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: Point Me to the Plane
Adam is a consultant at a New York based company. He also writes the Point Me to the Plane blog where he shares his secrets on traveling using miles and points, so I was looking forward to our chat on Friday!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Freshman year of college I signed up for an American AAdvantage MasterCard and so began my mileage obsession. Within weeks I was following along on WebFlyer, constantly looking for additional earning opportunities. Lucky for me, as a college student at the start of the millennium, there were many.
I had a new phone number every 60 days thanks to the MCI 25,000 AAdvantage sign-up offer. All meals (and bar tabs) were paid using a mileage earning credit card, some class time may have been used on AOL OpinionPlace surveys, and Sharper Image gifts were most definitely given for birthdays and holidays.
My balances in each program grew quickly with easy promotions and I soon realized I couldn’t get enough!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
My blog actually began as a weekly email to colleagues. It literally pained me to see some of them squander the point collection opportunities granted to them in a position with frequent and extended international travel and I knew I had to help.
I started a weekly email to update colleagues on upcoming promotions, maximize their points, assist with redemptions, and provide air, hotel, and sightseeing advice.
The email distribution quickly expanded to family and friends and updates became more frequent. The blog was a way to transition these email updates into a fully interactive blog for a larger audience while maintaining a feeling of sharing awesome points deals amongst co-workers.
The blog is unique in that it provides a young professional’s perspective on the latest point offers, industry news, and redemption opportunities. Traveling internationally for work also has a huge benefit, my local co-workers in each country introduce me to the best restaurants, bars, clubs, and sights, which are not always known to tourists, but that I love to share via trip reports with my readers.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Don’t be scared to take advantage of the sign up bonuses for credit cards! It’s second nature to those of us who are mileage junkies, but I can’t tell you how many friends and colleagues refuse to sign up because they are scared of lowering their credit scores.
If you are a responsible individual, pay your bills on time, and monitor your credit score, there is no reason to not be earning sign-up miles every 60-90 days.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That’s a really tough one. I wanted to see 30 countries by my 30th birthday, I was able to hit 65 earlier this year. Some of my most memorable so far…
– Skydiving over Interlaken, Switzerland / Skydiving over Queenstown, New Zealand
– Visiting Jerusalem and the Western Wall, floating in the Dead Sea
– Swimming into the blue grotto in Capri after everyone else and all the boats had gone for the day
– Riding camels around the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, Tubing with the Prince of Kuwait in Sharm El Sheikh
– Scuba diving at the Outer Great Barrier Reef in Australia / Hiking the Sydney bridge on New Year’s Day after a very long night (sleeping in the hotel lounge when we couldn’t get a room anywhere)
– Everything about Turkey and it’s mix of East and West.
– Greek Salads in Greece and the amazingness of Santorini
– Visiting Ireland so many times (19) that the customs officials began to recognize me and allow me to enter via the resident lane.
– Being in India during the Festival of Ganesh and a historic India v. Pakistan Cricket match.
– Seeing three co-workers in Stockholm, Sweden become ecstatic and run through the streets when seeing snow for the first time.
– Tapas in Madrid…or Barcelona…or Sevilla, everything about Spain
– Begging a group of Olympic volunteers in Beijing to allow us into one of the events at the Bird’s Nest when we had no tickets.
– Partying with friends in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Partying to music from two decades ago in Serbia, Estonia, and Slovenia.
– Being caught in a typhoon somewhere between Ho Chi Minh and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
– Being in Moscow in the dead of January with snow flying over the Kremlin and Red Square while we try not to slide on the completely iced streets.
– Visiting Auschwitz
– Flying the A380 on Emirates to Dubai and flying Singapore on the longest flight in the world from Newark- Singapore.
– Carnival in Rio, Oktoberfest (x2) in Munich, St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.
– Having a group of wild monkeys knock on the sliding door to my hotel room in Zimbabwe all night long while I prayed that they wouldn’t be able to get inside. Bungee jumping off Victoria Bridge that next day.
– Running from a rhino while on safari in South Africa.
– Being chased out of a ping pong show by the Thai mafia in Bangkok.
– Having a snake charmer throw cobra after cobra around my neck until I agreed to tip him while in Marrakesh, Morocco
– Always being happy to return home to New York.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They are definitely on-board with the hobby and in fact they had their AA credit card long before I got mine. Seriously though, what’s not to like? Starting about eight years ago my mileage and point balances exploded, thanks in part to my jobs which have always included significant travel.
At the same time I began taking my parents and sister to a different Caribbean island during winter break every single year using miles for flights (low level of course) and points for hotels, a great deal during holiday season. They are now accustomed to upgrades, lounge access, and elite member treatment.
I was also happy to book my parents business class tickets to Italy last summer. While at first they were hesitant to accept my credit card sign-up advice, they now sign-up for whatever I suggest!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I have a lot of SkyMiles with Delta, sometimes refereed to as SkyPesos for their lack of low mileage award availability, especially on the most direct itineraries. I can usually find a less than desirable connection around the dates I want to travel when starting my search several months out.
An easy way to circumvent paying more for the direct flights is to go ahead and book the connections as far out as possible. It’s almost guaranteed that the flight times will change over the next couple of months and you can then switch fee-free to the direct flights with no additional mileage required.
The official policy states that schedule changes must be 1 hour or greater, though I’ve always found an agent who is sympathetic to any time change that impacts a scheduled event or a connecting flight on another airline.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
My least expected way was on the streets of Tokyo, I was stopped and told that because I was wearing Puma sneakers I had won 500 AAdvantage miles. I thought it was a joke but it turned out that any person passing by with Puma gear on was given American Airlines miles as a thanks for their loyalty to the Puma brand. An unexpected but amazing way to earn miles is via donations. Almost every airline and hotel partners with charities all over the world which award miles for your generosity.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I got in earlier on the Citi American Airlines credit cards. I’m extremely jealous of those who earned 1-2 million miles by applying for new American Airlines cards every 30-60 days before Citi restricted sign-up bonuses to new customers.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’ve never flown JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, or AirTran. I do think Virgin America and JetBlue look great but I always find it hard to justify giving up miles in one of my legacy programs and a potential upgrade to make the switch, especially when they are the same price as the “low cost” airlines.
Any parting words?
One of my favorite quotes is from Hans Christian Andersen – “To Travel is to Live”, so take advantage, travel and live for free using miles and points!
Adam– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!