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: Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) of One Mile at a Time
Lucky writes the One Mile at a Time blog on BoardingArea.com, and writes some of the best Trip Reports with lots of pictures (yes, including 3 pictures of the loo).
I’ve spent lots of time browsing his Trip Reports while trying to decide which airline to travel on. But it was only after I started blogging did I realize just how much work goes into formatting a 50 picture post!
Lucky also writes about his Mileage Running escapades and his observations while people watching. He’s been doing this since he was a teenager, so I was excited to chat with him about miles and points.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I was 14 when I started “seriously” collecting miles and points. My two passions have always been travel and flying. My family is from Germany, so since a very young age I’ve been traveling back and forth across the pond, which is probably where my love for travel and flying originated.
At the time Condor flew nonstop from Tampa to Frankfurt so we usually just booked coach tickets as they were reasonably priced, though I kept saying to myself “there has to be a better way.” Sure enough I stumbled upon FlyerTalk, where I learned about mileage running.
That year I got an offer in the mail from United entitled “The Great Offer,” which offered 5,000 bonus elite qualifying miles and 5,000 bonus redeemable miles for every segment I flew with them, up to 10. After hours of begging my parents and a few months of mild flying, I was a 14 year old with 1K status (United elite status), and I certainly haven’t looked back since.
Suffice it to say that we have since dumped Condor economy class in favor of Lufthansa first class, all while paying about the same.
Why did you start One Mile at a Time? What’s special about it?
I was in college and had overslept for my morning “computer science” class (coincidentally a day where I had a test), so when I finally woke up, I decided it would make sense to do something productive to feel better about myself. As is the norm in college, “do something productive” is synonymous with “procrastinate.”
Instead of studying for another exam or doing my homework I decided to email Randy Petersen to see if he was looking for any more bloggers for his relatively new site (at the time), BoardingArea.com. Sure enough within a week I was blogging.
As far as what makes my blog special, it’s tough to say, since I think most travel blogs are “special” with the perspectives they bring to the table. I will say that I like to focus on the more humorous side of travel, which is the actual travel experience. People tend to be on their worst behavior as soon as they get to the airport, for whatever reason, and it can make for some great stories.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
For those in the US, there are three major things – credit cards, credit cards, and credit cards. Signing up for them is singlehandedly the best way to travel the world in first class for next to nothing.
For those outside the US, buy US Airways miles every time they offer a 100% bonus on purchased miles. It’s an incredible value if you like to travel in premium cabins.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I’d have to say the two week trip to Australia and New Zealand that I took with my mom after I graduated from high school ranked pretty high up there. I cashed in United miles for Air New Zealand business class (back then it was only 90,000 miles for business class to Australia and New Zealand), and explored the two countries. My favorite place was Queenstown, New Zealand. It’s a stunning, picturesque town that I’m dying to return to.
A close second has to be my first trip to Hong Kong (and Asia as a whole) when I was 15. We flew United there, back when I still thought Economy Plus was the most comfortable way to fly. I remember the amazing views enroute to Hong Kong since the flight takes the “polar route,” and landing all blurry-eyed yet wide awake, amazed that there was so much of the world I hadn’t seen. I’ve returned to Hong Kong at least a dozen times since, and it has become my favorite city in the world.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My friends don’t get it. That’s okay, though, because I’ve given up on it. As far as my family goes, at first it took some serious convincing. In retrospect my parents might even be considered crazy for letting me fly across the country alone at such a young age. But ultimately they saw how much I enjoyed it and supported it.
That being said, they’ve really come to love my hobby over the years, since they haven’t flown coach in years. Given that they don’t have to do the exhausting mileage runs to actually earn the miles but instead just reap the rewards, I’d say they might just enjoy the hobby more than I do.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are a few:
a) AwardWallet.com – It’s by far the easiest way to keep track of all of my miles and points in one place. Previously I would check my individual mileage balances a dozen times a day. Now I just have to check my AwardWallet account a dozen times a day!
b) ITA Matrix – Back when the airlines had very liberal routing rules it was a great way to maximize routings and see what’s possible at what price. Unfortunately the airlines have gotten much more restrictive with routing rules, though ITA is still great for comparing prices on a calendar for any given month.
c) FareCompare.com/FlyerTalk – This FareCompare page shows the lowest fares out of any city, so proves invaluable to me in finding mileage run opportunities.
d) Just be nice – No, it’s not a website, but it works wonders, especially with front line employees in the airline industry.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
As a teenager at the time, I’d say a hair loss consultation for Delta miles ranks pretty high up there.
What do you know now about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
While I wasn’t old enough to apply for credit cards when I first got into the hobby, I wish I would have known more about it so I could have convinced my parents and brother to “churn” credit cards.
Back in the “good old days,” Citi would let you apply for two AAdvantage credit cards every 60 days, meaning you could get a total of 12 AAdvantage Citi cards a year. In the days before credit card mega-sign up bonuses, that was an easy 300,000 miles per year.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m not sure whether it’s a surprise or not, but I’m just as passionate about aviation as such as I am about earning miles and points. For the longest time I wanted to be an airline pilot and even started training to become a private pilot at the age of 15, though I’ve since decided against it as a profession. It’s still a great hobby, though!
Any parting words?
Trying to stay away from too cliché of a response, I’ll simply say don’t get too greedy. There are some amazing deals out there, and sometimes it’s tough to decide where to draw the line. Greed kills deals, so don’t push your luck too much.
Ben – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
So if you want mileage running and award redemption tips and lots of photos of First and Business class plane cabins, head on over to One Mile at a Time.