“This Hobby Has Surely Made the Last 2 Years of My Life the Most Memorable Ever”

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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:   I Fly With Miles

Melissa & Mike write I Fly With Miles to help readers learn how to redeem frequent flyer miles for award flights and free hotel stays.

You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

I Fly With Miles - Interview With Melissa And Mike

Melissa & Mike Flying First Class on Malaysia Airlines

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

Melissa:   I stumbled upon Flyertalk in 2006, while shopping for a new credit card.  I’ve always been a huge American Airlines fangirl.

When I saw how people were earning lots of American Airlines miles with Citi cards and meeting minimum spending requirements by purchasing coins from the US Mint (this deal is no longer available), I was on board.

Though it took a year of watching those threads before I was brave enough to jump in on the action.

Mike:   I started in 2009 after signing-up for my 1st batch of credit cards and learning about Flyertalk.  I attended the Chicago Seminars in 2010 and had a blast meeting folks passionate about the hobby.  Since then, miles collecting has almost been a part-time job.

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

Melissa:   I decided a couple years ago to quit my job and travel for a year, which has now turned into a 2 year vacation!

My personal blog is a way to document my travels.  And I Fly With Miles is a way to use the knowledge I’ve gathered over the months to help people use their miles to get to their dream destinations.

Mike:   I started I Fly With Miles as an award booking site helping clients redeem their miles.  I wanted to add a blog section to it and asked Melissa if she wanted to contribute and help with the award bookings.  So that’s how we ended up working on it together.

The award bookings take up most of our time, but I can assure you we travel a lot.  Sometimes we intentionally overlap our travel plans and travel together to pool our mile and point resources.

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

Melissa:   Pay attention and don’t be afraid to test things out.  Collecting miles and points has become so popular that there’s always someone in the community sharing a new trick or tip that you can use to generate more miles.

Just make sure you start slow and test thoroughly before jumping in.

Mike:   Don’t focus on getting more miles, focus on getting the right milesFigure out that one dream destination and get the right miles to make it happen.

Too many times, people sign-up for credit cards because they’re offering so many miles.  But in reality they don’t have a plan to use those newly acquired miles.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Melissa:   I get this question a lot and always tell people, each place I’ve been is memorable in its own way.

For example, I traveled solo to Egypt and was treated very poorly as a single female traveling without an escort.  In Cambodia, I was warmly welcomed by families living in grass huts and most certainly living on pennies a day.  In North Korea, well, no explanation necessary really.

The gift of these experiences is appreciation of how fortunate we are to have the things that enable us to live in freedom and comfort in this world.  Which is something that can easily be taken for granted in the US.

I certainly have fond memories of my luxury stays in the Maldives, French Polynesia, Seychelles, and Mauritius as well!

Mike:   Since I travel alone most of the time, I tend to meet some interesting people.  I once met a pilot from Lufthansa in Bangkok.  After a bit of small talk and learning about my passion to travel, he said he would show me around the Lufthansa maintenance facility in Frankfurt.

Sure enough he kept to his word.  The next time I rolled through Frankfurt, I reached out to him and sat in the flight decks of Lufthansa A340, 747, and 737 planes.

The other time was when I participated in the Mongol Rally.  I was part of an American team that drove a small car over 10,000 miles from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in the spirit of adventure and charity.

I Fly With Miles - Interview With Melissa And Mike

Driving With a Team of Americans to Mongolia

I have never been pushed so far out of my comfort zone as I was during the drive.  Every day we didn’t know where we were going to sleep, how long we would have to drive on the worst roads imaginable, or if our car would have any issues.

There were some truly organic experiences with locals who either helped us with our car or with finding our way.  I’ll never forget that.  Overall it was the greatest adventure I have ever been on.

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

Melissa:   They used to think that they would someday have to bail me out of jail!  Now that they have a better understanding of this hobby and have taken advantage of the benefits themselves, they’re very much on board.

Mike:   My immediate family members didn’t really pay any attention to my miles and points obsession.  However, after a few years of seeing how I travel, my dad and my cousins took notice and embraced the idea!

I Fly With Miles - Interview With Melissa And Mike

In a Yurt, Waiting for Our Car to Get Fixed

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

Melissa:   If you really want to fly on a certain airline, plane, or class of service, find the award space first and build a trip around it.  There will always be something new to see, wherever you end up.  You might be pleasantly surprised!

Mike:   There’s no particular trick or tool, but what I found extremely helpful is networking with other folks in the hobby.  If a mistake fare or deal comes around, I’d rather get numerous emails from friends about it than not get any notification and miss out.

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

Melissa:   There are often IT ‘glitches’ when companies or airlines merge, join alliances, or update websites.  I’ve been the beneficiary of several points credits and mistake rates when someone neglected to perform adequate pre-launch testing.

Mike:   Rewards Network.

I never really paid attention to it, until some folks told me how to get elite status and earn 5 points per dollar spent.  Once I figured this out, I started to divert our office pizza orders to pizza shops that participated in dining programs.

We would order $500 worth of pizza every month or every other month.  I collected the cash and charged it to my credit card.  I was double dipping, earning miles from the credit card and through Rewards Network.

Also, there were certain award flights where I ended up earning miles.

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

Melissa:   There are way too many to list here!  In reality, you’ll make yourself crazy contemplating all the “ones that got away.”

I instead try to focus on how lucky I am to have gotten in when and on what I did.  This hobby has surely made the last 2 years of my life the most memorable ever.

Mike:   I wish I knew about the value of each mile and point when I first started.  The number of miles isn’t as important as the value of each mile.

I Fly With Miles - Interview With Melissa And Mike

Playing Pilot in the Cockpit of a Lufthansa A340

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Melissa:   My 80-year-old dad is terrified of flying and until very recently, had never been in a plane.  I am terrified of heights.

Mike:   I have a ritual of touching the outside of the plane before boarding any flight.  Also, when I’m seated in Business or First Class, I have a habit of wiping down my seat and video controls with the hot towel they serve. 

I’m not a germaphobe, but I think it’s disgusting that people eat hot nuts with the same hand that touches the video controls.

Any parting words?

Melissa:   Even though the hobby is constantly in flux, there are new tricks and opportunities popping up all the time.  But if you don’t have the tools to stay organized and keep track of everything, your losses could quickly outweigh any benefit. 

Missing a payment or having to pay interest on a credit card balance will quickly eat away at any travel benefits you might have gained.

Mike:   Use your miles!  Don’t let them expire or devalue.  It’s much more desirable to look at pictures from a trip than a black and white frequent flyer balance.

Visiting the Lufthansa maintenance facility, I saw there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure an aircraft is properly maintained and operating safely.  Most folks get carried away with having lie-flat seats and PJs, but in reality the perfect flight is a safe flight.

In the end, most folks don’t care how you got there.  They’re more interested in the destination and that you arrived safely.

Melissa & Mike – 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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