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: Frequent Flyer University
I’ve been following Parag’s blog for years and was quite happy when he posted airline elite status telephone numbers on his previous blog because it saved me a lot of time on hold. Parag currently writes the Frequent Flyer University blog, which explains how to make good use of current promotions. I met Parag at the StarMegaDO3 last year and was thrilled to finally have a Friday chat with him!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started getting interested in collecting miles and points in January 2008 when I was flying on Air France to Paris for a study abroad program. At that time I didn’t really know much about frequent flyer miles but was smart enough to sign up for Air France’s Flying Blue program. Unfortunately at that time, I had no idea about the SkyTeam alliance and the fact that I should have credited those miles to Delta!
After that trip, I did a few more study abroad programs in China, Mexico City, and London. It was my experiences on those trips that really gave me the travel bug and furthered my desire to see the rest of the world at a price I could afford. As soon as I discovered Flyertalk and realized you could essentially travel for free, I was hooked!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
This is actually my second blog. My original blog, which I started way back in 2009, was called Ahlay Travel. It was comprised mostly of loopholes in the system that weren’t covered elsewhere. One day after spending 45 minutes waiting to talk with a British Airways representative, I Googled the phone number for the British Airways Elite Line and figured out that they didn’t ask you to enter your Frequent Flyer number when you called!
Needless to say British Airway Elites on Flyertalk were not happy when I posted that on the blog! To my surprise within 1 day, British Airways actually changed their phone number!
Having a real job eventually got in the way of the last blog, and I really wanted to help newbies learn about “travel hacking”, so I started Frequent Flyer University. Although I wish I had enough time to post new content every day, I mostly like to provide tips on how to further maximize the offers that are already out there and how to travel as close to free as possible.
While other blogs focus on premium redemptions, I try to focus on maximizing miles and minimizing out of pocket expenses. One thing that I think is special about my blog is that I try to be 100% transparent. I have no problem sharing my mileage balances, elite status, credit score, how much money I’ve spent, or any mistakes or successes I have.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Stop being lazy! As harsh as that sounds, I say that only because I am constantly helping my friends and family earn miles, and it never ceases to amaze me how lazy people can be! If someone stopped you on the street and told you in exchange for 15 minutes of your time, they would give you a free business class trip anywhere in the world, 99% of people would take them up on that offer.
However when I tell my friends and family about a lucrative new credit card offer, people always seem to want to put it off and then eventually forget to do it! It reminds me of those GEICO commercials, however in this case, 15 minutes filling out a credit card application could save you 100% on your travel costs!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Hard to pick just one, so I’ll share two!
1. StarMegaDO3 – I had the awesome opportunity this past September to be the official Social Media Liaison (aka Tweeter/Facebooker) for the StarMegaDO3 and got to tag along for the entire ride. Flying the A380 for the first time was amazing.
Even though I was sitting in Coach, to this day I’m still blown away by that experience! Also the SMD3 was quite enjoyable because I got to meet a ton of cool people like Daraius, Mommy Points, The Points Guy, View From The Wing, and the legend himself Mr. Randy Petersen.
2. My other memorable experience doesn’t have anything to do with traveling but I figure it is unique redemption of miles. In Summer 2010, United and Visa Signature had an event at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo in Chicago for 10,000 miles a person.
I had no idea who Rick Bayless was at the time besides that he had just won Top Chef Masters and had cooked for the Obama’s at the Mexico State Dinner. On a whim, my girlfriend and I forked over 20,000 miles and went to this event where to our surprise; Rick Bayless was actually there and cooked for us. Hands down, it was one of the best meals of my life and oddly one of the best uses of miles because the food, wine, and cost of having Rick Bayless personally cook for you would have easily cost over $1,000.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
At first my family and friends thought I was nuts (especially my girlfriend!), until I forced them to sign up for their first credit card and they saw how easy it was to earn miles. Now whenever they go anywhere, they first thing they ask is “Can we use miles?”
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Obviously reading the forums and blogs are the easiest way to stay informed, however the most useful tool I’ve found in this hobby is AwardWallet. I manage over 50 frequent flyer & hotel programs for myself, my family, my girlfriend, and my girlfriend’s family. I don’t know how I would do it without AwardWallet! It amazes me when I hear horror stories of peoples’ miles expiring when there are tons of free mileage tracking programs out there like AwardWallet!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
In comparison to some of the “veterans” out there who have been earning miles probably since before I was born, I don’t have any especially crazy stories. However, the two that stand out are that I earned 10,000 United Airlines miles for graduating college from United’s now defunct College Plus program. I never understood the purpose of the program, but graduating in 2009 at the peak of the recession, in my eyes those 10,000 miles were almost worth more than my diploma.
The other odd example that sticks out was last year’s US Airways 18 miles per $1 spent via Booking Buddy promotion. My parents were already planning on booking 2 tickets to India, so instead I just did it for them and got almost 50,000 US Airway miles for spending $2,500 and not having to book on United’s website also know as dot-bomb. Talk about a win-win!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Like anyone, I wish I would have started collecting miles years earlier. If I had to narrow it down, I wish I would have known about Citi American Airline cards and their generous Million Miler program. I read all these fellow bloggers that have Million Miler Status, and wish I would have gotten in on that!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m a partner at Digital OMG, a social media / digital marketing company. We specialize in helping companies build and manage their social media presence.
Once I figure out where to get $20 million dollars from, I’d like to go into Space. MirSpaceStationMegaDO anyone? Think about all the miles you could earn on that trip!
Besides that I am a huge Dave Matthews Band fan and have seen them 20+ times now. I also once met President Obama.
Any parting words?
In doing this for a couple of years now and helping my friends and family earn hundreds of thousands of miles, I have 2 observations:
1) Don’t Forget About The People That Come After You – In recent years, as Flyertalk, Milepoint, and the entire Frequent Flyer community has grown, there seems to push back from some members who think that they have certain rights on information. I just hope that as more people learn and get the hang of this hobby, that they will help out the next generation of mile collectors and not forget that once upon a time they were a rookie until someone taught them the ropes.
2) Go Out & Use Your Miles! A few of my friends have really gotten into collecting miles and have amassed hundreds of thousands of miles, but have never used any of them for fear of seeing their balances drop. Some of them go so far as paying for trips out of pocket just so they can earn more miles. Yes, it does stink to see your mileage balance drop by 100,000 but ultimately that is money you don’t have to spend! While miles & points do have a substantial value, there is no return for just letting them sit there. So to all the people out there with 6 or 7 digit balances, reward yourself for all your hard work and GO OUT AND USE YOUR MILES!
Thanks again for the opportunity to be part of your interview series! Over the past year, I’ve loved reading all the interviews you have done, so it is a great honor to be a part this series!
Parag – The honor’s mine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!