“We Were Upgraded to Business Class on Emirates, Thanks to My Daughter’s American Girl Doll”

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Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.  Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview:   From Fresno to Timbuktu

Ruthie and her friend Kate started From Fresno to Timbuktu to share their stories of traveling with their children.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
Ruthie at a Village Market in Zambia

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

My husband left the military in 2009, and started traveling extensively for work.  We’d never really considered miles before, but we discovered the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card have been hooked ever since a spur of the moment trip to Bangkok.

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

The thing about travel, for a lot of people, is that it’s not “hard.  Even if you don’t have a way to earn lots of miles, deals are everywhere.  95% of the population can figure out how to visit London, Bangkok, or Rome.  It just seems like such a huge step that people are afraid to take it.

Kate and I have known each other for years and years, and we’ve both been sharing our travel experiences with friends and family through Facebook.  People we know are surprised at how easy it is to travel, and it just became more convenient to aggregate our experiences in 1 place online.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
Bloubergstrand, Cape Town With the Kids

Also, traveling with kids is an entirely different ballgame.  In addition to the “how” of travel, sometimes parents need to know that they aren’t the only ones whose child had an urgent need for the bathroom as soon as  the airplane seat belt light goes on.

My son had a huge meltdown in the middle of The Belvedere Museum in Vienna triggered by, of all things, a Klimt painting he thought was too abstract to exist.

A lot of parents don’t travel because they know things like this will happen.  But if you’re a good parent and really making an effort, most people will be kind and supportive.  Kate and I try to show that it is possible to have a travel lifestyle and children, even if there are bumps along the way.

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

Fill out every survey they send you!  And always, always, always send in the reviews they request.  Online, in email, or noticed in the travel magazine – ALWAYS do the reviews!

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

My children and I were in Johannesburg, South Africa, when Nelson Mandela died.  We had just visited the Apartheid Museum the day before and we were staying at a hotel just a block from Mandela Square.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
Chaminuka in Zambia

Also, just last week we had to reprimand my son while we were in line for immigration to enter South Africa for a visit to Durban.  He started rubbing his cheeks vigorously to see if he could make the fever screen ping.

We had to really drive home to him that Africa in the middle of an Ebola epidemic is not the time for science experiments at the airport, and we had to do it without seeming suspicious to the people around us.  Ebola makes everyone suspicious.

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

They are hugely supportive.  They look at the amount of travel our children do and ask how they can get the same benefits for their kids.  We love, love, love to share ideas on this…travel is an incredible school for kids.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
The Agora in Rome

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

TripIt!  Can’t live without it!

I’ve got an upcoming trip that has 13 flight legs involved.  It’s for work, so I won’t get a ton of sightseeing done. but without TripIt I’d be struggling to calculate how many miles I have, what time my flight is, which flight I’m actually on, and what day of the week it is.

We lose time when we travel back toward the States, so an organizer is an absolute necessity.

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

I’m not very creative about this.  I get all my ideas from Million Mile Secrets or from others who spend a lot more time researching points.

However, the least expected way I was able to benefit from my points was on a family trip to Rome.  We had booked economy plus, and the fantastic lady behind the check-in counter was quite enamored by our daughter and her American Girl doll (Felicity).

She upgraded us to Business Class without any requests, using my status.  Our flight was so delayed we missed our Heathrow to Johannesburg connection and were put on an Emirates flight to get us to Johannesburg as soon as possible.

And we were upgraded to Business Class on Emirates, thanks to my daughter’s American Girl doll.

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

I wish I had known that Expedia points would be so devalued.  The 1st time we used them we were able to score a week in a fantastic Madrid hotel.

Now we get maybe 2 nights at a hotel after a year of booking non-stop business travel.  I think we’ll be switching to RocketMiles, actually.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
My Son’s Travel Backpack With Flag Patches From all the Countries He’s Visited

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

We travel to a lot of Developing World countries.  So far, at various times, I’ve been detained by local police, driven through an African riot, and even (once) carjacked by, again, local police.

But the scariest thing that ever happened to me was when a monkey stole my gin and tonic as I was sitting and relaxing poolside at a Zimbabwe hotel.

Thanks to growing up on movies like Outbreak and 12 Monkeys, my fear of many simians is borderline pathological.

From Fresno To Timbuktu - Interview With Ruthie
Shopping in Barcelona

Any parting words?

At the end of our lives our biggest regrets are for the things we did not do.  The 1st time we press that purchase button on an outlandish destination is the hardest.

Also, drink lots of clean water and wear sunblock…I’m a redhead.  Trust me on the sunblock.

Ruthie – 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!


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