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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: Military Money Manual
Spencer runs Military Money Manual and writes about investing, passive income and how to achieve financial independence using military pay and benefits at an early age. He aims to be financially independent at 40.
Andy, as an article contributor, writes about new insights into managing personal finances and other military financial topics.
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How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Spencer – I applied for an AMEX Blue Cash card in 2008 and used it exclusively throughout college. I managed to rack up over 25,000 points and was quite proud of myself, until I started seeing sign up bonuses for 50,000 points. I realized that I need to play the game smarter in 2010 and that’s when I started getting cards for sign up bonuses.
Andy – I was stationed in Guam in 2010, where the only game in town was Continental, so it was a no-brainer to sign up for OnePass (now MileagePlus). Later, I signed up for the Chase Mileage Plus Explorer in an airport, but I didn’t get really serious about churning until reading million mile secrets.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Spencer – I started my blog in 2012 because I saw that the military community is under-served when it comes to quality personal finance advice. There are many unique aspects to a military lifestyle such as moving every 2 to 5 years, living overseas, deployments and low-taxed pay. There are also many unique investment opportunities like the Savings Deposit Program, Thrift Savings Plan, and tax free Roth IRA contributions.
Military personnel do not always take as much advantage of these programs as they should. With a bit more knowledge, most military members could retire comfortably before they reach the age of 40. They just need to know how to do it.
Andy – I joined this blog earlier this year. I heard of a young sailor who’d received quite a large bonus and blew it all on a new truck and decided the military needed better personal finance guidance. I was going to start my own blog until I saw that Spencer had been doing exactly what I wanted to do, so I messaged him on Facebook, and here we are. Our blog is a one-stop shop for military-specific financial tips, investments, secrets and travel hacks.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Spencer – For military members, the most important thing to realize is that when you fly on government orders, you are allowed to take the miles into your personal frequent flier program. Same thing with hotels.
When you stay somewhere with a loyalty program, make sure you are giving them your personal account number. You can rack up free nights quickly if you are on a 90 day TDY (temporary duty mission) and living out of a hotel room.
Andy – I agree with Spencer. Volunteer for as many travel opportunities as possible and sign up for as many loyalty programs as you can. Usually in the military you have to use a government credit card for travel, which cuts down on credit card bonus opportunities, but there are ways around that.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Spencer – Probably my second date with my wife in Amsterdam, a few days after our first date in Paris. Amsterdam is such a lovely, walkable city and of course the nightlife is great too.
Andy – When I was a doctor for a dive team stationed in Bahrain, I got to participate in a week-long mission to survey diving decompression chambers in the Seychelles. We flew on Qatar Airways First Class round trip and stayed at the Berjaya Beau Vallon resort right on the beach, all paid for by the Navy. It is the most beautiful place on earth. A close second would have to be New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong with my wife, the flight paid for with award miles.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Spencer – My wife shakes her head every time a new credit card arrives in the mail, but she does enjoy what we’re able to do with the points. I don’t talk about miles/points very often with friends/family, unless they ask.
Andy – My wife does the same thing. My brother Jim, who lives with me, travels for his work and competes with me to accumulate miles. It is extremely hard to compete on points with someone who travels every week and reads the same blogs I do. My friends and coworkers value the tips I give them.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Spencer – Don’t be afraid to try new programs or to just sign up for things for the bonuses. I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Card for the bonus, but it was so useful for international travel that I’ve held on to it. It’s the first card I’ve paid an annual fee for, and happily.
Andy – Shopping portals, credit card category bonuses and airline award routing rules. I still regret spending most of my initial Ultimate Rewards points on travel booked on their site and not transferring it to an airline partner. Also I wish I’d known earlier that American Express waives annual fees for active duty service members.
Any parting words?
Spencer – Take advantage of the travel opportunities the military gives you. If you fly commercially, make sure you sign up for the frequent flier program and rack up those miles. Consider signing up for the airline’s credit card, especially if there’s a sign up bonus.
If you are staying in a hotel, make sure you not only sign up for the loyalty program, but also check if they have a branded credit card. Good luck and have fun out there!
Andy – For Active Duty service members, take advantage of the perks offered to you while traveling – up to 3 free checked bags on most domestic carriers, TSA pre-check with military ID, preferred boarding if active duty and free lounges in most major airports, i.e USOs. There are so many great military specific deals, discounts, and opportunities out there if you’re willing to look.
Andy and Spencer – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!