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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: Extra Pack of Peanuts
Travis is obsessed with collecting frequent flyer miles and has traveled to lots of countries for free. He also writes Extra Pack of Peanuts, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Although it feels like forever ago, I’ve only been collecting miles and points since March of 2011. When I think about all that I’ve learned, and all the trips I’ve been able to take and help others take, it’s incredible how short a time it has been. To think that just over a year ago I knew nothing about frequent flyer miles and now I’m completely obsessed with them is pretty amazing. What did I use to do with all my free time?
Sometime shortly before March of last year I read an article by Chris Guillebeau about how I could get 25,000 free miles by opening a Chase checking account. Always being a sucker for deals, I jumped right over to Chases’ online application but got a message that they were having trouble processing my account.
When I called in, they told me that my social security number was already linked to some sort of business account with them (I’ve still never figured out what this was about) and that I wasn’t eligible for the 25,000 miles. I was completely bummed, but the seed was planted.
I remembered Flyertalk being mentioned in the article, and so I hopped over there and understood absolutely NOTHING! It didn’t matter; I was totally fascinated with the whole miles and points subculture, and since then, I’ve been a full-time junkie!
Why did you start Extra Pack of Peanuts? What’s special about it?
As soon as I wrapped my head around the basics, I began spreading the miles and points gospel to friends and families. I’m not one to bottle up my enthusiasm, so after a lot of unrelenting pressure I broke down the walls of skepticism from my parents and a few friends and urged them all to double dip with the Citi American Airlines Amex and Visa for 150k (you guys owe me one!).
Soon, others started coming to me for advice and while I loved helping everyone, I got annoyed at sending out the same type of email and answering the same questions over and over again.
I decided to start writing a few posts about miles on my personal blog but then realized that my passion for miles was a bit too overwhelming for my personal blog. I decided I needed a stand-alone platform for just frequent flyer miles, and thus, Extra Pack of Peanuts was born. The first post was on January 17, 2012 but I had been working on some content and design for a couple months prior to launching the blog.
I have two main goals for Extra Pack of Peanuts. The first goal is to help each person ramp up their frequent flyer knowledge and earning, no matter what their current level. If you’re a newbie, I want to get you to an intermediate level. If you’re an intermediate, let’s get you to be an expert. If you’re an expert, well then let’s help each other get to a “super-expert, mastermind” level!
To do this, I focus a lot on making substantial and in-depth posts. Sure, readers have to know about deals and promotions that come along, but I don’t want to regurgitate every email that comes my way. Instead, I’d rather write and make video tutorials on how to do a lot of the more complicated things that many people struggle with, like searching for award availability, avoiding fuel surcharges or using shopping portals.
Coming from a teaching background, I’ve always found it helpful to break things down in to steps and to show how to do things as well as tell. This is the main reason why I started making video tutorials and so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
The second goal is to make EVERYONE realize that travel doesn’t have to be this “someday I’ll get there when I have enough money” dream. Instead, it can be a reality, and you can get to some pretty incredible places and see some incredible things for WAY LESS than you might spend even staying at home!
A lot of times the focus is on frequent flyer miles but I also touch on other subjects that facilitate cheap travel, such as hostels reviews, write-ups of low cost or budget airlines, or even tips and tricks for getting the best deals in certain destinations. Many miles and points blogs focus solely on legacy carriers and hotel chains so I want to offer a few different aspects of budget travel.
Lastly, I want Extra Pack of Peanuts to a community where everyone can learn from each other. There is a lot of information out there in the frequent flyer world, and its not always an exact science. I learn as much from my readers as they do from me, and I want this trend to continue.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Signing up for credit cards is the “no duh” answer, and it certainly is the easiest way to get miles and points in chunks, especially if you choose to pull off an App-o-Rama. My main advice for anyone who either can’t sign up for credit cards or is just trying to supplement their miles balance is to use shopping portals.
In my mind, shopping portals are easily the second best way to get points painlessly and in chunks. So many people (even veterans) fail to do this because they erroneously think it is difficult or confusing, when in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Sign in to the shopping portal, redirect to the site you were going to buy from anyway, and BOOM, you’re looking at 10x, 20x, or even 30x per dollar spent.
Since I hate going to the store and shopping, I not only use shopping portals for my regular online shopping, but have started to move other purchases that I used to make in person online as well. Why buy my laptop from a store when I can order it online and get 3x points? I can’t stress enough how awesome shopping portals are for earning miles. If you aren’t doing it, get on it!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve been very, very fortunate to travel quite a lot in the past few years, even before I started collecting miles and points. Unfortunately, before last March, all that travel earned me a grand total of ZERO frequent flyer miles (what an idiot I was)!
The “gun to my head” choice for most memorable experience would have to be my recent 19 day backpacking trip through Australia this past Christmas. My wife and I were able to fly from Japan to Australia using miles during an incredibly busy time when airfares were sky high (pardon the pun). Using miles also allowed us to open-jaw, flying in to Melbourne and flying out of Cairns.
In Melbourne, we spent a few days in the city visiting old friends and taking in the world’s “most liveable city” and then set out on a truly magical 3 day drive along the Great Ocean Road, culminating with a night up in the Yara Valley wine region.
We trained up to Sydney (what a beautiful city) and hit all the hotspots. We also had perfect weather, so staying with friends who lived three blocks from Bondi Beach and getting to spend New Year’s Eve there was truly a treat.
Last, we fly up to Cairns on Jetstar for five days, three of which were spent at a resort and spa that was amazing in that it was beautiful, only $70 a night, and also completely deserted of other customers. I guess the middle of the summer in Cairns isn’t quite high season, but we weren’t complaining!
This part of the trip was capped off with our excursion to the Great Barrier Reef and our first time scuba diving, something I was a bit nervous about but actually enjoyed so much that I’m looking to get certified!
All in all, summer living in Australia is not a bad way to spend the holidays, even if it does feel a little weird to my Philadelphia blood to be on lounging on the beach during Christmas.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
It can basically be divided in to three camps: those who are fully on board, those who have dabbled some but still remain skeptical, and those who think I’m just an outright nut.
I can’t fault the last group too much, as I’ve always been a dreamer (some might say schemer) and so they’ve grown accustomed to hearing a lot of outlandish ideas come out of my mouth. They mistakenly think this is just another one of those, no matter how hard I try to convince them that I’m not “crying wolf” again.
It’s the second group, those who I’ve helped get miles and book trips but still aren’t sold, that completely baffle me. You’ve taken flight(s) around the world FOR FREE and yet you’re still not sure that this hobby is legit? It’s odd, but I think that they’ve just grown accustomed to thinking inside the box, and so when an opportunity presents itself that seems to good to be true, they immediately pass it off as that, even if they have proof to the contrary.
And while it can certainly become frustrating trying to convince them why they should get another card, I tend not to let it bother me when I’m lounging on a beach in Thailand sipping a Chang.
The first group, the ones that I’ve converted, are awesome! I can honestly say that I get more enjoyment out of helping others get miles and book trips than I actually do from doing it for myself. Both my parents will be flying first class to come and see me in Japan in June, and my sister is embarking on a New York-Auckland-Tokyo-Santiago de Compostela trip at the same time, all courtesy of Citi AAdvantage cards. I couldn’t be happier!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
For people without as much time or desire, I don’t think the importance of reading blogs like this one can be overstated. They take all the best information about frequent flying and serve it up for you on a silver platter!
On top of that, many bloggers will spend hours replying to tweets, comments, Facebook messages, and emails to help people with specific questions. That type of assistance and generous spirit is uncommon in many other niches, so I’m very thankful for the great community that frequent flyers have built.
Instead of naming all the amazing tools I use and the people who provide them, I’ll direct you to the Frequent Flyer Toolkit section of my website, which links to everything I find helpful.
As far as tricks, I’ve already gotten on my soapbox about shopping portals, so let’s skip past that. For anyone who has dipped their toes in the water of the frequent flyer pool and is now ready to take the plunge, I’d recommend considering an App-o-Rama. Not only are they a thrill to pull off, but watching your mileage balance balloon in one fell swoop is pretty sweet!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I’m still constantly amazed at the fact that Americans can get such huge amounts of miles and points from credit card bonuses. Many of my friends are other nationalities, and while I’ve helped them figure out their best options, most of the time I have to just shake my head and say “sorry” as I hit the submit button on another 50k application.
Other than that, one of my first experiences was signing up for a stamps.com promotion that awarded 2,500 Chase points. All I had to do was sign up to receive a free $5 worth of Stamps.com supplies (which are still sitting unopened) and then cancel my subscription within 30 days and I’d get 2,500 points and not pay a penny.
Shortly after the promotion went live, they pulled it and many people mentioned having a problem getting their miles, so when I received an email from them 10 days after I signed up, I was worried. Instead, they simply stated that the promotion was a mistake; but instead of taking away my miles, they said they were closing my account AND STILL GIVING ME THE MILES!
Not only did I get my miles, but I never even had to actually call in and cancel. They did it all for me! Probably the easiest 2,500 I’ll ever receive!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
The only regret I have is not learning about frequent flyer miles and points sooner. Who knows how many miles I left on the table by flying and not even getting credit for those “butt in seat”miles, not to mention the literally millions of miles I could have built up had I started this hobby in 2005 instead of 2011!
All the other “mistakes” I’ve made in the last year (can they really be mistakes if you are getting free miles?) have helped me learn what I should and shouldn’t do. I’m thankful for making them because I’ve been able to pass along the knowledge I’ve gained to others.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I actually HATED flying when I was younger. My grandparents lived in Florida and as a little kid I made the 2.5 hour flight from Philadelphia about 2 times a year. Each time, I’d throw up on the plane (sometimes in the bag, sometimes on some poor unsuspecting passenger with the misfortune of sitting beside me). I’d get so sick from flying that I wouldn’t want to eat for a day before or after my flight.
When I got older, I’d drive the 16 hours between Philadelphia and Tampa without even thinking twice, but I’d never, ever willingly choose to take the flight. While this lead to some pretty epic roadtrips, it became an issue when I wanted to travel abroad (when are they going to complete that bridge from America to Europe anyway?).
Over time, I finally “manned up” (with the help of Dramamine) and now I consider a 7 hour flight a short hop and recently just took 8 flights in 11 days on Air Asia while bouncing around South East Asia. The old me would still be wandering somewhere around Cambodia, after refusing to get back on the plane!
Any parting words?
Be thankful- We are all blessed to be able to go so many places and see so many things. To do so for cheap, with the aid of miles and points, is truly amazing.
Get involved- The only way I was able to learn as much as I did in such a short time was by asking questions and seeking out help from those more knowledgeable (my obsessive personality didn’t hurt either).
Don’t be afraid to ask questions on forums, comment on blogs, or send emails. All of us were newbies once, so we know how overwhelming it can be. Don’t forgo your chance at big time miles and points and free travel because you’re scared you don’t understand it all. Personally, I can say that interacting with readers is my favorite part of blogging (and I think Daraius feels the same), so ask, ask, ask.
Lastly, thank you very much Daraius for the opportunity to be featured on Million Mile Secrets. Your blog is top-notch and your interview series is one of my favorite blog features out there. Keep up the good work and thank you for all the mentoring!
Travis – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!