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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Smiling Suitcase
William writes The Smiling Suitcase to show people that they can live simply and travel luxuriously.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I was always aware of the ability to collect miles and points but only from the frequent travel side of things. Fifteen years ago I traveled quite a bit for my job and pretty much flew Southwest each week so I was able to get quite a few flights for free as well as collecting points at the hotels I frequented. Unfortunately, I never saw the other side of it at the time which focused on the credit card sign-up bonuses.
It was only a couple of years ago that I took advantage of a Southwest credit card and received my 1st bonus points and figured, “What’s better than 1…2!” So we signed my wife up as well. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with an acquaintance of ours a little over a year ago that our travel world suddenly flipped on its head.
While giving us tips about an upcoming trip to Europe we were planning, I could tell that we were being felt out a bit with our spending habits when he suddenly stopped talking and said the magic words I’ll never forget. “How would you like to never pay for a flight again?” Our response? Nothing but smiles. The point collecting was officially on!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I do some public speaking and marketing for work, but I’ve always enjoyed writing as my hobby when I had the spare time. I have a day job, but it isn’t what drives me. Travel and family. That’s what drives me.
My grandparents traversed the globe several times and I remember as a kid wanting to emulate them. Not only in travel, but in how they lived. They never tried to keep up with the “Joneses.” They lived in a small house but globetrotted like kings and queens and had the experiences to match.
My family of 4 is on that same path. We don’t live check to check but we keep our luxuries minimal, unless it comes to travel. When we’re away from the confines of home and off the beaten path, we feel rich. Expanding our reach through travel has become our new backyard and it’s where our comfort level is at its greatest.
Letting readers know how to do this is part of the joy of traveling. My blog is meant to let people know that life should not be about waiting until retirement…for anything. Nothing should be taken for granted, especially the time we’re given on this earth, and unfortunately, none of us know that timeline, so you have to make every second count.
The world is big and I want to experience it all and let the world know what’s out there. We’re a family of 4 which is a different spin on travel. I keep up with several blogs that are focused on 1 or 2 people traveling, so you have to get inventive when you’re booking for 4 because you may have to opt for some uncomfortable flights or stays to spread your points out efficiently.
We earn and burn without thinking twice because after a month or 2 at home, we all get some serious cabin fever. Our goal is for our kids to become world travelers and hopefully, take us on some of their trips when they get older. Let’s just call it a bargaining chip for the future.
Last but not least, these images and memories are a journal not only for the public, but something my kids can look at and remember forever. You’d be surprised at how much you forget when you travel often.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Look for ways to maximize your spending such as for mortgages, utilities, and even cash payments for things such as handyman jobs, lawn mowing, music lessons, etc. Every dollar counts!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
We have 2 actually that fall in a tie. While in a random conversation at a winery in our hometown of Nashville, my wife commented that we would be going to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The man in front of her mentioned his wife was a NYPD Officer that works the route. A few months later and a couple emails, we find ourselves in a roped off VIP area of Times Square with donuts and coffee watching Santa pass by.
Always engage people in conversation, you just never know where it will lead. As a matter of fact, we’ll be heading to Boston soon to stay in a house free of charge from a random conversation in St. Croix. Go figure!
The 2nd experience would be when our family went to Belize. Watching my girls swim with the Nurse sharks and massive rays was a bit unsettling, but seeing monkeys swinging in the trees and screaming at you is not something we’re used to in Tennessee so when our guide to the Mayan Ruins asked for volunteers to feed a monkey, I was all in!
Staring at the monkey as he took the banana from my hand, I realized there’s so much more to this world that is brand new to us.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
At 1st they think we’re nuts and primed for bankruptcy or misery. It just simply can’t be true is what we hear, and at some point we’ll wake up with a 500 credit score with a bunch of photos and memories.
But the more they hear, the more they are intrigued. Most people want to do what we’re doing, they just don’t know how and where to start. It can be scary at first.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Don’t lose track of your common sense. This is fun and life-changing, but this is not a game. For every person who manages to make the system to work for them, there are countless others who falter with the credit lines they are afforded. You must be detail oriented and utilize the many award tracking apps that are out there to help.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I was stunned to be able to take advantage of the Citi Executive American Airlines 100,000 mile bonus… TWICE for both my wife and me. To get almost 500,000 points on 1 style of card in a small amount of time? Let’s just say my appetite for worldwide travel has increased by, well, half a million points!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I would have known more about the limited impact on my credit score. This is the biggie that most people are scared of and if they only knew, like I do now, it would be less of a concern.
Also, using airline partners makes any points you get valuable in 1 way or another. And the absolute biggest thing is wishing I would have banked more vacation time over the years. Those are precious days now that can’t be wasted and I find it absurd the amount of vacation days off US companies offer in comparison to many European nations. But I digress…
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m an executive at a financial institution. Which goes to show, even with knowledge of the ins and outs of credit cards and lending procedures, you can still learn new things.
Any parting words?
What I always tell my readers and anyone else who will listen.
Live within your means, travel beyond them!
William – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
If you’d like to be considered for our interview series, please send me a note!