“It’s quite surreal, I dream of Tahiti while changing diapers!”

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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview: Miles for Family

Leana is a stay at home mom who runs The Miles for Family and prefers getting the most value from her travels rather than fancy traveling.

Miles for Family - Interview with Leana

Visiting Kauai (my second favorite place) on award tickets before kids

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

Being originally from Europe, I had no clue about miles and points.  It was in 2001, while booking tickets to see my family, that an agent suggested signing-up for a frequent flyer account.

I said sure, why not, and forgot all about it.  But few years later – and another trip to Europe on the same airline plus a credit card sign-up – and we were on our way to Maui on award tickets.  And just like that, I was hooked.

We never made a lot of money, in fact we just recently qualified to be called “middle class.”  But staying out of debt (crucial) and driving beater cars, we were able to afford amazing vacations with the help of miles and points.

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

I mostly started to explain to my family about this crazy hobby and hopefully help them along the way.  Also, I am a stay-at-home mom and this is one of the ways I keep my mind sharp because I get bored easily.  It’s quite surreal, I dream of Tahiti while changing diapers!

As far as what’s special about it?  I’ll be honest, most likely, I am late to the party.  There are so many incredible blogs, some about family travel.  The obvious one: Mommy Points, where she does an amazing job, breaking down deals for the family.

But perhaps, I could break it down further to apply to an average family with limited potential for points earning.  That’s the motto of the blog: Miles and Points for an average family.

I guess if “Mommy points” and “New girl in the air” had a plain looking child, I would like to think it would look like my blog somewhat.  I invite comments and suggestions on the direction I should take.  I especially would like to hear from my target audience: a middle class family, who mostly travels with their kids, who prefer “value” to “fancy” and who are not bored by crunching numbers.

Miles for Family - Interview with Leana

Staying in an actual castle in Germany with our daughter

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

For my situation, sign-up bonuses all the way.  It is impossible to provide travel for 4 people and fly my parents over from Europe regularly while putting 23,000 dollars on credit cards per year.  We were able to get around 800,000 miles and points in the last 12 months by being strategic.

And before the interrogation begins, no, I will not provide proof.  You will just have to take my word for it.  I also buy points sometimes, like the Choice package from Daily Getaways because it made sense for my needs.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

That’s tough, but I would have to say stunning Santorini.  Not much else to say.  I would love to go back, if for no other reason but to visit the ancient site of Akrotiri which sadly was closed when we were there.

Miles for Family - Interview with Leana


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

My in-laws tolerate it and even sometimes sign-up for cards just to get rid of me.  My husband, though hates it with the passion, he loves to travel but is not interested in the “anatomy of the reward”.  But in a way, that’s OK.

When I read about couples hunting together for vanilla reloads on their date night, I get concerned.  I try to give my points freely to family and help out whenever possible.  The dark side of this otherwise amazing hobby is greed and hoarding.

Coming from a poor family, I also try to be grateful and not take anything for granted.  While I love miles and points, they don’t define who I am as a person.

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

Not so much a tool but its very important to calculate opportunity cost.  Even more so for a family on a budget.  Take the Park Hyatt in Paris, for some, the ultimate hotel redemption.

While I would consider transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt points to get a 1 night stay for just me and my husband, I would never do so with my kids because we would need 2 rooms.  I would have to forgo 44,000 Southwest points (because you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest as well) because of this decision.  Those points could be used to pay for 4 round-trip tickets from Florida to Niagara falls on certain dates.

I am sure the Park Hyatt in Paris is nice but it is not worth it to me.  I don’t buy into the hype.  There is nothing wrong with splurging but be aware of what you are giving up.

Miles for Family - Interview with Leana

Bringing my parents here with miles to see grandkids. It was my dad’s first time seeing the ocean.

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

This was sort of an arbitrage opportunity.  Some old timers may remember, when Continental miles transferred to Amtrak 1:1 and Amtrak to Choice points 1:5.  We just had earned 10,000 miles from a 500 dollar ticket each.

I laundered them into Choice program getting 100,000 points along the way.  Than we redeemed them at decent Choice hotels getting 1,000 dollars in value, effectively making up for the cost of original flight tickets.  It still brings smile to my face.  Is that sad?

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

Reconsideration line.  I admit I have avoided blogs till recently because I like to do my own analysis.  But I came across your blog giving points on reversing credit card denial.  I was shut out from credit card applications because of the new law.

Since its crucial for me to be honest in this hobby, I applied using just my little interest from CD’s.  I was denied of course, but got approved in the end.  I did it 4 more times, getting approved each time through combination of credit line exchange and plain begging.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

At 17, I was an exchange student from a former Soviet republic.  That’s how I met my now husband.

Any parting words?

I might be the first stay-at-home mom offering an award booking service.

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

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31 responses to ““It’s quite surreal, I dream of Tahiti while changing diapers!”

  1. I totally believe the 800K earning – last year we earned around 1.3 million and that was not going as hard as we could have. I don’t think anyone would doubt that in the least.

  2. Hi, Hank! Thanks for the 1st comment! For some reason, I thought people were going to question me on that, and prepared all kinds of clever comebacks. Looks, like I won’t get to use them 🙁
    I for sure thought, that the 1st comment was going to rip my blog apart.

  3. Hi, thank you for the interview!
    What is the new law you say got you shut out from credit card applications? Just want to make sure I don’t do anything wrong!

  4. Now, I’m not a mommy, nor have I changed a diaper, but I am pretty sure that is a very normal feeling. There can’t be too many people out there that change diapers that dream of changing more of them, rather than wish they were in Tahiti!

  5. @ Mieke The law is actually from 2011 and has to do with “ability to repay” act , basically you can only list your own income. It was meant to protect young students from themselves and getting a bunch of cards, by listing their family’s income. But had the unfortunate side effect of shutting down churning for SAHM, like myself. The good news is, it looks like they revised it, and I should be able to list household income soon.
    @ Matt from Saverocity Thanks so much for stopping by, I enjoy your site. It’s a bit too smart for SAHM, like myself, but it’s very good! Yeah, I would rather be in Tahiti, even if I had to change diapers, while I am there!

  6. I’m with you. My blog, http://www.Fishing4Deals.com is all about budget travel for regular people.

  7. David Gutierrez

    Great article. These are my favorite type of posts.

  8. @fishing4deals Yes, we have to be on a budget, because of our income constraints. But, I actually do enjoy luxury as well. In one of my posts you will see, that I convinced my in-laws to splurge on business class to Europe, mostly because it’s a night flight and it would be more comfortable. It just depends.
    @ everyone I meant to tell this in my intro welcome post, but forgot. Please, ignore the fact, that my website looks, like a 5 year old designed it. I am horrible at IT stuff. Also, it badly needs an editor. Hopefully, my content is a little better, than the look of the site..

  9. Good interview. As soon as I saw the picture of you and your daughter in the German castle, I knew your blog would be different. While the luxury hotels are great, look at what everyone is missing. Which castle is that?

  10. Yeah, I’m just getting going on the churn a bit. Starting slowly but the possibilities seem endless. I enjoyed your article and will read more. But be sure and put a smile on that face, you’re in some pretty outstanding places!

    My blog http://fryetime.thesmilingsuitcase.com has no focus other than travel. But it entertains the hell out of me!

  11. My husband has been trying to convince me to get into the reward travel blog world, but as a SAHM and someone living cross-culturally, my days are too full of language learning, household tasks, and homeschooling to make the time. We are a family that has recently entered into the credit card bonus game for making award travel on a budget for a family of 4 possible (thanks to it being my husband’s new hobby). Before that we racked up points the old fashioned way, through a lot of long-haul flights around the globe with little kids in tow! Although my husband is the one primarily working on earning the bonuses, I am the one who figures out how to best use them. There are some amazing sweet spots on the various award charts for people like us living in Asia (we are currently working on an award to take us from Bangkok to Fiji, with a layover in New Zealand for only 30,000 United miles a piece!). I will enjoy reading an award travel blog with a more similar goal to our own…especially one working on awards for a family of 4. There aren’t many of you out there! We don’t need to travel first class as long as our family gets to see the world! We much prefer to stretch our points and miles for the maximum amount of travel with the occasional splurge on high class resorts (we will be staying at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, without kids!, for our 10th wedding anniversary this May with free nights from the Chase Hyatt Card and Ultimate Rewards cards). Thanks for putting yourself and your experiences out there to benefit others like us!! 🙂 Blessings from Central Asia…

  12. @ David Gutierrez I am glad, you liked it. I hope Daraius keep this interview series going.
    @ Denise L I think it was called Schlosshotel Kronberg, or something like that, near Frankfurt. It was 250 dollars per night, but was worth the splurge. We stayed there during layover. When I am somewhere for just a day, I try to splurge on the best possible place I can afford, to get the most out of my short experience.
    @ William Frye I am half russian, we don’t smile in our photos ! 🙂 Congrats on your blog!
    @ Danae Sounds, like we have very similar travel styles! I honestly debated, whether to start this blog or not. The thing is, my hobby is 90 percent churning and 10 percent travel, so not sure if people will follow. It’s not that exciting, lot’s of numbers and such. I do suggest you follow http://www.mommypoints.com, because Summer does an incredible job there and does travel often. I am hoping for my blog to become her blog’s plain looking sidekick. Sort of Robin to her Batman! See her about section on why I said that.

  13. Brooke S Babcock

    This was interesting to me also, as we’re a retired couple who’ve always traveled as cheaply as possible. For us, it’s more important to travel often than it is to travel in style! On the other hand, we’re delighted to plan two nights at the Chateau Lake Louise thanks to the Fairmont card’s sign-on bonus. I’ll be interested in reading the SAHM blog as well as MMS, my bible.

  14. What a great interview. I really like your insistence on honesty in your life and your view that you have a great deal of control despite not having a super abundance of money.

    I see your whole family going a long way, both metaphorically and literally. 😉

  15. Yes, it’s true Leana, some of the “guest bloggers” have gotten severely flamed here in the recent past. But it was almost always because they were so full of themselves. Calling oneself a “travel genius”, when you have been blogging for 3 months, and have taken one international trip in your life, is going to be savaged.

    Your interview, in contrast, was just really honest and sweet. I’d say this is the first MMS interview I really enjoyed reading. Best of Luck with your blog and your travels.

  16. @Brooke S Babcock Thank you so much for kind words! You will love Chateau Lake Louise, absolutely stunning. I hope, you find my blog useful. But like I said, we are occasional travelers. Most of it will be preparatory work, aka churning.
    @ Anne Thank you so much! I don’t claim to be perfect or know it all. I am just doing the best I can, like everyone else.
    @ Robert Hanson Thank you! But if you read my posts, you would see, I am actually a little “full of it” !

  17. I love how you gave your father his first view of the ocean, and I also appreciate your humility.

  18. Vanilla Reload date nights!! I’ve never heard of that. I’ll try it with my wife this weekend and see what she thinks. Best of luck to you Leana and your new blog.

  19. @mopani The best part of this hobby hands down is bringing my parents to see grandkids. That’s what its all about! As far as humility, it’s a work in progress, to be honest. Thank you for kind words!

  20. @ Point Travelers I actually read something on that nature on Flyertalk. It wasn’t a date night per se, but the couple had a system of taking turns of going into CVS to pick up reloads. I could never convince my husband to do that, EVER! But to each his own, whatever works.

  21. Thanks for sharing your story Leana! Keep on traveling and sharing your experiences with the rest of us average travelers 🙂

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  23. @ Becky, so nice of you to stop by. I keep wondering on how to fit in Slovenia into our travel plans someday! You write such colorful, beautiful reports. You truly are an asset to this industry!

  24. 800K and you think you’re qualified to write a blog? Unbelievable chutzpah.

  25. @ Ron The 800k in miles and points, I mentioned, was just in the last year alone. I have been doing churning for a long time, actually, around 10 years. And honestly, I am not saying I am qualified to do anything. I am just writing, what’s on my mind and hope someone can benefit. I am not saying my blog is anything special or groundbreaking.

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  27. Leana, write about whatever YOU want!

  28. Hey Ron, you don’t actually need qualifications to write a blog. You do need the chutzpah to get off your backside and start one though.

  29. @ Rob P I am really hoping to make the blog about the reader. Whether I succeed in that, who knows? But, I want to add something new. Its not that easy, though,there are only so many deals to highlight.
    @ Matt from Saverocity Thanks for stopping by again! You are one smart guy BTW

  30. @ Ron I am not sure, if you follow the comments, and I was a little embarrassed to ask, but…What, what the heck is chutzpah? Is that some sort of soup? Maybe I have it and don’t even know it.

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