“The underlying principle is that happiness comes from within…”

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

Miles & Points Interview: Mr. Everyday Dollar

Chris writes Mr. Everyday Dollar to share his blend of frugalism and minimialism.

Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Salt Flats of Argentina

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I have always signed up for loyalty programs to collect the free miles and points for paid flights and hotel stays.  However, I started a dedicated practice of accumulating miles and points in 2012.

That year, I stumbled upon sites like Extra Pack of Peanuts, FlyerTalk, Million Mile Secrets, and The Points Guy – a community that was applying for credit card sign-up bonuses.  I can distinctly remember the sickening feeling I had because I was missing out on free travel!  Here I am with a great credit score, and in my wallet for the last seven years is the same old Citi Dividend card.

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

My blog is not about travel, it’s about personal finance.  For many years I’ve focused on living a life of minimalism and frugalism with the goal of reaching financial independence in my 30s, through saving and investing.

I started my blog to share my own journey and to provide readers with advanced tips, tricks, and guidance on how they too can make the choice to pare down their lifestyle, and enjoy all the benefits that come with that choice.

The underlying principle is that happiness comes from within and not through conspicuous consumption and materialism; I’d love to see people choose to spend their hard-earned dollars on experiences (like travel!) rather than material things.

Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Camping Redwoods, California

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

Create a churn plan in order to maximize sign-up bonuses and to plan spend.  I accomplish that by recording which cards the miles and points community is raving about (thanks guys and gals!), and then twice a year – in January and July – I’ll review that list to determine which cards to apply for.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

That is a tough question, though there’s a recent experience that really stands out!

In 2012, my girlfriend and I traveled to Argentina.  We had an awesome time exploring tiny villages like Iruya, the wine haven Cafayate, and cultural offerings of Buenos Aires.  But the highlight of the trip was Iguazu Falls, a staggering 275 waterfalls along 1.67 miles bordering Brazil.

The most impressive of all the waterfalls is The Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish).  U-shaped, it stands 269 feet tall and is decorated with rainbows and birds darting throughout the mist.  There’s so much to experience in this world, and it’s saddening to me that many people won’t get to witness striking natural wonders like Iguazu Falls, hence my passion for miles and points.

Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Iguazu falls, Argentina

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

I’ve turned some of them on to applying for credit cards, which has allowed them to travel for free.  Others, however, seem content to use the same credit card for years on end (just like the old me).

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

This is a hobby that’s well-suited for the obsessive and meticulous!  Here are the tools I use:

  • AwardWallet to track hotel points and expiration.
  • A Google Docs Spreadsheet to manually track airline miles and expiration.
  • A Google Docs Document to record the cards I want to apply for.
  • Google Calendar to remind me when waived annual fees end.
Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Machu Picchu, Peru

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

Last fall, my girlfriend and I stayed on points at the Hyatt in Carmel that overlooks California’s Big Sur coast.  The hotel, with stunning views of the coastline also has rooms with wood-burning fireplaces, a perk we took advantage of during the chilly October nights.

Unfortunately, we experienced a series of minor issues.  I brought them to the attention of the property manager, both as a loyal Hyatt member and because I wanted to feel good about recommending the hotel to other travelers.  The manager consulted with his team about the issues and went above and beyond by crediting the full points for our stay back to our account!

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

Three things:

First, applying for cards to get those sign-up bonuses doesn’t wreck a good credit score.  The worst scenario is a decrease of your credit score by 10% to 15%, but it could also increase it up to 30% because you’re using a lower percentage of your overall available credit (as Daraius outlined in this post).

Second, you can enhance award travel by taking advantage of free stopovers and open-jaws.  For example, I booked a United award ticket to Italy that included a stopover in London and an open-jaw between Naples and Rome.

Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Kerala, India

Third, consider each mile or point as currency and find out how much they’re worth (from blogs like this).  For example, Hyatt is valued at about 1.6 cents.  A standard room at the Park Hyatt Chicago that’s 25,000 points costs you $400 in points.

During the winter, the room runs less than $300 while in the summer it’s $500.  Spend the cash (or stay elsewhere) when it’s $300 and use the points when it’s $500.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I didn’t board an airplane until I was 23 years old.  Growing up, my family of five took shorter road trips when we went on vacation and always in our station wagon.  I’ve been fortunate (and making up for lost time) because I can now say I’ve set foot on five of the seven continents!

Mr. Everyday Dollar - Interview With Chris

Paris, France

Any parting words?

I’m truly grateful to have the ability to travel our world.  We are blessed by a global transportation system that easily allows us to experience amazing countries, and their historical sites, foods, and cultures.  If you can, I encourage you to explore this beautiful world too – and miles and points help!

I’d like to thank Daraius for interviewing me, it was a lot of fun!  Come visit Mr. Everyday Dollar for a unique perspective on personal finance!

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

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8 responses to ““The underlying principle is that happiness comes from within…”

  1. I agree with you about spending money on experiences instead of material things. Research shows that experiences tend to bring more value over time. Does that $500 you spent on (insert item) still make you as happy as it did 4-5 years ago? Probably not. However, if you spent $500 on a travel experience, it will probably seem even better years down the road. Wish more people thought like that…

  2. While I agree somewhat with your philosophy the irony is without consumerism you wouldn’t be getting any perks from the credit card companies to subsidize your free/discounted rooms and flights.

  3. @Grant You are absolutely right. I’d like to add that the research shows that an experience, which certainly includes travel, also includes much simpler things like going to a concert or eating a meal out at a restaurant.

    Yes, you’ll be bored with that $500 material item in short time, but an experience – where you make social connections or feel “alive” – provides long-term satisfaction because no one gets bored of happy memories! As travelers, I’m sure we can all relate to that.

  4. @Dave Thank you for pointing that out. Every time we use our credit card, the merchant is paying that pesky 1%-3% interchange fee. For rewards cards, the fee is on the higher side to help the issuer subsidize the cost of miles, points, or cash.

    So, some of the cost to the issuer of providing rewards cards is shifted to the retailer, who generally shifts some of it to consumers in the form of higher prices. Unless you choose to go cash only, the fact is that rewards cards are everywhere and, like I discovered, it doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of their perks.

    By the way, here’s a great research paper by the Boston Fed about merchant fees and rewards cards.

  5. Thanks for the good info! I am curious about one thing though… Why do you use AwardWallet to track hotel miles/expirations, but then use a Google Doc spreadsheet to travel the same data for airlines? Most work with AwardWallet for automatic updates — and the few that don’t you can either have them parse your statement emails or manually update them there.

    Therefore, why use the extra step of a Google Doc for airline mile tracking? Why not use AwardWallet for all of it just to keep it simple?

    Just curious if there is some reason that I’m missing that would make it better for me to do it like you. I use AW for all of that tracking currently.

    Thanks!

    – John…

  6. @John Thanks for asking that question! Out of three airlines that I use, two of them – Delta and United – have locked out AwardWallet. That leaves American as the only one I could connect (and after having locked out AwardWallet, they just opened it back up last summer).

    You prompted me to go ahead and configure my Delta and United accounts to forward my statements to my [username]@AwardWallet.com address.

    I hadn’t done it because I only fly 3-5x a year and it was pretty easy to update the Google Doc (which I will now retire!). If I traveled often I’m sure I would have done it ages ago!

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