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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Consumer’s Edge
Mark started The Consumer’s Edge to help folks save money by showing them how to take advantage of rewards programs, shopping promotions, and other deals.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve been an avid collector pretty much all of my life, but I won’t say how old I am. I really just started with the basics…earning miles by flying cross-country from Washington, DC to visit my family on the West Coast. Later, as I began to travel for work, I flew to Europe a few times and then I really starting accruing points.
I started to pay more attention to frequent flyer program partners such as Rewards Network and shopping portals. My point earnings mushroomed from there.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I really enjoy finding ways to save money and sharing those tips with friends and family, especially for travel. A few of my friends suggested that I chronicle my experiences with saving money and the idea was born.
On my site I have a series of lessons and how-to guides on how to save money and use loyalty programs that I discuss in my posts.
I am a big fan of non-travel loyalty programs as well. Among my favorites are My Starbucks Rewards, CVS ExtraCare Rewards, and OpenTable. These are absolute “no-brainer” ways to save money on what you’d be buying anyway.
Why not help my friends and family by sharing my knowledge on how these programs work? It’s a lot of fun.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Well, there are 2 very frequently discussed methods in the blogosphere: using gift cards to meet minimum spending (too many methods to describe here) and credit card sign-up bonuses. I use my credit cards for everything, no matter how small of a purchase. But I don’t really sign-up for credit cards as often as I could.
I tend to get a credit card and keep it as long as I can “beat” the annual fee, if it has one. For example, the Chase Hyatt card gives you an annual free night in up to a category 4 hotel annually
just for having the card. The card has an annual fee of $75 (waived for the 1st year), but comes with Hyatt Platinum status. Combine that with a free room and you can easily come out ahead on the annual fee.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My honeymoon to Hawaii, of course! We had racked up a ton of US Airways miles during their old “Grand Slam” promotion in 2010. It was quite a bounty.
Using the miles, we flew First Class from DC to Kauai, which is a pretty long haul. We stayed at the St. Regis, Princeville on Starwood hotel points for 5 nights. Since we were Starwood Gold members, we got an upgrade to an amazing ocean view room. It was definitely a week of decadence.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They think I am a little crazy. But they love to hear my stories, even when many other bloggers out there could easily top my experiences. My family thinks I fly First Class for free everywhere, all the time, and it’s really only partially true.
I’ve been lucky with getting upgraded hotel rooms just by asking, even when I was a low-tiered elite. But I’ve been denied
complimentary upgrades on United Airlines countless times.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Yes. A few. I have used Yodlee Moneycenter for years to track my accounts. Unfortunately, some programs, like United Airlines, aren’t tracked any more.
Award Wallet is excellent for tracking a variety of loyalty programs, from travel to CVS ExtraBucks. It really is pretty comprehensive. The only other “trick,” really, is to read sites like Million Mile Secrets, Flyertalk, MilePoint, Boarding Area, First2Board, InsideFlyer, Fatwallet, and Slickdeals.
Invest a few hours a week, or more, and you will know what’s up in the loyalty programs world pretty soon. Of course, read the materials that come with your loyalty programs. That’s a great foundation for knowledge.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Getting married has been 1 of the best decisions I’ve made…for points earning maximization. I am kidding, but being married has enabled some promotion doubling I hadn’t expected. Other than that, I haven’t earned miles by doing anything too fringe…yet.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Loyalty. I was on a tighter budget many years ago, so I’d always pick the cheapest flights to go anywhere. The problem was that I never accumulated enough miles to redeem.
These days, I am a pretty diehard United Airlines fan. And it has been easier and faster to redeem awards by being brand loyal. Other than that, “early and often,” like many things in life, is the way to become an expert in anything.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I am a huge animal lover. And since I live in Washington, DC, I have probably run through the National Zoo more than most people ever will.
Any parting words?
I am very thankful for the opportunity to be interviewed. I really enjoy this “hobby” and hope to grow it into something more in the future. Blogs like this one, help inspire those thoughts.
Mark – 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!