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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 Miles Genie
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
When I went to see how I could use the points, I learned that my 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points were worth $250. But I couldn’t transfer them to airlines or hotels. Also, I had some American Airlines miles (from actually flying) and I started looking at their award chart because I had no idea how many miles I would need for an award ticket.
At the time, we were planning a trip to Canada, and we needed 25,000 American Airlines miles round-trip, per person. So I did a little math and thought, wait a second? If my 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points were American Airlines miles instead, I could book a Canada ticket already!
So, I learned that 25,000 airline miles could get me a ticket to Canada. Which would otherwise cost significantly more than the $250 that my 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points were worth.
Then, every time I went to book a flight on American Airlines, I kept seeing offers for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® for 50,000 American Airlines miles (no longer available). I finally decided to apply and I quickly met the minimum spend to get my first bonus. After that, we booked our first award tickets for our trip to Canada!
It was so easy and I wanted more! I started reading blogs such as Million Mile Secrets and a few months later, we earned the Southwest Companion Pass! Since then, I can’t stop thinking about earning miles & points and about how to maximize their value.
In my second year of collecting and redeeming miles, I calculated all of the money we saved and it was over $30,000! My friends used to joke that it’s a part time job to learn about all of this. And well, it kind of is. But it only took a little reading every day to start figuring things out. Now it really is my job and I love helping others learn.
We now have 3 kids, and sometimes we do family trips and sometimes we do adult only trips thanks to some great help from our parents. As the kids get older and we take them on more trips, we’re going to need to earn a lot more miles!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I decided to start the blog because the more we traveled, the more questions I got! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy talking about it and helping others, but the most common thing I hear is “it makes my head spin.” I like to help my readers understand the math behind it by showing my work. I also wanted to create a “getting started” guide so that even people with no experience could learn the basic concepts of this hobby.
The original plan was to focus on redeeming points and miles. So many of our friends already have huge stockpiles of miles and points, they just aren’t sure how to use them. The goal was to show people how to get the maximum value for the rewards they’d earned.
Shortly after launching the blog, I started getting lots of messages and emails from people who wanted to learn how we earn so many points and miles. So now I try to show both sides of the equation. It’s also nice that blogging gives me a way to document all of our vacations.
One thing we like to highlight is that we get to do all of these fun tours, activities, and excursions that probably wouldn’t be in the budget if paying for flights and hotels.
For example, we booked a balloon flight over Napa and chartered a catamaran to island hop in Croatia. So in addition to showing how much money we save, we show all of the fun things we get to do with some of the money we save!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
The quickest and easiest way is credit card sign-up bonuses. Extra points from category bonuses and shopping portals add up more quickly than most people realize, but sign-up bonuses are by far the fastest way to earn more miles and points.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That is such a tough question because we have been to so many wonderful places. We just got back from a nice vacation in Italy and it’s going to be pretty tough to beat that. We swam in caves in Capri, had dinners on cliffs in Positano, and drank too much wine in Tuscany.
But I think the most memorable would have to be our trip to Croatia a few years ago. We went with some friends and chartered a catamaran for 5 nights. We hired a great captain who took us to about 5 different islands.
Each island had something different to offer, but it was all so beautiful. We rode scooters around the vineyards in Vis, drank wine at the top of the fort in Hvar, and hiked to some beautiful pristine beaches in Brac!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Well, they used to think I’m nuts. But thanks to the blog, they are starting to understand why I do it. I’ve gotten many friends on board and I love hearing their success stories!
Also, my parents finally just signed up for their first travel rewards credit cards. I am so excited that they get to see how fruitful it can be. They love to travel and I hate to see them paying cash!
My husband Ryan also helps a lot, and he has been very supportive of starting a blog. I call him my stage mom.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Honestly, the most useful tool for me is a calculator. I need to be able to calculate the cents per point or mile value to make sure it’s a good redemption. I always show the math when I’m posting about a redemption. It’s actually very simple math but I think people just get intimidated by the large numbers.
Another trick I discovered is that reaching out to some airlines via Twitter or other social media can result in a faster solution than a phone call would. For example, we had to re-route our flight to Italy to avoid traveling through Miami during Hurricane Irma. Our tickets were booked with American Airlines miles and I was not sure how American Airlines would handle award tickets that had to be changed due to weather.
After being on hold for 15 minutes, I decided to send American Airlines a direct message on Twitter. I waited on hold on the phone because I wasn’t sure how long the Twitter response would take. But within an hour and a half and after a few Twitter messages back and forth with American Airlines, we were ticketed on an even better flight than our original! And I was still waiting on hold on the phone when I received the confirmation email. 😉
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Two things come to mind.
- I needed prescription sunglasses, so instead of buying them through my eye doctor, I bought them through the Southwest shopping portal on glasses.com … I ended up earning over 2,500 Southwest points and the cost of the sunglasses was reimbursed by our Flexible Spending Account!
- We recently closed on a new house. We happened to close during the time Chase was offering 100,000 Ultimate Rewards for a new mortgage. We shopped around, but Chase happened to be the best rate.
So we got the best rate, and 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Prior to closing, we went about a year without opening new credit cards since we knew we were taking out a mortgage loan. So 100,000 bonus points was a nice silver lining to going about a year without sign-up bonuses!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I would have paid more attention to partner redemptions and flexible points.
For example, I just kept collecting American Airlines miles and redeeming them for Mexico and Caribbean destinations. And all that time I should have been earning and using Chase Ultimate Rewards points! Because from Dallas, I can book 2 tickets to Mexico with British Airways Avios points (that have a 1:1 transfer ratio with Chase Ultimate Rewards points) for the same price that 1 ticket would cost with American Airlines miles.
A major focus of my blog is encouraging people to earn points that are transferable rather than earning with a single airline. So Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood points, and AMEX Membership Rewards points are a staple on the blog.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I love fantasy football. My husband got me into it when we first started dating because he wanted me to enjoy Sundays at the sports bar with him. For years I was the only girl in a league with a bunch of urologists (so you can imagine the inappropriate but hilarious team names). Since then, we’ve recruited a few more girls.
One time I paged my husband when he was at work to discuss my line-up. He acted annoyed, but later told me he was proud. And I won that year!
Any parting words?
Thank you to Daraius, Emily, and the Million Mile Secrets team for schooling me on miles and points! You guys were a huge inspiration for me in the beginning and still to this day.
I also would like to give a shout-out to my parents and to my husband Ryan’s parents. They have been very supportive and we really appreciate everything they do to take care of our kids while we’re traveling. We are so blessed to be able to travel and know that our kids are in the best hands!
Laura – 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!