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: The Travel Abstract
Zach writes The Travel Abstract, and is obsessed with travel. Sounds like my kinda guy, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
In August 2010, my brother and I went to live, and play, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I went without knowing any Spanish and had no agenda. I wanted to be completely open to all experiences.
The greatest experience was meeting my girlfriend (Fernanda); the problem being that she is a native of Buenos Aires, and I am from NYC. Being a recent college graduate I knew we would have trouble affording the expensive round trip airfare traveling between our cities. We had to get creative.
Out of necessity, I dove deep into the miles world. Now we can get those same trips for 1/5th of their average cash price. It is amazing that points and miles allow me to save my money for the future and take trips that I would never have been able to afford to see Fernanda.
I was hooked.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started this blog because of my love of travel, but it morphed into something more. It is not only about how many miles and points I can rack up but the experiences I can convert them into that excited me. As I continued my education of frequent flyer miles, I wondered why there weren’t more resources for those who were unaware of these opportunities.
Travel became a true luxury for me after the world financial crisis hit. This taught me to not take travel for granted and now I understood how much I value going to “someday I’ll…” destinations. I want to help other people realize they can travel to their one place and save money at the same time. By using miles, affordability is no longer a reason people should miss out on the excitement of travel.
The Travel Abstract is my attempt to help educate people on how to save money and be able to take their dream vacations.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Being an active member of the community. Too many times you hear about people who are too timid to post in the forums and are long time lurkers. That can work very well but sometimes you need feedback from others to point you in the right direction. It’s like a study group in college where you are a support system that you use to bounce ideas around and refine your knowledge base.
Without collaborating on blogs and the community forums I would not have ever been able to earn the over 400,000 miles/points last year.
Why not join?
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Tough one. I started traveling with my family when I was just a young knucklehead growing up in The Bronx and that transitioned into me planning my own independent travels. From ski road trips in the northeast to spending spring break in Iceland and Stockholm or the jungles of Costa Rica. I have had some unreal travel experiences that I will never forget.
But I would say that the most memorable was New Year’s Eve 2011. I spent the day with Fernanda, hiking to the top of Mt. Falkner in Patagonia Argentina and then going out to a great dinner to ring in the New Year. The hike was amazing but the entire time we were being swarmed by huge horseflies. They were biting us all the way to the summit. But the climb was so exhilarating the inconvenience was worth it.
To finish the day we enjoyed New Year’s Eve dinner in town. While it may not have been the best meal of the trip it was the city and the company that made it a fitting end to an unforgettable day.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
At my first attempt to explain the benefits of frequent flyer miles the response back was stone faced and glossy eyed. After a couple of more strategically timed talks (like when they got angry about an airlines service), I would bring it up.
Soon they began to realize how passionate I was about the reality of free travel to be had from frequent flyer miles: they have come to the dark side.
I try not to pester them about it but they have definitely embraced my lifestyle choice. They see it as their ticket to free dream trips that would have been economically unviable without joining the fray.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Partner Airline Reward Flight Search Engines unlock so much. I never realized how constrictive the U.S. Based airlines search engines can be. Once you learn more about each airline alliance and the strengths of their routes you can really use these search engines to make the most of your knowledge.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
From airlines I have never flown. Having my parents sign me up for flights from my childhood (which I don’t even remember), was the biggest shock. I never knew the accounts existed until I tried to sign up for Continental Onepass and I already had an account with over 12,000 miles.
I would always recommend that parents get their kids enrolled in frequent flyer programs ASAP. It is free and there are ways to keep their miles from expiring until you want to use them. That way when they want you to pay for their spring break trip just take the miles out of their account!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Fare class mileage earning conditions are the bane of my existence. I never knew that certain flights just didn’t earn miles if booked into a particular fare class.
For instance when I graduated from university I booked a budget multi-destination trip; departing NYC to spend a week in Barcelona and then on to the Greek Isle of Rhodos for 3 weeks before a return flight to NYC.
Sadly, I did not earn a single mile for any of those trips. If it helps me any I didn’t know how valuable frequent flyer miles were at the time. Some nights I wake up in a cold sweat and jump to the “claim missing mileage” section of those airline websites in hopes they will have a special promo for idiots who missed out on a New York-Brussels-Barcelona-Athens-Rhodes-Athens-New York itineraries. No luck yet.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
In my senior year of college I became a vegetarian. I just was tired of eating cheap chicken cutlets all the time. I had to switch up my diet to new tastes.
Well that lasted all of 12 months, because after graduating I went down to Buenos Aires, the land of steaks, and the story writes itself after that.
Any parting words?
Find something that will motivate you and go for it. I find this works best in all facets of life whether it is the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, relationships, academic goals, or professional achievements. If you can zero in on what gets you excited, you will be successful.
This is a game that takes time. Yes, all of the credit card bonus offers pump adrenaline and can be addictive. But is that enough motivation to make you sit down and read through all reward charts, rules and conditions to figure out how to redeem them for their maximum worth?
Maybe you always wanted to go diving in Borneo or go on an African Safari, hold on to that dream and go for the miles. You will not regret it.
You only get one shot at this life and if you can’t change your circumstances you can change your approach. I want to help people realize they can take free dream trips and it’s not that hard to do.
Zach – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!