Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: All the Right Points
Evan shows All the Right Points readers how to earn and burn points and miles for premium travel and luxury hotel nights.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points seriously in 2012 as I started to plan our honeymoon. We wanted to go somewhere a bit different and ended up spending 10 days in Thailand and Hong Kong.
We used miles to upgrade our cash tickets to United Airlines Business Class (would never recommend doing this today!) on the upper deck of the 747. We stayed in great hotels at all 3 of our destinations and flew the United Airlines 787 Dreamliner home.
During our stay in Asia, we had 3 great flights in Thai Airways Business Class and were able to experience the great lounge and spa in Bangkok. Everything was paid for (with the exception of our revenue tickets to Hong Kong from the US) with miles and points. I was hooked, and so was my wife (Emily)!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started blogging at the very end of 2013 so I’ve been writing ATRP for just over 3 years.
It started as a way for me to share tips, tricks, and hotel/premium cabin airline reviews with family and friends. I generally enjoy the creative process (when it feels like a chore, I don’t write). And it’s a lot of fun to be able to share my experiences with others.
My favorite part is re-reading my own reviews of Business and First Class flights. That doesn’t make the blog unique as many bloggers (notably Lucky at One Mile at a Time) do this very well. But I remember the flights fondly and I’m always amazed at how bad I was at taking cabin pictures at the beginning.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
By far, credit card sign-up bonuses will get you the most miles. While that statement is cliché and overdone, it’s a fact.
If you are starting out, start slow, know your limits, and ensure you are paying off your balances each month. If you are incurring interest or late fees just to earn rewards points, you should focus on paying down balances before playing this game.
Beyond that, AMEX Offers from American Express have been a welcome boon to our hobby the past few years. Receiving statement credits or AMEX Membership Rewards points for expenses you would have made anyway is a great way to earn extra points.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It’s so hard to narrow it down so I’ll pick 2. My first international First Class experience was in May of 2013.
I was lucky enough to snag a couple of Singapore Airlines First Class tickets during the mistaken release of premium cabin inventory to United Airlines in July 2012. My wife (Emily) and I flew to Singapore in Business Class, spent a few days in the city, and returned home in First Class. We were blown away by the service, food, drinks, and amenities. Chelsea Clinton was seated next to us which was pretty cool.
We’ve been lucky enough to travel to the Maldives a couple of times. I never thought I would get there let alone go twice in the last 18 months. For our first trip, we stayed at the Park Hyatt and upgraded to an overwater villa for a night.
The place is just gorgeous and truly a bucket list destination. We cannot wait to get back and thanks to a large balance of miles and points, we will be back soon!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most people are super interested in this hobby. Once they see pictures of hotels we’ve stayed in or planes we’ve flown on and find out that we paid virtually nothing out of pocket, they have many more questions.
I’ve helped family and friends book premium cabin flights on many occasions and that’s among my favorite things to do – this hobby is truly about opening up the world and sharing that with others.
I’ve also had the privilege of sharing a bit about my travels and hobby with others at my office through a handful of presentations – we’ve had more than 40 people attend and converted many to our hobby. Everyone has a Chase Sapphire Reserve card!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
My biggest trick is reading. There is so much great content online that it can be overwhelming at times. Figure out your goals whether that’s premium seat awards or coach for the whole family and find the blogs that produce great content in-line with your goals.
For me, it’s earning as many miles and points as possible and burning those points for international premium cabin redemptions and luxury hotel stays. And for that, no one does it better than One Mile at a Time.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I tend to stick to the standard strategies. Leveraging credit card sign-up bonuses, online shopping portals, credit card category bonuses, and AMEX Offers. I have been surprised at the sheer number of points earned from all of the above. Last year, my wife and I earned more than 2.3 million miles and points!
We both have busy full-time jobs, and traveling and blogging are just hobbies. Earning that many miles and points in a year definitely takes time to stay organized but it’s manageable and SO worth it.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Six years ago, we bought our first home and I had a stash of over 100,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points. We needed things like light bulbs, screwdrivers, and hand towels. So I redeemed those MR points for gift cards to Bed Bath & Beyond and Home Depot. In doing so I received 1 cent per point.
Oops. I could have used those points for a one-way ticket to Asia in Singapore Suites. Double oops. I will never do that again and certainly wish I was reading Million Mile Secrets back then!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
While I’ve always been interested in travel and aviation, I didn’t really get into this until 5 years ago. In that time I’ve visited 18 countries and flown north of 500,000 miles on 18 different airlines. The point is that you can dive into this hobby and change your life for the better.
Don’t overextend yourself, but there’s plenty of opportunity even when starting small. Both of us have full-time jobs and other obligations but we still manage to take 2 to 3 week-long international trips each year. It takes planning, determination, and a bit of juggling but it’s worth it!
Any parting words?
For us, the journey itself has become part of the adventure. Instead of a cramped middle seat in coach dreaming of arriving at our destination, we looked forward to getting on board the plane…exploring our seats, menus, and amenities.
And most anyone can figure out how to make it their reality as well. I like the fact that I can create “value” out of understanding the rules of the loyalty program ecosystem. Figuring out which credit cards to leverage into the most points and miles, and then leveraging those into the best possible trips for my family so we can experience new things and places together and be comfortable throughout the entire journey.
At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.
Evan – 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!