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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: MileCollector
Mark wants to see the entire world and writes MileCollector to share his knowledge of the miles game, so I was looking forward to Friday.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve been a “casual MileCollector” for several years. I’ve always had frequent flier accounts, and applied for my first mileage earning credit card when I was in college in 2005. I’ve also been shopping through portals for quite a few years to earn bonus points for online purchases … and that was always the extent of my participation in the miles game.
Fast forward a few years, and I got wind of the then new Chase British Airways credit card which offered a 100,000 mile (pre-Avios) sign up bonus. Not too long later, British Airways revamped their program, and while a lot of the value of British Airways miles was lost, new value came from Avios.
I found that New York to Toronto was only 9,000 Avios + about $50 (I visit family in Toronto regularly, so this is an incredible value for me). I began searching for ideas for other routes which offered insane value, and stumbled upon several great blogs including Million Mile Secrets.
From there, hobby took off exponentially. I had added nearly a dozen blogs to my Google Reader and anxiously awaited new postings each day. During this past winter, several bloggers posted about the New York Area Frequent Traveler University, which happened to be only fifteen minutes away from home. Naturally, I attended, and my mind was blown by so many amazing stories. It was at this point that I became truly addicted to collecting miles and points.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
MileCollector was born on May 25, 2012. I started the blog as a means to express my excitement about the hobby – and hopefully be able to give back to the community that I’ve learned so much from by developing unique content.
My profession is very analytic in nature – and I’m able to apply that skill-set to this hobby. I recently developed a database of credit card bonus categories (which is available as an Excel download from my site) which suggests which card to use based upon the spending category and your point valuation. I’m currently working on several other tools which I hope others will find useful.
Additionally, I have extensive experience buying and selling merchandise online – I’ve completed over 10,000 online transactions in the last thirteen years. A few months ago it dawned on me that I should also be looking for products from online retailers which award extra miles for purchases (i.e. through the Ultimate Rewards Mall) to resell online. I’ve already earned a few hundred thousand miles doing this have made several blog posts on this topic, including how I identify which products to buy and sell.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
It’s been said in probably every segment of the Million Mile Secrets interview series – but the single best way to get more miles is by applying for credit cards. I’ve earned over half a million miles & points from sign-up bonuses in 2012 alone. Daraius has a lot of great information regarding applications on his “Credit Card Resources” page – It’s very important to understand how credit scores work before going out and applying for lots of credit cards.
The single best thing people (who don’t want to dive in head first just yet) can do to get more miles is to get one solid points earning card – the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is what I recommend to all my personal friends who are intrigued by the idea of traveling for (sort of) free but think I’m crazy for having so many credit cards.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
All of my trips have been memorable in their own way. One single experience that stands out was being in Reykjavik, Iceland for New Year’s Eve 2011. The night starts with a massive bonfire, then when midnight hits the whole city is lit up with fireworks – set off by the residents, not the city itself. I remember hearing that the average family spends the equivalent of $500 on fireworks for this day.
Every direction you look you see huge fireworks going off. This goes on for about an hour, and then the parties get started in the various bars and clubs and they won’t end until the next morning. It was an incredible night and Iceland overall is a beautiful country to visit.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Between mattress runs, mileage runs, and attending three different seminars for miles and points enthusiasts (in NJ, IL, and CA) in a eight month span – I think most friends and family think I’m certifiably insane. However, that doesn’t stop them from asking me for travel advice all the time!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There’s many! Some of my favorites are:
- Using the ITA Matrix to search for paid travel. I love the level of specificity you can get in your search results by using the right syntax. (Hint: click on the question mark on the search page for a glossary).
- Using evreward to determine which portal to shop through when making online purchases.
- Effectively going on three trips via two awards by using free oneways – a concept I learned about from MileValue.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I haven’t done any of the really crazy promotions… The least expected way I earn miles always seems to be when points post from eating at a Rewards Network restaurant. I typically don’t check the site to see participating restaurants, so it’s always a fun surprise when points post unexpectedly.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew what I know now about credit cards. If you take the time to learn about how credit scores work and how to practice the art of credit cards, it’s not all that scary. I could have been doing this for years but instead just put nearly all of my credit card spend on an American Express card just earning 1x.
A while back, American Airlines used to credit any miles earned, not just “butt-in-seat” miles, towards their Million Miler Program. I’ve heard stories from many people that attained lifetime Platinum status just from the Citi American Airlines cards and from using BankDirect.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
A lot of bloggers and readers like saving up their hotel points for fancy hotels abroad – I prefer staying in hostels when in Europe. There’s definitely something to be said about the social environment of a hostel that you simply don’t get to experience when in a hotel.
I do a lot of research beforehand by reading reviews on HostelWorld to try to find places that are highly rated for cleanliness, location, and atmosphere. To date, my favorite hostel has been the “Yes! Hostel” in Lisbon. It was super clean, modern, and hosted daily free walking tours of the city and nightly pub crawls. I’d highly recommend staying there!
Any parting words?
Earn and burn! Your points are only as valuable as the experiences they provide – make sure you don’t get too addicted to accumulating the miles and actually get out and use them.
Mark– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!