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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 from a Lounge
Ajay writes Live from a Lounge to cover the miles & points world in the Indian subcontinent, and also write about the travel promotions from India. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. You can follow his wife and co-author Shipra on Twitter and Instagram, too!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve held credit cards since 2001, and been on the road since 2004. But I really got interested in the miles & points space since about 2009 onward. That was the time I started to travel frequently, and discovered a few tricks about how to make points work for me. Ever since, I’ve been calculating the impact of miles & points on every travel or financial transaction I make.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
As I got interested, I realized everything in the space is geeky, given it was all coming via internet bulletin boards at that time. Realizing the potential of miles & points, I wanted more people to understand the world of miles & points in the layman’s language, and hence I started the blog. What is special about us is that LiveFromALounge.com focuses on the Indian subcontinent, and we try and keep things simple for our audience.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
As obvious it may sound in the west, back home, people still use a lot of cash. With the whole of India becoming paperless, there is a large focus on plastic money. So use that credit card or debit card to pay for everything, even that cup of coffee, and let the points add up.
And while you are at it, please do not judge the value of a credit card by the price you pay for it. But by the opportunities you can use it for. Many people want free credit cards in India, but some of the best rewards come on cards with fees like the Citi Prestige which has unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access around the world.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I have used airline miles and hotel points to tick off quite a few things on my bucket list, but the one that stands out for me is my proposal trip. I whisked my (now) wife Shipra away to Paris, making her believe we were off for a work conference for me in another part of Europe. We spent a week there during which I proposed to her in front of the Eiffel Tower.
It was really romantic and a great start to our life together. Although, we were hotel hopping every few days since I could not line up all the redemption availability at hotels in one go.
When we got married, we went on a short honeymoon to the Maldives. It is literally the most beautiful place we’ve ever been to. But 3 days was too short. So, we planned a longer one, going all the way to Bora Bora. We used IHG points to stay at the InterContinental Thalasso Bora Bora. To top it off, it was Singapore Suites on the outbound and Etihad Apartments while returning to India.
We just got back from Ireland, where we watched U2 perform in their home town of Dublin. It’s a band we both love and grew up listening to and we never imagined they’d be back to perform one of their best albums. We still can’t get over the fact that Bono and Edge were literally a few feet away from us.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I think the best person to answer this question is my wife, Shipra. She was not clued into the hobby when we first met, and perhaps almost thought I was a trust fund baby. But she came around as she walked into the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, realizing we literally paid zero money to stay there.
So it provided us the budget to use their excellent spa and private dining experience. Our adventures aboard Singapore Airlines Suites and Etihad Apartments later that year sealed the deal for her and she got interested in our hobby thereon.
As for friends, they’ve started to figure out why I offer to pick the tab on our big meals every time and then have them pay for it later. But you really have to make your first Business or First Class cabin redemption to taste blood, and then you will never want to fly at the back of the plane again.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
One of the tricks is really to start early. When we have a big trip to plan, we work it out many months in advance so we can get cracking on award seats and hotel reservations. Even with places where we must pay for our own stay or flights, I’d rather make those reservations early to save money than late when everything goes up like crazy.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
By getting married. Most people do not know, Hyatt and Starwood offer points if you make contracts at certain minimum amounts. We got about 100,000 Hyatt points which financed our stay at the stunning Park Hyatt Maldives.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I’d let Shipra chip in here. She can’t walk on to a flight now before having accessed the airport lounge before and taking a quick bite there. All of that is possible because we upgraded her credit cards to those such as the Citi Prestige where she gets unlimited lounge access through the year.
As for me, it would be about the cross-operability of miles and points. Who knew you could use your Jet Privileges miles to book a seat on American Airlines 10 years back? I did not.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
In no order of priority, that I’ve been writing about travel and other things since over 20 years now. And by day, I work in the world of finance and crunch numbers for a living.
Any parting words?
As difficult and cryptic as this hobby sounds, it is just a matter of settling in and taking it from there. If you can’t handle too many loyalty programs, it is best to start with a few programs and take it from there. Usually your home programs, however bad they may be, could be a starting point since you’d use them the most. Oh, and don’t chase elite status if you don’t have the time to use it.
Ajay – 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!