Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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: The Bucket List Lifestyle
Nate writes The Bucket List Lifestyle to encourage readers to make the proactive choice to design their life around marking items off their bucket list.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points about 2 years ago after I graduated from grad school. While I was in grad school, I ran a website that taught students how to build good credit using student credit cards.
As I was searching the web 1 day, I came across a website called Noob Traveler. It was the 1st blog I had ever read that explained travel hacking for beginners.
The next thing I knew, I had spent 2 hours going down the rabbit hole and finding tons of blogs on the subject. I spent the next 3 to 4 weeks reading as much as I possibly could about the subject before jumping in and applying for my 1st credit card.
At that point I had just graduated, and I didn’t have a ton of money. But my wife and I had decided that we really wanted to see the world before we had kids. After taking my 1st award flight with miles, I knew that travel hacking was the tool that was going to help us turn that dream into a reality.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
The main reason I started my blog was to answer the question, “How can you and Kara (my wife) afford to travel to so many places?” On my blog I write about more than just travel hacking.
The posts are centered around 3 topics: travel hacking, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle design.
Travel hacking is a great way to decrease the cost of travel, but if you don’t have time to travel, then what’s the point? The Bucket List Lifestyle blog is about using entrepreneurship to design a life that will allow you more opportunities to travel and mark stuff off your bucket list.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I run a printing company, and I write a travel blog multiple times per week. So I stay really busy. I like to concentrate on points earning opportunities that will get me the most points for the amount of time I invest.
As your readers already know, credit card sign-up bonuses are the best way to earn large amounts of miles in a little amount of time.
When I 1st started travel hacking, I was afraid of signing-up for cards with large annual fees. My advice to people who are just starting out would be… don’t let the big annual fees scare you away! A $450 annual fee sounds really expensive, but at times it’s 1 of the best ways to cheaply acquire a ton of miles.
Plus, if you take the time to read and understand the benefits of the premium card, you can usually get a ton of value extra value out of the card in addition to the sign-up bonus.
For example: a couple premium cards offer $200 statement credits or offer to waive $200 worth incidental airline charges. That almost cuts the annual fee in half. Then, take into consideration the other perks like free lounge access, free world wide Wi-Fi (with Boingo), and free access to business centers (Regus).
Add a really high sign-up bonus like the 100,000 point sign-up bonus on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (this offer is no longer available) earlier this year and the $450 annual fee turns into an awesome deal!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
When my wife and I got married, we went on our honeymoon to Belize. We stayed on a private 7 acre island 15 miles off of the coast. Staying on a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea was an incredible experience.
Plus, we’re both certified scuba divers, and our island was less than 2 miles away from the Belize Barrier Reef which is the 2nd largest Barrier Reef in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. On our dives, we had to opportunity to swim with sea turtles, sharks, and goliath grouper.
Our honeymoon trip to Belize was amazing, and I will never forget it.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most people I know are separated into 3 different camps. First, there are the people who just think we’re completely crazy (60%). Then there are the people who say they are super jealous of our life and really want to learn, BUT for some reason they never actually take action (38%).
Finally there are a few people (2%) who actually read and implement the travel hacking strategies I talk about on the blog. It’s been really fun to see the people taking action and being rewarded with free travel that they never thought was possible!
I never really worry about the 60% of people who think I’m crazy. There’s just no point in worrying about what they think because our mindsets are obviously completely different. However, I stay up at night scratching my head and wondering about the 38% of people who say they’re interested, but never take action.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are actually 6 tools that I use almost on a daily basis to organize and maximize my travel hacking endeavors. I wrote about all 6 tools and how I use them in my 2014 Travel Hacker Gear Guide – 6 tools no travel hacker should live without. Anyone who wants a copy of my gear guide can sign-up on the sidebar of my website.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
A friend and I were staying at the Hilton in the Dominican Republic. We cut our stay short and asked them to refund the points we used for the last night. They ended up refunding almost double the amount of points we had actually paid to stay there.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
When I first started collecting miles and points I was reading blogs and applying for what everyone else said were the “best” credit offers. I ended up with miles spread out between a lot of different programs, and they weren’t especially useful. Now every card I apply for is part of strategy to build up my points balance in airline and hotel programs that I use frequently.
Beginners should consider concentrating their points earning strategies on 1 or 2 specific airlines. Focus on airlines miles because flights are usually the most expensive part of travel. If you’re a budget traveler, you can always find cheap accommodation, but cheap flights are hard to come by.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m the founder of a social enterprise called Peanut Butter Printing. This year the business has donated almost 20,000 meals to children dying of malnutrition.
While starting this business has been extremely rewarding, we’re still in the early phases, and I’m not taking a paycheck from the company. This year my wife and I have been able to visit 8 new countries and several new states all on a household income of less than $40,000 thanks to miles and points.
Any parting words?
If you have a good credit score, why not put it to use? You might not want to obsess over miles and points as much as Daraius and I do, but at least get 1 or 2 cards that earn travel rewards and start putting all of your spending on those cards.
If you want to keep it extremely simple, just sign-up for a fixed value points card like the Barclay Arrival Plus card and put all your spending on it. It will at least help to offset some of the expenses on your next vacation.
Daraius, thanks for the opportunity to share my story! If any of your readers want to connect with me, they can visit my blog at Nate Buchanan.
Nate – 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!
* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 20,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another interview!