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: This Week in Budget Travel
Jason is a school teacher who writes the This Week in Budget Travel blog. He’s always had a passion for having Big Travel with Small Money and recently took his wife on a $20,000 honeymoon for virtually no cost. Of course I wanted to find out more!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Although the concept of travel hacking had occurred to me in 2004, it did not “click” as something I should be doing until 2010. For some reason, I googled the term “Free Travel” and came across some websites. The more I looked into it, the more I was referred to FlyerTalk. As intimidating as that site was, over time I took the plunge and plowed through many thousands of pages of information on there.
I’ve never been wealthy and I’ve always been interested in traveling for cheap or free or very cheap. There have been some weird things that I have done to get free trips over the years. For example, when I was in college, I heard about a senior citizen’s group renting a bus to go up to Washington D.C. for some sort of protest. So I emailed them, adopted their cause for a week, and went with them to DC. While they were off doing their protest, I proceeded to see the sights and visit the museums.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog really as a way of communicating my ideas with my friends and family. As I began to accumulate more and more miles, people would ask me to explain it all to them. So instead of telling the same story over and over, I decided to document much of it on my website.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
In my mind, there are two types of people in this frequent flyer game. Whales and sharks. Whales swim around with their mouths open and get what they get. A few cards here or there, a promo, and some shopping bonuses. Sharks actively hunt and relentlessly search for new opportunities, no matter how odd the source.
Aside from credit card bonuses, I would say that it is important to always be looking and thinking. I keep an “Idea List” which is now a few pages long, filled with ideas of possible methods to earn more miles. While some did not work, some work great. You just need to ask yourself with every thing that you do “How can I earn more miles doing this?”
You’ll find yourself putting together strategies from all aspects of your life. Remember to be modest though, as with anything, greed can kill any good deal. Be creative and see if strategies that worked for one thing will work for another.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Hands down, my honeymoon. We had an amazing time and made some great friends while travelling. It was such an amazing experience that I even decided to make a movie about it to share.
We stayed in 4 & 5 Star hotels for 3 weeks, as well as rented an apartment. We flew in First/Business class. It was all on points & miles, with our only expense being food and entertainment.
Aside from the trip being free, we made a ton of friends on CouchSurfing (a social networking site designed for meeting people on your travels). After meeting them, & spending the holidays with them, I formed friendships and connected to the destinations much better than I would have been able to if I were on my own or with a tour. One of them I am visiting in London on an upcoming free trip.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I have a very obsessive personality type, so at first they just thought that this is just another thing that I’m obsessed with (which it is), but then when they saw how much travel I would be doing because of it, they wanted to get in on it. Now, all of my family and friends are coming to me for advice on these things… hence, the website!
Of course, there are some who feel that it is just a giant scam and that its wrong or illegal, but I understand that that is simply the first hurdle to entering our world. I actually like listening to people criticize our hobby, I’m always curious to hear how the rest of the world views our hobby. My favorite critique is when people refer to us as the “Extreme Couponers of Travel”.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Have a network. It is important to have a network of people that you can bounce ideas off of when you come up with something. There have been a few times that I would have gone in on something, but then reconsidered due to a circumstance that a friend had pointed out to me. I suggest attending the Chicago DO or the Frequent Traveler University in NYC to meet people who you can connect with. I’ve gained a bunch of ideas from friends as well.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Of course the US Mint was a pretty sweet deal while that lasted. When you’re into this stuff everyday, not much comes as a surprise, but I’ve heard some pretty crazy mileage runs. For me though, it would be going to almost every gas station, convenience store, liquor store, and grocery market in my area to see which ones will sell money orders to me on a credit card. They do exist!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
When you find a deal, hit fast and hit hard! Don’t be shy if you don’t have a ton to lose. Use your creativity to actively find and create new methods of earning miles.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I don’t like flying. First class or coach, it doesn’t matter, I really do not enjoy it. Airport lounges offer free snacks, but I don’t like snack food. Airplanes have recycled air that feels nasty after a while. I can never really say that I’ve had a great meal on a plane.
Even lie flat seats, I can’t really get a sleep in them where I wake up feeling rested. If I had a choice (or the means to), I’d rather sail across the ocean and feel the size of the Earth. The idea of taking a train like the Trans-Siberian Railway appeals to me so much more than being in a plane.
Any parting words?
BE CREATIVE!!! Aside from credit card sign ups, the most lucrative and longest lasting mileage earning opportunities that I’ve had over the years were ones that I came up with myself. Always be searching, always be thinking, always be asking yourself if there is a way to earn more miles doing things you already do. Don’t just rely on credit card sign up bonuses, as we all know they are too unpredictable. Free travel can come in many different shapes and forms.
Jason – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!