Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Hungry for Points
Terence writes Hungry for Points to share tips, tricks, and news related to his 2 favorite hobbies, points and food.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
As is the case with many stories, it all started with a girl. In 2010, my girlfriend at the time decided to move from the Bay Area to Chicago for business school, and I started making monthly trips out there to visit for the next 2 years.
When I know that I’m going to be doing something regularly, I’m the type of person that’s going to find the best way to do it.
In this case it meant tracking airfare prices to find the ideal day and time to buy tickets, discovering the fastest way to get through security in San Francisco and Chicago airports, boarding before everyone else so I wouldn’t have to check my bag, and even finding my way to the premium seats at the front of the plane.
This quickly became a hobby, bordering on an obsession. And through countless hours on FlyerTalk, I learned how to get the most out of elite status to achieve many of those goals. Earning miles for these trips was actually a secondary benefit at 1st, until I realized how incredibly valuable they could be.
And as a fitting end to that story, my now wife and I cashed in all those hard-earned miles for our round-the-world honeymoon to Australia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Dubai a year after she graduated. We were able to use those miles and points to book over $35,000 worth of travel for less than $1,000!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Miles and points may be my latest obsession, but my original obsession has always been with food. My friends and family always joke that I eat more than anybody else they know, and I even took my wife to a buffet on our 1st date.
And my appetite is biggest when I’m traveling. For me, travel is all about experiencing the local cuisine at each destination. I want to eat all the food I can get my hands on, which includes everything from street food to fine dining.
My blog started as a way to capture those culinary adventures and share recommendations with friends and family. That’s why each of my trip reports has a food-centric theme. My readers know that they can rely on me to report back on where to eat (and where not to eat) around the world.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
The short answer is credit card sign-up bonuses.
But while sign-up bonuses are the “get rich fast” approach, I make sure to also use slow and steady methods which provide points and miles each month. On an annual basis, those monthly accruals can often add up to the same amount as a sign-up bonus or two.
For example, I currently get 90,000 miles per year with my Chase Ink Cash card by earning the 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on my cable and wireless charges, and by earning American Airlines miles banking with BankDirect.
The best part about these programs is that I literally get to sit back and watch the points and miles roll in each month without lifting a finger!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
We have been incredibly fortunate to travel all over the world over the past few years. Here are the top 3 travel experiences that come to mind:
Our latest trip this past Thanksgiving took us on a European road trip, where we were joined by 2 of our close friends, who we actually met during our honeymoon.
We ate and drank our way through Switzerland and Italy, culminating in a Thanksgiving feast with an Italian family. This included homemade pasta topped with white truffles that we found ourselves (with the help of Bilbo the dog).
2. Machu Picchu
In the fall of 2011 we took the 4 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. I will never forget the fresh air, incredible scenery, and the surprisingly delicious food we got to enjoy along the way.
As a travel hacker, sometimes the deal dictates the destination. Myanmar hadn’t even been on my radar. But when I stumbled upon a $250 First Class mistake fare, it was a “book now, think later” situation.
The deal alone makes this 1 of my most memorable trips! We ended up falling in love with Myanmar after spending an incredible week in Yangon and Bagan. We hope to visit again soon, hopefully on another mistake fare!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
At 1st, my family thought that I was crazy and had taken out a 2nd mortgage to travel the world. I was eventually able to get them to sit down for an explanation of how this all worked. Now, they are fully on-board as we begin planning a family trip to Asia later this year. The 1st question out of my mom’s mouth was, “Which credit cards should I apply for?”
I’ve also finally managed to convince my friends and coworkers that I’m not a secret lottery winner, and have even given a couple “Travel Hacking 101” presentations at their companies to show how anyone can do it.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
AwardWallet is a great tool to keep all of your account numbers and balances at your fingertips. I have also found ExpertFlyer to be extremely useful to find open award seats. And, maybe more importantly, to check flight loads to anticipate if award seats may open in the future.
While not directly related to this hobby, for anyone who travels internationally even once per year, I’d highly recommend signing-up for Global Entry. As an added bonus, this will also enroll you in the TSA PreCheck program for most flights.
Many credit cards will even provide a reimbursement for the $100 application fee and the interview process is quick and easy.
There’s nothing worse than coming off a long international flight and getting stuck in an hour-long immigration line. With Global Entry, you can be out of the airport as quickly as you would on a normal domestic flight.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Whether or not you actually want to cancel a credit card, it’s always worth a call to the credit card company when your annual renewal comes due.
In many cases, you can receive a retention offer that will pay for the annual fee, give you bonus miles, or even both if you’re lucky.
As a tip, when you call the number on the back of the card, make sure you do so during regular business hours and immediately ask for the retention department so that you can talk to the right person who actually has the ability to help out.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
When I 1st started, I was just trying to earn points and miles as quickly as possible and didn’t really stop to develop a strategy and ended up with small balances in a large number of accounts.
I learned the hard way that you need critical mass in a single program to truly maximize the value of your points and miles. In other words, 20,000 points each in 5 different programs is absolutely not the same as having 100,000 points in 1 program.
As you 1st get involved in this hobby, my recommendation is to really focus your earning efforts in a small number of programs to build up balances quickly. After that, you can think about ways to diversify.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m actually not that adventurous.
In fact, in some ways I’d prefer spending the day on the couch rewatching my The Wire box set than traveling on a 12-hour flight across the world. Thankfully, my wife is adventurous enough for the both of us and gets all the credit for inspiring our travel itineraries. After that, I just make the points and miles bookings.
Any parting words?
Even though points and miles can help you travel the world on the cheap, don’t let them keep you from experiencing everything that a destination has to offer. My favorite travel memories aren’t about the flight I took or the hotel I stayed in, it’s about the sights, the food, and the people I met along the way.
Thanks to Million Mile Secrets for this opportunity to share my story, and stay hungry friends!
Terence – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!