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: Michael W Travels
Michael is a special education teacher from Brooklyn and will be visiting his 50th country in April. He writes the Michael W Travels blog where he shares his travels and experiences in different countries along with miles & points deals, so of course I was eager to chat with him!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Great question- My first points earning card was the MBNA World Mastercard that I got years back. It earned 1 point per $1 spent. I thought this card would get me a free flight to Africa but I was greatly mistaken. I saved up 75,000 points over some time and it ended up being worth $750 in travel or cash back. Not exactly enough for a flight to Africa so I took the cash.
When I got this card, it was before the trend of airline & hotel cards flooding the market. A few years after getting this card, I came across the Citi AA cards. At the time the bonus offer was 25,000 miles. I soon figured out that I could get the Visa, Amex, Mastercard and Business cards. I started putting every purchase I could on the cards- even purchases that are $1! I also started applying for them before I knew there was a term for what I was doing.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Many people over the years have told me that I should start a blog or try out for The Amazing Race. I figured that it was easier to start a blog than get on TV! While I always had this idea in the back of my head, this past spring I got some great news which would ground me from traveling for about a year. My wife was pregnant! (My son is now 9 weeks old.)
I wanted to still be able to dedicate some time towards my hobby and starting this blog was my way. Originally I planned to do something along the lines of a picture a day type site but I decided pretty quickly that was not the way to go. I decided that I wanted to try to cover quite a few topics and try to be different than many of the other blogs out there. I feel that many popular blogs cover the same topics each day. I try to post things that most others are not posting about. I cover current events related to travel, some deals and also share my stories from being an experienced traveler.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I don’t think my answer is going to break any new ground here but the easiest & fastest way to get miles is through credit card sign up bonuses. I wish there was another top secret answer but it is what it is. I also always try to earn miles from the airline shopping malls and dining programs. These are essentially free miles for things you would be doing anyway.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
This is an extremely tough question that I don’t really have an answer for. I’ve had so many amazing experiences so I might give a different answer each time I am asked this question.
If I have to pick one for now, I think I’ll go with Trekking with Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. This is a pretty unique experience that can only be done in three countries in the world. It’s estimated that there are less than 800 left and I got to see about 15 of them! I’ll never forget seeing the silverback come out of the bushes followed by the rest of his family. They came very close to us and went about their business- eating, playing, napping and just enjoying life.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I’ve never really asked but feel that most think that it is pretty cool. Some will ask questions about it but are usually not interested enough to do it for themself. My motivation for collecting miles is the trips that will come from them. If you are not interested in travel, why put the time into miles? There are always cash back cards out there.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
People seem to always ask me where I find travel deals and mileage offers. I always have the same answer- a place like that does not exist. You need to read lots of sites & blogs daily to keep up on the offers out there. I love the vibe over at Milepoint and feel there is lots of great information being shared there.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
This is probably the easiest question so far- I have two words for my answer- Wendy’s Cups.
(For anyone not sure of what that promo was, just Google it).
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I should’ve started diversifying my mileage collecting earlier on. However, with the killer sign-up bonuses of the last few years, maybe that wasn’t such a big mistake.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
1) I actually don’t really love to fly. Growing up, I pretty much feared flying since I would often get sick. My first flight was first class from NY to California and it was a great experience for an eleven year old. After that we went on a few trips to Florida. I got sick on the plane almost every time and had to make use of the barf bag on occasion.
I’ll never forget the time another passenger refused to switch seats so I could sit next to my mother. An hour or so later he was more than willing to switch after I didn’t grab the barf bag in time! Payback‘s a bitch… I don’t have any problems with flying anymore but still take Meclizine just to be safe.
2) To make things more fun, I like to get pictures of me jumping at interesting places and sites. My wife and I have became quite good at timing these shots. We’ve also done well using a tripod so we can both be in the picture. It started when a member of Virtual Tourist asked to use one of my pictures I had posted for his collection. Usually people walking by stop to watch, usually walking away laughing or with a smile on their face.
3) I collect hats from countries that I visit. Not cheesy, touristy hats that say the city or country. I collect hats that are worn by locals or were used traditionally. My collection is pretty big and I’ve been lucky enough to have some given to me in a few places!
4) I try to eat at McDonalds in every country I visit. I love seeing what local-inspired items will be on the menu.
Any parting words?
I’ve traveled around the world mainly with my wife and have also been on a bunch of trips with friends. I am hoping to get away with my son when he will be three months old. We went to apply for his passport last week so he will be good to go. We are going to Barbados in April (my 50th official country) and I am glad that I will have a new travel partner joining me!
Michael – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!