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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: Earn Travel Points
Steve is in the US navy and blogs about earning miles and points so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My introduction to points was one that is pretty different than most. When I was 15 years old my family took a trip to Las Vegas. A weird place to be when you are 15 because you are too young to do all the fun stuff! To make a long story short, my dad had us staying at hotels on the strip for free. Nice rooms, free food and free casino play (for my dad).
My dad told me that he had member cards for all of the hotels he gambled at and that they kept track of all the playing he did. Once I was old enough I enrolled for my own player cards and used them on a few vacations there. What happened? I started receiving offers from the Casinos in the mail!
Free rooms, free play, free food… from the Bellagio? The Wynn? Mandalay Bay? Everywhere I played. The concept of getting something for nothing intrigues me. (I’ve never left Vegas with less money than I came with in case you think I’m blowing it all at the tables)
Originally when I joined the military I had thought it would give me an opportunity to see the world. I figured the Navy would have me pulling into port left and right, so I could see it all. Unfortunately, I ended up with a job where it is virtually impossible to leave the continental United States. What a bummer! I wasn’t going to give up that easily though, so I started researching alternative ways to travel.
I have known about frequent flyer programs since I was a child. Like most, I originally thought that earning them were strictly for people who, well, flew frequently. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started to notice advertisements for credit cards that offered thousands of miles for sign-ups.
At that point, all I had was a Navy Federal Rewards Card which basically had zero earn potential. My main concern at that point was how it was going to affect my credit score. I started small with a Citi card and was hooked.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
My blog is extremely new. I was at work one day and brought up points to a co-worker. At first he was very skeptical, but by the end of the conversation, others had gathered and sat down beside me to learn about the advantages of travel hacking. I realized something that day. People, in general, are extremely impatient.
To get people the information they want, you must be direct and get right to the point. That’s how I try to keep my blog. The only reason people had initially sat down to listen was because they were trying to kill some time at work. Getting their attention under different circumstances may have proven much more difficult considering most of them had a negative view of the process going in.
I know what it’s like to not have a lot of free time. Having to sift through meaningless garbage on the internet to finally find what you are looking for can prove tiring and time consuming. I just wanted to show how earning and redeeming miles can be beneficial as well as provide a reference for those who need tips on handling certain situations.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Get a job that reimburses travel. Haha just kidding! I really can’t stress enough how important maintaining your credit score is. Speaking strictly from a mileage earning perspective, a low credit score is going to limit the credit cards you can be approved for.
As Andy said in a previous interview, credit cards are the number one way to earn points. Keep that credit score moderately high and you can play the credit card game!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Interestingly enough, my most memorable travel experience didn’t even require me to leave the country! It’s not too often you hear someone say that. A couple of years back I had the chance to go to New York City during Fleet Week. It really taught me that domestic travel can be just as fun and exciting as international travel.
Needless to say, I had a few great nights out there. Myself, as well as the other few sailors I was with, got treated like royalty. The only downside was having my cover swiped from me at one point and having to walk around outside without it.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most of you can probably relate to this, but my family doesn’t understand how this works at all. My mom, of course, is always concerned about me carrying high balances. I have to periodically assure her that I NEVER carry a balance on any of my cards.
Also, I tend to get weird looks from people when I tell them how many credit cards I have. I think people automatically assume that you must be far in debt if you have that many cards, which couldn’t be farther from the truth in my case.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Using the Google machine might be the most useful thing on the internet. Need a question answered? Google has ya covered. Aside from that, I’d say Awardwallet is great for keeping track of my miles, Mint is great for keeping track of my cc spending and these travel blogs help keep me up to date on the newest deals. Everyone is different, so use what helps you the most!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Not the coolest story in the world, but recently GoPro released their Hero3 Black Edition. I was so excited to get one, but the site was back-ordered and Best Buy had a very limited supply. People who had them were selling them for $200 more than advertised.
One day, while at work, I checked Best Buy to see if they had stocked them yet. I was in luck, they had stocked them but they had an extremely limited quantity. Rather than log into Chase and go through the portal, I bought the camera as fast as I could to ensure I would get one that day.
The next day Chase informed me of the extra points I was getting for using their UR portal. I had never logged into the portal using that computer and still to this day do not know how I got the credit for it, but I’ll take the extra points!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
When I first started out, I had no idea that some cc companies would consolidate credit pulls. I had very little direction in the beginning and didn’t have a system for churning. So if I was to change anything, I guess I would have done even MORE research than I had already done. You can never know too much!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I guess this isn’t too surprising, given some of the posts on my blog, but I am a huge fan of Southwest Airlines. I get it, they do not fly internationally (Changing somewhat soon given their new routes to the Caribbean and Mexico) and they only have an economy class.
What they lack in flash they more than make up for with their service. They are very flexible when I need to change my flights and have very low rates. Not to mention, they do not sneak in any extra fees. Man, I sound like a commercial for them. But seriously, they’re overlooked by many travelers.
Any parting words?
Try not to let your career get in the way of the things you love doing. If you want to travel, then make time to do it. Money should never be a problem, considering the nature of these blogs and sites. If I can find the time and money, you definitely can!
Steve – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!