“…my goal was to fly for free and stay for free.”

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  Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview: FlyerTalk Evangelist “dhammer53”

dhammer53 joined the popular travel message board FlyerTalk in 2000 and has posted over 10,000 messages in the last 11 years.

That’s a lot of messages so I was eager to chat with him about miles and points!

dhammer53 Interview - Travel Hacking with Million Mile Secrets
dhammer53 & His Wife In Venice
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My very first  flight from New York to Los Angeles earned miles  on TWA  in the mid 1980s.  In those days, all my travel was leisure, and TWA seemed to fit the bill.  Those miles would become orphan miles until they merged with American Airlines.

I had orphan miles with American Airlines, so I felt that I was ‘rich’ when both programs combined.  My first hotel stay that earned points was with the old Sheraton Club International (SCI).  Upgrades to the best room in the hotel were for members, and you could use cash (I think it was $35) or points to renew your membership.

When did you discover Flyer Talk? 

I started flying for business in 1988.  My neighbor tipped me off to Inside Flyer Magazine.  This was a magazine for frequent fliers that was written by the Boss himself, Randy Petersen.  It was a series of articles, news, and information that Randy pulled together.  It was very interesting to someone like me, who was just getting started in the game.

I devoured this magazine for years and years.  In the late 90s Randy said he was going to start a website for frequent flyers.  I joined as member 3,300 or so in September 2000.  I learned more about United Airlines (my program of choice) in 3 months on FlyerTalk than I thought I knew in flying United Airlines the previous 10 years.

It was eye opening. Read and learn.  Who knew?

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

Pay attention to what you read.  The good stuff is often in the small print. The very first blog that I read was from Gary Leff.  In the old days on Flyertalk, he’d write a summation post every time he crossed another thousand post.  There were always good tidbits of information.

Eventually I’d go on to read the various blogs from frugaltravelguy, luckycoins and the pointsguy.  Everyone has a different angle to this game.  I was never much of a credit card opener to get miles.  Several years ago, an older Flyertalker chastised me for not signing up for credit card bonuses.

In those days it was a 5,000 mile bonus.  I thought who needs an orphan 5,000 BA miles or Marriott miles?  It always gave me a chuckle.  I wasted a lot of time, and lost lots of miles by waiting so long to get into the game.  Truth be told, I didn’t have mileage or point earning credit cards until the airlines raised their coach redemptions to 25,000 miles for a domestic ticket vs 20,000.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?       

When I first started collecting miles and points, my goal was to fly for free and stay for free.  On our first serious redemption, my wife and I went to London on United in first class, and stayed at the now closed Sheraton Belgravia.

I never looked back.

We’ve been to Bangkok and Tokyo on ANA in business class and stayed at Sheratons for free in Japan and Thailand.  We’ve been to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Xian. We flew Asiana and stayed at Sheratons using points.

In Beijing, I was lucky enough to use the 5,000 point Points Break redemption level from Priority Club.   I saved my valuable Sheraton points by doing this.  Oh sure, we had to travel 25 minutes by train to the Forbidden City; but the trip from a Starwood property would have been 10 – 15 minutes away.  That extra 10 minutes saved me a bundle of Starpoints.

But my most memorable, and I’m not even flying, is helping to plan my son and his fiancés trip to Columbo, Sri Lanka and the Maldives… all using the points my wife and I earned by signing up for the various AA credit card deals.  75,000 miles per card.

My miles are safe.  I used my new found credit card sign-up ‘bonus’ miles to fund their honeymoon.  A ‘slush’ fund if you will, while the kids get to enjoy themselves with my new found miles!

Since I haven’t used miles to fly in first since the London trip, the ‘kids’ are stuck in Cathay Pacific business.  I know.  I’m a bad father, but they have to look forward to something when they’re 40!  You only appreciate biz or first by suffering in economy, and as someone that has flown from the US to Australia in the back, I know what I’m talking about.

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

Everyone smiles and nods with their heads moving up and down.  I’ll never forget the first time I flew from New York to Oakland via Dallas to see a Raiders football game.  I flew home on the late night redeye.  Everyone thought I was crazy.

I thought they were jealous.

My wife does appreciate the finer things of travel, so she ‘tolerates’ this hobby.  She likes riding up front.

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

If you spend time reading Flyertalk, Milepoint, and read the blogs I mentioned, you should be ok.

Oh, one other thing.  Over the years, I’ve attended multiple events (including the BRT – Brooklyn Reality Tour).

There’s a lot of useful information passed amongst friends that never gets posted on the boards.  Sometimes, a throw-away statement is an “Oh My” moment.

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

I used to sign up for every bonus that was offered, whether I would use it or not. It was always nice when mystery miles or points appeared in my account.

I did earn some miles by doing the Pudding Guy thing, but it was only 3,000 miles.  It was something, and 3,000 miles was 3,000 miles!

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

When I got involved in this hobby, the game was just beginning.  I never thought in 1988 that there would be so many miles offered for signing up for credit cards. In the 1990s, everyone changed their cell carriers for the sign-up bonus.  It seemed like a pain, so I didn’t bother with it.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I pick my deals carefully as to not affect my credit scores. When I purchased my Prius in March, I was really nervous about my score since I’ve been signing up for credit cards left and right. Well, my score was over 800!

As the deals got better over the years, and I started paying attention to what people were saying and writing, I dug my heels in to this hobby.  There are lots of places to fly for free and stay for free.

What would folks be surprised to know about you?

I’m in the toy business.  I’m one of the few that enjoys their job.  I also get to fly for business.  Lucky for me that my road warrior flights are usually easy-to-do transcontinental flights, unless I transit through Washington Dulles.

Any parting words? 

Since you asked… the very first Brooklyn Reality Tour was in 2001.  A group of Flyertalkers were in NYC for the infamous CatmanDo3.

The first Brooklyn Tour became an enhancement for 7 people to hang out all day in Brooklyn, eating the best pizza and the finest bakery goodies your money could buy.  All for under $10.

I never thought that the 2011 Brooklyn Reality Tour would be on a 50 passenger coach bus!  The tradition continues in June 2012. Date TBA.

dhammer53 – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

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