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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: Food, Wine, and Miles
Jason is a marketing consultant, but also writes the Food, Wine, and Miles blog where he shares his knowledge about miles and points and his experiences in traveling the world, so I was looking forward to our chat on Friday!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I first started collecting miles and points when I started working full-time, about 8 years ago. Most of my older colleagues preferred to fly Continental and stay at Starwood hotels, so those were the first two programs under which I started collecting miles and points.
Over the years that followed, my interest and enthusiasm grew and grew, but I’d say I first started SERIOUSLY collecting about a year ago, when I first signed up for a credit card strictly for the sign-up bonus.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started Food, Wine, and Miles earlier this year, because it felt like the best way to share information about points and miles, and to share my experiences traveling, eating great food, and drinking great wine! It’s different from any other blog I’ve come across in that it is a true food+travel+points hybrid.
Many points blogs will touch on cool places they’ve seen on their trips, or what the food was like in first class. Many travel blogs will talk about frequent flyer miles from time to time as well.
However, they’re all pretty clearly one or the other. I love playing the game of earning and burning miles in a wide range of crazy ways, and I also have a passion for food and wine, so my blog is pretty equal opportunity.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
It’s been said countless times before, but credit card sign-up bonuses are far and away the best way to build up a big stash of miles. I particularly like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, since it offers 2x Ultimate Rewards points on my favorite categories (Dining and Travel), and because Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to my favorite program (United MileagePlus).
Beyond credit cards, another great way to leverage food and wine experiences to build up balances is to register for dining programs and numerous airline and hotel programs offer through the Rewards Network.
Most of the bars and restaurants that participate aren’t anything special, but there are some real gems – like Braai (a South African Restaurant) and Xai Xai (the affiliated South African Wine Bar) in NYC.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My honeymoon in Hawaii, without a doubt. We used a whole bunch of hard-earned SPG points to visit Oahu, Maui and Kauai (at the Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Maui, and St. Regis Princeville, respectively). All of the hotels were fantastic, but Hawaii itself was the more memorable part. Zip-lining, trekking to the top of a volcano, seeing the Napali Coast from a catamaran, taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and of course eating a lot of amazing food at places like Mama’s Fish House in Maui! There may have been a Mai Tai or two during some pool-side down-time as well 🙂
Beyond that trip, I’ve also been fortunate enough to visit some amazing places, and see some amazing things, including the Great Wall in China, the Colosseum in Italy, Petra in Jordan, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, and the Parthenon in Greece. I’ve got many more travel memories-to-be in the works though!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most view it as an eccentricity that they graciously tolerate. A few share the passion (though not quite to the same extent), and a small number even get to enjoy the fruits of my “hobby” – so obviously, they’re quite appreciative!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Absolutely – and even a few that I’m allowed to talk about! In terms of tools, Awardwallet is invaluable to me – there’s simply no better way to keep track of all your accounts in an efficient way. And efficiency is critical to me, as I manage 50+ different accounts right now!
I also use evreward to figure out which shopping portal gives the best bang for your buck before making an online purchase. Lastly, Seth over at the Wandering Aramean has several great travel tools that are really helpful. Just a few weeks ago, I used one of his alerts to snag 2 business class seats on South African Air’s direct flight from Johannesburg to JFK (which are really hard to come by).
In terms of tricks or tips, I would say the key is to figure out how to simultaneously focus and diversify when it comes to playing different programs. Focus – in terms of sticking to a single airline and hotel program to maximize your elite status (unless you’re one of those super-frequent travelers who can qualify for top-tier with multiple programs).
Diversify – in terms of building up balances on a variety of programs via other means (credit cards, shopping portals, random promotions, etc.) so that you’ve got more options when it comes time to book a trip.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Probably Hawaiian Air’s recent “Aloha From” promotion. Basically, you had to upload a picture of yourself and then fit your face into various postcard templates. You had to be pretty shameless to enter – so of course I did, and I won 10,000 miles! Winners were picked at random, so it was a complete shot in the dark.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew more about how creative you can get with routing rules, stopovers, open jaws, etc. Up until recently, I’d always been a “point A to point B” booker, but I’ve since learned how much more value you can squeeze out of your miles by taking full advantage of all the flexibility that award tickets provide.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I grew up in Canada, born to a Dutch-Canadian mother and a Jamaican father – which exposed me to some pretty interesting foods from a very young age. Pickled herring or curried goat anyone?
Any parting words?
Don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to building up your points and miles balance. It’s easy to obsess about using the exact right card for every single purchase, but at the end of the day, the small purchases aren’t going to make THAT much of a difference.
And unlike George Clooney in Up in the Air, don’t view the miles as the goal – earn them and then burn them, and make some memories!
Jason – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!