Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Frugal South
Leah writes The Frugal South to share tips and tricks to help readers and their families live a rich life for less!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points in 2011 when I was looking for creative ways to fund our annual trip to Walt Disney World.
When I realized I could open a Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and use the Starwood points to stay at a hotel within the Disney World park for next to nothing, I was hooked!
While I’ve been a frugal traveler for almost 20 years, it was just 5 years ago that I started utilizing miles and points for my travel adventures.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I realized pretty early in my adult life that:
- I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t like to spend money
- I love to travel and eat good food
This presented a dilemma! I began learning how to stretch every dollar and live a frugal lifestyle so I could do what I really wanted.
By living frugally from day-to-day, I’ve been able to put myself through graduate school, travel extensively on a teacher’s paycheck, and stay at home and raise our little one (also thanks to my incredible and hard-working husband).
I started The Frugal South to share my approach to frugal living with family and friends. I found myself explaining the same tips and tricks over and over again. So I figured I would save myself some time and share them in a blog!
My goal with the blog is to help others live a rich life on a small budget. Our family lives what I consider an incredibly rich life, all on one modest income. I love sharing what I’ve learned about frugal living with others.
To me, a rich life is one filled with memorable experiences, not a bunch of unnecessary stuff. I share freebies, recipes, meal plans, deals, frugal travel tips and more on the blog. I write a lot about how to save money on a family vacation to Disney World, including how to use points and miles to fund your trip.
Most frugal living experts out there recommend using a cash-only system and staying away from credit cards. As long as you have a history of using credit responsibly, I think earning points and miles with credit cards can be a fantastic element of a frugal lifestyle!
So I share tips and tricks for traveling on points and miles, which makes my blog special among other frugal living blogs. I love to help my readers save time and money, so they will have more of both in order to make memories with those they love.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I think the single most important thing you can do is to educate yourself by reading everything you can about collecting points and miles. Forgive me for sounding like a school teacher – old habits die hard! But truthfully, blogs like Million Mile Secrets are invaluable in this hobby.
For example, I often see advertisements for a 25,000 point sign-up bonus for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. If you didn’t read Million Mile Secrets, you might think that sounded like a great offer and sign right up.
But folks who are educated in this hobby know that you can often earn a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points with the Chase Southwest cards.
And I certainly would have never earned my Southwest Companion Pass were it not for reading about how to do it here.
I also think it takes some education to get the points and miles you can actually use.
For example, we often visit Walt Disney World and stay at Disney hotels, so points from the major hotel chains aren’t very helpful for those stays. I tend to look for credit cards with more flexible travel rewards, such as the Barclaycard Arrival and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards.
Basically, regularly reading blogs like Million Mile Secrets can help you learn how to get the best points and miles for the way you travel. Plus, they show you how to make the most of points and miles once you have them.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Wow, I have been blessed with so many memorable travel experiences which make it really hard to choose! I’ve visited remote Greek islands, stayed in a cabin at the base of the Teton Range in Wyoming, explored the coast of Ireland on horseback, and lots more.
Last summer I went on a short trip that wasn’t very exotic, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. My husband was out of town for the weekend and the weather was absolutely perfect, which is rare for North Carolina in August.
I was rich in IHG points so I checked for award night availability within a few hour’s drive and found an ocean-view room at the Holiday Inn Resort Wrightsville Beach available the next night. I packed up the car in the morning and my daughter and I spent 2 perfect days swimming in the pools and playing on the beach.
I felt so lucky to have found the room at the last minute, which would have cost over $400 per night if we paid with cash.
We live on a tight budget, so we would NEVER be able to afford a last minute beach trip were it not for my points and miles hobby. It felt so luxurious to just pack up and head to a fancy hotel at the beach for the weekend. And luxury is much more enjoyable when it is free!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They are definitely skeptical, though they know I’ve been traveling for years on points and miles. I think they assume collecting points and miles is too complicated for them.
If they could see that yes, it does take some work, but the return on your investment of time and energy can be HUGE, they would change their tune.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I’ve really been able to stretch my rewards thanks to a few helpful websites. I use Airfare Watchdog to get email alerts when airfare drops in price. That has helped me make the most of my Southwest points, Southwest Companion Pass, and snag ridiculously cheap airfare on Frontier.
I also use BetterBidding to research “mystery” hotels on Hotwire and Priceline. I’ve always been able to determine the actual hotel I was going to get before I committed, saving myself lots of headache and money in the process.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Last summer I earned $110 in free Orbitz Orbucks just by submitting eight photos on their website. I often book on Orbitz to take advantage of their promotional codes, which you can stack on top of other hotel discounts. You can even use them to save at Disney hotels.
I used my Orbitz Orbucks to get a free night on our next vacation and all it cost me was a few minutes of uploading pictures. I’ll take it!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had the insight to make a long-term plan when I started out.
I started collecting miles and points willy-nilly, without any real idea of how I specifically wanted to use them for travel. Now that I’ve been doing this a while, I have a rough timeline for where I want to travel and when. I can plan ahead to have the points and miles when I want them.
I also wish I had realized that it is okay to use points and miles for what you want, even if it isn’t the best possible use of those points. Because I’m a cheapskate at heart, I used to feel pressure (from myself of course) to get the absolute most out of my points.
Now I realize that it is better to do what you really love with your points, even if you aren’t getting the most value from them.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
When I was 30 years old I quit my job teaching 5th grade in Ohio and set out on a 6-month long road trip.
I lived in my van and traveled all over the country. Sometimes alone and sometimes with my boyfriend (who later became my husband!). I did a ton of rock climbing, visited national parks, and learned a lot about myself.
I wouldn’t trade my time as a van dweller for anything.
Any parting words?
Since our daughter was born in 2012, my husband and I have lived on one income so one of us could be at home with our daughter.
My hobby of collecting points and miles has allowed us to travel at a time when it would have otherwise been impossible. It is incredible to be able to travel and enjoy vacation time together while still living within our means.
Thank you so much for the interview, Emily and Daraius!
Leah – 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!