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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: ItchyFeets
Casey writes ItchyFeets to chronicle the trips she takes with her husband Paul, inspire others to visit far-flung places, and rate her favorite beers around the world. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I have always had frequent flyer memberships, and as Paul is from Australia, I accumulated several miles purely from flying. However, I was terrified of credit cards, and didn’t get my first one until 6 years ago. It was a Blue Sky Card from American Express.
I loved that I could use my points to take $100 off travel expenses. It never crossed my mind that there could be cards with better perks.
In 2014, when I was researching ways to get cheap round-the-world flights, I stumbled across a blog detailing how to use credit card points to get inexpensive flights. I can honestly say that day my life changed. I began a rigorous system of accumulating points that enabled us to fly around the world for minimal out of pocket expenses.
In 9 months, Paul and I visited 33 countries, and took $26,000 worth of flights for only $1,382.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
ItchyFeets was started when we embarked on our round-the-world trip as a way to keep family and friends informed of our whereabouts. Since we were moving from the US to Australia, we wanted to stay connected with those at home. I never expected to continue the blog after finishing that trip. But I found I truly enjoy writing, and love sharing our experiences.
Writing about destinations cements the information in my mind. As a general rule, I post only once per city, so that I can really focus on what stands out to me in each place.
My husband and I love sampling local beers, and rate our favorite brew from each destination at the bottom of every post.
While the blog doesn’t specifically focus on miles and points, there are some posts detailing how we were able to take certain trips. I got tired of people thinking I had a trust fund, so I have started writing more about the specifics of how we travel the way we do.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
There’s no getting around credit card sign-up bonuses as the best way to get a heap of miles in a small amount of time. But aside from that, putting EVERY purchase on a card is imperative. As long as you pay your balance in full, of course. Plastiq is great for paying student loans. Knowing that I’m getting points makes paying bills a little more bearable.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
This is the hardest question! Every place I’ve visited has been special, and has had an impact on me. Some of the top experiences would include riding camels in Oman, zip lining in Laos, participating in a tomato fight in Spain, and watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu.
I suppose an easier way to answer this is to choose an experience that would not have happened without miles. Using United Airlines miles from the Chase United Explorer card, we flew to Yap, an island in Micronesia which only receives about 3,000 visitors a year. While diving on the coral reef that encircles the small island, we saw manta rays, which are so graceful as they float through the water.
Yap is such a unique, interesting place; stone money is still used for formal exchanges. Taking advantage of United Airlines’ routing rules, we did a free stop over in Yap, then proceeded on to Palau, where we experienced the most startling, vibrant underwater environment. It was unparalleled scuba diving.
That trip never would have been possible without this hobby, since flights to these islands are so expensive. Booking with points saved us $12,000 – and that’s coach prices!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most people look at me like I have 2 heads when I tell them how many credit cards my husband and I have. They assume I’ve gotten myself into a terrible financial situation, even when I explain my credit score has increased since starting this hobby.
Luckily, my parents are interested in earning miles and points, and have gotten a few airline credit cards. They became fans after getting a free Business Class flight from Bangkok to Boston on Cathay Pacific. Since we currently live on different continents, miles enable us to see each other more frequently than if we had to pay for flights.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Above all, it’s crucial to be organized, and keeping abreast of the current offers is vital. Reading blogs like Million Mile Secrets is a good way to ensure you don’t miss a great deal.
Another tip is to remember there are many tools at our disposal, and whichever one serves your purpose is the right one. Not every point redemption has to be for a luxurious trip, or at a high-end hotel. Some of the less glamorous programs can actually be quite beneficial.
For example, Choice doesn’t get a lot of praise, but it was lucrative for us. Using the sign-up bonus we received on the Barclaycard Choice credit card after just one paid stay, we received enough points to have a free night in London, in addition to 3 free nights in Norway, where we saw the Northern Lights.
Plus, the Norwegian hotels included free breakfast, afternoon waffles, and dinner! Choice points were able to save us a lot of money in some notoriously expensive places. And, the rooms were pretty nice, at least in Norway.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Haha, well, when we recently flew to Tahiti from New Zealand, I was an idiot and totally forgot about the International Date Line. So, we arrived in Papeete on the same day we left, and realized we had no place to stay. Of course, there were no last minute award availabilities, so we paid for a room at the Intercontinental, justifying that at least we would get 5x points with our Chase IHG card.
Turns out that the 1 night satisfied 3 different criteria for IHG’s Accelerate promo, and in the end, the 1 paid stay resulted in 22,000 IHG points.
Even though it was a mistake, and I initially complained about having to pay for an expensive hotel, it worked in my favor. This is a perfect example of why it is always important to sign-up for promotions and programs, even if you don’t think you will participate.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had realized how valuable some of the high annual fee credit cards are. When I started collecting points, I shied away from cards with high annual fees or fees that weren’t waived the first year. But cards like the Citi Prestige offer so many benefits, I feel they more than compensate for the higher fee.
Perks like travel credit and lounge access make it worthwhile. Lounge access has revolutionized the way I travel. I wish I had gotten it sooner.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I danced ballet for 15 years, and played the lead role of Clara in Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” quite some time ago. I no longer dance, and now rely on running as my preferred activity. I have a silly desire to run marathons on every continent. So far, I have succeeded in running 5 marathons on 4 continents.
Any parting words?
I’m so thankful that this hobby has opened up the world to me; I’ve visited places I never thought feasible. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to travel so much. Travel has such an impact on people. You never return home the same person that left.
Casey – 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!