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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their take on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: PointsAway
Casey writes PointsAway to help folks make their travel dreams come true.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I signed up for a Delta Gold SkyMiles card from American Express about a year ago. I was making plans to travel to Portland from Jacksonville for the World Domination Summit in July 2013 and was intrigued by ads claiming the bonus miles were good for a free roundtrip flight.
Portland to Jacksonville is an expensive cash fare at more than $400, so I was excited when I found that the bonus miles plus some earned from spending would be enough to cover the trip. Total cost for the flight after miles: $10. It was my first step into a bigger world!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
As a huge fan of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, I was determined to travel with the team for their first International Series game at Wembley Stadium this October. However, the NFL’s official packages including airfare and accommodations were outrageously overpriced at $4,000 per person.
After putting together a comparable cash trip in a few minutes that was $1,000 cheaper than the official package, I became obsessed with a simple idea: how close to free could the trip be made with clever planning? Given my success booking the award flight to Portland, I suspected miles and points could be the key.
I quickly stumbled upon Million Mile Secrets and the rest was history. I tore through the Million Mile Secrets archives, pored over the helpful guides elsewhere. I built a plan that allows my brother and parents to join in on the trip, as they’ve never been to Europe.
Now, we’re all traveling from Orlando to London, staying at the Hyatt Churchill and ending in Paris with a stay at the Hyatt Paris Vendome. The total cost for flights and accommodations works out to about $125 per person, roughly the same as the ticket to the game.
I started PointsAway as my way of paying forward the knowledge I’ve gained from blogs like Million Mile Secrets. Lists of exotic redemption opportunities are great for igniting the imagination, but I believe most people have a specific trip already in mind and just don’t know where to start to make it possible.
PointsAway creates recommendations based on reader-submitted itineraries and we show them how to make their personal travel dreams a reality! For example, I helped another Jaguars fan find his way to St. Louis for an away game for a total of $0 including a ticket to the game and another reader concoct a plan for roundtrip airfare to Sydney, Australia for 90% off. I’m so excited about the opportunity to show others what is possible.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Credit card sign-ups can act like solid rocket boosters for your points account, getting you from zero to anywhere in a hurry. However, the slow and steady approach is important, as well. Simply taking advantage of the category bonuses offered by your credit cards and having a portfolio of cards that complement each other well, can make a huge difference over time, as does using the most effective card at every opportunity.
Even if it’s just a few dollars, I always pull out a points-earning card instead of cash and use Bluebird + Vanilla to pay taxes and my mortgage while earning points. The way I see it every time I have to pay someone is an opportunity for me to get paid too!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My recent trip out west for World Domination Summit has to top the list. Portland itself was an amazing experience but a last minute change was truly the cherry on top of a great trip. A few weeks before departing, I received an offer for two free nights from New York New York in Las Vegas.
Within just an hour or two, I’d changed my Delta award flight to an open jaw itinerary returning home from Las Vegas instead of Portland and booked a flight on Southwest to cover the hop down from Portland using a few Ultimate Rewards points. Learning about miles and points programs has shown me not just that free and cheap travel is possible but that every trip can be made even better along the way.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
It took a fair amount of coaxing and teaching but I eventually brought my immediate family on board with the plan for our European adventure. I don’t think they truly believed me until I walked them through the actually booking process but now that they’ve seen solid proof of what’s possible, they’re interested in learning more about how they can leverage miles and points in the future.
They may not have the same passion for it I do but they are enthusiastic in their own ways.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are two great tools I’d recommend for those looking to maximize their points earning potential. First is Wallaby, a mobile app that leverages Foursquare data to determine a user’s location and recommend the best card to use at any particular moment. If you have trouble keeping track of category bonuses, it can be an outstanding tool.
Second is evreward.com. Their search tool allows you to immediately identify whether online shopping mall opportunities for bonus points exist for a retailer and what shopping mall offers the most benefit for your points portfolio. I rely heavily on this tool and have used it to identify opportunities with which I’ve earned thousands of miles.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I was surprised by how many miles Southwest offers just for signing up with RapidRewards. 750 miles on their program is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you are transferring miles in from Ultimate Rewards in 1,000 point increments. That 750 mile bonus was enough to allow me to transfer only 4,000 points rather than 5,000 for a flight as an example.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
More about each airline’s award chart and how powerful Avios can be for short distance travel. I probably would have steered clear of Delta in favor of programs with greater award availability at lower levels and I might have taken advantage of the Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus trick using Avios for our transatlantic flights this fall instead of American. But there’s always something new to learn and ways to improve points strategy!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m a self-employed consultant, 25 years old and with only 2 years of income history after having no income for a year and a half working on my MBA and I was still able to get approved for six different credit cards over the course of the past year. Some folks think they wouldn’t be eligible for the type of cards and bonuses that are truly worthwhile but if I can get approved, I bet you can too.
Any parting words?
With points and miles, if there is a will, there is ALWAYS a way. Learn all you can, be creative and flexible and your opportunities for adventure will be endless.
Casey – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!