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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Have Kids and Travel
Traveling Momma writes Have Kids and Travel to show others that traveling with kids is fun and enjoyable.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Traveling Momma: I began collecting miles and points back in 1992 in Air Canada’s Aeroplan program when I traveled extensively for my first career in hotel sales & marketing with Four Seasons Hotels, but that was solely from flying and a few non-Four Seasons hotel stays.
In 1998, I received a Diners Club card that earned points and miles, which I used for all purchases, business and pleasure, that racked up a pretty hefty number of miles.
Over the years, prior to my developing my point-and-mile hobby, my husband (“Traveling Poppa”) and I also had the Citi American Airlines cards and Chase cards that accrued about 300,000+ miles.
Traveling Poppa: I never really paid much attention to my miles. I think the first time Traveling Momma saw how many miles I’d racked up without knowing it her eyes got wider than her head.
Traveling Momma: Our serious focus on miles and points began in February of this year when I read your blog, Million Mile Secrets, and decided to dive in head first. I first read Million Mile Secrets, back in 2011 but had started my own business only two years prior and could not afford a diversion that would take my focus away from building my business.
I bookmarked your site and vowed to return to it when time permitted. Return I did! We’ve earned over 1.2 million miles in the past eight months alone!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Traveling Momma: Funny you ask. I wrote my first blog post while on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas with Traveling Poppa and my son (“Knuckles”) in July of 2011. That trip was less than stellar, to put it mildly, so I kept that blog post in draft form ready to post once my blog was done and enough time had passed to afford me the ability to look at both the positive and negative aspects of the trip without bias.
It took me until July 2013 to finally put up that first post on my website and from then on I’ve been posting about once a week. I started HaveKidsandTravel.com as way to share the extensive research I was doing before our travels and as a way to share and memorialize our travel activities with family, friends, and our future selves.
I was frustrated by the lack of good in-depth travel information for families with kids on blogs or mainstream media. I’m a bit obsessive about my research.
Traveling Poppa: This is an understatement.
Traveling Momma: So I believed that people other than just me and my family should be able to capitalize on the extensive work I’d already done. I clip articles, jot down travel and tour ideas, research costs, hotels, and destinations the entire family will enjoy with a focus on making it easy for everyone while traveling with a kid.
Once I had the Royal Caribbean trip all planned and set I didn’t have the heart to delete all the electronic data I had mined from a variety of sources, so I just kept it in my Evernote account thinking that someone at some point could and would benefit. That’s when I realized I should just openly share it through a blog so anyone who wanted to copy what we did in a particular location or pick and choose a la carte based on what they saw us do, could do so easily.
And because we are now able to do most of this for free, or at a deeply discounted cost, I decided to include: how we accrued the miles for free airline tickets and hotels and cars, what we had to do to get the award redemption or discounts, how we redeemed them, what we researched about the destination, what we liked and disliked on the trip, and any tips for travel that would be helpful or make a large international trip less intimidating to a family less adventurous than ours.
But I know from personal experience that if you have kids you often don’t have time to research all of this. That’s mainly why I want to share the research I’ve done. We want to make other families lives easier assuring them that travel can and will be enjoyable with kids.
Traveling Poppa: All this is, of course, is great for me! I literally just show up and have a good time!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Traveling Momma: Be thoughtful and strategic about every dollar spent in your household.
I’ve spent numerous hours signing up for credit cards that provide category bonuses and then setting up our reoccurring bills to be paid by these cards to ensure we benefit from the additional bonuses on those specific cards for that particular type of spend (i.e., five points for every dollar spent on telecommunications— cell phone bills, cable, and Internet on the Ink Bold) not to mention the sign-up bonus we receive on the cards themselves once the minimum spend on the credit card is completed.
It was a fair amount of work on the front end but it now just runs in the background of our life, passively earning miles and points every month automatically. I like that! We’ve crafted strategies through the gift card and Bluebird mechanism to pay our son’s school tuition, mortgage, and utility bills on our credit cards also all without paying a 3% convenience fee to do so.
We passively earn approximately 25,000+ points each month just by doing this. I’m stunned by how many of my friends and family don’t even have point or mile earning credit cards. The credit card companies make huge money from consumers using their cards and offer nice sign-up bonuses for getting a specific card. Why not take them up their offer? If it is mutually beneficial, everyone wins.
Traveling Poppa: I’ve thought about this issue for a while, and have finally concluded it’s neither unethical or immoral to earn as many points as you can.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Traveling Momma: This past June we went to Yosemite National Park and stayed in the Tent Camps in Curry Village. Then we drove up to the high country of Tuolumne Meadows and stayed in the High Sierra Camps there. Yosemite is a magical place with an abundance of amazing outdoor activities for families of all physical skill levels to enjoy.
My 5-year-old earned his Junior Ranger badge after completing the activities outlined in the workbook that he was given at the Visitors Desk when checking in on Day 1. He was sworn in by Ranger Erika up at Tuolumne Meadows by raising his right hand and promising to protect the environment and so on. It was one of the most precious moments I’ve ever witnessed. He was so serious and attentive that I cried while filming it.
Traveling Poppa: It really was a moving experience. But my most memorable travel experience to date was years ago before Knuckles came along when Traveling Momma and I went to Belize. A guide took us 3 miles deep into an ancient Mayan cave where the water was up to our chins at times and we eventually found ourselves standing next to artifacts centuries old.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Traveling Momma: Traveling Poppa knows I’m like a dog with a bone. Once I get an idea, I typically don’t let it go until I’ve exhausted it for full value or become a complete black belt and simply incorporate it into my life. He knew the moment I told him about reading your blog seriously in January that I was going to jump into this hobby with two feet, especially because I love traveling and saving money.
He was skeptical of signing up for so many new credit cards and didn’t really think about the category spending too seriously. However, after we were able to book a trip for 12 days to Thailand this coming March for all three of us for under $1,000 in business class including free and deeply discounted hotels, he started to see the points in all of this.
Then, just last week we applied for a loan for a new car that was going to allow us to see exactly what the opening of new credit cards had done to his credit score. The outcome was that his credit score moved from 800 to 815, providing proof that getting 10 new cards in his name since February actually helped his score not hurt it.
Traveling Poppa: I’ll admit I was a little worried about opening up so many credit cards, not just because I don’t need them but also because it seemed like gaming the system. But it’s become clear to me that the credit card companies want us all to have as many credit cards as possible.
And because they’re the ones offering the rewards, there seems little argument for not taking advantage of what they offer. I’m delighted my wife gets to indulge her greatest passion so cheaply.
Traveling Momma: My other family and friends haven’t paid too much attention yet as it is still quite new.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Traveling Momma: Yes, know the value of your time. In the beginning, I had to spend a huge amount of time learning everything about this hobby to ensure it was something we, as a family, would be comfortable with financially and that it made sense given our travel goals. I even looked into booking our first major trans-Pacific award redemption myself.
Once I started the process of looking for the award tickets, I realized I was going to spend more than three hours of time trying to understand all the nuances of the program, searching for the award seats, and then holding them. That’s when I did a time/value analysis and decided to use an award booking service instead of doing it myself.
I now use an award booking service if I believe the time required to make an award redemption is going to be three hours or more.
That’s my threshold. Everyone else will have their own threshold based on their own criteria. I highly recommend understanding what your time is actually worth to you and being careful not to get too engrossed in this too quickly. It can be a time sink, albeit one with amazing benefits, that can give you back tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Traveling Poppa: I’m now in love with the idea that every dollar we spend actually earns us money to travel. Traveling Momma has been saying this to me for years, but I’ve never believed it until now: you have to spend money to save money.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Traveling Momma: Buying my husband’s 10-year anniversary gift. I bought him the iPhone 5S and mistakenly used my Starwood card at the store. I then realized after looking at the receipt that the store is likely coded as telecommunications because it was the AT&T store.
I made my family stop in the store one Saturday while we happened to be walking by on Michigan Avenue to refund the payment to my Starwood card and rerun it on his Ink Bold. At 5 points per dollar spent we got 2,295 points.
Traveling Poppa: They wouldn’t even let us in the store at first because so many people were lined up to buy the 5S. But Traveling Momma had a manager talking to us in two minutes and us in the store in five.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Traveling Momma: There is an entire community of people that are into this hobby and travel around the world for free or deeply discounted prices. There are seminars, events, DOs, and get-togethers with people who are all like-minded in every city. Get to know them, attend an event, ask questions.
Be open to new people and experiences. I feel like I’ve found my peeps!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Traveling Momma: I am married to a man who doesn’t love to travel and am a citizen of three countries holding passports for Canada, USA and Ireland. Who doesn’t love to travel?
Traveling Poppa: Guilty as charged. I wouldn’t travel much at all left to my own devices. But what makes our marriage work is our willingness to support one another’s passions. In so doing, though, I’ve gained a real appreciation for the value of travel that I didn’t have before.
Any parting words?
Traveling Momma: Use your own judgment when evaluating whether to sign up for a credit card, set up a system to keep track of everything, and be sure you can handle whatever spend you’re making on your credit cards. Make your travels about the destination and the shared experience and learning you will have with your family.
There’s evidence that money spent on experiences adds to our happiness far more than money spent on material items. Get out there are have all the audacious travel experiences you can with your family. Life is precious and short, so live it to the fullest!
Traveling Poppa: Amen.
Rhea and Alex – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!