Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: As The Joe Flies
Joe runs asthejoeflies to share his travel tips and tricks.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I remember in summer of 2011 I was eating dinner with some friends who had just gotten back from their honeymoon. My buddy was saying how they flew in first class and that they got all the points through credit card sign up bonuses. I scoffed at this in my mind and just forgot about it.
Five months or so later, I was planning our annual summer trip and decided I wanted to try upgrading into a premium class. I remembered what my friend had said and searched for blogs with information on the topic of points and miles.
I don’t quite remember the order I found them but the first blogs I put in my RSS reader were yours, The Points Guy, and One Mile at a Time. A couple of cards got us into two Lufthansa first class legs and I was officially obsessed.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started the blog because I was thinking about points and miles so much I needed an outlet. I also was enjoying helping out friends and family so decided to create the blog as a resource for them. In the end, the points game is a hobby I really enjoy and the blog is a natural extension of that.
I also really love helping people get to their destination – I enjoy helping friends to book trips but nothing is more satisfying than seeing them learn to book the trips for themselves.
Also, since I became a father last year I feel like the blog has been a place where I can document my experience as I try to balance my desire to travel with what works best with my daughter’s (ever-changing) schedule. Being a dad is my #1 priority now, but I believe part of that is sharing my love of travel with my daughter (though knowing kids, she’ll probably hate it when she grows up!)
There are definitely traveling parents who have devised great systems for their families (Mommy Points and Have Baby Will Travel come to mind); I see my blog as more about a family that’s still trying to figure it out.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Obviously credit card sign up bonuses are king when it comes to earning a lot of miles at once. But you need a good organization system to make sure you are staying on top of all the offers, balancing cards between different banks, meeting your minimum spending requirements, and canceling at the right time!
It’s a lot to juggle at once but nothing a good spreadsheet can’t help out with. The other important thing about being organized is if you want to apply for a lot of credit cards or sign up for the same card twice, in order to get the bonus there are a lot of time limits to worry about and if you can’t keep track of all of them you end up hurting yourself in more ways than one.
It also bears repeating that it never hurts to ask – especially when something goes wrong with your flight!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
A year ago my answer would have been different, but now I’d have to say our trip to Italy with our daughter this past summer. We visited Rome and Florence but the highlight was renting a small villa with my family in Tuscany (La Bruciata, I highly recommend it!).
It was memorable because it proved to us that having a baby doesn’t need to inhibit our love of travel, instead it’s something we can experience together as a family. We value experiencing life in other cultures and want our daughter to value that too. Sure, it’s more difficult with a child, but what good things in life come easy?
I’d say a close second was hiking the Lares Trek in Peru en route to Macchu Picchu. Gazing at the stars in the Andes and sledding down a snow covered mountain 4,500 meters above sea level are two things I’ll never forget. I’ll also never forget that tents have two flaps that you need to zip in order to stay warm, not just one – learned that the hard way.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My wife love/hates my hobby because she doesn’t enjoy having to think about what credit card to use or stopping by every single CVS we see. She says I’m overly obsessed, though I’m not sure where she’d get that impression.
On the flip side, for our upcoming trip she asked me why our seats are “only angled lie-flat”. Then she blames me for spoiling her, haha. Gotta love marriage. My friends are generally into it – nobody really looks at me like I’m crazy although maybe they say that behind my back.
But the friends who I’ve been able to help take trips or who have planned trips on their own know that with some work the points game yields some great rewards. By this point I’ve booked travel for almost all of my immediate family members and in-laws so they definitely appreciate it – they don’t have to do the work!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are so many great resources out there and to really maximize what you get out of your points you need to take advantage of all of them. The two resources I can’t live without are Award Wallet and Expertflyer.
Award Wallet is great for keeping all my frequent flyer accounts and passwords organized and to log in to different programs quickly (if there was an Award Wallet for credit cards I’d seriously consider using it over my own spreadsheet). Expertflyer takes a lot of information that you can find – seat availability, award space, etc. – and packages it in a way that is easy to read and more importantly easy to search.
Neither of these programs are all encompassing but they cover so much that I think they are worth the costs that they incur (though the free version of Award Wallet is generally good enough). The Flyertalk forums are a great resource when you have a niche question; it can take some time to find the answers but if you put in the effort you’ll find someone has probably asked the same question before.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
My wife and I both received 13,500 Delta Skymiles due to an equipment delay and rerouting on a flight to Europe. Not only did we receive compensation (we got a 2,000 mile voucher on the ground and another 11,500 each after a politely worded e-mail), but our rerouting also gave us a six hour layover in Amsterdam which was enough for a canal cruise and some french fries!
For all the flak Delta gets, I find their individual customer service to be the best out of the US legacy airlines. The miles were put to use over a year later for the aforementioned family trip to Italy!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I just wish I had started earlier. Instead of paying for coach tickets, my wife and I could have just paid taxes and fees in business class to fuel our love of traveling internationally. So I wish I had better understood how applying for credit cards doesn’t necessarily adversely affect your credit score.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I used to write a small video game blog with my friend – outside of him and one or two of my other readers I don’t think many people know that (so about 15% of my readership haha). I also am a huge geek – New Zealand is at the top of my bucket list thanks to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (books first movies second of course).
Any parting words?
Miles and points can be an obsession (and they are for me), but in the end they’re just a means to an end. While doing this interview I was reflecting on all the wonderful travel experiences I’ve had with my wife over the last five years and just realized that we’ve truly been blessed.
In the end, what I remember the most are the people I’ve met in our travels: the Brazilian couple we tasted wine with in France, our B&B hosts in Argentina, our first-ever first class purser, and so many more. I think the true value in travel are the memories we have built as a family, memories we hope to add to with our daughter in the future!
To anyone thinking of dipping their toes into the frequent flier miles water: there’s a whole world out there to explore, go out there and make some memories! And I’d like to say a special thanks to you Daraius, for taking the time for this interview and making the points game accessible to so many.
Joe – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!