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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Our Frugal Life
She’s giving a discount on her award booking services for folks who mention this interview! Find out how it works below!
Plus, she’s giving away a $50 Southwest gift card!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Shortly thereafter, my now husband and I were 1 of the lucky ones who were able to book a round-trip ticket to Cyprus from Toronto in Business Class on Alitalia with a stopover in Rome for $33 + tax. We ended up getting engaged in Rome on that trip!
A few months after we returned, we jumped on another mistake fare from San Francisco to Auckland on United Airlines in Business Class for $1,100 + tax. Deciding on our honeymoon destination quickly became an easy decision!
New Zealand remains our favorite destination in the world and we never would have gone had it not been for this amazing deal.
In 2010, I really started getting into signing-up for credit cards for the bonuses.
We have close Argentinian friends whom we hadn’t seen in several years. So my sister and I each signed-up for 2 Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard cards (for 75,000 American Airlines miles per card) and used those miles to fly our friend’s family of 4 from Argentina to Orlando for a week at Disney World. That’s when I was hooked!
We’ve since become a family of 4 and have flown all over the world on credit card miles and points. Our kids are now 4 and 6 years old and they’ve already been to 13 countries, thanks to points and miles.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started the blog in January of 2012, as a way to educate family and friends on how we have been able to travel the world for pennies on the dollar. Most were quite skeptical of our nomadic ways and were curious how we were able to travel so frequently.
The blog has evolved over the years and I recently started to add posts about our frugal lifestyle, again, to consolidate our frugal advice in 1 spot. It seemed like a natural fit to integrate our frugality with our ability to travel the world so cheaply.
One aspect of Our Frugal Life that I think helps it stand out from others is that I try to make our posts actionable. That is to say, I try to post about topics that others can apply to their life, in whole or in part.
I generally do not post about “interesting” topics like the intricacies of airports, but more about how you can use frequent flyer programs to your benefit, how we are able to save money on cable TV, or how to go to specific destinations using miles and points.
For example, I have started a small series called “My Next Vacation” where I give a hypothetical couple step-by-step instructions on what credit cards to apply for if starting from scratch.
I also blog about our own travel adventures as a family of 4 with 2 young children. The 4 of us have flown on Etihad Business Class to the Maldives, on Austrian Airlines Business Class to the United Arab Emirates, and Cathay Pacific Business Class to or from Asia, among others.
Traveling in Business Class as a family of 4 is difficult, but not impossible!
I think there are a lot of families out there who prefer to try out destinations closer to home with younger kids (Hawaii, Europe, Caribbean, etc.) and I try to pass along our experiences. So that others may decide to branch out of their comfort zone a little.
It’s not always easy, but I do believe that the international experiences our kids are having now will help them become better citizens of the world as they grow.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I always hate to state the obvious, but to answer the question most literally, the 1 thing that people can do to get more miles is sign-up for more credit cards.
As I’ve mentioned, we’ve been signing-up for credit cards since 2010. My husband and I generally sign-up for 2 to 4 cards every 3 or 4 months and we haven’t run out of options.
Credit card sign-up bonuses have quite literally funded our travels around the world and for now, I don’t see an end to that.
If I were to answer the question of what is 1 of the lesser known ways we’ve gotten more miles, I would have to say documenting any less than adequate experiences you have in flight.
Three years ago, our family of 4 along with my sister’s family of 4 went to Scotland. We were 4 adults and 4 kids aged 1, 3, 6, and 7. On our return, the in-flight entertainment on our flight from London to Boston was broken.
The American Airlines cabin crew tried several times to get it re-set, but to no avail. The crew recommended that we submit a complaint online upon our return and we may get some compensation for the issue. So, I did and each 1 of us (8 in total) received 5,000 American Airlines miles for our inconvenience.
At that time, it never would have crossed my mind to do so as we would have classified that as just bad luck. But since then, we’ve had a similar issue twice and received similar compensation. If we received nothing, it was only 5 minutes of my time. But, I always say, it never hurts to ask!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It’s really hard to choose. I’ve been so blessed with so many travel experiences since my 1st trip out of the country at 19 years old to study abroad in Egypt. A few years later I joined the Peace Corps in Jordan and met some lifelong friends along the way.
But, my enjoyment of travel went to another level after we started traveling with our kids.
I don’t think I will soon forget my kids enjoying Vietnam as much as they did. From my 3 year old daughter playing a game that she and her new 60-something year old friend who didn’t speak English made up during a flight delay, to my 5 year old son playing some sort of hopping game at Angkor Wat with our tour guide.
It warms me to see them making cross-cultural connections at their young ages.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
We’ve been doing this for many years now so most of them are into it too and are constantly looking for advice based upon their own travel plans.
When we meet new people and they find out how we travel so frequently for so little, they are skeptical. There must be a catch. But more often than not, they start to dabble based upon our advice and get hooked.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
In addition to writing the blog, I’m also an award booker.
I’ve been working for myself and other bloggers doing award bookings for several years now. That means that I spend quite a bit of time on the phone with frequent flyer programs. Quite often there are really, really long hold times and time is of the essence when booking some awards. So waiting on hold for an hour plus really isn’t going to work.
To avoid the long queue, I often simply call the airline’s international call center and will get through almost immediately. This is especially useful during storms because it can be days before the call volume returns to normal.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
In 2008, my husband and I traveled to Kauai. On our departure out of Kauai, we overheard the gate agents who were taking boarding passes say that the flight was oversold.
I have never known them to start boarding before asking for volunteers to give up their seats, but once I heard them say “oversold,” I forced my husband out of line and to the desk immediately.
Not seconds after we arrived at the desk, they made the announcement that they were looking for volunteers to give up their seats and we were the 1st ones there.
They ended up re-booking us on a flight that left about an hour later which caught up with our original itinerary, getting us home at the exact same time. The compensation for our “inconvenience” was a $600 voucher each (which we used to return to Hawaii the next year).
And the cherry on top? We were awarded miles on our return even though we were on an award ticket because when they made the change, they changed our fare bucket to a paid fare. Talk about a win-win!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I now know that it is possible to receive the sign-up bonus for most credit cards again.
The reason why we’re still going strong at this 5 years later is we’re now pros at how long you have to wait before you can re-apply for the same card.
Sometimes when you have a card with an annual fee, you’ll decide it’s not worth keeping. So after ~10 months of using it, you cancel to avoid the fee. Most banks allow you to apply for the card again after a set amount of time has elapsed.
About a year went by before we realized you could get the same card again from most banks. But now, we use our trusty spreadsheet to track when we are eligible to earn the sign-up bonus again.
American Express is the only bank that we’ve not had success with applying for the same card twice (and that is for personal cards only).
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
We are pretty transparent at Our Frugal Life and I’m not sure that there is much about me or my family that readers don’t know.
What your readers may not know is that they may have communicated with me during an award booking and not known that I write for Our Frugal Life! I have done hundreds of award bookings over the years for clients near and far and I’m sure that many of them are Million Mile Secrets fans!
Any parting words?
As a thank you for taking the time to get to know a little more about me and Our Frugal Life, I’d like to offer an award booking discount to anyone (new or old clients) who mentions that they saw my interview at Million Mile Secrets.
I normally charge $100 per passenger for a standard award booking, but for the next 2 weeks I will be charging only $80 per passenger to those who mention Million Mile Secrets.
In addition, the 1st 2 clients who reach out to me for an award booking and complete the booking process will receive a Cathay Pacific Business Class Amenity Kit shipped to them for free.
Please see the Services page at Our Frugal Life to start the process!
Thanks to Daraius and Emily for featuring me here!
Jennifer – 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!