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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: Serena on the Go
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My husband and I started as a long distance relationship; he lived in Chicago, I lived in Seattle. We spent 26+ weekends traveling back and forth before figuring out we couldn’t afford to maintain that traveling routine, so he moved cross country. We instantly learned we both love to travel and we shared a flair for spontaneity!
In the earlier years of our marriage, we spent our entire savings account paying for airline tickets, hotels and cruises; we were going to travel no matter what and we were equally determined to expose our children to varied cultures and geographical locations.
I’m a blog & internet addict. One random Friday night in late 2016, while web-surfing, I stumbled upon other avid travelers, including Million Mile Secrets, who were using credit card sign-up bonuses and miles & points collecting to earn their flights for free. I was awe-inspired and up for the challenge. That night, I set out to read everything about “travel hacking” and miles & points collecting that I could get my hands on.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Within 3 months of securing my first 2 reward credit cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card) I had booked a family trip to Maui using miles & points. After I started booking free flights (while only paying taxes), family, neighbors and closest friends begged me to share what I had learned and how I was working this “magic” of frugal traveling on a budget. Instead of teaching each of them individually, I started making computer printed handouts that I stapled together and dispersed.
That was the start of my information sharing! I’ve always been a passionate writer, but had never considered blogging. One night it came to me that I could “marry” my love of free travel with my love of writing to start a blog. That’s how my blog, Serena on the GO, was born!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Use a credit card to pay for everything. Often times I find others have no idea they can use a credit card instead of a debit card for nearly all expenses. There’s a certain “stigma” about overusing credit cards or overspending on credit cards. It’s important to note that credit cards don’t equal “debt” if you are disciplined with this hobby.
In my family, it is known that even a purchase as small as a cup of coffee goes on a credit card, and then is paid off monthly. We use Plastiq to pay our mortgage (offset the fee by referring others to Plastiq) and put all our utilities, household expenses, and purchases on a credit card to accrue maximum points possible.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Actually, I have 2 that relate. Using Chase Ultimate Rewards points, my family spent nearly 3 weeks in Maui this last summer. Round-trip airfare cost a total of $33 in taxes and fees.
To book these tickets, I used Korean Air miles to book award flights on Delta. If you haven’t experienced the beauty of Maui, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list! Maui is a special place with friendly locals, endless activities, and sunsets like no other.
Our family trip to Maui was so memorable, budget friendly, and easy to book that I surprised my mom with First Class tickets to Kauai for this upcoming April. I’m taking her on a mom and daughter only trip! These reservations were also booked using Korean Air miles for Delta flights for a total cost of $22! This will be my mom’s first time in Hawaii and her first time flying First Class!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They are always as excited as I am to hear what crazy adventure I am on, what deal I’ve booked, or where I’m going next. Yet, they remain skeptical and sometimes intimidated by the opportunity. This year my sister and brother-in-law finally decided they were ready to start slowly with one rewards credit card; they’ve already earned enough points for 4 round-trip flights!
I’m beyond excited to share that a neighbor I taught just booked a trip, including airfare & hotel, for her family of 6 to Disney World, Florida (from Utah), all on miles and points; this entire trip only took her 7 months to earn.
A fun story I love to tell is about a couple we know that loved to hear about my hobby, then, one day they called and were finally ready to sit and learn everything I was doing. Over dinner I said “my favorite card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred”, and at once they replied “we already use that card”; come to find out they had already earned over 275,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and had no idea how to use them or what they were worth.
When I explained to them that they had enough points for 11 round-trip airline tickets they were astounded…. and thrilled. It was an exciting night for everyone!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Absolutely! Keep good records and stay organized. Life, as we know, moves fast; if you open a rewards credit card, it’s essential to keep track of the card’s promotion details so you don’t miss any minimum spending deadline or confuse the minimum spending requirement with a different card. Trust me when I say this does happen; my husband has done it twice and lost out on enough miles & points for 4 round-trip airline tickets and 2 free nights at any Hyatt resort, worldwide.
A simple Excel spreadsheet has worked great for me (and yes, I’ve taken over his record keeping!)
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
This isn’t something I share often in fear it will go away. However, it was an accidental find, and my most lucrative way of earning points. My local credit union accepts credit card payments for repayment of my line of credit; this has allowed me to use my line of credit for very large purchases, including a down payment on our motor-home.
Then, I pay off my line of credit with a credit card. If I stay pro-active and organize my spending, the points earned by using my line of credit can equate to 2 round-trip airline tickets a month, or more.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Ha! I wish I knew how incredibly addicting this hobby is! Using miles and points to book travel is often times a hunt that takes time, as I’m always seeking the most frugal airfare and accommodations!
I never like to hand over more points or miles than I have to! When I hear about others who just jump onto an airline’s website and simply book a ticket in 15 to 20 minutes I get green with envy until I remember they had to pay for it! It is a hobby that turns you competitive with yourself.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
That I’m a US Army Veteran! I joined the Army in the late 1990s and served until 2003. Serving in the Army has a lot to do with my incessant love of travel.
Being a young lady in the Army pushed me to be more independent than I already was! Before the age of 20 I was able to live in Columbia, South Carolina, and Grafenwohr, Germany. Looking back, I could kick myself because I turned down opportunities for short assignments in Honduras, Korea, and the Netherlands. Being young, I didn’t appreciate the opportunities I had handed to me.
Another surprising tidbit about me is that I often daydream of traveling solo through Asia. One day I might accomplish this, but in the meantime, my kids and wonderful husband get to experience these journeys alongside me!
Any parting words?
If I can successfully conquer this hobby… you can! While seemingly intimidating at first, once you have the basics of using miles & points, the travel possibilities are endless! I have a die-hard belief that everyone who wants to travel deserves to travel no matter what his or her budget allows.
OK, I cannot go without sharing where I’m headed next! Annually I treat my best friend to girls only trip! At the end of this month, she and I will be dipping our toes in the sand on a fully paid all-inclusive vacation for 2 to Cancun, Mexico.
By using Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Hyatt and booking award flights on Alaska Airlines with British Airways Avios points, this entire trip cost $90. We’ll be staying at the waterfront Hyatt Zilara, an all-inclusive, adults-only luxury resort on the Caribbean coast. This will be her first experience outside of the US!
Serena – 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!