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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: Single Flyer
Alan writes Single Flyer to share his experiences with traveling the world solo.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I signed-up for my 1st loyalty program October of 2000 at 17 years old.
The year before I traveled abroad for the 1st time and immediately caught the travel bug. I spent a month in Northern Ireland with some high school friends working with kids at a camp in Belfast. My fascination with other cultures and discovering new locations was born.
To be honest, collecting miles and points was an afterthought. I’m still relatively new to the miles community. It was a nice bonus to accumulate miles and points, but the goal was always to travel more.
I live in Seattle, where the majority of flights each day are on Alaska Airlines, it made accumulating miles easy.
About 10 years ago, I opened my 1st Bank of America Alaska Airlines card and realized that everyday habits, like paying for purchases with my credit card rather than debit card, could facilitate additional travel.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
For most of my life, I thought you always had to travel with someone, family, friends, school group, etc. After college my ability to travel didn’t always line up with others’. I made my 1st solo trip a few years ago.
I found it to be empowering. With all travel I think you learn a lot about yourself. I still love to travel with friends and family, but traveling alone has its own rewards.
When I told people I was going on a trip by myself I received mixed reactions. Most people just didn’t get it. I heard it all. “How is that fun?” “Aren’t you scared?” “Do you have no friends, you misanthrope?!”
While I do find myself to be an introvert at heart, I ended up having to do a lot of education around the joys of independent travel. I realized this might be a niche area of travel that could benefit from some additional insight and focus.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I am not a travel professional by any means. I have never applied for multiple credit cards at once, nor have I ever signed-up for a credit card more than once. There are people out there (like you!) that are experts.
Honestly, I look for basic things I can do to earn the most miles or points possible. Like I said, it is easy for me being in Seattle. Alaska Airlines is my go-to airline, so my miles are consolidated into a single loyalty program.
For hotels, I stick with Hyatt. I have branded credit cards with both these companies. Additionally, I have the Barclay Arrival Plus card that gives me the freedom to redeem points for travel during those times I don’t fly Alaska Airlines or stay at Hyatt properties.
I did my 1st mileage run last month. It was an good deal, $160 round-trip and I would earn 4,670 elite qualifying miles plus 2,336 elite status bonus miles. So I wanted to give it a try. Turned out there were 3 other people on my flight also doing the mileage run and it was a great experience.
But I hold down a full-time, office-based job that does not require me to travel. So I don’t have the ability to devote a huge amount of time to the “game.”
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That’s hard. I’ve been to 20 countries and each location is unique.
I would say the most memorable locations have been areas with recent conflicts including Northern Ireland, South Africa, the Balkans, the American South.
One of my favorites was my trip to Cambodia in 2010. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people that are still in recovery. I was visiting a friend who teaches in Phnom Penh so I had a home base from which I could explore.
But you have to be careful not to become a voyeur. It’s a fine line.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
When I did the mileage run they thought I was insane. After explaining it a bit I think it made more sense to them, but they still thought I was crazy. Their eyes really glazed over when I explained mile valuations.
I just booked a flight to Istanbul on Air France in Premium Economy Class for $600 round-trip (not through miles, just a deal I found from someone I follow on Twitter.
I will be staying for 3 nights. So this isn’t exactly a mileage run because I will get to actually explore the city. However, I will be accumulating Alaska Airline miles because they are partners with Air France. I even convinced a friend to come along!
I don’t think people outside the mile and points community can understand it until they have tried it. Accumulating miles should be a no brainer for anyone who is traveling.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I never really understood the benefits of Twitter until recently. It is a great tool to connect with others in the community and to be alerted to deals when they come up.
A lot of the deals don’t last for long, so immediate notification through Twitter is key. I don’t have that many followers, but it doesn’t stop me from continuing to use it.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Not a surprise exactly. One weekend I was at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. I received:
- 1,130 base points for the stay
- 169 elite status bonus points as a Platinum member
- 5,000 bonus points for a targeted offer
- 1,000 bonus for a general Hyatt offer
- 1,000 additional points for my Avis car rental
Not too bad for 2 nights at a relatively inexpensive property. It pays to check current bonus offers!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I still feel relatively new. Even though I have been accumulating for 15 years it wasn’t until more recently I became, I guess you could say, more proactive.
But the 1 thing I wish I had known is to ALWAYS book direct. I avoid online travel agents like the plague.
One of the reasons to book direct is that way you can make use of best price guarantees. Both Alaska Airlines and Hyatt (my 2 favorites) have a great program where if you find a lower price they will match it.
For Alaska Airlines, if they drop their fare you can apply for a credit for a future flight. With Hyatt, if you find a lower price on another website they will match it and beat it by 20%.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I actually do have friends! Or at least people who tolerate me. 😉
Any parting words?
People ask how I afford to travel so often. Miles and points help. However, travel is my priority so I find ways to save money in all areas of my life.
While some people like to drive a new car, wear the most fashionable clothes, have pets or kids, I’ve decided right now my priority is travel so I make it work. And I am happy with that.
Alan – 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!