“Careful strategizing probably nets me an extra round trip flight a year.”

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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: Exporting Sunshine

Danny has traveled the world using miles and points.  He also writes the  Exporting Sunshine blog, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!

Exporting Sunshine – Interview with Danny
(Non-obviously) Tokyo
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

It pains me to admit that I am a relative newcomer to the scene.  I only started collecting in the past 18 months or so, and then only because I had decided I needed to do more traveling and I had these glimpses of the miles and points world that was beyond my ken.

I think I actually first came into it by seeing reference to Chris Guillebeau’s most unfortunately named Travel Hacking Cartel.  I joined that for about a month when I realized that I could almost certainly get more (for free) by going directly to Flyertalk.

From there I stumbled on many of the quality blogs that have been profiled on Million Mile Secrets and my eyes have been opened.  I shudder to think how many thousands of miles I wasted by not signing up for frequent flyer programs sooner.

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

The most important thing is that it’s not a blog; not really, at least.  It’s a trip report for an around-the-world trip I’m on right now.  I did it to pay back all of the many trip reports that I read on places like FT, Chowhound and some of the Disney sites that helped me plan my trip.  I also hope that for some of my friends and family – and maybe if I’m lucky their friends and family – it might prove inspirational for giving this all a go.

I think it’s at least mildly amusing that some of the most positive feedback that I’ve gotten has actually been from people who appreciate my honesty about my own anxieties with traveling.  It’s like a cross between a trip report and what a fourteen year old’s Livejournal would have looked like in 2007.

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

Don’t say sign up for credit cards.  Don’t say sign up for credit cards.  Don’t say sign….um, sign up for credit cards?  Not a very original answer, huh?  Okay, let’s see what else I’ve got in the bag o’tricks.  My personal favorite at the moment is to maximize every purchase.  I don’t have big business-related spending or reimbursables and I’m a single guy so my expenses are pretty low.

That means that if I want to get points for my relatively small spending in a year I work hard to maximize each dollar.  That means not only putting it on the right card for the category but finding out if I can purchase it online for a comparable price and then going through the right rewards portal.  Careful strategizing probably nets me an extra round trip flight a year.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

It happened fairly recently.  On my first trip to Tokyo I stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of the luxury of hotels I’d previously stayed at, is like a 42.314.  I stayed there courtesy of the sign-up bonus from the Chase Hyatt card and I stayed as a Diamond member thanks to Hyatt giving me a sixty-day match challenge (which I am going to fail, but was totally worth it).

On the last day of the stay I got a message letting me know that the usual free breakfast had been moved upstairs to the NY Bar (from Lost in Translation) so that everyone could get a view of the annular solar eclipse.  So from that I got an awesome free breakfast, a spectacular view of a solar eclipse and the excitement of sharing it with about 50 other people, none of whom spoke my language.

If there’s a cooler feeling than a room full of Japanese people spontaneously applauding as the clouds cleared at the exact moment of total eclipse, I’d like to know what it is.

Exporting Sunshine – Interview with Danny
(Very obviously) Tokyo
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

Mostly they think I’m nuts.  I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone says in one of these interviews, right? Even now that I’ve done this incredible trip entirely because of miles and points I suspect most people just think of it as this odd hobby of mine.

I have one particularly good friend who puts up with my constant excitement at the latest deal or strategy but for the most part I try and keep it to myself – except for the trip report/blog, which is now where I point people if they have questions.

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Exporting Sunshine – Interview with Danny
Worth the 90-minute hike in the rain?

Nowhere else in my life is it more true than in the miles and points game that information is power.  You don’t have to spend hours every day on FT or Milepoint or subscribe to a million blogs, but find two or three that together are comprehensive and then read them every day.

Read them as often as they update, frankly, because a lot of times deals die quickly.

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

It wouldn’t qualify as unexpected, but the most ridiculous continues to be the Radisson promotions.  I think so far I’ve gotten almost 200,000 points for hotel stays that I was going to make anyway.

Considering the hotel I redeem these at most frequently is a Category 1, 9,000 points a night hotel, they’ve basically given me three free weeks of hotel stays for making four stays that were already on the cards.  Thank you Carlson!

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

Mostly I just wish I’d started this when I was in college, like some of the others around here.  When I read about all the crazy stuff that happened between 1999 and 2010, I die a little inside to know I wasn’t a part of that.  The speed of information cuts down on how long the truly good stuff lasts for and continued improvements in technology seem to be pointing towards fewer loopholes and mistakes.

In terms of dumb things I’ve done, the one I regret the most is moving some hard-earned Ultimate Rewards points over to Priority Club when I learned, the next day, about how to buy them for pennies.  Sigh.  No use crying over misspent points.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?    

I doubt there are many surprises between my readers and I.  I’ve always worn who I am on my (virtual) sleeve and I think the real me comes across in my writings more than I’d like it to sometimes.

I absolutely hate writing, which I think would come as a surprise to anyone whose read two or three days of my posts.  A long one can run upwards of 2,000 words.

Any parting words?
Exporting Sunshine – Interview with Danny
Hong Kong at Night

The best advice I can give to someone whose just starting out is:  if you don’t find this fun, then don’t do it.  You probably have one or more jobs, or you’re in school, or you have a family or a combination of all of those things.  If chasing down points and miles doesn’t make you smile or give you some little thrill then you know what?

Life’s too short and go do something that will make you happy!  But hey, if it does float your boat then there have been few hobbies I’ve ever had that have been half as rewarding as this one.

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

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