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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: Don’t Call the Airline
Avery writes Don’t Call the Airline to help fellow Canadians find the best travel deals.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I only really started collecting points halfway through my undergraduate degree. I remember now, much to my chagrin, trying to get a rental car for a friend using points. I redeemed around 10,000 Aeroplan miles for the rental car, and we were still liable for the underage driver surcharge!
After redeeming the miles I felt kind of “dirty,” the way one does after doing something one shouldn’t do. I started researching better ways to use miles, and was introduced to the world of “travel hacking.”
Wow! I learned that not only could I have transformed those 10,000 miles into a flight, I could easily, quickly, and cheaply earn hundreds of thousands of miles and redeem them for products I thought were beyond my financial reach. I could go to places so far-flung that I couldn’t otherwise dream of seeing.
Once I started law school, I became really obsessed with travel hacking. I spent most of my free-time (and some class time 😉 ) researching and plotting. Since then, I’ve earned millions of points, and have been able to take my friends and family to places that would otherwise be unaffordable.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
My university owns a castle in rural England, and I was partaking in a summer program (International Business Law).
At this point, I was well-known as the “travel guy” within my school, and everyone kept asking me how they can travel the same. I was getting kind of annoyed by the constant questions by my peers. And frankly, I was probably bothering them way more with my constant talking about travel hacking.
The castle I was at was really isolated, so other than walks through the gardens and drinking at the pub, there wasn’t much to do during the work-week (on weekends I travelled). I decided to use my free time to start writing Don’t Call the Airline (DCTA).
In doing so, I was hopefully providing a channel for me to write about travel hacking instead of talking about it incessantly, and creating a resource for my friends and family to learn about it themselves.
My blog is probably 1 of the more “rogue” Canadian points and miles blogs. I write about rather creative ways to earn points and miles, and have developed some major “tricks” that are still used by the Canadian travel hacking community.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Unfortunately, Canadians don’t have much in the way of using gift cards to complete minimum spending to earn sign-up bonuses. The best we can do is use the Canadian Royal Mint, but it’s not the easiest or quickest way to earn points.
I know it’s been said over and over again, but credit card bonuses are the best way to quickly and safely earn miles. There are some great credit card bonuses in Canada, many of which are easily churnable.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I have a good friend who lives in the UK. My partner and I were traveling through Egypt, and we invited my friend along. We were in Alexandria, and my friend needed to get back to Cairo to catch her flight to London. Note that this was before I got into travel hacking, and we had very little money.
She could not afford to miss her flight. No problem, right? Just catch a train back to Cairo. Of course, being Egypt, the ticketing booth at the Alexandria station was down. We were told to wait in line, which after 2 hours, hadn’t moved.
It turns out that the computers were out of order, and there was nothing they could do. Catching a last-minute flight to Cairo was unaffordable, and there weren’t any buses available. So what did we do? We bribed the train conductor.
For only a couple dollars, we could sit somewhere, and as new passengers boarded and took the seats we were in, a couple more dollars would earn us the right to stay on the train.
Eventually the train was full and we just sat in the galley talking to the staff – it was great fun! Interestingly, there were people standing outside on the train connectors. They were very brave!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most of them think I’m nuts, or running some sort of scam (I’m not!). I’ve been able to convince my parents to allow me to manage everything for them, and that works out nicely.
As for my friends, most of them stay away from travel hacking. However, once in awhile, someone will tell me how they got to go see their family overseas, or some other heartwarming story, because of my blog posts!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
The same resource that gets me through university…Wikipedia. It’s an excellent resource to check airports on Wikipedia and be able to see all the airlines and routes that go there. The lists are pretty accurate, and are a great tool when you’re trying to plan a trip using award inventory.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
It’s been written a couple times by bloggers to whom I told my story, but a couple years ago I was flying on Virgin Australia to Sydney from Los Angeles, using Delta Airlines miles. I had an inkling (note that nobody wrote about this publicly before) that I should create a Virgin Australia frequent flyer account.
I did so, for both my partner and myself, and we both earned Virgin Australia miles on the award tickets we booked with Delta miles! That was very unexpected, and we put them to good use!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Before you do anything, research. You might think you’re getting a great deal, but 5 minutes of research can yield a better offer.
Also, don’t focus on 1 goal too much. Sometimes it might be your goal to burn a certain collection of miles, however, if you focus too much on that rather than the broader goal of creating value, you might miss out.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I still can’t sleep on planes, even in First Class. I’ve taken hundreds of flights, and it never works well for me. I can take sleeping pills, drink a bunch, and be fully relaxed and happy, but I just can’t sustain sleep.
However, I tend to do better on angled flat seats rather than lie-flat!
Any parting words?
Life is short, and you never know when an opportunity that arises is your last shot at doing it.
If you see that great fare to Easter Island, go! You don’t know when a job, a kid, illness, or anything else will make that opportunity go up in smoke. It’s better to be on your deathbed having done the things that make you happy than having lived a well-organized and unexciting life.
Avery – 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!