“We know we’re the poorest people in the lounge…”

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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: Travel is Free 

Drew & Carrie are a broke married couple in their 20s who love to travel with miles and points.  I was looking forward to learning more from them on Friday!

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My first rewards card came from researching how to save money on an upcoming road trip.  Later, I decided that I was going to travel the world but had no idea how.  I was content on boat hopping, hitchhiking and whatever it took.

It wasn’t until my wife and I fell in love that I decided I needed a new plan.  When we were dating I spent alot of time googling ways to travel for free and the best info I found was stuff like hitchiking and couchsurfing, which I already had tried.  Until I saw an article on people buying $1 coins on rewards cards.

That led me to flyertalk and the credit cards began.  Before I knew it, we had millions of miles.

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Drew in Fiji

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

Like most people, I was (and still am) obsessed and friends had questions… often the same questions.  Blogging was always something I was interested in but this passion kept me going for years instead of days this time.

To be honest, the thing that makes Travel is Free’s perspective different is that we’re broke and yet have created a lifestyle of full time travel. It’s an interesting combination.  We fly somewhere on miles and will sometimes walk to our hotel to save taxi money.

In the process we’ve discovered some really interesting ways to stretch points.  For example, when Club Carlson had the promotion where you get 9,000 points back on a stay, we found a low category Radisson and alternated nights.  So we stayed there for a week but everyday we would checkout and check-in as the other person.

So we booked 3 separate stays 6 nights in a row thus getting all 9,000 points back per night.  It was completely free.

We learned to do the same thing in airport lounges using Priority Pass to get two people in.  Generally one person gets into a lounge for free and the second for $27, so we found ways around that.  And we do the same thing to get Free Marriott Platinum Status Challenge.

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Air New Zealand Business Premier

These are small examples but it’s what we do everyday and it pays off everyday.  If we had money we would have just payed the $27 for the second person but we don’t.  We know we’re the poorest people in the lounge, in the Park Hyatt, in Air New Zealand’s business class but it’s our weird mixed lifestyle that makes us figure out how to get more for less.

This is why I’m obsessed with stopovers, because I want to see everywhere but have limited funds and tons of time.  So using stopovers with United we were able to see Guam, Singapore, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Sydney and Tokyo for 40,000 miles in business class.  It’s why I figured out that with British Airways you can use stopovers to save Avios.  That way I can make tons of stops while spending less.

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

People are quick to sign up for credit cards when they learn about it.  So for example they get the United card with a 30,000 miles bonus, they’ll get the British Airways card for 50,000 Avios, and get the Southwest card for 25,000 points, simply because they are eager.  But then later that year the United card has a 60,000 miles bonus, the British Airways card has a 100,000 Avios bonus and the Southwest card has a 50,000 point bonus.

That person could have waited on these cards and gotten twice as many miles without extra hard pulls on their credit score.  So by knowing the credit card bonuses and having patience, they get more miles.  Also, the same person might not need Southwest points and might not be able to use Delta Skypesos but they don’t know because they’re eager and a blog had the links on their homepage.

So take your time and map out your credit card applications ahead of time, just so you understand it.  And know which cards you can double dip and plan those out too, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Master Card double dip.

Likewise, learn to use the miles well.  I can’t believe how many people use Ultimate Rewards Points in their travel search engine because they don’t know how to transfer to partners.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Before we got married I did a hitchhiking trip halfway across the US.  That was unique simply because of the people I met.  I felt like many of them were just lonely and needed someone to talk to.

I wrote down all their stories as soon as I got out of the car. It was quite an experience and I’ve thought that I should one day publish that part of my journal in a post.  Trust me, it’s very interesting and sometimes intense.

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Seth in Park Hyatt Shanghai

But as a couple, we no doubt most love sharing travel with our friends and family.  Giving is something that I learn from Caroline as she has a very big heart (she can’t even pass a beggar in Bangkok without giving) and so we’ve been able to share travel with people we know.

 This is honestly just more fun for us as we get to see amazing parts of the world with our best friends.  Last year we flew my friend Seth to China to visit us.  

It was his first time out of the country, first time on a plane (even though he’s an aviation geek), he flew Cathay Business Class, and since he was really excited to see the Shanghai World Financial Center (as it’s one of the tallest buildings), we surprised him by booking the Park Hyatt Shanghai.  Our room was located on the 94th floor and he wasn’t onto our surprise until we were pretty much in the room.  He was speechless and we still talk about his reaction.

Then later that year we flew a friend to Easter Island and Caroline’s sister and her partner to Machu Picchu.

But if we had to pick one, it would no doubt be our time in Bali in January last year.  It was incredible.  We met a family with a little homestay – Hoky Homestay in Amed, Bali.  They realized we weren’t wealthy tourists, so they treated us like family.

Everyday they fed us fresh fish that our friend Made caught that morning.  He also took us out on his boat and it was just incredible. We saw hundreds of dolphins… not even joking.  They let us use their scooter and snorkel gear.  I can’t tell you how much they made us feel like family.  The Balinese people are wonderful and it’s a lush, beautiful island with a unique culture.

Since the Bali Hyatt was only 5,000 points I asked if they would join us.  They came from poor families and they knew the Hyatt was where Obama stayed. They were anxious and excited and we all spent some time at the Hyatt before we flew out.  Made kept thanking me and said “I and my family would never have this opportunity. Not in many lifetimes…”

But I still feel like he did more for us and I would love to go back and thank him somehow as my memory of being in Amed Bali still makes me smile.

But this could go on and on.  In Sri Lanka we witnessed political unrest… to say the least.  All the roads were blocked with crowds, rubbel and fire.  It was interesting.  And in Langkawi we had a number of adventures touring waterfalls and little islands. And on and on…

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Drew in Langkawi, Malaysia

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

My family has been very supportive and our parents have a big part to play in why we like to travel.  My dad gets $1,000 on Amazon every once in awhile from me and he takes it to the bank for me and never complains.  My parents were also super excited to get their first rewards card – double dipping the American Airlines cards.

As for our friends at first I probably sounded crazy but when you visit over 20 countries in one year and your credit score is better, they start to listen.

Although, Caroline did not like hauling thousands of dollars of coins to the bank every week and was actually glad when the mint got canned.  She also doesn’t like anything a little ‘sleezy’.  If it weren’t for her I’d probably be returning $5,000 watches for points but she keeps me honest, which is good.

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

As a newbie FlyerTalk was huge for me.  Now I actually just read the terms and conditions myself.  I have multiple email accounts, they’re just full of spam and I check them daily.

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Bali, Indonesia

One thing I can say is that Priority Club has been very good to me.  It’s incredible how many points you can earn through one stay by using promotion codes from FlyerTalk.  But then they had the $75 giftcard promo at the same time as a $25 dining promo and all the while earning points and getting 10% with a cashback portal and points on the Priority Club card.

I think I came out ahead just in the cash and then amounted some serious pile of Priority Club points.  When it rains it pours as I redeemed a mere 40,000 points for 8 nights at the InterContinental Fiji. Hopefully this summer will be as good.

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

How to use miles and points well and stopovers.  I could have booked the same flights with less miles.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Where would I begin… Well we’re pretty different and I don’t talk about our personal life that much actually.  We’ve made a commitment not to buy anything new.  So we don’t own a car, phone, or anything really although we do buy things used (like on ebay).

We try not to care about material things – it doesn’t bring happiness and if anything it shifts priorities from helping/trusting people to protecting things.

Plus, we’d rather travel.  We’ve also committed to not watching TV or movies and haven’t done so in two years.  It’s just our personal preference.  I do not want people to think we judge them if they buy things- or that watching movies is somehow wrong.  Instead we’ve just made priorities or have certain beliefs and have tried to be disciplined about them.  Different eh?

Also, Caroline’s family is Amish.  Well her parents are Mennonite but all her uncles, aunts and cousins that grew up on the same road in Holmes County are still Amish.  It’s pretty neat.

Any parting words?

I’d like to thank you Daraius for inviting us to share some about our travels. Although, it seems like there is more personal info than normal… that’s fine.  And thanks for making this site a good resource for the community.  We appreciate the way you run it.

Travel is Free – Interview with Drew

Drew and Caroline in Santiago, Chile

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

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40 responses to ““We know we’re the poorest people in the lounge…”

  1. Great interview and nice to meet other bloggers who like adventure! I can relate to being the poorest people in the lounge and it’s funny to see the looks on people’s faces when we walk in with our carry-on backpacks! Did you have trouble hitchhiking across the USA? I did that in 1980, I still can’t believe I lived to tell the tale. I can’t believe people are willing to still pick up hitchhikers, maybe I am just watching too much of “Criminal Minds”!

  2. I agree, love free stopovers. : It’s great that the two of you have gotten into this game so young. 🙂

  3. Very cool philosophy you guys. I’ll say it for you that if more people were like you the world would be a much better and healthier place. Material weath divides us into classes and to what ultimate end?

  4. Although off topic. Something you guys as a married couple might want to look into for big travel with little money are timeshare presentations that you qualify for. Can’t tell you how many cool things you can get for an hr of your time.

  5. How funny…I just started subscribing to your blog a couple weeks ago and really enjoy it! I try to only subscribe to about 4 blogs at a time and yours made the cut 🙂 I really enjoy your travel philosophy and aspire to be more like you. Our house is furnished with really awesome furniture, all from Craigslist and Ebay. We rarely buy anything new. But I am addicted to movies…

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Very true about the timeshare presentations..for just an hour we got free rooms, show tickets in Vegas, NYC Broadway, etc.

  7. The Southwest credit card was one of the best cards we ever signed up for (business and pleasure). That was 100,000 points for me, and the same for my wife. What I like best about SWA is the ability to book awards and cancel without a fee. Also, if an award goes down in price, I can re-book and save the miles. Recently, we booked LGA/BNA (NY – Nashville) for 16,000 points R/T. Even if I used AA or USAir to get a reduced mileage award, the cost would have been higher. Oh, and LGA/BNA went down to 11,000 points R/T. We’re flying using the Companion pass, so the actual cost for the roundtrip is 5500 miles per person. Not bad for an airline I hardly fly.
    Darius has a link somewhere about the Companion Pass. Kudos.

  8. I like how you describe some of your travel tricks that I didn’t even know about. Ya’ll are going on my blogger list and will definitely subscribe! 🙂

  9. I, too, really liked this post. But the one thing I was confused about was the story about staying at the “low level Radisson” to get Club Carlson points. I get that you booked three different stays for each of you and collected the points. But wasn’t that benefit canceled out by the cost of your six nights there?

  10. @ Tara – lol, stay away from TV. I think the majority of people are good. But most “good” people don’t pick up hitchhikers because of bad PR. When someone hitchhikes and arrives safely it doesn’t make the news. It’s bound to only get bad press… that’s the way I see it.
    But to answer your question, it’s slow. You wait an hour and ride an hour. And the people who pick you up are either A) hitchikers from the good ole days, returning a favor, or B) young adventurers who just I’m guessing just watched Into The Wild or something. Group B is much more rare. And the majority I think are lonely. Never have I felt unsafe. But maybe my senses are dulled.

    @ Dyhppy – I actually would love to learn about timeshare pitches. I’ve googled it and can only find people trying to sell their timeshare. Please email me if you have some good info. – Drew (at) travelisfree.com

    @ Jasmine – Aw shucks, thanks Jasmine. Glad to make the cut! Yes, Ebay is my all. :-p lol, everyone’s addicted to something I guess. Mine’s travel… maybe sports. Idk.

    @ Elena G – Hey thanks! I’m glad you got some new tricks already.

    @ Anne – Thanks. Okay. Well, Radisson was giving a rebate of 9,000 points per AWARD stay. So on one stay we would spend 9,000 points and then later get them back. So we did 6 separate stays to get all our of points back. Maybe should have clarified it was an award stay. Does that make sense now?

  11. Awesome post—love to read the philosophic side of the post mixed with travel redemption strategy. Drew & Carrie, you’re living well and intentioned lives!

  12. This was definitely one of the best travel post interviews that I have read in the last year. I agree about the timeshare presentations. In Vegas we got a $150 prepaid Visa card from Wynn Vacations (since we already had a room booked elsewhere) in Dec. Only couple hours of a Sunday morning plus breakfast. In March we were in Charleston,SC and for a 45min presentation (hardly a hard sell) we netted an hour city carriage ride, hour and a haf harbor boat tour, Magnolia plantation tour (beautiful on Easter weekend!) tickets and tickets on US Yorktown aircraft carrier. It took care of us the two days we were there. Stayed at Country Inn and Suites (airport) on 15, 000 points where they not only had free breakfast but also a free wine, beer and pizza happy hour. Nice newer hotel. There are so many ways to do cities on the cheap or for free. Just look around to see if there are any timeshare presentations…but I would caution not to buy…EVER…so many other ways to have nice lodgings!
    All the best to the young couple for sharing. I would love to read about the hitchhiker stories sometime.

  13. This actually embarrasses me. This guy talks about how they are broke and highlights how he would even do shady things like returning $5,000 watches if not for his supposedly “good” wife. This person contributes nothing to the world and feels entitled to take as much as he and his wife can. I have no problem playing the points and miles game, but I sense a strong hypocrisy from someone claiming to be without possessions but then traveling in the most expensive manner using occasionally shady practices. And giving money to a beggar in Thailand does not make you a big-hearted person. Please spare us the self-absorption.

  14. D, I like these kids!

  15. @Steve.
    So basically what you said was, “I’m such a self-righteous asshole…blah blah blah”
    And I have to agree with you. You’re an asshole.

  16. I’ve never actually thought about buying watches and returning them. It was suppose to be kind of tongue and cheek, I’m sorry that came across the wrong way.
    Though I don’t claim to be Gandhi, sir, my wife is indeed one of the most selfless person I have ever met – she only cares about others. That’s not a lie. Anyone who has met her knows this. Steve, I’m telling you, just talk to her for 10 minutes and you’ll see why I go on and on about her. :-p Gonna be at FTU this weekend?

  17. @ Anne – So you don’t plan these things out? You just get lucky in a sense?

  18. Very refreshing interview. I love the fact that you don’t buy anything new. I can’t say that but the first place I look for something I need is often a second hand store. I get tired of all the bloggers pointing us to shopping portals and gift cards for things “we’d buy anyway.” Also liked your description what you did in Bali – taking your hosts to the hotel sure beats yet one more description of an over-the-water bungalow. Enjoy your youth and your travels!

  19. This is the most interesting interview I’ve read in a while. I think that hitch hiking journal would make a very interesting book. Love your take on travel!

  20. Best interview I remember reading on here so far…although I don’t visit every single Friday. Lived in Ohio for a while and had great experiences with the Amish.

  21. This was a real pleasure to read, a sincere thank you!

  22. We just happened into both these timeshares. First one we were approached on the Vegas strip and other in March on drive into Charleston; we needed to use the restroom so stopped at what we thought was a state run info center. Thinking back it was probably privately run as we had never seen one that operated like that…we then hurried 2o minutes to a downtown presentation (only one other couple there) on a Friday afternoon and our “free” weekend started pretty much from there…

  23. WHAT??!!! NO, NO, NO!! What is most important in life and, most certainly, in this hobby is the temperature of the ramekin of nuts…. or the horror of someone living on a few bucks a day not kissing the ground you walked on after you got your $250 massage. (No, this is not referring to you, Daraius + Em, I adore you guys, rather to the pathetics eg vftw, mv, dp, mp, so many ft-ers…. Uh, @steve :)) ).

    Drew + Carrie — What a breath of fresh air and a great guest interview.

    @Steve — remind me again of the number of times you have criticized the TRUE leaches who contribute nothing to society: the executives who run company after company after company into the ground (likely committing massive accounting fraud) and make tens/hundreds of millions of dollars (and, of course, not paying their fair share of taxes). Or, the multi-national corporations who commit crime after crime after crime, of course, not paying their fair share of taxes, yet get billions (cumulatively trillions –take a peek at the Fed’s balance sheet 😉 ) in MA$$IVE welfare. You care about the pennies going to the citizens, but look a blind eye to the trillion$ going to the corporate criminals. Of course, Hitler did have his ardent supporters, too. Pathetic.

    Yes, Santiago is a sh*thole, where I have had more criminal rip-off attempts than anywhere in the world (6 continents+ many, many countries including Zaire/Rwanda/Uganda/Burundi…). Valpo, too. Pass through to the wonderful Mendoza, Argentina.. or Buenos Aires…. The neighboring Argentines are truly wonderful. Salud!

  24. The Santiago reference comes from their wonderful website.. check it out!

  25. @steve………..thanks for watching and believing all our BS

  26. FYI, President Obama stayed at Grand Hyatt Bali, not Hyatt Bali. Those locals must have been confused.

  27. I like what you had to say about the personal connections being most important. I agree with that. But it’s also nice being able to travel in luxury for next to nothing.

  28. They seem like nice people, and I’m glad to hear about less-touristed Bali (personal hobbyhorse). I could be grumpy and complain that your blog would be better titled Travel Has Opportunity Costs, but I guess that would be a less catchy title. http://boardingarea.com/blogs/frequentmiler/2013/03/20/buying-points-unwittingly/

    Also, as altruists, do a search for “Hyatt Hurts.”

  29. What Harvson said, this isn’t a case of travel being free. It apparently has HUGE opportunity costs for this couple.

    To my mind if travel is depriving a person of the chance to own a car, a home, or even something as cheap as a phone…then it no longer looks like a healthy pursuit. I’ve also noticed that people who don’t own a car or a phone kinda, sorta expect the rest of us to give them rides, phone calls, etc. so at some point I had to separate myself from that type of person.

  30. LOL. Maybe I need to do the same thing to save money. As my monthly income is only 1000+ and I always drive all along all over united states….LOL

  31. Thanks all. Glad it was readable. 😉

    @ Daniel M – I actually wondered that. But I didn’t want to challenge them. 😉 It still has Hyatt in the name. :-p

    @ Harvson3 – Yea, that’s true, UR points can be redeemed for cash and thus you could be getting free cash instead of free travel. However, there are only some many cards with CB. Still, I agree. And I’ll check that out.

    @ Peachfront – I’m going to be in New Orleans soon, can you pick me up at the airport and take us downtown?
    Well, we have a skype phone number. lol. Though I just found out google is free.
    But not having a car is a personal lifestyle choice not based on travel. Different strokes different folks, right? I like riding the bus, and apparently a ton of people all over the world use public transport as well. Or maybe all those people need more friends with cars. 😀 Also, people have survived a long time with out cars. But perhaps they were less healthy than we are now.

  32. I enjoyed the interview for the most part but I didn’t understand why the couple was broke. Did they declare personal bankruptcy? I also question how they know for sure they were the poorest in the lounge (give yourself more credit!) You have the same right as anyone else in that lounge to be there 🙂
    I, too, learned a lot from reading flyertalk over the years and will admit how grateful I am for the internet/flyertalk/miles/points community. I’m not a credit card guru but I do know in most countries they don’t have the same sign-up credit card bonuses, 2x-5x rewards points, etc. as we do here in the USA.

  33. LOVED this interview! I can’t tell you how much Drew has helped my family already and we have never even met! He has a GREAT heart! AND, I liked learning a little more about he and his wife as people in general! 🙂

  34. I have to ask…how the heck to broke people have the income to qualify for the credit cards and spending power to rack up bonuses. Even if you manufacture spend, it only goes so far and you still need a healthy balance in a checking account in case something goes wrong.

    Also, points don’t cover everything, you still need a good amount of money for taxes, fees, taxis, trains, food, etc.. Something doesn’t add up about this story.

  35. I am curious about this statement:
    United only allows one stopover and one open jaw on a R/T ticket. How can he use one single ticket to stopover these many places?
    As for the lifestyle and philosophy, personally I found it is very contradictory – I have no issue about the obsession to get miles and points, but for a person who claims not to care for material things, yet would aim for travel in business class, stay in top hotels… . I just find this odd. I also dont like the “tricks” to get away from paying the rightful charge of lounge for the guest, as well as doing the Marriott Challenge without any intention to finish it. No wonder now it is no longer “just a call to Marriott” – they finally wised up and would not grant challenge so easily even for folks who do want to make the commitments to really earn it instead of just taking advantages for the few stays within the 3+ months after signing up.

  36. @ Joey – I don’t actually know that we’re the poorest in the lounge. I guess it’s more an insecure feeling of not belonging. In my head I hear “one of these things is not like the other”. No bankruptcy lol. We’re just lower class folk I guess.
    And that’s true about the cards in other countries. We’re spoiled.

    @ Erin – Thanks as always Erin.

    @ Rick – 😀 Well, they honest to goodness keep giving us credit cards but we do have money in checking. And sure we spend money while traveling. Sorry if I implied we never have any money and never spend any money. Although, I did read about a guy from China (I think) who biked across the world and he left home with nothing but $2 and a bike. Crazy.

    @ Justsayin – You can do anything with United. 🙂 And I should have said two open-jaws… But I have a post or two on how it worked.

    In regards to lifestyle, you make really good points that I should/do think about. But please have some grace for a few reasons:
    – Sure, I’ll admit there are often times where my beliefs (or what I know is right) and my actions are different. But hopefully over time the two get closer over time, instead of further apart. I hope.
    – Also, it’s hard to express and defend all my beliefs in an interview about travel. It’s also hard to judge them two based on a comment.
    – But in general I value experiences more than possessions. We make no claims on the right or wrong of other peoples values but personally tend to think this way. And being on the floor 90+ is an awesome experience. Plus, a Hyatt cert is a free night regardless if it’s used at a 5 star or not.
    – We fly economy alot alot. :-p

    In regards to Marriott, a friend called the other day and did it… So I’m unaware of the problem if there is one.

  37. Big Ups Drew. Glad to finally meet you over the weekend. Nice to finally see you get some additional exposure. I have read your blog for some time now and find it to be the most clear and precise resource I can find. Till next time.

  38. What a delight to discover this very well done and informative interview! Best of the series. (and ironic too, and MMS and TisFRee are my two favorite travel sites…) Have the fortunate to have actually met Drew & Carrie….. in a very humble, non-materialistic church even. 😉 Two very special people, genuine…. even following a bit in their footsteps recently — literally. Have much more to learn and figure out from the three of you.

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