Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Real Deal
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve spent my 40-year work life managing travel and writing about it. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
For the first 20 years of my professional life, I was miles-deprived. As a marketing manager for Singapore Airlines and All Nippon Airways, all my air travel was either free or at a reduced rate. So my extensive personal and business travel went unrewarded. Not that it wasn’t rewarding in other ways, of course.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
In 1997, after developing and managing loyalty programs for 15 years, I founded the website FrequentFlier.com to help consumers make sense of the increasingly complicated travel rewards programs and get value from them. That site was acquired in 2012 by Internet Brands, owner of FlyerTalk and other travel properties. Over the years, my writing has appeared in many publications, including USA Today, Budget Travel, and OAG Frequent Flyer.
In 2005, Randy Petersen and I co-wrote “Mileage Pro – The Insider’s Guide to Frequent Flyer Programs,” outdated now but at the time the definitive book on the subject.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
My travel writing has always been aimed primarily at the average traveler, who has better things to do with his or her time than obsess over miles & points strategies and tactics. For them – and they’re the majority of travelers – the key to maximizing earnings is focus.
Did you remember to register for the current promotion before making your latest hotel stay? Did you allow your miles to expire through inactivity? Did you make that big purchase with the credit card offering 5 points per $1, or the card offering just 1 point per $1? Did you do your online Christmas shopping through an airline or hotel mileage mall?
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It was my honeymoon flight to Tokyo. I was working in Public Relations for Singapore Airlines, and had to escort a group of Asian journalists on a tour of the Boeing facilities in Seattle, followed by a delivery flight of a brand-new Boeing 747 to Singapore, via Tokyo.
The company allowed me to take my wife, and we enjoyed the most comfortable flight ever on the almost-empty plane. The airport experience was memorable as well. Boeing neglected to inform the Narita Airport authorities there would be passengers disembarking in Tokyo; they were not amused.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
It was my family and friends’ interest in mileage programs that spurred me to begin writing about them, as I had an insider’s perspective. For the most part, they have appreciated the expert advice. Or so they tell me.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Perhaps the most important observation regarding travel-rewards programs is cautionary in nature: these programs have been continuously devalued since their inception, and the trend isn’t likely to reverse itself. That has important implications for redeeming points: cash-in your points sooner rather than later, as they’ll never be worth more than they are today.
And it raises the more fundamental issue: is it worth engaging in these programs at all? For many, the answer is “No.”
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Readers might be surprised to discover I’m not a travel hacker.
I don’t sign-up for the same credit cards multiple times. I don’t engage in creative ways to spend money to earn no cost – or low-cost – miles. I don’t pursue mistake fares.
My approach, and the approach I recommend for my readers, is to make travel rewards a part of my travel planning, but not the primary focus. Or even the secondary or tertiary focus.
Any parting words?
Comfort, convenience, and value come first. Yes, there are more important things than miles and points.
Tim – 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!