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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: Cardpe Diem
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’m relatively new to the miles & points hobby. I started getting serious about it in 2014. I heard about opening credit cards more than once for the sign-up bonuses in college but was so protective of my credit score I didn’t even give it another thought.
When my boyfriend started opening cards a few years later, I was still extremely skeptical. When we started staying in nice hotels and flying for free, I was hooked. You can do so much more with 2 people working it at. I’ve always been into “free stuff” and earning miles & points is the ultimate form of free stuff!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started Cardpe Diem as a way to share my experiences. Because I put a lot of time into researching how to get the best deals for my own vacations, I figured I could share what works for me in case it can help someone else out. I usually choose to maximize my points for quantity of travel by booking with fewer points and traveling more frequently.
I love reading other people’s travel reports — seeing where they stayed, what restaurants they went to, how they got there. Logistics can make trip planning difficult, so I hope to offer advice on how to effectively use points & miles and what your itinerary might include.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Sign-up bonuses are great but you should also be strategic about everyday spending.
Identify your major spending categories and try to get a card that earns more than 1X points for each. This works best when you are working within one type of rewards program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards.
When possible, shop online through a bank or airline shopping portal for even more points. If you know you will be transferring to a partner airline, registering a credit card with the airline’s dining program can be lucrative.
For example, if you dine at a qualifying restaurant and pay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you will earn 3X points from Chase (which can be transferred to United Airlines) AND up to 5 miles per dollar from United Airlines.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My most memorable travel experience was studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in college. Cape Town has everything you could want— city, mountains, beaches, and wine country. I got to knock cage diving with great white sharks off my bucket list. This is definitely a city I’ll be visiting again in the future.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My parents are oblivious to the world of miles & points so they think I’m a genius when I tell them how little I’ve been paying for my vacations. I definitely keep my hobby on the down-low with my friends, some of whom still pay for everything with debit cards.
My boyfriend got me into this in the first place and now thinks I’m a little obsessed. But it benefits both of us so he’s on board.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I recommend teaming up with a friend — preferably someone organized and with a good credit score — to plan vacations and strategize what points you’ll need and how you’ll earn them. This is particularly helpful when earning points or free nights for hotel stays.
For example, if you and your travel partner each open the Chase Hyatt card and earn 2 free nights, you can extend your free stay to 4 nights. It’s almost like getting the bonus twice, and you didn’t even have to wait 24 months to reapply!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
After using the product, you fill out another survey to earn more points. And it’s great for me because, like I said earlier, I love free stuff!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I had always heard how bad it was to open new credit cards. With this misconception in mind, I was reluctant to get started and ending up missing out on the days before credit card companies starting cracking down.
I could’ve saved a lot of money over the years if I’d done some more research into the minimal impact on credit scores initially!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m an epidemiologist. I work with numbers all day which may explain why I like playing around with miles & points redemption options so much.
Any parting words?
If you like to travel but don’t have much time due to work or other commitments, I still think it’s worth collecting miles and points.
Even when I don’t have enough vacation time saved at work, I know I’ll be able to use my points to go to a friend’s wedding across the country or see family that lives in another state. Smaller domestic trips can be just as rewarding as multi-week world tours.
Cristi – 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!