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: Rapid Travel Chai Correspondent
Hao Tran is a college student currently rapid travelling in the UK, after spending eight weeks as an intern for a company based in Mumbai, India. He also writes for one of my favorite travel blogs, Rapid Travel Chai, so I was looking forward to our chat on Friday!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I spent last summer working for a tech startup in New York City that provides credit-card linked rewards for customers who shop at select small businesses. The CEO of the company is a miles collector and introduced me to the community during my first week on the job. I spent a lot of time reading blogs and soon enough I was booking trips to countries that I had always wanted to visit.
Why do you write for the Rapid Travel Chai?
Some of my friends and family want to hear about how I plan my travel and the resources I use to research, so I contacted my favorite blogger to see if I can write for him as an unpaid, volunteer guest writer. I know that I don’t have much to write about to fill up my own blog (I don’t take enough crazy adventures it seems!). Writing for RTC a few times a month was the perfect fit and intro to the blogging community.
My senior thesis is about economic development in emerging markets, so I’ve had the chance and excuse to travel to out of the ordinary destinations. I’m focusing my writing so that the information which I’ve posted and will post on RTC makes for more useful and unique trip reports, given that info about travel in stereotypical vacation places like France and Hawaii are much easier to find on any other website.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
When it’s warranted, send an email to the airline requesting compensation after a bad flight. My inflight entertainment system was broken on a 10-hour flight and after emailing the airline, they credited my account with 20,000 miles.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
With my Chase Sapphire Preferred card (which has some people thinking I’m a kid millionaire), I’ve been bringing friends to the Chase/Visa VIP Lounge where there is free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an open bar. A Visa representative even gave me a free corporate level seating ticket to a volleyball match – they were struggling to fill their seats. One of my friends was so surprised by the lounge that he gave me his spare ticket to watch Phelps win the gold medal in the 100m men’s butterfly final.
At the lounge, I’ve met students from universities in London, a young professional couple from DC that love traveling as much as I do, and a woman from California who needed help changing her American Airlines flight. Everything about my trip has been spontaneous – which is exactly what I love!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My family supports me, especially my parents (they haven’t paid for any of my trips since I left home for college). They don’t know much about the process, but love miles as much as I do.
Most of my close friends know about my hobby, but don’t actively pursue it. I’m pretty careful about who I explain it to.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Networking. I met The Mr Pickles in Cape Town when he was on a beginning of the year mileage run. He taught me some tricks and told me about his experience in the frequent flyer community. It was a great honor to meet him in person!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
My mom’s United account showed a small uptick on my AwardWallet. I later discovered that she had been using a shopping portal! It was a struggle to teach my technologically-challenged mom, but she managed to figure it out.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew that some airlines – like Emirates – have terrible frequent flyer programs. I flew a few segments on Emirates before I knew anything about the three airline alliances. I now have 50,000+ orphaned miles on the airline, which isn’t enough for a flight redemption.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m 19 years old. I haven’t stayed at a hotel since my last family vacation (2009). I didn’t leave North America until I was 18.
Instead of hotels, I usually stay at hostels, but more often I’ve been using $20/night (my referral link; any support for the volunteer writer is welcome) which is a service that pairs up guests with hosts. I’m currently staying in one in London, and for only $20 I get my own room with access to the bathroom, backyard, and kitchen.
Any parting words?
I have a full-time job at my college, I receive scholarships and take out loans to support my education, and my parents don’t give me an allowance. Even for people with tight student budgets like mine, travel is possible if you do your research.
Hao Tran– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!