“The Cheese Grater Brush That I Bought…I Came Out of It With 35,000 Miles”

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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:   Family Explorers

Spencer writes Family Explorers to help readers to plan family travel abroad, maximizing family experience while saving money with frequent flyer miles and other tips.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

Spencer and His Family on a Cliff Overlooking Sintra Moorish Castle, Just Outside of Lisbon, Portugal

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

It’s probably been almost 4 years.  While I’d casually applied for and made decent use of rewards credit cards before then, and I’d always made sure to collect my miles when flying, the turning point was when I stumbled upon the 100,000 mile British Airways card offer (this offer is not currently available).

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

No Shortage of Rocks to Collect Near Saint Bernard Pass, Switzerland

From there, I was hooked, following Million Mile Secrets and a handful of other sources to be sure I wasn’t missing out on opportunities to fly for free!

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

My wife and I have always loved to travel, and when the kids came along, we initially felt like we needed to put travel on hold.  But after successful family trips (using miles, of course) to Hawaii, Portugal, France, and several other US destinations, we recognized that no time was better than now to teach our kids and strengthen our family by experiencing the world together.

And while there are obstacles that keep families with young children from traveling (including the cost of flights, the unknown of traveling abroad, and worry that the kids wouldn’t get much out of it), we knew we could help others with those concerns!  Our experience using points and miles to see the world on a shoestring could go a LONG way to allaying the budget concerns of many parents.

We could also help with many of the logistical worries for family travelers.  And most significantly, if we could help parents prepare their kids for the experiences they would have abroad, ensuring their kids would get the most out of it and remember it for years to come, it would all be worth it.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

Even These Hooligans Can Travel the World

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

I admit I kind of shudder when I see someone pay for something with cash.  And if I’m out to lunch with a friend or co-worker, after we pay, I’m prone to ask what kind of miles or rewards they get with their card.

While of course some huge points are to be earned with credit card sign-up bonuses, I’d say 1 of the biggest opportunities is to use a card that yields sizable rewards EVERY TIME you make a purchase.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

Endless Fun on the Grand Canal at Versailles

I can respect those who stick with a no-credit-cards spending strategy if it feels right or keeps them out of financial trouble.  But in most cases, it all comes down to paying a little more attention to what card you’re using to help maximize free travel or other rewards.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Introducing our 4 boys to the Eiffel Tower was certainly a highlight.  They’d built the Eiffel Tower out of Legos.  They’d seen it while reading Madeline dozens of times.

We’d studied up on its construction.  They’d even read a Magic Treehouse book about it.  So when we finally exited the Paris Metro and caught a glimpse, they were ecstatic.

Heading to the top was the icing on the cake!  Throughout our extended stay in Paris, their eyes always lit up when we caught sight of the Eiffel Tower.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

Awestruck by the Eiffel Tower

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

They used to kind of roll their eyes, but as I’ve demonstrated the value of points and miles through our travels, they’ve become believers, and I’ve become the go-to guy in the family and neighborhood for traveling for less!

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

It’s tough not to be in love with AwardWallet, but that’s especially true when managing points and miles for the whole family.  Between my wife and me, our 4 boys, and a few extended family members, I probably keep an eye on 75+ program balances.  It wouldn’t be manageable without AwardWallet.

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

Oh man, it’s gotta be something tied to US Airways’ Grand Slam 2011 program (this deal is not currently available).  I jumped in with both feet.  I had a crazy spreadsheet with every possibility in it, weighing the cost and benefit of each 1 and tracking my success.

Of all the things on that spreadsheet, the most random 1 was definitely the cheese grater brush that I bought for $4 from SkyMall.  The thing that made it even funnier?  The fact that it looked like a miniature toilet brush when it arrived.  My wife was truly perplexed, but I came out of it with 35,000 miles.

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

You can get miles for almost any expenditure, even some of the bills that seem to not allow payment by credit card.  Probably the best example I know of is my homeowner’s insurance.

There’s no option to pay my monthly installments by credit card, but if I call up and offer to pay the remainder of the 6 or 12 month premium by phone, they’re happy to let me pay by card.  And I’m happy to make progress towards my next free trip using points and miles!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I’m in love with maps.  I love to spend time studying them, finding my way, learning about the sites, cities, and geography associated with them.  And every time I browse through SkyMall and come across that enormous world map mural (8’ x 13’), I dream of finding the perfect spot for it in my house.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

I Love This Map!

Any parting words?

Don’t be afraid of family travel.  Sure, traveling with kids is more challenging than solo or adults-only travel, but seeing the world as a family will bind your family together and yield dividends for a lifetime to come.

Family Explorers - Interview With Spencer

Exploring Versailles’ Gardens

Spencer – 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!

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6 responses to ““The Cheese Grater Brush That I Bought…I Came Out of It With 35,000 Miles”

  1. This is sooooo great! My hubs and I also have 4 small kids, 3 boys and a newborn girl. We just got back from Paris about 2 weeks ago! It was the best experience of our lives! Everyone commented on how crazy we are, but man, if they only knew how amazing it is to spend time with your kids in a place like France! We have also been to Puerto Rico with them and a few US destinations! We are getting ready for Australia/New Zealand in a few months! Can’t wait!

  2. If this has truly worked, then more power to you. I know credit card offers can be lucrative, but taking a family of 6 on multiple trips to Europe paid for by miles just seems unbelievable. 35,000 miles for a cheese grater? Come on, there’s more to the story there.

  3. @Derek B I am taking my family of 5 to France on miles this year. Some of the miles were earned by butt in seat, but mostly with a credit card strategy and booking one year out. I’m not the most aggressive with the cards at ALL. It takes planning. We needed to get to France so we built our plan around that goal. In the meantime, we always watch for great fares. I get more excited about great fares than miles cause it’s more instant gratification. I’ve never gotten 35,000 miles for a $4 cheese grater though. LOL 🙂

  4. @Jo Congratulations on your trip. If you don’t mind me asking, how many miles did you need to accumulate for your flights? Also, were you able to do this in the summer or would this be during the school year?

  5. Derek, the Grand Slam promotion that US Air used to do would have 70 merchants or so and would give you multiples of the miles you would ordinarily get if you bought from more of them. I think that to get five times the normal miles for all your purchases, you had to do business with 32 of those merchants. So there were a couple of businesses which you would spend a bunch of money on, and then you would scrounge for cheap stuff to buy from the others. Some of them weren’t actually purchases; I know I opened college savings accounts for my friends’ kids and got auto and life insurance quotes. It was wild. In Spencer’s case, the $4 cheese grater was what put him over the top and got him the 35,000 miles.

  6. I love the interview series and I look forward to and read every one!