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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Canadian Travel Hacking
Steve writes his blog to show folks in Canada how to use miles and points to travel.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting Aeroplan Miles in 1996 (after I graduated high school and entering university). I have had my Air Miles (Canadian loyalty program) since 1997. These are the two main loyalty programs for Canadians (many merchants available to earn points). I started to collect points at a young age because I was swayed at the free trips and travel that I could potential take.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I just started my travel deals blog last month, but I have been running a couponing and grocery deals blog with my wife for over 4 years. My wife and I love to travel and I wanted to share some of the secrets to traveling with a smaller budget yet still experiencing some amazing places.
Using frequent flyer points is more challenging for Canadians (not as many good redemptions with our frequent flyer programs and heavy taxes on redemptions) so I wanted to highlight some of the good redemptions available to Canadians.
When I hear of how some of my friends and family were burned by some programs (not using Aeroplan miles efficiently and using the Aeroplan ClassicPlus Flight reward instead of a Classic Flight reward).
I consider my blog special because the deals and content that I post is strictly for Canadians.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
The easiest way to acquire miles is through credit card signup bonuses but I always recommend looking at your everyday spending. Instead of just going to a merchant’s website, look to see if they are affiliated with any loyalty or frequent flyer program to get an additional bonus.
I always try to double-dip when making a transaction on a frequent flyer e-store like Aeroplan. I purchase a large amount of gift cards to earn the bonus miles and when the gift cards come in the mail I use those to make another transaction to get additional miles.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My daughter was born in April last year and in Canada one of the parents can get parental leave (I chose to take off 2 months from my job). We used up some of our Alaska Airmiles and redeemed with American Airlines leaving from Seattle with a stopover in Newark so we could visit family for Christmas in Ontario.
We went to Florida for a cruise from Fort Lauderdale and stayed for a week before a trip from New York to London with American Airlines. We traveled to Rome, Barcelona, and Lisbon to visit family and the weather was fabulous for us (no major snow expect for a storm in Istanbul on a cruise we took).
Traveling is important to us as it lets you experience many beautiful places in the world. I am fortunate to live on Vancouver Island but travel off the island is expensive (with the cost of the ferry).
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My family thinks that I travel too much for having a little girl and most of my friends think it is too challenging to keep track of all the miles and points but our family trip to Europe showed a nice experience on a budget.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I am a big fan of following Flyertalk, blogs like Million Mile Secrets, and Boarding Area.
I learned about the Free Hilton Gold status upgrade that paid off on a 5 night stay in San Diego and the American Express lounge program from your blog.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I would have to say complaining! When I applied for a Marriott card (Canadian credit card that had a 50,000 Marriott reward point bonus), the credit card company would not let me make automatic payments (to avoid missing deadlines for paying the credit card balance). I threatened to cancel my card and the retention company awarded me an additional 20,000 miles to stay.
To me it was worth it as it gave us a few nights when we were in Portugal.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew the best redemptions with each program. I spent too much time in the Alaska Airlines earning just the base miles. Using Starwood points, I need to only spend $20,000 to earn 25,000 Alaska Miles versus just 20,000 with the Alaska Airlines Mastercard.
The toughest part of this hobby is knowing the best redemptions but I always suggest researching where you want to go and you will see many blogs will share the best redemptions with various programs. If you plan on going to all-inclusive resorts, I don’t suggest getting a travel rewards credit card (stick with a cash-back credit card).
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I enjoy staying at fancy hotels. This past month I stayed at the Four Seasons Whistler where we had an upgrade and had an amazing dining experience. The rate was not cheap but we used a Virtuoso travel agent to get some extra perks.
Most people think that because we run a coupon and deals blog that we prefer to stay at hostels but honestly I like the fancy stays.
Any parting words?
Remember that as a consumer that you already are paying for these frequent flyer programs. If you do not take advantage of any frequent flyer programs or a loyalty program you are missing out.
Steve– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!