“The Trick to Travel Is to Treat People Well, and Take a Genuine Interest in Them”

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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:   Brian McAdam

Brian writes Brian McAdam to share his techniques to help readers have more time and money for what matters most to them.  You can connect with him through Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to his newsletter.

Brian McAdam
A Passing Photographer Just Happened to Catch My Family Standing in a Field Like This

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I started collecting miles and points back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Seriously, I started so long ago I had to ask my mom when it would have been.  My folks signed me up for frequent flyer programs back in the early 1980s, we think, when I was a kid.

Brian McAdam
Our Honeymoon in 2007

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

We all care a lot about what matters most to us – certain people or causes or projects.  But most folks can’t pursue what matters most to them to the extent they’d like due to limited time and money.

Ultimately, I strive to help my readers have more time and money for what matters most.

Brian McAdam
Me at a Very Fine Place, Indeed: the Laphroaig Whiskey Distillery in Islay, Scotland

I see collecting miles and points as an integral part of that strategy.  Travel is meaningful to many people.  Miles and points enable you to travel more and/or to divert the money you would have spent on travel to other priorities.

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

Develop mile-earning habits.

What I mean by that is do the things that work – like signing-up for credit cards with large bonuses and getting outsized value for redemptions – on a consistent basis.  Sporadically taking advantage of a credit card sign-up bonus or a good deal is fine.  But doing so regularly is what leads to a lot of points over the long haul.

Brian McAdam
In Cancun, Relaxing Before the Birth of Our Twin Boys!

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Candidates for my response include:

  • Getting caught and detained at the Mexican border trying to smuggle hundreds of pounds of donated potatoes from El Paso into Juarez to feed the poor there.
  • Seeing a man in Nepal climb the ladder on the back of a bus with a motorcycle on his head in order to load it on top of the bus for a cross-country trip.
  • Bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa (which, at the time, I was told it was the highest bungee jump in the world).
  • And having film confiscated by soldiers who boarded my train in Belarus to take it from me.

But my most memorable travel experience was proposing to my wife in the Holy Land, a place of deep religious significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  We got engaged at the spot where Jesus is believed to have died and rose, symbolizing for us both the great challenges and great joys of marriage that we anticipated ahead.

Brian McAdam
We Got Engaged Here, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

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

Most everyone is supportive, but in different ways.  On one extreme are those who are intrigued by free/cheap travel and happy for me, but they don’t take up the hobby.  On the other extreme are those who have scheduled what amounts to miles and points “meetings” with me to teach them and their friends the hobby.

Brian McAdam
A Vacation Close to Home With the Twins at the YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado

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

The greatest trick I’ve found is really no trick at all, which, paradoxically, is why it “works.”  The trick is to treat people well, take a genuine interest in them, ask them how they’re doing, etc.  I can think of reconsideration calls that might have gone differently were it not for connecting with the agent.

The other “trick” is to ask for what you want.  I have experienced good and sometimes spectacular results through a combination of being genuinely nice and asking.
Brian McAdam
McDonald’s Lunch on My Daughter’s Second Birthday, Overlooking Diamond Head From a Spectacular Upgrade at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu

For instance, I emailed the manager of the Sheraton Waikiki to ask if by chance he would be able to provide an upgrade to help make our stay even more wonderful than we were already anticipating it would be.

He upgraded us from our base-level room, which we had booked with Starwood points, to an outstanding room with one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.  If memory serves, the room went for $750 a night, and we stayed 4 nights.

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

I flew a paid flight on Frontier recently and was awarded miles for the flight.  Given that Frontier miles expire in 6 months and there are very few ways of keeping those miles alive, I guess I’m just surprised that they bothered to award the miles in the first place.

Brian McAdam
Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado

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

Up until 4 or 5 years ago, I didn’t know about collecting miles and points by signing-up for credit cards that offered large bonuses.  As a result, for most of my life I really only collected miles and points through – wait for it – actually flying or staying in hotels.  Old school, I know.

Brian McAdam
Staying at the Westin Denver International Airport the Night Before a Morning Flight to Mexico – Our First International Trip With the Twins

In my recent How to Travel for Free series, I share the benefits of signing up for credit cards, and I address concerns folks very understandably might have, such as the effect on one’s credit score.

I also publish my own Best Credit Card Sign-Up Offers list in an effort to help others travel more and/or divert the money they would otherwise have spent on travel to other priorities.  I rank all cards offering a sign-up bonus from most to least lucrative.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Because my blog focuses so much on efficiency, it might give the impression that I’m not happy unless I’m actively saving time or money.

I do very much enjoy those pursuits.  But I value even more such “inefficient” activities as taking a road trip, conversing with friends and family, and praying.  I could watch a storm on the ocean forever.

Brian McAdam
Burdines Waterfront, July 4, 2016 in Marathon, Florida Keys. It Wasn’t Hot or Anything…

It is largely for the sake of activities such as these that it makes sense to save time and money in the first place.

Any parting words?

Just a big thanks to Million Mile Secrets.  Thank you for helping me and countless others have Big Travel with Small Money!

Brian – 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!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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