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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: Air, Land and Sea
Jane started Air, Land and Sea to write about fulfilling her bucket list on a limited income.
And she’s giving away a $50 Visa gift card.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I began collecting miles in March 2012. My husband and I are both retired and I realized that it was time to tackle my Travel Bucket List. I had been saving our miles from our Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus card for about 8 years hoping that we would have enough miles to fly Business Class to Australia, the 1st stop on my bucket list.
We booked our cruise from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand and I was curious to see if I had enough miles to fly to Sydney. Disappointment sent in when I found out that we were about 100,000 miles short! I did what any good respecting person would do, I turned to the internet where I found this wonderful group of frequent flyers and bloggers who were ready to share their knowledge and help me out.
I wrote to 1 blogger who suggested that both my husband and I apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. Can you imagine that we only had 2 credit cards in our name! We were instantly approved.
The day we received the cards we used them to help pay for our cruise. A few days later we paid off the cards and we had our points within weeks. I needed to get the points quickly as we would be flying in about 9 ½ months.
We were good to go and excited about the prospect of arriving in Sydney refreshed and ready to begin our adventure.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I found all the blogs out there very helpful, but many times I didn’t understand what they were saying. They were many levels ahead of me, staying in luxury hotels and flying First Class. Heck, all I wanted was to fly Business Class across the Pacific. My needs weren’t as great as theirs.
I began my blog in order to break things down a bit more for my friends and family. Many of my senior friends didn’t get it and with my blog they could go step by step. It’s also written by a senior, hopefully someone they can trust since we were all facing similar issues.
I also write about more than airline miles and credit cards. Since I cruise quite a bit, I write about European River and Ocean Liner cruising. Understanding your cruise before you put money down is very helpful.
How do you find a good stateroom? Should you take ship’s excursions or is there a choice? What about travel insurance? Too often people blindly do what the cruise lines tell them to do.
I also write about what to see and do in different cities on a road trip. I mention and review the hotels we’ve stayed in, the restaurants we’ve eaten in, and the sights we have seen. I love the National Park series that I began last year.
I’m fortunate that I have family and friends that also travel and they will do guest posts.
Finally, 1 of the most successful posts I’ve written was about the EZ Pass. Did you know that you could purchase an EZ Pass from a state that you do not live in? Each state sets their own fee structure and you should check to be sure that you are getting the best deal for you. Here is the link if you would like to read about it.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Obviously the easiest and quickest way to earn miles is with credit card sign-up bonuses.
I learned from a mistake I made to create a spreadsheet and list all my credit cards, sign-up date, the date I closed it, and a running tally of my points updated every month. I missed out on the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express sign-up bonus points because when I applied for the card I was 2 weeks short from when I closed it the year before. Difficult lesson, but 1 that I will never forget.
I also learned that more credit does NOT ruin my credit. I always had great credit but now, with more credit cards, higher limits, I actually have better credit than when I began this hobby.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My most memorable experience happened last year. Remember, I am in the beginning stages of travel so I don’t have a lot of experience but for me, this was my “Ah-ha” moment. It happened in San Francisco on Asiana Airlines on our way to Sydney via Seoul.
Since we were flying Business Class we were among the 1st to board the flight. When we walked into our cabin I could not believe it. It was the Asiana Quadra Smartium. It was spacious, elegant, and the flight attendants were attentive & caring.
We were in a pod. A Pod! I only had been in a cramped coach seat previously. The flight attendants introduced themselves to us and immediately brought us something to drink. Later we were given menus!
This was all too much for me in a very good way. I thought I was in heaven. It was a totally unjaded moment and I felt like a giddy child.
We had linen tablecloths, china, glass stemware, we ate, we drank, we watched movies, and we had room to move around. The best part…it was a flat bed and I slept.
We thoroughly enjoyed our flight over the Pacific, a flight I had been nervous about. That was truly memorable for me. Business Class for me was so great, that there is no need for me to spend more points to fly First Class. This was perfection!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They all think I am going overboard with points and credit cards (if it’s the 1st Friday of the month, then I must use my Chase Sapphired Preferred credit card, etc). I think my adult children are tired of me telling and them and others about the points and miles game though their friends seem to be really interested.
My oldest son and his wife live in DC with great jobs. They fly all over the world and they pay for their flights and they do it in coach. They are trying to purchase a house so they have held off getting credit cards (they only have 1) and they are a little leery about too many credit cards. I’m trying to encourage them to get just 1 more credit card.
I will say that on their way back home from Vietnam last year on Etihad, they had a very poor experience. They were in coach bulkhead (10 seats across) and with the babies and kids there were actually 14 people in that row. My son and his wife were in bulkhead because he is very tall and it usually is more comfortable, but next to him was a bassinet that took up some of his wall space and made it difficult to use the personal entertainment screen.
There were numerous other problems they had and mid-way during the flight, the flight attendant moved them to Business Class and then they saw “the light” and saw how others fly. They realized what I was talking about. I think when things settle down for them, they’ll slowly get into the credit card game.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I don’t have unlimited financial resources available to me on a fixed income nor do I want to be “shut down” by a financial institution so I am somewhat cautious.
I live in a rural farming area so the opportunities aren’t always available to me. We do have a Staples near us though it is extremely limited in the gift cards it carries. Before I go shopping, I’ll stop in Staples and get a gift card for the store that I am going to.
When I make an online purchase, I usually go to evreward to see the options I have. I generally go through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, but other times I have been known to make a purchase through Ebates when the shopping portals didn’t look attractive to me.
I also try to pay for everything using a credit card for the points. Just last week I ate dinner at a pizza buffet. I had most of my drink left and I asked kindly for a take-out cup. The restaurant charged me 33 cents for the cup and I was like “Really?”
When Chase Freedom has gas stations as one of their quarterly bonuses I will purchase the gas station’s gift cards to use in a quarter when there aren’t any special bonuses for gas stations.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I am thrifty and I love a good bargain. Movie theaters around us tend to be very expensive. What I discovered is that the Regal corporate office sells “group tickets” for a few dollars less per ticket.
I needed to order 100 tickets for the group sales rate. Obviously I wasn’t going to need all those tickets but my friends might. I sent out an email and word of mouth telling them what the ticket price would be, added a little to their order for shipping and handling, collected their checks, and placed the order for 375 tickets using my credit card.
I did that twice a year around Christmas and high school graduation. The kids loved getting tickets taped to a bag of popcorn wrapped as a gift or in their Christmas stocking and I loved the points I received.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew to begin a spreadsheet, even if it was for only a couple of credit cards. I also wish I knew more about the interaction among different airlines and credit cards. For example, you can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Singapore Airlines to use on United Airlines domestically (no fuel surcharges).
I’m trying to fine tune my hobby.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
As I mentioned, I am a “young” senior, at least in my mind who has held many different jobs in my life. I received my law degree after 5 years going nights with a 6 month old on my hip. I drove a school bus for 10 years when my children were younger including going into DC on field trips.
Finally, I taught special needs children for 11 years.
Although I have lived in the Virginia and Washington, DC area for 32 years, I grew up in Boston and still have my accent and love my Red Sox. There is always controversy in our home in the summer and fall since we live in our summer home in Northern Michigan close to 2 of the Great Lakes. You see, my husband is a Tigers fan and so are all my Michigan neighbors. It’s always interesting when the Sox play the Tigers.
Finally, I am a smocker and make children’s clothing, particularly little girls dresses. They are the style of clothing that women go “ah, how sweet” and for them to know that I did it all by hand, makes it all the more special for my customers.
Any parting words?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sure, there are some snarky people out there, but generally most people want to share and help you. I personally have emailed many of the bloggers that I read asking questions and clarifications.
Once you have the points and need help booking, don’t hesitate to use an award booking service. We used one last fall and saved 40,000 miles! It was worth the money.
We used another for our upcoming trip this summer because it was so complicated that it was well worth the money we spent. My husband even suggested that we give the young man at the booking service a tip for his diligent work. For simpler trips, I’ve done the booking myself. Just do what you are comfortable with.
I’ve learned that sometimes you have to spend money in order to save even more.
Doing a mattress run with Radisson a few years ago is a great example. We spent a few nights in hotels but we parlayed those points that we earned into rooms in expensive cities with no charge. We spent $54 at a Park Inn and with those points we stayed in a $350 room in Sydney for free.
Lastly, we don’t all have to fly First Class or Business Class and we don’t all stay at Hyatt hotels. Don’t let the bloggers who only fly and stay First Class convince you that it is the only way to travel. It isn’t.
Travel is more about what you get out of it, what you give it, and your interactions with others along your journey. Be open, talk to people, share your story.
Darius and Emily, thank you so much for inviting me to share my story on Million Mile Secrets.
Jane – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!