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: Mile Adventures
Alex runs the Mile Adventures and uses airline miles to go to unlikely places.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles about a year and a half ago. A co-worker was telling me of all the recent trips he had just taken that had been almost completely paid for with airline miles and hotel points. I was floored.
I had always been a frequent traveler and had spent so much money over the years on airfare (like $1,500 for a last minute ticket to Palau to go scuba dive with manta rays). I realized that by collecting miles, I could travel even more while paying a lot less!
When I asked my co-worker how I could find out more about airline miles, the very first blog he pointed me to was Million Mile Secrets (thanks Daraius!) and the rest is history.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
There are so many great blogs out there about collecting miles and then using them to book flights in premium cabins. However, I did not see many that catered to what I like to do: creatively using airline miles to go to places that are off the beaten path and having amazing adventures that would otherwise not be possible. So that is what Mile Adventures is all about.
I talk about how to use Delta miles to go scuba diving in Tanzania, how you can use United miles to go to the isolated Cook Islands, or how to use US Air miles to follow the old Silk Road through Uzbekistan. I want to talk about Bosnia and Bolivia and Borneo. Mile Adventures is a reflection of what I believe in: that you can use airline miles to go everywhere and do everything.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Be on top of your personal finances. For people who did not travel for business, credit card sign-up bonuses are the single best way to accumulate miles.
However, in order to continually be approved for the very best credit card offers you need to have excellent credit. By managing your personal finances well through making your payments on time, paying off the balance every month, and carefully monitoring your spending. You put yourself in the best position to get approved for the best credit card offers and accumulate the most miles.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I was trekking in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. My goal was to reach Everest Base Camp. I was trekking with two friends I had just met a few days before.
We had no guides and no porters. We did everything ourselves. While climbing through the Gokyo Valley, we got caught in a brutal snow storm that almost derailed the trek.
We managed to get through it by serendipitously following a herd of yaks through the storm. The next day, we ascended to the summit of Gokyo Ri, a nearby peak 17,600 feet above sea level. At the top of this Himalayan peak, I saw one of the most spectacular sights I had ever seen: an amazing 360 degree panorama of some of the highest mountains in the entire world.
Everest, Lhotse, Makulu. They were all there. All of the mountains that I had always dreamed about. It was like seeing life in high definition for the very first time.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
At first, most of my friends and family thought that I was either crazy, obsessive, or wasting my time. After I used my miles to treat them to some free flights in Business class, suddenly they were much more understanding. Funny how that works!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
The most important “tools” to have when collecting and using airline miles are creativity, persistence, and patience. I love miles because they open up a whole new world of destinations and experiences that would be otherwise be out of reach for many. Unfortunately, using your miles can be difficult precisely because the possibilities are so limitless.
However, with some creative thinking and some patience, you can use miles to book trips to make all of those adventurous dreams you always have had come true: whether that is trekking in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, or taking a road trip through South Africa, or scuba diving with sharks in Borneo.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Helping my sister buy a refrigerator and stove for her new house. I was running out of time to meet a minimum spend and my sister paid me back in cash later. I had never feigned so much interest in refrigerators in my whole life.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had known how important it was to collect miles and points in as many different programs as you can. Each mileage program has different strengths and weaknesses in different regions. American miles are great for going to South America but impossible to use in Africa.
Delta miles are great for going to Africa, but finding low-level availability to Europe is a challenge. It is much cheaper to go to Central Asia using US Air miles than any other program. By having miles in every program, I can take advantage of all these different “sweet spots” to get the best value for my miles no matter where I am going.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I failed my first driving test quite literally within the first 30 seconds of it starting. The driving test had just started and I had to make a left turn out of the DMV parking lot. I was very nervous.
I did not look both ways when making my left turn and a car coming at me had to brake hard to avoid me. The instructor then told me to just drive the car right back into the parking lot. I had failed my test without ever making it onto the road. Fortunately, my driving has improved (slightly) since then!
Any parting words?
It’s a big wide world out there. There are so many great hidden destinations and sublime adventures out there just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler. Don’t be afraid to step off the beaten path.
Some of my favorite travel memories have been in places that many people would not ordinarily associate with a vacation: hanging out in the salt flats of Bolivia, or driving a motorbike through rural Laos, or seeing the sun set over the temples of Bagan in Burma. We live on an amazing planet. Go out there and experience it.
Alex – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!