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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: Grab a Mile
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points when I was 12. My dad was always adamant in his belief that I should be a part of the decision-making process on our vacations (my mother always said this was not a job for a 12-year-old). And so he would give me the dates for the trip, his credit card, and I would take care of the flights and hotels.
The first program I was really loyal to was Southwest’s because of 2 reasons:
- We were based out of Midland where Southwest had more flights to more destinations
- They had a simple system of earning an award ticket after taking a set number of flights (no matter the distance)
Sasidhar: I owe my start in the miles and points world entirely to Teja and his dad. I started off with the British Airways 100,000 Avios points offer back in 2011 and never looked back.
Why did you start your blog?
I started my blog because I wanted to remove the mysticism behind how I travel so well, so frequently. I wanted to show how families can travel ‘well’ (not flying airlines like Spirit, and staying in motels) without breaking the bank account. We also wanted it to be a place where we got feedback and advice about our photography skills.
What’s special about it?
My blog is unique in that it chronicles the adventures of two vegetarian teetotalers. Simply put, it is tough to find a review about in-flight vegetarian meals these days and reviews not mentioning a person raving about the alcohol on board. We sort of remove the bias behind certain products because we aren’t tipsy during the journey. 🙂
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Sasidhar and I took an around-the-world trip in 2014, purely on miles & points. This was when US Airways existed and allowed us to fly First Class to Europe with a stopover in Asia for 120,000 US Airways miles round-trip.
We flew 22,374 miles, drove 1,500 miles through Europe, and covered Hong Kong, Tokyo, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria, within 12 days.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My friends think I’m some sort of multi-millionaire with an infinite travel budget to keep traveling like I do.
My family, knowing the reality, tries to support me in any way possible and often makes sure every purchase counts toward our mileage accounts. My dad absolutely loves redeeming his miles for First Class, more than I do.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Reading frequent flyer blogs and the news is key to being successful in this hobby. The amount of information sharing is overwhelming, and I would check back every day on sites like BoardingArea, and Million Mile Secrets.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
In 2012, when I was on my way to attend Sasidhar’s wedding in New Jersey, there was a huge thunderstorm in Dallas. All American Airlines flights were cancelled. I thought for sure I would miss the wedding, but the awesome American Airlines agents at the Admirals Club in Austin got me on a non-stop United Airlines flight to Newark that very same evening.
Since I went from flying Business Class on American Airlines to the middle seat in United Airlines coach, the airline refunded me 15,000 miles for my troubles. This was in addition to the miles I earned on United Airlines because the American Airlines agents had purchased a revenue ticket for me.
Sasidhar: I applied for the Chase Ritz-Carlton 100,000 point offer for my wife and me, and intended to use them for Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels.
I ended up using them on the Hotel + Air packages to get 120,000 Alaska Airlines miles + 7 nights at a Marriott Category 7 property. I thought it was a great value because I ended up redeeming the Alaska Airlines miles on two Emirates First Class tickets from India to the US.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew how little of an impact applying for credit cards would have on my credit score.
When I started this hobby, I was too conservative with the number of cards I applied for each year. If I had known that applying for 8 cards would only lower my score 5 points, I would’ve definitely been around the world a few more times.
Sasidhar: I wish I actually paid closer attention to expiring awards and using the awards available to me. In my first year with the Chase British Airways Card, I actually qualified for the Travel Together Ticket but never bothered to follow through with it.
Over the years, I have actually let a lot of certificates and awards lapse simply because I couldn’t be bothered enough to pay closer attention to them. I’ve learnt to pay closer attention to those niggling expiry dates now.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I come from the town that was featured in the movie Friday Night Lights: Odessa, Middle of Nowhere, Texas.
Readers are always surprised about how I have time to do stuff outside of travel and blogging. I was a biochemistry major at UT Austin, turned healthcare manager, turned entrepreneur, turned landscape photographer, and now turned MBA student at UT Dallas Jindal School of Management.
Sasidhar: I have a 1-year-old daughter and recently went on an around-the-world trip with her (when she was 9 months old). I was dreading how I would fare on a long trip (spanning 3 continents and 6 countries) with an infant, but it couldn’t have gone smoother.
Any parting words?
It’s becoming increasingly tough to earn and redeem miles as well as maintain elite status with all the programs going revenue-based and the increasingly expensive nature of premium cabin redemptions. And so it is all the more important for a person in our hobby to earn miles from credit card sign-up bonuses, everyday spending, and shopping portals. If you need to have elite status, pick an airline, and stick to it.
Lastly, read! There is tons of information and people out there are willing to help you.
Teja and Sasidhar – 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!