Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Travel Cutie
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
The first time I started collecting frequent flyer miles was on Northwest Airlines for a flight to Paris.
For hotel points, the first time was accidental. I was checking into a hotel in New Hampshire to do some cross-country skiing and the receptionist asked me if I was a Starwood Preferred Guest member.
I said, “No, and what is that?” She explained, I signed up on the spot, and the rest is history; it’s been a love affair with miles and points ever since.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog because I feel it’s important to share this information; traveling for free is an easy enough skill to acquire, and many more individuals could (and should) be doing it!
The problem is people can be intimidated by the process because they have misconceptions about it. So I wanted to clarify how easy it is, and make the process of acquiring points & miles for free travel more approachable.
What’s unique about the blog, I think, is that I’m trying to take a light approach to it all, make it seem not so serious. For example, the titles of my posts – which in general sum up where I went and what I got for free (airfare, hotel or both) – for the most part, are in rhyme. And nothing too poetic of a rhyme, either, but more along the lines of a Dr. Seuss type of rhythm, fun.
Sometimes if people are relaxed or laughing when they are learning something, the lack of stress makes it easier for them to absorb the new information that’s coming in.
The other thing about The Travel Cutie blog is that it’s not a travel blog where you get day-by-day descriptions of what I did or saw, or where I went, and it’s also not only about the credit cards. It’s sort of a hybrid travel stories/credit card blog.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Be mindful of which credit card(s) you use when purchasing any goods or services, and always use a card to pay if it’s an option, to make every dollar spent count in a way that it gives back to you.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That’s such a tough question! But if I had to name the most memorable moment of a travel experience, it would probably be an impromptu scuba dive with wild dolphins in Belize. I was in a small Boston Whaler motor boat with 2 other divers, the dive-master, and the boat driver, heading out to a reef about 15 minutes away.
All of a sudden, the driver stopped the boat and the dive-master told us to suit up, because a wild pod of six dolphins was following us and coming close to the boat. He explained that this behavior meant they wanted “to play”.
We got ready, an anchor line was thrown down for us to hold onto, because we were in the middle of nowhere, and the four of us went down, not too deep, maybe 5 to 10 meters.
The dolphins came close, split into two groups of three, and started “performing” for us, doing moves that looked professionally choreographed: swimming in unison, leaping or jumping out of the water simultaneously, but the two groups in tandem with each other. It was a beautiful show, but they weren’t working, they were just wild dolphins having fun.
After about 10 minutes of entertaining us, they swam off. It was simply amazing, a once in a lifetime experience, I’m sure.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Well, some think I’m a little crazy or obsessed, some are envious, some are proud of me. It’s definitely a mixed bag!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Yes, when possible, try to know in advance when big expenses are coming your way (real estate taxes, car insurance), and plan accordingly. Get a new card, with some generous bonus promotions, to pay for that expense, so you can maximize your free travel benefits.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
IHG had a type of game in which if you were lucky, you could randomly win an impressive number of points depending upon the number and luck of the email messages they sent you confirming your entries, of which you mailed in up to a maximum of 94 or so carefully prepared postcards. If I remember well, it was your website where I first learned about this game.
It was fun, and I “won” ~45,000 points (good for a couple of nights’ hotel stay, at an Intercontinental hotel), which was pretty good given that not all of my entries appear to have been received.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had been more optimistic about applying for a greater number of credit cards, and more frequently. The worst that could have happened was that I would be denied.
For some reason, back then, I found that possibility daunting. Now I know that not being approved is not a big deal!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
That I have taken almost 40 different college students to Paris on three separate occasions, and loved being there with them.
Any parting words?
It’s a precious planet we live on, and visiting more of it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Disciplined spending on carefully researched and selected credit cards can help you get free flights and free hotels. And of course, being flexible about your dates of travel often helps, too!
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about The Travel Cutie, and a “million” thanks to you, Emily and Daraius, for your informational and inspirational site!
Cheryl – 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!