“There’s a whole big world out there just waiting to be discovered through different sets of eyes”
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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Seth of Wandering Aramean
Seth writes the Wandering Aramean blog on BoardingArea and has severe wanderlust. I’ve always admired how Seth travels the road less taken to countries and places which aren’t the usual tourist hotspots.
I also love love his advice to “get out there and travel more” because “there’s a whole big world out there just waiting to be discovered through different sets of eyes.”
Seth In A Plane
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My first points-accruing travel was in the early 80s, but I wasn’t particularly aware of the details (or much of anything else) at that point. I started pursuing miles/points in earnest in the late 90s and became the completely obsessive junkie I am today about 5 years ago.
Interestingly enough, the habit has already pretty much dried up on the hotel points side of the game. It only took about 6 months of paying out of my own pocket for those stays to realize that the points earned were simply not worth the costs to me. On the airline side, however, I see no such changes on the horizon.
Why did you start Wandering Aramean? What’s special about it?
I started the blog just over 4 years ago mostly to share my adventures with friends and family. So many people had trouble believing that such crazy times could be had, especially at the price points I was talking about, that I felt it worthwhile to share the details more.
As for the name of the blog, that’s a pretty awful Old Testament joke that came to the forefront of my mind after a few glasses of wine one night. The domain name was still available and the rest, as they say, is history. Mostly I just like that the word “wandering” is in there because that’s mostly what I do. My travels are haphazard and random to a large extent and being able to wander the world has made a huge difference in my life.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I may come across as a bit of a heretic for this point of view, but the single most important thing I suggest for people is to NOT obsess over the accrual of miles. Yes, we all want them and they are a good thing to pursue, but only in a rational manner.
When I read about people who are paying 3-5% (or more!) extra for various good or services just to accrue points as part of the transaction I shudder. Yes, points are great. But they’re just another currency in many ways and one that is not incredibly fungible. Overspending to accrue them is a great way to ruin the value of the opportunities they present.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal. That’s an experience everyone should have at some point in their life.
Sunrise At The Taj Mahal
Beyond that, there have been many amazing ones, from proposing to my wife in the shadows of a 1000 year old castle in Ireland to being mugged at the border between Ghana and Togo and then mugging the guy back. That’s the greatest thing about travel – there’s always another adventure just around the bend.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
By now they’ve come to accept it and even lean on me for help when they’re looking for deals or details on programs and destinations. But it was a long time coming to get to this point.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
My most commonly used tool is the ITA Matrix for finding available flights and wacky routes and what days they are available. Of course, I only start there once I have an idea that a cheap fare is available – generally gleaned for MilePoint, FlyerTalk or like-minded friends. But being able to take a decent published fare and then translate that into available seats is where the ITA tool really shines.
Additionally, in order to help folks with finding fares and inventory information I’ve also built a number of tools to leverage various other data sources. I’m a big believer that the data should be free, if at all possible, so I make these tools available for free to the public. You can check them out at www.wandr.me.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I cannot think of any good ones to answer this question so I’m going to answer another, similar question related to the most unexpected value I’ve seen from loyalty travel programs. While in South Africa last month I was in a few different airports and was scoping out the lounge options.
I was incredibly surprised to discover that my Hertz #1 Club Gold card – essentially free just for the asking – would provide access to some pretty nice lounge facilities in several different airports. Every now and then, even when I think I’ve figured out all the details, something like that comes along and surprises me.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Focusing on a single program is critical to making sure the value is appropriately concentrated and making sure that you get the most from the investment you make. At the same time, however, unless you’re generating 25,000+ points annually odds are that playing the game is likely a money-losing effort. The costs of accruing the miles are real and if you are blind to that the investment becomes a pretty awful one.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Nearly all my travel is just for fun. In the past three and a half years I’ve flown roughly 500,000 miles. Of that, less than 10% has been work-related.
I do actually work, but that’s mostly at my home base in New York City. The flying part is just an obsession I tinker with in my spare time.
Any parting words?
Travel is an incredibly valuable educational tool. Too many people pretend the rest of the world simply doesn’t exist, even when they’re actually out visiting it. Seeing that behavior is both depressing and inspiring to me.
More often than not the inspiring part wins, but as I see people go through life with blinders on, blinders that travel can remove, I cannot help but hope that more people discover the value of seeing the world and actually experiencing it.
And if points/miles help make that more affordable then I’m all for making sure that people know more about points/miles to take advantage of that.
Seth – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
So if you’d like to wander more throughout the world, check out the Wandering Aramean.