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: Travelwhimsy
Prana writes Travelwhimsy to showcase the trips which she and her husband have taken. She has been to more than 25 cities in the past 12 months, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve always collected miles for my air travel since as far back as I can remember, thanks to my parents who always signed us up for an account before flying a new airline. We would take family trips back to Asia to visit my grandparents, and those transpacific flights can easily earn you in the ballpark of 16,000 miles roundtrip per person – not small change.
The problem was that outside of isolated trips every few years we didn’t travel much and often times the miles would expire (*gasp*) or we would simply lose track of them (*double gasp*). After I graduated from college, I went to work for an American bank in Hong Kong and would often travel for business, but at that point I was so immersed in work that I didn’t have time to pay attention to miles and points other than to make sure the travel dept had the relevant numbers on file.
It wasn’t until my husband and I moved back to the states in 2004 and settled into a manageable work schedule that we began to pay more attention to the ins and outs of these mileage programs and point earning opportunities, which also happened to coincide with the dawn of the “Golden Age of Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses”.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Why throw my hat into the ring? Good question. There are a lot of terrific bloggers out there (whom I’ve learned a tremendous amount from) but I think we all have a unique perspective on how we approach the game and why we do it. I’m not so concerned about the nitty gritty details of the various promos out there (my husband is the one that lives and breathes that stuff). Instead, I highlight the personal experiences we’ve gained from our travel using miles and points.
For him, a certain trip is booked as a mileage run to Norfolk, VA, while for me, the same trip is a First Time Kayak Adventure in nearby Virginia Beach. I told my husband my blog is like a support group for the wives/girlfriends/boyfriends of the mile-obsessed. It’s also a starting point (window shopping with real prices and actual trip reports) for people still trying to figure out if they want to do the whole miles and points thing in the first place.
Each trip we take, we calculate our true total out of pocket cost (based on actual receipts, unlike those vacation teasers that say you can go on a 5 day trip to Europe for $799 that ends up costing you $3,000 when all is said and done) and also highlight how many miles and points we earned or used for each outing.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
If you have good credit and use it responsibly, sign up for credit cards. As highlighted recently in the Wall Street Journal, credit card sign up bonuses are the highest they’ve ever been. Who knows how long that will last, so take advantage of it.
The one caveat that I make with that is to make sure you have a good system to keep track of everything, otherwise, the damage to your credit for missed payments and exorbitant interest for carrying a balance can quickly eat away at the rewards.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My first trip to Yellowstone last year holds a special place in my heart because it encapsulated the things I love most about travel – exploring new places, being open to the unexpected and sharing these experiences with my loved ones.
The trip was booked as a status run because we had to get a certain number of trips in to qualify for a status challenge with Delta and we decided to take my mom along since she’s never been to Montana either.
Originally we planned to visit Glacier National Park, another place I’d never been to, but then our plans got derailed at the last minute due to bad weather and we had to settle for a longer drive to Yellowstone instead. When we arrived in Yellowstone, the park had just opened for the season and the place was a winter wonderland that we practically had to ourselves.
My mom, who had resisted the idea of making the long trip to just spend a day there, was totally enchanted the minute she stepped foot out of the car and by the time we were headed home that next day, I could hear her on the phone with her friends telling them, “Yellowstone is a can’t miss destination, even for a day”. I never cease to be amazed by the power of travel to open hearts and change minds.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Fortunately I can point to my husband as the “crazy” one, so I look relatively sane in comparison. Actually, most of our close friends are on board, but a lot of people still view it skeptically, wondering what’s the catch? Others feel overwhelmed with all the information and think it must be so time consuming and complicated.
That’s one of the main reasons why we started blogging. There’s a lot of great info out there, but for those on the fence or just starting out, it can still be really intimidating.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I do most of my shopping online, so I really like shopping portal aggregators like evreward.com that provide comprehensive summaries of the offers available for various retailers.
I bookmark it and before I make a purchase I click on the link, enter in my store and voila, have a list of all the different rewards programs at my fingertips.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Now it’s so blase, but I still remember being surprised that you could earn a free round-trip ticket just for signing up for a credit card. I recall signing up for my first one outside the college bookstore freshman year – all I got was a t-shirt.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew about the amazing collective intelligence and generosity of the online miles and points community earlier – both bloggers and forums such as Flyertalk and Milepoint. Information is power, but when you put together an active network of smart, kind people with a genuine interest in helping each other out, that’s an invaluable resource.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
After banking, I studied feng shui with a famous master in Hong Kong and have always been fascinated with how our surroundings impact our health and well being. When I travel, I am able to witness firsthand how each place has its own unique energy footprint – from the sacred and still to the vibrant and active.
I consider travel an extension of my feng shui education, where the classroom is quite simply the world. Yet another perk of frequent travel!
Any parting words?
Every time I travel, I learn something new about the world around me and also about myself. More than anything, it has been a great connector.
Thanks, Daraius, for this opportunity to share my thoughts on travel and miles and points with your readers. Your blog is a great resource and we are lucky to have you as a fellow traveler!
Prana – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!