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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Discounts & Deals 4 Military
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started getting involved in miles & points in 2012. I was in my second year of medical school. When I needed a break in-between studying, I would look up and find ways to get more points so my wife and I could travel to fun places for a lower price.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog in 2013. I felt there were a ton of military discounts but no site that described how to take advantage of the discounts in detail. A lot of military blogs were written by spouses and I thought it would be worthwhile and unique to start one from an active duty officer’s perspective.
My blog is focused on easy ways to save money that is unique to military members. My residency program keeps me pretty busy but I still try and post something at least monthly.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
The easiest way to get more miles is to be aware of easy ways to put purchases on your credit card. It’s a lot of simple things that can add up to a significant amount of free points. For example, I have USAA for my auto insurance and they automatically deduct the payments from my checking account.
However, you can change your default setting to pay with a credit card instead of automatic deduction which is any easy way to rack up at least an extra 1,000 points per year. Phone bills, utilities, tuition, etc. are all examples of little things that add up.
For military members, it’s important to know you can earn a lot of free points when you PCS (permanent change of station) or go TDY (temporary duty to another location).
For example, when I moved from El Paso to San Antonio this summer, the military gives you 10 days at a hotel while you look for housing. I paid with my credit card so I earned credit card points and I got hotel reward points. Some people don’t know about this benefit when changing stations.
This goes the same with most TDY assignments. This is a unique circumstance, but during medical school, the military required me to do a 30-day rotation every year at different military hospitals. I would have to pay for the hotel and car rental with my own credit card and afterwards they would reimburse me.
After each of the 30-day assignments I would have racked up enough hotel points for several free days because I would sign up for every IHG or Hilton promotion beforehand so I would get double points or other bonuses.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My most memorable travel experience was during my fourth year of medical school in 2014 and 2015. I had 2 kids that were 1 year apart. They were both under 2 years of age so could travel free as lap passengers and I had the Southwest Companion Pass so my wife traveled for free with me. About once a month, when I got a couple days off, we traveled somewhere new because all 4 of us were able to travel for the price of 1 ticket.
We went to Chicago, Raleigh, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. My wife’s father is in the hotel business and owns a Hilton so we were able to stay at nice hotels for super cheap as well.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My wife and friends mostly think I’m crazy. Down deep, my wife loves it though because it gives us an excuse to travel more often since we have points that build up. I’ve tried to get others into but it really is a specific type of breed of person that loves the whole points & miles thing.
Luckily I have a little of the breed in me. I signed-up for 8 credit cards my first year and then another 10 my second year. It got to the point where I had to get one of the business card binders to easily keep track of all of them.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
For military members, the best tool/trick is the SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) benefits. I have 3 different AMEX Platinum cards which equates to $600 in free flight benefits. SCRA benefits are becoming slightly more restricted but there still are several credit card companies like American Express that waive all annual fees for military members.
Other banks, like Chase, are more restrictive saying you had to have the credit card before you went on active duty to get the fees waived. Luckily, I had 2 Southwest credit cards before going on active duty so that waived my $99 annual fee but still gave me the 6,000 Southwest points per card every year for free.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Paying for medical school tuition which was over $55,000 per year. There was no fee for paying with a credit card. The amount would be reimbursed to me a couple months later as a deposit to my checking account once the government payment was sent to the school since I did a sponsored payback program during medical school.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
How easy it is. The great thing about the average person is they just have to pick a couple of blogs like Million Mile Secrets and follow them on a daily or weekly basis. And take advantage of the awesome increased or bonus offers that come up throughout the year.
The other thing I wish I would have known is you need to act fast. The best deals will never last forever. For example, back when AMEX did their small business Saturday, I got $440 worth of free gift certificates to restaurants around town.
The next year, it was gone. If it seems like a good deal, jump on it. I’ve waited too many times to see if it worked for others only to find out the offer expired.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Besides being an active duty physician, I love sports (I played on my college ultimate Frisbee team), I love video games (Nintendo 64-Smash Brothers, and Halo). But unfortunately I feel guilty playing them with young kids around the house so I can’t wait for them to grow up so I have an excuse to play again. I love board games (Settles, Powergrid, Acquire, etc.).
Any parting words?
There are some fantastic miles & points offers for military members. I already discussed SCRA benefits above. In addition, USAA recently came out with a 2.5% unlimited cash back card for its members (still in pilot but available in most states).
There are also great discounts on products like Microsoft Word ($9 for the $399 professional plus package), discounts at most restaurants (you just have to ask), great benefits while flying (can check up to 5 free bags, USO lounges), discounts on new cards, tax and investing benefits (Thrift Savings Plan, for example). I would in no way join the military for the financial perks. But if you are already in it, there are some great opportunities.
Bobby – 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!