“There are so many great military specific deals, discounts, and opportunities out there if you’re willing to look”

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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.

And don’t forget to enter in their $50 Oktoberfest giveaway!

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

On the beach of Guam with my wife and son

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

At the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

Traversing the world’s highest Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

Glaciering on Mount Cayambe, Ecuador

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

At 60 ft in the Red Sea outside of Aqaba, Jordan

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

Segway tour of Prague

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.

Military Money Manual - Interview with Andy and Spencer

Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile

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!

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19 responses to ““There are so many great military specific deals, discounts, and opportunities out there if you’re willing to look”

  1. Interesting read (incl. your blog).

    I wonder though, after you gave it away that you were an officer – if you could have done the same on enlisted pay vs. O1 pay. Yes, it’s possible but a big difference in the amount of take home pay!

    I have not fully read your blog – hopefully you have also factored in free MAC flights (are they still called MAC flights) into your travel planning…a bit more hassle with scheduling and flying in a military C5 or C-130 is far different than 1st class! 😉 But, free is free!!!

  2. Good post, learned some things from this as I am a federal employee. I’m interested in learning more about how to “get around” using a government card for travel….I thought that was a big no-no and can get you in trouble.

  3. Andy,

    Recommend that you explain in the comments that there were mission requirements/special circumstances that allowed your group to fly in first class as an exception to the rule. Otherwise, people who do not know of the general rule that all government employees fly in coach may get the impression that this a common occurance.

  4. Great site! I’m going to pass this along to my brother in law who is flying an f-18 somewhere in the world. So many unique aspects to military life. I’m glad you serve this niche.

  5. Kim is right! I was already scratching my head about the first class trip courtesy of the Navy. My tax dollars at work?

    This was a really enlightening interview and although I am not military or government-employed it was a fun read with new content. Much better than most recent Friday interviews.

  6. Glad to see someone else enjoys Segway tours. Have you been on any other tours in Europe or the US? I think I am up to 6 or 7 in the US 🙂

  7. first class? Navy? Our tax? No wonder this country is going broke.

  8. Andy and Spencer – thanks for what you do. Your blog is a great idea and I wish you the very best. You talk about passive investing – are you familiar with the bogleheads?

    Daraius – I was waiting for you to run out of travel bloggers. Diversification like today’s will work (or) find new topics to go back to the ones already interviewed.

  9. Wow I cant explain how overjoyed I am to finally find a reputable and reliable financial blog site with creditable individuals that focuses on military members. Ever since I stumbled on to Millionmilesecrets back during my deployment last year, I have yet to find such a site that’s informative to military members as militarymoneymanual. Don’t get it twisted I love Millionmilesecrets but I was so amazed and elated after checking out militarymoneymanual for the first time today. I really hope that you guys dont let the site fall apart because it has great potential especially since you guys are military as well. Keep the blogs coming because I will be patiently waiting on Facebook and Twitter!

  10. @bostonwalker Please dont think that this is always the case when it comes to traveling in the military. I’m not in the Navy but I’m sure its no different than us in the Airforce. The military usually pays for the cheapest ticket when you are traveling on orders but sometimes the carrier will upgrade you for free at check-in just because of the love and appreciation they have for military members. Trust me Ive flown to Korea, Japan, Iraq, UAE, Guam, and other places while on orders during my 12 yr career and no upgrades but dont take it as me complaining. Im just trying to reassure you that it doesn’t happen often. Now one way to have the military pay for your upgraded ticket is to just purchase it yourself when on orders by booking through a discounted program like Chase Ultimate Rewards which gives you 20% off airfare. The military will reimburse you the cost of a cheap ticket but hopefully that 20% discount will offset the cost so you come out breaking even. Never tried it but I will when I head to Korea again soon.

  11. Andy, your wife is hot! 😉

  12. Spencer, you’ve mentioned that the Chase Sapphire card was the first card you have paid annual fees for.
    Since you’ve signed up for a lot of credit cards, what do you do to get the annual fees waived after the first year? Do you cancel them or call customer service an get them waived by threatening to cancel?

  13. Though not military related, TopCashBack supposedly is giving 70% cash back for travel at Wego.com. I’m guessing this is for Hotels only but not sure of all the restrictions.

  14. Pisses me off that this guy shows how our “finest” work the system to rip off taxpayers. First Class on Qatar and Berjaya Resort all on the Navy? You mean all on the TAXPAYER’s dime!!

    “ways around using gov’t credit card” – I bet there are.

    “fly on government orders, you are allowed to take the miles into your personal frequent flier program” – a blatant ripoff – those are taxpayer’s points, not yours.

    And these are our “finest”? Utterly disgusted.

  15. Being able to earn points/miles for work-related travel is commonplace in the private sector too. I used to work for a private employer where I traveled heavily for work, and researching how to make the most of that was what got me into this game. (I got to pay for all expenses except airfare, which was booked on corporate CC, with personal CC and was reimbursed via check within a week or two of returning and handing in my receipts.) I eventually realized I didn’t need that job to earn free travel.

    I’m not sure why some commenters have a problem with soldiers who are probably undercompensated relative to the difficulty and danger of their jobs doing the same thing. If airlines offered a reduced price for government/military travel with the stipulation that no miles would be earned, that’d be different. Then I’d say let servicemembers pay the difference if they want to earn the miles. How are they ripping off taxpayers by letting the airline give them miles instead of letting them go to waste?

  16. @Unrea – thanks for the positive feedback!

    @Dan – After the first year of annual fee waivers, if the card is not performing to my needs (ie, not giving me the cash rewards I need or offering benefits I’m taking advantage of), I call the issuing company and politely ask to have my card/account cancelled. Sometimes the companies offer me to keep the card for another year fee free. If that meets my needs, I’ll take the offer. If they don’t offer that, I proceed with the cancellation and only use cards that meet my needs.

    @Paul – The Joint Federal Travel Regulations, the rule book that controls all official DoD and government travel, allows for personnel traveling for official business to collect the loyalty points for themselves. It didn’t use to be this way, but that’s the current regulation, not a blatant ripoff.

    Also, when we stay at any hotel or resort on official business, we never pay the full rate. We pay a government rate, which is often substantially discounted from the normal rate. These rates are publicly available on the defensetravel.osd.mil site. I hope that helps you to be better informed on the topic.

    @Lemma – Yes, collecting personal points/miles for work-related travel is a common occurrence in the corporate world, just as it is for official government travel.

  17. FYI, Continental is not the only airline that serves Guam. Delta also flys there, and that is how I got there from CONUS and paid $400 less. However, you are correct about signing for Continental/United. Also, in Guam, get a cell with DOCOMO, get 2,000 miles bonus, and then a mile a dollar spent after that. The Hawaii banks there also have deals on debit and credit cards with CA/USA. And the Shell CO. has miles deals when you buy fuel from them on Guam. Last tip for Guam, Best Buy will ship there. I bought a desktop much cheaper than at the exchange or locally, and BB shipped it free, no sales tax. Bought on the Chase portal with my Chase debit, and got 2 miles a dollar !!! And one more, you here people say that there are no GPS maps for Guam, NOT TRUE !!.,, google it. I got the maps for my Garmin for $25 bucks (cant remember the site). Works perfect when you are new to the island.

  18. Pingback: Do You Know Someone in the Military? These Credit Cards Will Waive Their Annual Fees! | Million Mile Secrets