“Miles and Points Are Not Investments…Spend ’em, Don’t Save ’em!”

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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:   Unintended Domesticity

Whitney writes Unintended Domesticity to share her travel stories, recipes, and home improvement tips.

Unintended Domesticity - Interview With Whitney

Whitney and Her Husband at Niagara Falls

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

In 2011, I took a new job that required a bit of occasional travel.  It was nothing fancy, usually only 2 to 3 domestic trips per year, which usually happened on American Airlines.

My frequent flyer account only had a few thousand points.  And when I compared it to these super high redemption levels on the American Airlines award chart,  I knew there had to be another way.

So I did some internet research and found Million Mile Secrets.  Within a month, I was hooked and had applied for my 1st travel credit card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards card.

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

Some may say that I have slightly unusual hobbies.  My husband and I are backyard beekeepers, I’m a travel hacker, and we do our own home DIY projects.

Every Monday when I went in to work, I answered the question, “So what did you do this weekend?”  There tended to be a lot of follow-up questions.  People wanted to know how they could get started in some of these same activities.  So I started blogging about them.

Unlike a lot of the blogs you feature, though, mine doesn’t solely cover travel or earning miles and points.  It’s a lifestyle blog that features travel, cooking, investing, gardening, and a whole wealth of things that I find other people in their late 20s and early 30s are thinking about.

And I strive to cover it in a no-nonsense kind of way unlike so many of the lifestyle blogs out there where you read it and go, “Um, does this person live in fairyland?  There’s no way they actually live like that.”  My blogging heroes are people like Million Mile Secrets, Mr. Money Mustache, and Hipstercrite.

Unintended Domesticity - Interview With Whitney

In Front of Jackson Square, New Orleans

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

Especially when people are getting started in the miles and points game, I recommend a single go-to credit card that has a lot of flexibility, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the AMEX Starwood card.

That way, when they’re still learning the steps for earning lot of miles and points, there’s less chance they’ll mess up and find themselves either impacting their credit in a negative way or boxed in to a single loyalty program.  Both cards provide a nice, easy entry into this world.   And the sign-up bonuses for those cards offer a fairly immediate incentive.

Beyond the beginner stuff, though, I’d say consider volunteering for additional work travel, if possible.  A lot of people hate, loathe, absolutely detest work travel (especially if they have young kids at home).

But if you can establish yourself in the workplace as someone that’s always happy to step in and pick up last-minute travel needs, client meetings, or conferences, you can pretty easily earn a nice chunk of extra miles.

Even better, volunteer to plan group travel when possible (for things like conferences or trade shows when your company will send numerous attendees), and sign-up for the corporate planner loyalty programs that benefit people who book for large groups.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

It’s cliche, but our honeymoon was pretty epic.  We used points from a few different programs to get ourselves a couple days in Miami, followed by a short Caribbean cruise, and then a few days on a private island in Belize.

For the Miami portion, we stayed in the St. Regis Bal Harbour using Starwood points.  It was hands down the best hotel experience we’ve ever had!

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View From the St. Regis Bal Harbour

From the second we arrived, we were treated like royalty.  We were greeted with cool towels and glasses of champagne.  Our butler arranged daily breakfast on our substantial patio overlooking the ocean.  And the pools and beach access were impeccable.

Just talking about it makes me want to earn enough Starwood points again, so we can go back.

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

Some are convinced we’re ruining our credit.  (We’re not).  Some are convinced we’re scamming the airlines and doing something illegal.  (We’re not).  Others are just shocked and a little envious by how much we travel, and how little we pay to do so.

Unintended Domesticity - Interview With Whitney

At Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. During Their Winter Though, Brrr!

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

I think there’s a tendency, especially when you’re starting out, to always want the completely free booking even if the cash option isn’t particularly expensive.  But now that I’m a little more experienced, I know that not all awards are a particularly good use of my points.

I check the Monthly Valuation series at The Points Guy before making any redemption and actually do the math.  If the redemption isn’t at least close to the estimated value of the points, I look for another way to make it happen.

Beyond that, full points bookings often can only get you in the lowest class hotel room or the economy seat on the plane.  The valuation series helps me judge whether cash+points or making a cash booking and points upgrade may be a better option.

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

I’ve found a lot of the loyalty programs offer some sort of benefit for interacting with them on mobile or social media.  For example, Starwood will sometimes give you points for booking via their app instead of their website.  Previously, they’ve also done promotions for checking-in at a property on Foursquare or Facebook.

JetBlue also has badges you can earn, some of which give you points for liking them on social media.  I think more and more companies are going to be trying this sort of thing going forward.

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

Devaluations happen, and they’re not particularly infrequent.

This year’s upcoming trip to Hawaii was originally supposed to be a trip to Buenos Aires, but then the United Airlines devaluation happened.  We had just over 50,000 United Airlines miles and about 220,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points at the time.  But it wouldn’t be enough to cover the Business Class flights we wanted.

We found a much better way to spend Chase Ultimate Reward points with Hyatt.  And instead used those 50,000 United Airlines points to get round-trip positioning flights for the 2 of us to Los Angeles for our Hawaii trip.

Moral of the story?  Miles and points are not investments…spend ’em, don’t save ’em!

Unintended Domesticity - Interview With Whitney

In Bend, Oregon, for a Friend’s Wedding

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Hmm…how about something you might be surprised to know instead?

A couple years ago, I ran into Emily at a Thai restaurant here in Austin.  We were both picking up take-out orders.  I recognized her instantly from all your vacation pictures, but had to get up the courage to ask if she was indeed Mrs. Million Mile Secrets.

Once I did, she was utterly gracious about it, and even gave me a Million Mile Secrets pen, which I still have.  I must’ve bragged for a week straight about my “Celebrity Encounter!”

Any parting words?

People are constantly bragging about how busy they are, how long it’s been since they last took a day off, how many hours they billed that week or the week before, like these are somehow good things.

I hope more people take up earning miles and points because it results in more travel.  And I firmly believe the more you travel and experience other cultures, the more caring and empathetic you become.

Whitney – 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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3 responses to ““Miles and Points Are Not Investments…Spend ’em, Don’t Save ’em!”

  1. I didn’t understand the point on the United devaluation. Two roundtrip business class flights to BA should be 220K points, which only increased by 10K/person from the previous award chart. Did I miss an award price increase?

  2. While I agree that miles are not investments, if you are trying to book award travel for a family of 4, it will most likely require saving them. The earn and burn mantra works great for 1-2 people, but not necessarily families.

  3. The ante is considerably upped once you are playing the game to redeem for a family of 4 or (6 when my parents travel with us or my wife’s mother) For starters to find seats in business class for a family of 4 or 6 is a challenge in in of itself (let alone the miles you have to accumulate for that). Since a family of four is tied to the school schedule try redeeming these in the Summer/Spring break or winter skiing and you got it – IT IS HARD!! However having said that I managed somehow and I would say that 80% of our trips to India and Europe have been in business class on miles but at times I was left to deal with no availability and since my primary source of miles was in Delta (as we lived near a Delta hub) I had no choice but to arrange travel at back. Lately when short of miles I just bought the miles from a mileage broker. I will give it about 5 years and see how the tone here changes when Darius and Emily have to redeem for a family of four (Oops not trying to rush anything here)