Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Live Work Travel USA
Dan writes Live Work Travel USA as a survival guide for expats moving to the US.
You can follow Dan at Twitter.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started exploring the fascinating world of Travel Hacking in 2013, when I was building my blog and listening to a lot of podcasts about internet marketing and niche site building.
The name Chris Guillebeau came up quite a few times, so I pulled up his site and that’s when I was 1st introduced to the idea of travel hacking. I bought his Frequent Flyer Master eBook and also found Million Mile Secrets as well as various other sites about travel hacking, that I never paid attention to before.
I was hooked instantly and my mindset about how to really max out the benefits of credit cards (not just for travel) changed completely.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’m an expat from Germany and my wife and I went through the immigration process once, starting our new life here in Charlotte, North Carolina. The idea for my blog came when I was trying to come up with a good niche for me, where I could just write a lot and be helpful to other people. There are so many people immigrating to the U.S. every year and I’m trying to give them some guidance with the articles I write and tools that I provide on my site.
While there are many expat blogs already, they are mainly written as a personal diary for the family back home. My approach is a little different: I’m sharing some personal stuff too, but my primary goal is to be helpful to other expats, providing them the information they need before, during, and after the immigration process while introducing them to some of the awesome opportunities that are only possible in the US.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Just like marrying an American to get a green card, signing-up for credit cards is the easiest way to get a ton of miles, points and cash back. Crazy analogy, I know. 😉
In Europe, banks don’t try to lure you into their cards with so many incentives. If you’re organized and disciplined, you can totally juggle multiple credit cards and reap all the benefits to invest in some free or heavily discounted travel.
And no, I did not marry an American. I migrated to the U.S. on a work visa together with my German wife and I would never advise anybody to abuse marriage as a way to get a green card. It’s illegal and not ethical!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve seen nearly 20 different countries, but my most memorable travel experience was in the US and has nothing to do with travel hacking or its benefits.
It was a 2-month stay in San Francisco back in 2004 with my then fiancée (now wife), followed by a whole month of travel on the West Coast. It was our very 1st trip to the US and we had an unbelievable time.
The grand finale was our wedding in Las Vegas, just the 2 of us. The only thing I regret about this trip, is that I didn’t know about travel hacking back then. We could have collected so many hotel points and miles. Oh well…
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I’m very passionate when I talk with friends or family about this topic, and they all seem to be interested, but don’t really try it out. They are usually not comfortable with signing-up for that many credit cards. In Germany we do have credit cards, but they are just not a very common payment option yet.
A lot of stores don’t even accept them and people would rather lose their business than pay the small fee to the credit card company. One day they’ll get there. I’m sure of that.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
My favorite tool is an app called Pick2Pay and Daraius actually introduced it to his readers a while ago. It tells you which credit card to use for a store (online and offline), so that you always pay with the card that earns you the most category points or miles. I can’t keep track of the ever-changing bonus categories of Chase and Discover for example, so this app does the work for me.
Another free service I use is AwardWallet. It helps me to keep track of my mileage totals and frequent flyer numbers.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, because I read about it on Million Mile Secrets before, but when we called to cancel our Barclays US Airways card after 11 months, they cut our fee in half and threw 10,000 miles at us on top of it. We happily accepted as we had an upcoming trip where we could use the free bag perk as well as the zone 2 boarding.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I didn’t know how to take better advantage of our miles by transferring them from 1 card to another program. For example, you can transfer Chase Freedom to Chase Sapphire Preferred to an airline or hotel. This I how I merge miles with my United Airlines account in order to get tickets not only for me but also for my daughter.
I also didn’t know that you can book award flights on another airline if it is in the same alliance.
Last but not least I never knew that you can keep your miles from expiring by just having some kind of activity on the account like buying a cheap iTunes gift card. Before, I always tried to spend all my miles before they expired, but I never had enough for a flight ticket.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
My readers don’t follow me for my travel hacking knowledge, although I write about it every now and then. But in August this year, my wife, daughter, and I made our very 1st trip to Bermuda, that was completely paid with frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and cash back. We signed-up for several credit cards over the past year, met spending requirements, and gathered enough miles and points to finally take advantage of it.
We would have never spent the money to stay in the fancy Fairmont Southampton Hotel on Bermuda, if it wasn’t for travel hacking.
Any parting words?
Travel Hacking is fascinating and 1 of these opportunities that you only get in America. Nowhere else is it that easy to collect that many miles and points, just by paying with a bunch of credit cards. One of my concerns was that my credit score would take a huge hit. But actually during my 1st year of travel hacking, it went up from 780 to 810.
Traveling for very little money is totally possible, even with kids. It just takes you a little longer than someone like Chris Guillebeau, who only had to pay for his own ticket to see the world.
I can only recommend to have an open mind about how you pay for your everyday expenses and to take full advantage of miles and points. They add up really fast and with a little planning you can book your next flight or hotel with it. Or you just get statement credits for travel expenses with cash back cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which is 1 of my favorite cards.
Dan – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
If you’d like to be considered for our interview series, please send me a note!