“In exchange I cleaned the bathroom.”

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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview:  Battered Luggage

I met Brian at the Chicago Seminars and have been following his comments and wonderful photography on Battered Luggage, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!

HDR Photography

Dawn at the U.S. Capitol Building by W Brian Duncan

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My first frequent flyer program was Northwest Airlines Worldpoints in 2002.  I added AAdvantage in 2004 (my preferred airline to this day).  These were largely ignored because I didn’t travel much.  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to…I have always heard the siren song of travel, I just ignored it.

My family didn’t travel much when my sister and I were young. The forever promised family trip to Walt Disney World was always “next year” and as I grew up this momentum sadly continued.

When my wife Pamela and I started dating in college we started taking domestic trips.  Then five years ago I started a new job and most of the guys travel as part of the job.  On day one I was set to the task of registering for the “top” loyalty programs.

Not long after someone directed me to the Flyertalk thread on Priority Club codes.  I would tag that point as my actual beginning.

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it?
HDR Photography

The Apotheosis of Washington by W Brian Duncan

Batteredluggage.com is my place to publish my travel photography.  As I have started to travel more, I have found a great love in photographing my adventures.  Creativity has always been a part of my life and helps to keep me centered.

My blog is very different then the kind that is usually featured on Million Mile Secrets.  I almost never discuss the miles and point hobby, rather I post HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos from my travels.  Miles and points help me to see the world in an affordable way.  Since realizing there are ways to leverage points to pay for travel, Pamela and I are traveling more.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

The easy answer is sign up for credit cards, this of course comes with tons of caveats.  Your credit is nothing to mess around with.  If you are regularly applying for credit you MUST monitor your score.  Chart everything.

The miles and points game is largely an exercise in reading fine print, maximizing earning, and quantifying success and failure.  Its easy to get swept up in the excitement of 50,000 more miles, but do they work for your overall travel plans?  If not, you need to really consider letting a deal pass!  My strategy is moderation in all things.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

It is probably always the next trip, but Paris will always hold a special place in my heart.  My wife and I, somewhat innocently saved for 10 years to go.  We probably had more than enough funds after 5 years, but there was always some excuse not to go.  This usually revolved around the Euro/Dollar conversion rate.

We finally realized we NEEDED to go…so we went.  Paris, with the lady of your dreams, is magical!  It was also the point when we realized we had to stop waiting for our travel dreams to happen.

HDR Photography

Sunset in Maui by W Brian Duncan

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

They mostly think I am crazy.  I drive a 1992 Ford Ranger pickup.  No way am I getting something newer before it falls to pieces!  Seriously, everything in life is a series of priories.

I can drive a new $50,000 vehicle or I can drive an old, but mechanically sound truck and travel more.  Everyone has different priorities.  Currently I am trying to focus on experiences.

Pamela is wonderfully tolerant, though I think sometimes even she questions my sanity.  The upgrades help, or sometimes I make trades.  For instance she drove me to the airport for car rentals two times a weekend for six weeks.  In exchange I cleaned the bathroom.

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

HDR Photography

The Gateway Arch by W Brian Duncan

I use all the following personally:

Awardwallet – For keeping track of my miles and points

Expertflyer – For crazy detail

Matrix.ITASoftware – For Search

Kayak – For alerts

TripIt – For the schedule

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

HDR Photography

The Windy Skyline from Millennium Park by W Brian Duncan

I am always surprised at just how easy it is the earn miles and point.  Those weekend car rentals earned me 3000 American Airlines miles a rental.  I get miles every month from Bank Direct.

There are companies begging you to take them you only have to pay attention and follow the rules.  I prefer to develop relationships with businesses, but there is no shame in moving on if you aren’t getting much out your current relationship.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

I still consider myself relatively new to the miles and points hobby, so I missed out on quite a bit of miles and points fun, from Lifetime American Airlines Platinum status, to pudding, to pallets of dollar coins.  The great thing about this hobby is there is always some new program to have fun with.

From a personal perspective, I wish I better understood the importance of travel and art in my life.  There was a good deal of time when they were both missing and I am better and happier for accepting them into my life.  With age comes wisdom, the Catch 22 is in 10 year we will believe our 10 year ago self a fool!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I think people generally believe I have traveled more than I really have.  My dirty little secret is that I have only been to 2 countries outside the United States which is shocking for someone in the miles and points game!  Remember, I am still pretty new to the miles and points hobby.

Never fear, I have three international trips already booked in early 2013 that will add 5 new countries to the list.  My plan is for double that many trips by the end of 2013, enough for American Airlines Executive Platinum status!

Any parting words?
HDR Photography

The Seine at Night by W Brian Duncan

When I tell people I am going to Paris, Maui, Geneva or Barcelona I here the same thing over and over.  “Oh…That’s a once in a lifetime trip!”  I actually get a bit upset at this idea.  Why should I only see the Eiffel Tower or a Hawaiian sunset once in my life?

Both are just an 8 hour plane ride away!  Once in a lifetime trips are actually pretty rare.  You can always go back, but you need to make the effort first.  Trust me, the reward is so worth the journey.

Brian – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money! Or like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter!

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