Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Road More Traveled
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started in 2005, when my former employer started sending me on frequent business trips to India. Given the distance, the fact that my company would pay for Business Class, and the extended hotel stays, it was a no-brainer to start paying attention to miles & points.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started writing in early 2013. I’ve loved to travel pretty much my entire life, and had been wanting to share my personal insights about what makes travel rewarding for quite some time, but a job change finally gave me the free time to pursue blogging.
Things began with a simple Blogger page, but after about a year, fellow UPGRD contributor Rohan Anand discovered my site and eventually invited me to join UPGRD. I’ve been confounding my fellow contributors and the miles & points crowd with stories of cross-country road trips and 500-mile journeys for food since.
I like to think my travel style is different compared to a lot of other travel bloggers, which is also what makes my blog special. There is zero travel involved with my current job, so I don’t have the benefit of elite status, and I largely have to earn points and miles on my own.
I try to show that yes, you can still have fun flying in coach, sampling new airline products for fun, taking road trips, sampling the local cuisine, etc.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Two words – bonus points for everyday spend. I’m talking programs like Chase Freedom, where you can get 5X bonus points for buying things like gas or groceries. You have to buy them anyway, so might as well earn bonus points, which really add up over the course of a year or two.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It would have to be the time I saw a tiger in the wild, up close, at a national park in India. I’m obsessed with big cats, and there really is nothing that can compare to seeing such a majestic animal from 30 feet away.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They find it amusing more than anything else. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell them I once intentionally booked a round-the-world Business Class ticket just so I could obtain status in all three major alliances. Of course, I’m also the first one they call when they want to know how they can get Business Class tickets to Europe in the middle of summer with their stash of credit card points.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Probably searching for non-traditional routings when trying to redeem airline rewards.
Trying to get a First Class award on the Dallas to Hong Kong nonstop flight is probably going to be difficult. But routing through Seattle and Narita International Airport in Japan to get there? It might be possible.
If you have flexibility, and don’t mind an extra stop or 2 along the way, it can be worth the effort.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I honestly had no idea when I started flying regularly that the airlines hand out miles as goodwill gestures for in-flight problems. I once wrote a complaint to American Airlines about some rather minor issues on a flight to India. I didn’t expect anything, but to my surprise, they awarded me a not-insignificant number of miles.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I didn’t understand points & miles are a depreciating currency, and rather foolishly allowed a significant balance of frequent flyer miles to accumulate in my accounts. A balance I largely wasn’t able to cash-in before the big rounds of devaluations the last couple of years, and I had plenty of opportunities to use them if I’d put in a little effort.
That’s probably the #1 piece of advice I’d give anyone thinking of getting into the miles & points hobby – use them, sooner rather than later. Don’t assume the redemption rate for your aspirational award will be around forever like I did.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m actually a nervous flyer. Friends and co-workers have a hard time believing that, given how much I used to fly to India and back, and how much air travel I still do.
Any parting words?
I see too much “lecturing” of others when it comes to “the right way” to travel. You don’t have to redeem miles only for First Class on one extreme, or only stay in hostels and eat street food on the other, to enjoy traveling. Travel should be first and foremost about doing what makes you happy, not what your friends think you should have done that would have made them happy.
Sriram – 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!