Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Traveling Inspired
Julianna writes Traveling Inspired to get readers excited about jumping on the bandwagon of collecting miles and points.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My boyfriend (now husband) took me to Florence, Italy, on points to propose to me. So that was my 1st introduction to points. He flew American Airlines back then a lot for his job.
I really sat up and paid attention several years later when he earned the Southwest Companion Pass for the 1st time just based on his work travel. It has played an important role in letting our family of 5 travel domestically for free the majority of the time.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, that I started to really learn more about rewards for hotel stays and more flexible options than just the airline credit card.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started the blog because friends and family wanted to know the details of a lot of our trips over the years. “Can you write that down for me, for when we go there?” was something I heard a lot. I also thought if I wrote about it, I wouldn’t constantly be talking about travel to everyone I know.
My passion was starting to sound like a broken record at dinner parties. I hope my blog is special in its authenticity and variety. One of my biggest resources for my own travel research is other blogs.
I love authentic first-hand accounts of destinations. Sometimes something as simple as sharing where they parked in a certain area, will help make the difference on a trip. Our family went to Williamsburg, Virginia, during Christmas after I read tips to avoid the busy summer season on other blogs. And we had an outstanding trip!
I hope I can provide that extra inspiration and confidence to someone else to get out there and travel. My blog has a variety of family, couples, business, and spectator event travel. It also has a wide variety of locations and spending.
We’ve spent big bucks on guided small group trips, and spent a small amount on vacations that are close to home using points. I just don’t think there is only 1 way travel. See what fits for you on a specific trip and get out there!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
If you do a lot of online shopping, using a shopping portal is the easiest single thing you can do to get more miles.
If you don’t shop online much, I’d say to maximize your daily spending. I started earning a lot more miles when I got just a couple of new credit cards that paid more miles for dining, grocery stores, and gas stations.
I didn’t change or increase my spending, just the way I paid for it. It didn’t take long for me to get into the habit of using certain cards for certain purchases. Even my kids say, “don’t forget to use the right card!” when we eat out.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Naming just 1 is hard. I think my most memorable travel experiences are the “wow” moments.
The 1st time I saw Venice, I wanted to cry. The pictures and films just don’t do it justice.
Sitting in a Buddhist temple in Thailand. The opulence, gold, reverence and quiet all mixed together brought me a moment of grace and gratitude I’ll never forget.
Visiting Disney World with my boys (as toddlers) when they looked up at Buzz Lightyear and believed it was really him. The wonder in their eyes was magical.
Biking up the Continental Divide in Yellowstone and seeing the sign, when I thought my legs just couldn’t pedal 1 more mile. I had so much pride when I reached that stupid thing.
Climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with my husband even though he’s afraid of heights! Not every trip has a “wow” moment. But you’d be surprised at how many do. Sometimes it’s just a small insignificant thing makes it a “wow” moment for me.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
In the beginning, my husband was very familiar with airline miles. But when we started paying for hotel rooms on points, that got his attention. We’ve worked closely to come up with a strategy for regular spending that gives us the flexibility we need, without a giant hassle factor for either of us.
Friends started to pay attention more when I mentioned my free hotel stays. I took my 14 year old skiing for a long weekend (on an award stay) when the hotel rooms were running about $1,200 per night.
My friends were definitely interested in how I made it happen. They have even started to ask me about what credit cards I use, and which points I value the most.
I think most people are worried about the hassle factor. That it takes too much effort to earn and burn. If someone they know has done it, they think maybe it can’t be that difficult.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Award Wallet definitely helps me keep track of all of my mile and point balances.
I also place a tiny label on each credit card in my wallet that lists their bonus categories in case I need reminding when I’m out and about. Truthfully, 1 of the biggest tools and tricks is to plan ahead. It’s easier to cancel a reward reservation than it is to find availability only a month or so in advance.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I like the new green initiative that you get points if you forgo housekeeping during a hotel stay. That was definitely unexpected. Half of the time I don’t like housekeeping in my room anyway.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
In 1999, my husband and I took off 2 months to travel in Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti, before we had kids. Our air travel was on an airline we didn’t normally fly. So we didn’t earn any miles (or even belong to their program), or any hotel points the entire trip.
OH! I’m just sick about it now. My advice is to join every program and bank every mile and point you can, even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever use them. You never know.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I am a book and movie junkie. Thank goodness for the e-reader because I am a fast reader, so being able to get another book on the go is very important. I read A LOT. I also love the movies.
My AMC stubs points don’t really help me travel, but I definitely use them. Maybe I just like a good story whether it is in book or on film?
Any parting words?
Flexibility, compromise, and laughter are the keys to travel. There is a lot of compromise and negotiation in our house when it comes to travel. My husband wants to go to a college football bowl game in New Orleans, so we agree to travel and extend the stay a few days to make a vacation out of it.
We’ve made a bucket list of desired locations so when I find a great fare that fits our schedule, we’ve already discussed it. The flexibility comes in mostly while traveling. Sometimes the most spontaneous things end up being the best part of the trip.
We decided to try ice skating with the boys in Kensington Park in London after we’d spent a lot of time inside museums. Skating under the twinkle of the lights at night while holding our boys’ hands was 1 of our greatest memories. You just have to be flexible enough to try something new or unexpected.
And if you can keep a smile on your face when things go wrong, your travel will be a lot better in the end.
Duke (my middle son) got pooped on by a puffin in Alaska in front of a large group of people when he was about age 8. We laughed and cheered like he’d won a prize, as we could see the look of confusion and tears pooling in his eyes. Instead of crying, he took a bow and asked for a prize.
I’ll take laughter over tears any day.
Julianna – 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!