We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Deviating the Norm
Rikka writes Deviating the Norm to share her experiences and provide travel tips.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I had a Delta miles account set up through my parents since I was born. After 25 years, I finally had enough miles for a round-trip ticket from New York to California. I thought, “Well, this is great but there’s gotta be a faster way.”
So in March 2013, I got my 1st 2 miles earning credit cards and was on my way to faster earning. I managed nearly half a million miles in 18 months by just getting 1 or 2 cards every 3 months.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
As a recent PhD graduate, I knew taking time away from the academic ivory tower to travel long-term immediately after completing my degree was a bit out of the norm (hence, my blog’s title “deviating the norm”).
I figured documenting my trip online would give me something to show for the gap in my curriculum vitae, if I decided to go back to academia afterward.
Later, the blog became about sharing my experiences and providing travel tips in order to motivate others to deviate the norm, too.
I try to lead by example, showing people how I made the initial decision to deviate and how I made it financially possible even on a meager student budget. Each post shows people how I carry on deviating during my travels by interacting with people and the places I visit as authentically as possible.
I allow myself to be steered off-the-beaten path even if it’s uncomfortable or totally new for me. The result has been a lot of personal growth and comfort-zone pushing.
I’ve had the chance to meet and learn from other travelers and find out directly from locals about their traditions, attitudes, and the social justice issues that concern them. I share all of this through stories and tips on my blog.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Aside from sign-up bonuses and category-focused spending, whenever you have the opportunity to pay for a group, do it. When out at a restaurant or buying tickets with others, I jump at the chance to pay the entire bill on my credit card and accept cash from everyone in return.
Let people know what you’re doing so when you go out with them, they will understand why you want to put everything on your card. They will usually be willing to help you earn miles faster.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Deviating the norm has led me to some really special experiences. I think 1 of the most random and unique moments was the time I told a man on a ferry in New Zealand he looked like a pirate and it led to a personal tour of all the crew-only sections of the ship.
I had tea and biscuits in the galley with the foreman, sat in the captain’s chair at the helm, and saw humpback whales playing through the watchman’s binoculars at sunset.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
My family quietly accept my hobby without much interest or concern.
On the other hand, friends have looked to me for advice on credit cards, credit scores, and miles-earning since they learned about my hobby. One friend has even managed to become a successful miles-earner himself.
But I am also sad to hear some friends and family think they must be an organizational, financial genius to pull it off and that they could never earn miles like I have.
They have it all wrong! Misinformation and fear keep people from realizing how incredibly easy it is to earn miles and points. I just learned the basics from reading key starter posts on blogs like Million Mile Secrets and others.
I was nervous to begin, fearing financial ruin, but getting over the fear resulted in nearly half a million miles earned and a higher credit score.
I was able to pay for my flights to my best friend’s wedding in Maui, to present my dissertation findings at a conference in Portland, Oregon, and to travel to Iceland, Germany, Thailand, New Zealand and more.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I took advantage of the websites where you get paid for taking surveys such as e-Rewards, and then transferred the money into miles. I earned thousands of miles this way and I was not sitting around doing them all day.
I just did 1 or 2 when I needed something mindless to do as a break from my studies. I learned it’s handy to have the miles stockpiled and ready for transfer to a program when you’re short on miles needed for an award ticket or to keep a miles account from expiring.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Miles-earning surprises came after signing-up for miles dining programs. I would go to a restaurant I go to all the time in New York, not knowing they are part of the program, and use my credit card there. Then I’d see later on I had earned 3X to 6X the points for each dollar spent on my meal.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Once when I had just started out, I canceled a card a bit prematurely (well before the annual fee kicked in). This damaged my credit score a bit. I also did not consider keeping it to take advantage of all the extra perks it had besides the initial signup bonus.
I missed out on getting 5X points on a major purchase with that card. Since then, I always check out all the card perks before canceling a card. I have found keeping a card and even spending the annual fee is sometimes worth it for the card’s perks.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I used to be a tap-dancer. I performed, taught, and choreographed for about 17 years..
Any parting words?
If you’re unhappy, bored, or just ready for a change, don’t be afraid to deviate away from what’s considered “normal” in order to get what you want. That includes following blogs like Daraius’ to help you travel hack your way to amazing memories and experiences to call your own!
Rikka – 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!