. ”

    Once again my theorem that posits that no comment thread can go without at least one moronic-type comment has moved a little closer to actual fact.

  11. @ DBest Each cc application puts a hard inquiry on your credit report. If you apply for a new credit card every month, banks worry that you are just living on new credit on your way to declaring bankruptcy. When you wait 3 or 4 months between apps, and have paid off all of your charges every month during that time, you appear to be a much better credit risk. I’m sure Daraius could explain it better, but since he’s not feeling well, I thought I’d try to help out.

  12. Real estate flipping, investing in commodities, and gold prospecting are hardly hobbies. They are hard work, and have serious potential for economic loss. A hobby is something you do in your spare time mainly for the fun of it.

  13. @chemist661 – Wow, that’s a very moving story you have! It really hits home with me, because I repair clinical linear accelerators for a living. For those that don’t know, when you are diagnosed with cancer they use surgery, chemo, or radiation for treatment (or a combo of those). The machine they use to generate the radiation is a linear accelerator. So I work at the cancer center of a large teaching hospital in Milwaukee fixing those linear accelerators. I might not be a doctor or therapist, but I do what I can in a capacity that comes easily to me, to help people with cancer.

    I’m very happy to hear that you’re keeping up the travel hacking during your treatments! It can’t be easy to stay focused while under chemo, but I bet tracking your CCs and applications helps. Keep it up, and I think you should teach people!

    @harvson3 – No difference at all when it lands in your head, let me tell you!. If you google “lawn jart” you’ll get plenty of pictures, and you’ll see they’re used pretty interchangeably.

    @Kayla – Nope, not the only crazy one around here 🙂

    @DBest @Robert Hanson – Thanks for the reply, and I think you’re right on the money. Also, if all the credit inquiries are on the same day, I believe they effectively don’t “see” each other, and it looks like less credit requests overall. Definitely not 100% sure about that, but I’m sure Daraius can elaborate and confirm or deny this later.

    @anon – I think @Robert Hanson and @johnny covered it nicely. Not to mention lots more people don’t make a profit than do with those other hobbies you mentioned. It’s not impossible – just not too likely.

  14. I have pondered starting up a blog site of my own on travel hacking like Andy. One question I have for everyone is how do you get hooked up with these credit card companies to advertise their card on your blog site and get a commission then from the credit card company when someone applies for a credit card off your blog site link?

  15. I can’t get over how different “Becki” looks in the various photos, is that really her overlooking the Mississippi? Does living in the Midwest really zap all the color out of someone?

  16. I collected stamps & coins in the early/mid 1970’s when I was a teenager. I spent about $1500 at the time. I did not do that for investment but as a hobby. I have both collections and they are worth a few $1000. I sold some of my silver in early 1980 when it peaked around 23 times face. The little bit of silver sold in early 1980 paid for a year of college!! I paid 1.35 times face in 1973!! Too bad I did not buy an $1000 bag of silver in 1973. I was only 15 yrs old and did not have the $. One good thing was I spent money I had earned from odd jobs instead of buying the latest toys or taking out a loan.

    Note: I got very lucky with my coins. I was called “stupid” for selling part of my silver coins but I got the last laugh when I funded a year’s worth of college in 1980.

    Bottom line: I had fun with my coin/stamp hobbies as a teenager. Kept me out of trouble and made some $$ along the way. I love doing CC signups because there are almost no downside. Rewards are great with very little work!! It does not matter that our 800+ FICO’s drop to 750–We (wife & I) have no loan needs as our principal residence/new cars are paid off. My rental houses are now at the lowest interest rates!!

    Sorry for writing a “book” but wanted to give some of my real life examples. The CC rewards hobby is so much fun!! I feel like a teenager again!! (with alot more wisdom !!)

  17. Daraius, quick question. My partner has some southwest points. I have qualified for the companion award bu getting two credit cards and meeting the spend requirements( thanks to you and your series on that subject). Given that my partner only travels when I do can she get me a ticket using her points and then I use my companion pass to bring her along?

  18. Maybe it’s just me, but I think you should limit your “interview” series to REAL EXPERTS in the “travel hacking” world. I’m glad when new people discover this hobby, but it takes years to become an expert. It’s those experts I’m interested in hearing from.

  19. @iahphx I agree, but the problem is that we have already heard from all 8 of them, and the blog must go on. 😀

  20. @MrSublimal Yup, that really is me in all the photographs! And yes, the Midwest does zap the color out of most people, just look at Andy!

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