Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: ORD to Anywhere
David lives in Chicago and writes ORD to Anywhere to share his experiences and his love for the Oneworld Alliance.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My partner and I had been actively daydreaming about traveling somewhere exotic for some time when he stumbled upon a $450 round-trip fare between our home city of Chicago and Tokyo. I’m half-Japanese and speak some of the language, so with the extremely low price and no language barrier we decided it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.
We booked our tickets and had an amazing 10 days in Japan. I collected the miles from the trip into my newly created American Airlines account and was under the impression that I had likely just earned myself a free ticket. After all, Tokyo seemed so far and I must have received tons of miles.
After the sad reality that my 12,000 miles wasn’t getting me anywhere very soon, I turned to the internet to see what I could do with the small stash I’d earned. And here I am today.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’m a big fan of honesty, so I’d genuinely have to say I don’t think my blog is very unique or special. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s something that I do because I enjoy writing and I like interacting with other travelers, but it isn’t by any means something cutting edge or innovative.
The primary focus of the content I manage to post is focused on the Oneworld alliance since that’s really where my interests lie lately. I post random hotel and flight reports since I often am seeking information on the quality of various hotels and airlines. As a user of that type of information I try to return the good deeds others travelers have done for me.
I have a few posts that seemed to have sparked some interest from readers, but my primary goal is to entertain myself and meet new people. If someone happens to find something I write helpful, that’s all the better.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’m not a big user of credit cards to collect miles, so I’m a bit old fashioned as I earn about 95% of my miles from actually flying on a plane. I think some folks often forget that when airlines introduce new routes or face increased competition on existing routes that they’ll throw out rather lucrative bonus mileage offers simply for booking a ticket.
Many of these have fare class requirements to earn the really large bonuses, but on occasion you can find a gem that’s not so restrictive. Even the smaller bonuses for lower fare classes can help top off or pad your accounts nicely.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
The first time I was ever in Hong Kong I was wandering the city by myself and trying to take in all the sights. I decided to take the Ngong Ping cable car to reach the Po Lin monastery. Since I was alone the cable car attendants herded me into a car with a large Chinese family. The first minute was a bit awkward as they all stared at me and whispered amongst themselves.
After that quick conversation they all stood up and started rearranging themselves within the car and sat an elderly gentleman next to me. He looked at me and in very slow but clear English said, “Hello sir, how are you today?” It turns out this was a family from mainland China on their first vacation. The older gentleman was their grandpa and had taught himself English over the years from various books he picked up while working as a mail carrier in their hometown.
He said he didn’t know many people who spoke English back home and wanted to ask me about my life as a way to practice. I missed out on the scenery just outside the glass but ended up with quite a great memory. There’s a photo of me and a random Chinese family with great big smiles floating around somewhere in the world.
I wasn’t smart enough to ask for one to keep for myself though.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My partner wasn’t really on board with the idea for awhile. I think his mind changed when we decided we wanted to backpack through India for two weeks and I used my American Airlines systemwide upgrades to move us into business class for the 14 hour flights to and from Delhi.
From what I can tell the rest of my family doesn’t really get how or why I pay so much attention to these miles/points programs, but they do support my unquenched wanderlust. I have a few friends who’ve asked me to explain how I travel so often for so little money, but generally speaking I find that you need to be a certain type of person to really get into this hobby.
I’ve made quite a few friends through my interest in travel, but have yet to move any of my non-mileage earning friends in the opposite direction.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Stay positive and always wear a smile. You’re bound to miss an upgrade or have your flight canceled over the course of your travel career. I try not to let that sour my experience and have found that being a decent human being can get you quite far.
So maybe that empty seat on the seat map next to you in coach remains empty when the doors close after a congenial conversation during check-in. The best results I’ve had while on the road have almost always come from my interactions with people, and I try to make sure I stay in as many good graces as I can.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I had a friend who collected American AAdvantage miles on and off for a few years but never got around to using them. One day she emailed me and simply said “I’m never going to use these miles and you seem to know what you’re doing, so why don’t you just take them?” I was a bit shocked and asked her why she never thought she’d use them, and even offered to help her book some basic awards.
She declined and just reminded me not look a gift horse in the mouth. I didn’t, and it helped me top off my account to redeem a Oneworld Explorer award in First class that I thought I’d have to wait a few more months to book.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
It’s not everything. For a portion of my point collecting career I really let my obsession get in the way of seeing the world. I’d refuse to book fares if I thought the cost-per-mile was too high, or I’d end up flying to the same location over and over again simply because it was a good deal. But all that got me was a few more points and far fewer memories.
So I had to change the way I looked at the game and remind myself that I’m doing this so I can marvel at the Taj Mahal, dip my toes in the waters off Phuket, and climb Table Mountain. Cathay Pacific first class is a wonder, but it’s no Taj Mahal. So maximize your miles without marginalizing your life experiences.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’ve been on safari in Africa, backpacked through India, climbed the Great Wall of China, and ran from a riot in Argentina. Yet I’ve never once set foot in New York City.
Any parting words?
Don’t crowd the boarding gate. Nobody likes it. 😉
David – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!