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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Miles & Points Interview: Randy Petersen
Randy is the founder of multiple miles & points websites, including BoardingArea, InsideFlyer, and many more! He also founded the Freddie Awards. Although these days, he’s mostly a Twitter person and an old school sort who liked the 140 character world before the change.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Well before yesterday.
I was a merchandise presentation manager for a chain of men’s stores back in the 80s and traveled to stores helping with displays and merchandise setups. I was delegated to stay at Holiday Inns and noticed their brochure showed a picture of a beach and said you could earn rewards—to the beach.
Well, I paid attention because not earning very much money didn’t mean I wasn’t interested in going to a beach. I became the guy around the water cooler and figured out how to go to that beach. When I got back, all my co-workers and even my boss wanted to know how to get there for free!
Why did you start BoardingArea? What’s special about it?
BoardingArea is one of a kind. I started it when many still referred to blogs as “weblogs.” I noticed on FlyerTalk that many members were starting to follow other members’ posts wherever they posted. People wanted to follow members whose posts or comments they really liked and they wanted to continue reading.
Thus the idea that maybe a ‘weblog’ was to come. I launched BoardingArea on FlyerTalk. It was a slow start since I had to recruit potential bloggers. I even paid them to post, even though there was no revenue back then. But I was convinced the idea would work, and it certainly has.
When Internet Brands bought FlyerTalk from me, they said they did not believe in the future of blogs. So I could take BoardingArea with me…thank you Internet Brands.
Today it’s not unusual for BoardingArea to see up to 500,000 visits daily across the blog network! Its goal is simple—help readers find the right bloggers, and help bloggers find the right readers.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Treat it as an investment. I often joke with others that my miles and points are my travel 401-k program. As with any investment, all are not equal.
At times you want to be in cash, in mutual funds, or in stocks, or in a blend of all. Similar, be in miles or in hotel points or be in credit card currencies and make adjustments. Not all stocks perform the same, and not all mutual funds return the same. Research and constantly monitor.
I’ve got more than 23 million miles saved up for my retirement days….much more than any money I’ve been able to save. I think I’ll be just fine.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Years ago I was visiting with Swiss Air at its headquarters in Zurich. On a whim I decided to visit Zermatt. I ended up hiring a guide and climbed the Matterhorn. It remains my most memorable experience because it was on a whim. I think travel is best enjoyed that way, free of the boundaries of too much planning and structure.
Itinerary—what’s that? The Matterhorn was majestic, it was iconic and staying at a hut on the mountain and starting to climb in the dark was my “what the hell was I thinking” moment. At the top I had my Titantic moment…”I’m King of the World”. Travel will do that to you.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Years ago when I started, they all told me to get a “real job.” They could not believe I was wasting time with this miles and points thing. Today they all want my job. And of course they all think I invented miles and points because I’ve been doing this so long.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are two:
The first is Google, which really is your friend. I can think of no other tool in the last 30 years that has affected the ability of an average traveler to excel at finding the information they need to make prudent decisions regarding their miles and points.
The second is fellow travelers.
As with any hobby, your fellow “collectors” are always your new BFF. For about a 20-year stretch, I never took a single flight where I did not meet or run into a fellow frequent flyer who did not want to “shop talk.” Beyond the information you can find online or the blog or forum posts you can read, you can talk to a real person. Many of them do have the time of day to talk about the hobby.
This is when it all comes alive. Pay attention, your next best tip may come from the person sitting next to you in seat 21B.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Interestingly enough, I don’t have an answer for this. I’ve always planned out how, where, why, and what for my miles and points earning.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
That’s the easiest question ever. That I don’t have to fly to actually earn frequent flyer miles (the early days were all about your butt in a seat)!
What would the BoardingArea readers be surprised to know about you?
I have lived a life at 33,000 feet, have more than 23 million miles, and visited over 100 countries. But when I’m on terra firma, I spend as much as my time as I can (and then some) at a ranch I have high in the Rocky Mountains where I channel John Wayne. I’m not really a cowboy, but I play the part of one in my private life.
Any parting words?
Likely the same as when anyone asked me how I’m doing. The answer always is “I’m good if you are good.”
Randy – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
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