“Without Miles & Points, We Might Not Have Been Able to Afford to Become Digital Nomads”

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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:   Climber Monkeys Abroad

Army and Ryan write Climber Monkeys Abroad to share their successes, mistakes, and adventures.  You can follow them on Instagram and Pinterest!

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Showing off Some Selfie Stick-Mastery on Catalina Island, California

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I unknowingly started collecting miles and points about 3 years ago when I signed up for Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because I really needed a new credit card from the nearest bank.  Back then, I had no idea what miles and points were.

I purposely started collecting miles and points when Chase Sapphire Reserve launched about a year ago.  I didn’t know what miles and points were actually worth, but 100,000 points just sounded like a big deal so I started looking into what it was.

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Rae Lakes. There Are Few Sights as Breathtaking as a Mountain Lake at 10,000 Feet

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

Ryan and I recently decided to become digital nomads.  And we started our travel blog to document our entire journey.  When we were poring through other blogs and news media to find stories and examples of how other digital nomads prepared themselves for their move abroad, we couldn’t really find any source that documented the steps leading up to the big move.  We wanted to share realistic stories about exactly what it takes, financially, mentally, and emotionally, to pursue perpetual travel.

Once we take off, we will share tips, advice, and some stories about slow traveling and our obsession with rock climbing in every single country we travel to.

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

Enlist your significant other, family, and friends!  It’s like instantly doubling your stash. 🙂

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Milan: It’s as If Everyone Knew We Were About to Take a Photo and Got Out of the Way for Us!

Here are some examples of how this could work:

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

My 2 most memorable travel experiences happened last year!  First is my dream-trip to Italy and the second is our trip to South Korea.

Our 2-week trip to Italy was epic.  It was financially epic because even though we stayed in modest Airbnbs and flew in coach, it took us more than 2 years to save up for it.  Since we started planning for it before we knew how to maximize miles and points, we ended up paying for everything out of pocket.  Ouch!

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Ahhhh…Venice 😉

But it was all worth it in the end because it was the first time Ryan and I got to travel extensively with one another.  You know what they say, traveling together is the biggest test for couples!  Because of this trip, we found out we are perfect travel partners.

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Ryan’s First Trip to South Korea! “Am I Doing It Right?”

Our 2-week trip to South Korea was epic in a completely different way.  We didn’t have to save up for it like we did for Italy because we used our stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fly Business Class via Korean Air.  It was such a blast showing Ryan where I grew up and to have him meet my mom for the first time.

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

Except for one friend who I just helped pay for a round-trip flight to Hawaii solely on points, most of our family and friends kind of glaze over and go slack jawed when we talk to them about it.  You can actually see their eyes slowly lose focus.

Plus, when they find out we have over two dozen credit cards, they automatically conclude that either we have tremendous debt OR that this is a time-consuming hobby reserved only for hardcore travelers.

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

Yes – having my fiance’s Social Security Number memorized! 😉

Plus, keeping a spreadsheet of approval dates, minimum spending requirements, fees, expected sign-up offer amount, and which bills will go on which card has helped me stay organized.  This comes in handy when you’re trying to meet spending requirements on multiple cards:  I actually successfully juggled having to meet spending requirements on 7 cards at the same time a couple of months ago!

Since we are embarking upon our new life as digital nomads in just 6 months, we are sort of going all-in on trying to collect as many sign-up bonuses as possible.

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Putting on a Show at the Roman Theater in Pompeii

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

Taking advantage of shopping portals and AMEX offers!  I didn’t think much of it until I paid more attention to blogs like Million Mile Secrets.  I just took advantage of the AMEX offer that gives you 2,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points for spending $100+ for booking a stay at Best Western.  We needed to book a hotel for our mini getaway to Catalina Island for my birthday anyway, so we booked it and earned 2,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points right away.

We also like to take advantage of the offers to do nice things for family and friends.  My friend Sarah recently opened her own salon business so I bought a bunch of fashion magazine subscriptions for 30 United Airlines miles per dollar spent.  We also like to send our moms flowers by clicking through the portal links.  By being a bit creative, you can not only earn credit card points, but brownie points as well! 😉

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

I wish I had known that credit cards are NOT the root of all financial evil!  I only had 1 credit card before I got my Chase Sapphire Preferred card a couple of years ago because I thought having multiple credit cards would negatively affect my credit score and tempt me into a shopping frenzy.

Climber Monkeys Abroad
On a Mission to Take a Photo With All the Beautiful Sculptures in Rome

We have zero debt and never carry a balance on any of our cards.  My credit score actually improved a lot, too.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Although Ryan and I get all giddy whenever we get to fly premium economy or Business Class, we mostly choose them out of health-related necessity rather than luxury.  We aren’t able to sit for a long period of time because we have degenerative back injuries.  Even on domestic flights, if it’s more than 3 hours long, we purposely choose flights with connections so we can exit the plane and perform our doctor-prescribed stretches and mini-exercises.  Needless to say, we’ve avoided flying as much as possible.

Being able to afford Business Class changed EVERYTHING.  It may seem strange to fellow passengers, but our synchronized lie-flat seat yoga routine is the only thing that allows us to fly efficiently and painlessly on long-haul flights.  Since Business Class seats cost an arm and a leg, without miles and points, we might not have been able to afford to become digital nomads!

Plus, we have about 2 million miles and points saved between the two of us. 😉

Any parting words?

If you are just starting out, don’t get intimidated by how complex the points world seems at first glance.  Continue following sites like Million Mile Secrets and you’ll find all the tools you need to navigate the system to fit your specific itinerary.

Climber Monkeys Abroad
Ryan Crushing One of the Most Exciting Climbs in Owens River Gorge, California

You don’t have to hoard as many miles and points as humanly possible just because others are doing it.  If you’re content redeeming points for practical use rather than aspirational redemptions, rock on!

We only started collecting them semi-obsessively because we realized we could dramatically decrease our travel expenses if we took award flights rather than pay cash, and also because we only have a limited time before we leave to collect them.  As future digital nomads, keeping our budget down is one of our top priorities. Army & Ryan – 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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