“I Can Literally Do Anything I Want…Why Would I Spend a Single Second Doing Something That Makes Me Unhappy?”

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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:   Live Smart Not Hard

Steve writes Live Smart Not Hard to constantly challenge himself and to share his tips on traveling, saving time, and living a better life.  He’s also giving away $50 in Amazon gift cards on his blog!

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
Steve Likes Living on the Edge. Yikes!

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

Since I graduated college in 2006, my jobs have had me traveling a good amount for meetings and conferences.  While I wasn’t fully in the game in 2006, I always made sure to get credit to my frequent flyer accounts and I built up some large stockpiles of miles.

About 2011 the light bulb fully went on and I crept in.  I’ve taken breaks off and on to buy a home and a rental property.  Daraius is spot on, take a break from applying for credit cards if you’re taking out a major loan (house, car, etc.).  And since June of 2013 when I closed on a property, I’ve been full speed ahead.

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

I started my blog, Live Smart Not Hard, just a few months ago in December of 2013.

I’m a huge proponent of setting new goals and challenges for yourself and 1 of my goals was to write more.  Over the years I’d also had quite a few friends urge me to start some type of blog and relay all the great stories or life hacks I’d acquired.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
The Sacré Coeur Basilica

The blog is not solely travel related, or credit card related, or financial or even lifestyle.  It’s a mix of relaying helpful tips on how to “Live Smart.”

Most people know the saying, “Work Smart, Not Hard.”  I thought it was important to “Live Smart,” as well.  Whether it was saving $100 a month on my cell phone bill, waking up 1 day and deciding, “I want to learn how to fly airplanes,” or bringing a lawsuit against the TSA (true story.  I won!).

I’ve always been one to push for bigger and better things and refuse to conform to how our culture tells us we have to live.

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

The common answer here always seems to be, “credit card bonuses.”  And while that’s definitely true, I’d like to change it up a bit so I’ll say, take care and properly oversee your credit score.  Your credit score is your most valuable asset and something that if managed properly will yield a lifetime of free and discounted travel.

Guys like Daraius and others were only able to get to that point because they had solid credit scores, no late payments, and positive relationships with the banks.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
You Need to Have a Good Credit Score to Get in the Miles & Points Game

If you’re in your late teens or early 20s, spend a couple years building a solid credit score.  Or if you’re older and recovering from some debt, do everything possible to get out of debt and get that score up.

I applied for 7 different cards over the last 4 months, was approved for all of them, and cleared about a quarter of a million miles.

If I’d had a 650 credit score and a history of late payments, that simply would not have been possible.  The difference between a good credit score and a bad one is literally going to be thousands of dollars and a lifetime of additional memories.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

I am a firm believer that during their lives, virtually everyone will have an issue, a decision, or an event that affects their mindset and their life from that point on.  In 2010, I went on a cruise with some friends, and as I stood by the railing, watching the sunset before dinner, I thought to myself:

“I’m standing on a boat that weights thousands upon thousands of pounds and yet is still able to float.  The culmination of generations of math, science and technology.  It has kitchens, water slides, mini golf courses and movie theaters.

I’m watching 1 of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, spending time with friends, not worrying about the day to day of life and work, and just enjoying being in the moment.  I can’t imagine any place in the world I’d rather be than right here, right now.”

Then I thought,

“I’m a capable, hardworking individual, born in a place that’s full of opportunity, and born in a time period that is unmatched by any other in human history for the chance to improve my life.

I know what I’m capable of, what I can achieve and what goals I can set and accomplish if I set my mind to it.  I can do anything I want right now and do anything I want when I get home…I can literally do anything I want with my ENTIRE life…Why would I spend a single second doing something I don’t want to, don’t enjoy, or don’t feel challenged by?”

That was the “moment” for me.  One that made me put into perspective everything around me and re-examine where I lived, where I worked, the physical stuff I just “had to buy” and the lifestyle that the media and the culture tells us we all need.

If you’re in a rut, stuck in a job you don’t like, or unsure of where to go from here, tell yourself this,  “I can literally do anything I want with my entire life.  Why would I spend a single second doing something that makes me unhappy?”

The answer?  You shouldn’t.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
Stopping to Read the Classic, “Mr. Chicken Goes to Paris”

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

Skepticism is the running thread, as most miles enthusiasts have learned.  Though many are actually in awe.  “Wow I could never do that,” “That’s too difficult,” “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t keep track of that,” are all common excuses.  And they are all horrible, terrible excuses.  

Little by little I am chastising my friends and family and helping to walk them through it.  They are realizing that you can either make excuses and go on vacation once every few years, or you can put a plan together and start enjoying everything life has to offer.  It’s a tremendous blessing for me to pass on that knowledge to people and see them reap the rewards.

My mother recently asked me to book a round-trip flight for her, assuming it would be about $400 and said she’d reimburse me when we next got together.  I had a grin like a cheshire cat when I sent her the email ticket confirmation with a final bill of $7.50, just for taxes.  Safe to say, she’s quite interested now!

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
The Palace of Versailles

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

If you aren’t already participating, Barclaycard Travel Community is a goldmine to pick up Barclay Arrival Plus points or Amazon gift cards.

By writing a post on a travel experience you’ve had, and then adding a picture, you receive credit to be used for travel or rewards on Amazon.

You don’t have to be a professional writer or even have lots of free time.  Every one of us has done some traveling, be it seeing family for Christmas, going to a big city, or visiting a theme park.

I’ve picked up about 6,000 Barclay Arrival Plus miles just in the month of April.  That’s $60 I can use to wipe out travel expenses.  The admins do a great job answering questions and are quite helpful.

Just don’t abuse the program, write good posts with a good picture, and you’ll receive 150 Arrival Plus miles per piece.  Oh and since you’re reading this, you can also, “Kudos” aka “like” someone’s post and they get 10 additional miles.  My handle is LiveSmart.  So by all means, look me up, and if you like some of my posts, send me a Kudos!

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

Don’t hesitate for a second to:

1.  Re-negotiate your credit cards that have yearly fees on them.

2.  Make a respectful complaint when something doesn’t go your way.

When my AMEX Delta Platinum card was coming due I explained I was thinking of closing and they offered 15,000 miles to stay.  I did the math and the 15,000 miles were enough to keep me.

Another time I was staying at a Hilton hotel and they didn’t follow through on the wake up call I had requested.  I politely told them I was disappointed and they gave me 3,000 Hilton hotel points as an apology.

Be respectful but firm.  It’s far more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to keep the 1 you have, so overall, airlines and hotels are more than happy to offer you some points when they make a mistake, or just to keep you around.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
Watching an Incredible Sunset on the Beach

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

Credit can be your best friend, so make sure you always have some.  If you have an older credit card that you’ve had for a while and it has no fee, never, ever, ever cancel it.

I got my first credit card at about 20, and a few years later after paying off the statement I decided I was going to celebrate being, “debt free,” and I cancelled it.  “Ah, no more credit cards!  Success!”

Big mistake.  It was 3 years later before I opened up my next credit card.  That was 3 years of credit history that could have been positively affecting my credit score.  “Length of Credit History” is only 15% of your score, but every bit counts.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I get a kick out of saying and doing things that the typical person would be embarrassed about, and for some reason it really pushes people’s buttons when I’m not embarrassed by it.

One example, in line with my love of travel, off and on I change my Facebook status to:  “In a relationship with Carmin Sandiego” (I know, it’s Carmen with an E, but Facebook treats that as a fictional character.)

When the last person asked me about it I replied:

“Look I know we have some obstacles to overcome, but we’re going to try to make it work.  It’s tough because she travels so much.  But she promised to take me to see the Eiffel Tower next month.  Well, actually, I think she said she’d take the Eiffel Tower to see me.  But that’s probably the same thing, right?”

Any parting words?

The key to living smart is to continually push yourself and challenge yourself.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
Walking Through Amsterdam

I have a goal from now until December that I’m calling, “The Free Cruise Challenge.”  My goal is to get a completely free cruise, from start to finish.  Everything from travel to the ship port, the cruise itself, the onboard expenses, excursions, etc.  Everything.  A 100% free cruise.

I’ll be using a combination of airline miles to fly to the port, including Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® miles to cancel out the cruise and onboard charges, an older Bank of America cash back card to redeem my bonus and have dollar bills to spend in the islands, and lots more.

LiveSmartNotHard - Interview With Steve
Boating Through the Canals in Amsterdam

I want to turn to the person next to me as the ship pulls back into port after a week’s journey and say, “You know…I paid exactly zero dollars for this cruise.”

Steve – 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!

 

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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