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: Travel is Free
Drew & Carrie are a broke married couple in their 20s who love to travel with miles and points. I was looking forward to learning more from them on Friday!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My first rewards card came from researching how to save money on an upcoming road trip. Later, I decided that I was going to travel the world but had no idea how. I was content on boat hopping, hitchhiking and whatever it took.
It wasn’t until my wife and I fell in love that I decided I needed a new plan. When we were dating I spent alot of time googling ways to travel for free and the best info I found was stuff like hitchiking and couchsurfing, which I already had tried. Until I saw an article on people buying $1 coins on rewards cards.
That led me to flyertalk and the credit cards began. Before I knew it, we had millions of miles.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Like most people, I was (and still am) obsessed and friends had questions… often the same questions. Blogging was always something I was interested in but this passion kept me going for years instead of days this time.
To be honest, the thing that makes Travel is Free’s perspective different is that we’re broke and yet have created a lifestyle of full time travel. It’s an interesting combination. We fly somewhere on miles and will sometimes walk to our hotel to save taxi money.
In the process we’ve discovered some really interesting ways to stretch points. For example, when Club Carlson had the promotion where you get 9,000 points back on a stay, we found a low category Radisson and alternated nights. So we stayed there for a week but everyday we would checkout and check-in as the other person.
So we booked 3 separate stays 6 nights in a row thus getting all 9,000 points back per night. It was completely free.
We learned to do the same thing in airport lounges using Priority Pass to get two people in. Generally one person gets into a lounge for free and the second for $27, so we found ways around that. And we do the same thing to get Free Marriott Platinum Status Challenge.
These are small examples but it’s what we do everyday and it pays off everyday. If we had money we would have just payed the $27 for the second person but we don’t. We know we’re the poorest people in the lounge, in the Park Hyatt, in Air New Zealand’s business class but it’s our weird mixed lifestyle that makes us figure out how to get more for less.
This is why I’m obsessed with stopovers, because I want to see everywhere but have limited funds and tons of time. So using stopovers with United we were able to see Guam, Singapore, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Sydney and Tokyo for 40,000 miles in business class. It’s why I figured out that with British Airways you can use stopovers to save Avios. That way I can make tons of stops while spending less.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
People are quick to sign up for credit cards when they learn about it. So for example they get the United card with a 30,000 miles bonus, they’ll get the British Airways card for 50,000 Avios, and get the Southwest card for 25,000 points, simply because they are eager. But then later that year the United card has a 60,000 miles bonus, the British Airways card has a 100,000 Avios bonus and the Southwest card has a 50,000 point bonus.
That person could have waited on these cards and gotten twice as many miles without extra hard pulls on their credit score. So by knowing the credit card bonuses and having patience, they get more miles. Also, the same person might not need Southwest points and might not be able to use Delta Skypesos but they don’t know because they’re eager and a blog had the links on their homepage.
So take your time and map out your credit card applications ahead of time, just so you understand it. And know which cards you can double dip and plan those out too, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Master Card double dip.
Likewise, learn to use the miles well. I can’t believe how many people use Ultimate Rewards Points in their travel search engine because they don’t know how to transfer to partners.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Before we got married I did a hitchhiking trip halfway across the US. That was unique simply because of the people I met. I felt like many of them were just lonely and needed someone to talk to.
I wrote down all their stories as soon as I got out of the car. It was quite an experience and I’ve thought that I should one day publish that part of my journal in a post. Trust me, it’s very interesting and sometimes intense.
But as a couple, we no doubt most love sharing travel with our friends and family. Giving is something that I learn from Caroline as she has a very big heart (she can’t even pass a beggar in Bangkok without giving) and so we’ve been able to share travel with people we know.
This is honestly just more fun for us as we get to see amazing parts of the world with our best friends. Last year we flew my friend Seth to China to visit us.
It was his first time out of the country, first time on a plane (even though he’s an aviation geek), he flew Cathay Business Class, and since he was really excited to see the Shanghai World Financial Center (as it’s one of the tallest buildings), we surprised him by booking the Park Hyatt Shanghai. Our room was located on the 94th floor and he wasn’t onto our surprise until we were pretty much in the room. He was speechless and we still talk about his reaction.
Then later that year we flew a friend to Easter Island and Caroline’s sister and her partner to Machu Picchu.
But if we had to pick one, it would no doubt be our time in Bali in January last year. It was incredible. We met a family with a little homestay – Hoky Homestay in Amed, Bali. They realized we weren’t wealthy tourists, so they treated us like family.
Everyday they fed us fresh fish that our friend Made caught that morning. He also took us out on his boat and it was just incredible. We saw hundreds of dolphins… not even joking. They let us use their scooter and snorkel gear. I can’t tell you how much they made us feel like family. The Balinese people are wonderful and it’s a lush, beautiful island with a unique culture.
Since the Bali Hyatt was only 5,000 points I asked if they would join us. They came from poor families and they knew the Hyatt was where Obama stayed. They were anxious and excited and we all spent some time at the Hyatt before we flew out. Made kept thanking me and said “I and my family would never have this opportunity. Not in many lifetimes…”
But I still feel like he did more for us and I would love to go back and thank him somehow as my memory of being in Amed Bali still makes me smile.
But this could go on and on. In Sri Lanka we witnessed political unrest… to say the least. All the roads were blocked with crowds, rubbel and fire. It was interesting. And in Langkawi we had a number of adventures touring waterfalls and little islands. And on and on…
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My family has been very supportive and our parents have a big part to play in why we like to travel. My dad gets $1,000 on Amazon every once in awhile from me and he takes it to the bank for me and never complains. My parents were also super excited to get their first rewards card – double dipping the American Airlines cards.
As for our friends at first I probably sounded crazy but when you visit over 20 countries in one year and your credit score is better, they start to listen.
Although, Caroline did not like hauling thousands of dollars of coins to the bank every week and was actually glad when the mint got canned. She also doesn’t like anything a little ‘sleezy’. If it weren’t for her I’d probably be returning $5,000 watches for points but she keeps me honest, which is good.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
As a newbie FlyerTalk was huge for me. Now I actually just read the terms and conditions myself. I have multiple email accounts, they’re just full of spam and I check them daily.
One thing I can say is that Priority Club has been very good to me. It’s incredible how many points you can earn through one stay by using promotion codes from FlyerTalk. But then they had the $75 giftcard promo at the same time as a $25 dining promo and all the while earning points and getting 10% with a cashback portal and points on the Priority Club card.
I think I came out ahead just in the cash and then amounted some serious pile of Priority Club points. When it rains it pours as I redeemed a mere 40,000 points for 8 nights at the InterContinental Fiji. Hopefully this summer will be as good.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
How to use miles and points well and stopovers. I could have booked the same flights with less miles.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Where would I begin… Well we’re pretty different and I don’t talk about our personal life that much actually. We’ve made a commitment not to buy anything new. So we don’t own a car, phone, or anything really although we do buy things used (like on ebay).
We try not to care about material things – it doesn’t bring happiness and if anything it shifts priorities from helping/trusting people to protecting things.
Plus, we’d rather travel. We’ve also committed to not watching TV or movies and haven’t done so in two years. It’s just our personal preference. I do not want people to think we judge them if they buy things- or that watching movies is somehow wrong. Instead we’ve just made priorities or have certain beliefs and have tried to be disciplined about them. Different eh?
Also, Caroline’s family is Amish. Well her parents are Mennonite but all her uncles, aunts and cousins that grew up on the same road in Holmes County are still Amish. It’s pretty neat.
Any parting words?
I’d like to thank you Daraius for inviting us to share some about our travels. Although, it seems like there is more personal info than normal… that’s fine. And thanks for making this site a good resource for the community. We appreciate the way you run it.
Drew – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!