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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Field of Burch
Bryce Burchfield writes the Field of Burch blog and explains how to use complex tools like the ITA Software Matrix to search for cheap fares. He describes himself as a “points junkie,” so I couldn’t wait for our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started at least keeping some track of my miles and points when I started attending college 1,500 miles away from home. I figured I was doing enough traveling back and forth to start racking up some mileage.
In earnest, I started trying to collect miles and points when I started playing the mileage upgrade game. Mainly I just wanted to find any way to get myself to the front of the plane, and also started researching a number of blogs and sites. While I have added quite a few to my list of daily reads, it was really One Mile At A Time and The Points Guy who propelled me into the world of travel hacking.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I was laid off from work and thought it would be a way to be productive with my life.
OK – Not exactly true. In actuality, I had started to admire some of the other blogs out there, and wanted to do the same for myself. In addition, I became interested in starting my own award/travel consulting business (which launched just this week—SELFISH PLUG) and thought it would be the perfect way to get that started.
I had learned quite a bit, but realized there was a lot more to know, and so decided to write about my experiences as I go. When I write a post, about ITA Software Matrix or Mileage Upgrades or what not, I try to do so in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step manner. Maybe it helps that I am an engineer. I think that makes my blog what it is.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Find the Loyalty programs, sites, and blogs that appeal to you and follow them. By taking the time to do some research, you can find some incredible promotions out there. Also, the best program for someone else may not be the best one for you. Find the ones that meet your needs and expectations, and then make them work for you.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Ugh….I don’t like this question—too many to choose! While I am relatively new to the miles and points game, I have been blessed to be able to do a fair amount of traveling across four different continents.
In the summer of 2004, I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Hong Kong on a mission trip. I know some of your other interviewers have already mentioned it as a favorite, but I found it to be such a fascinating place. It really is where the East meets the West, where ancient Chinese traditions meet British colonialism and Western capitalism. And sure the city is renowned for being cramped, but I didn’t realize how much untouched jungle there is, especially on the way up to Victoria Peak. It’s just so clean and beautiful, with some astounding architecture and skyscrapers. Plus, how many other cities can claim to have their own currency?
I spent a month in Germany/Austria doing a summer studies program. I loved every bit of it. Staying in a peaceful Bavarian village, visiting ancient yet modern Nuremburg (great architecture too), and visiting the Alps. The last week we were there, we stayed in a 900-year old castle, 200 feet above a small town in the Austrian Alps.
Another trip that was very memorable for me was this past fall. In one continuous trip, I attended a football game at Alabama, (I claim they won the National Championship because I watched them play in person), connected with relatives I had never really met down there, visited friends in Knoxville, Tennessee and then Atlanta, GA.
From there … (you thought I was done, didn’t you?) I flew up to Chicago and ventured around before attending the Chicago Seminars, (which I would highly recommend) visited Wisconsin for no other purpose than checking it off of my list, walked in the footsteps of Rudy at Notre Dame and also visited the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, IN.
Then I made grad school visits in Michigan where I got to see the largest football stadium in the country (University of Michigan) and walked in the steps of Magic Johnson (Michigan State University).
I should also mention that since I had just been laid off from work, miles and points made my trip much more attainable. I used airline miles to fly between Atlanta and Chicago for next to nothing, and even took advantage of some Starwood Cash & Points stays.
Overall, the entire trip was a blast, and the scenes were constantly changing. Over a span of 16 days, I stayed in eight different hotels, two houses, and a RV, and never slept in the same bed more than two nights in a row. Some of the places I stayed were luxurious, some I wouldn’t mind never seeing again, some 3-hotels provided tremendous service, and some were downright snooty. While some would frown on this, I guess I am young enough to find it exhilarating, and enjoyed the constant change in scenery.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They pretty much just think I am crazy. My dad told me a while back that flying or staying at a hotel is the only way to get miles and points. You know those moments were someone is so removed from reality; you just don’t even bother correcting them right away? It was one of those for me.
My mother keeps talking about everything she wants to go do and see in the wide world, but “doesn’t have the money.” I keep telling her, let me know when you want to go somewhere, I can use my miles to help get you there.
But I guess I must be doing something right—every time I tell a friend about what I have started doing, they say “I want in on that.”
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
1. Use Award Wallet to track your miles and points. I hear too many horror stories of people not having miles to use, simply because they lost their password or frequent flyer number. I am currently signed up for over 30 Loyalty Program accounts, but never have to search and search for an account number, because Award Wallet keeps track of them all for me.
2. Use ITA Matrix for finding cheap flights. It’s the backbone of most travel agents and airline websites.
3. Here’s my airport security tip: I always place my knick knacks—i.e. my belt, wallet, money, watch, etc. in my carry-on bag before heading through security. I only hold on to my license and ticket. This way I can walk seamlessly through security without having to remove any items which are on me, making the whole experience much quicker.
4. Tired of not having a sleeve for your tickets? I always steal the airline brochures and find they make a decent ticket pouch, even if it’s from a different airline. I fly mostly Delta, but can’t tell you how many United “Purchase An Extra Seat” brochures I have used.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Last year I got a quote for car insurance. Truth is, I have a great rate on my insurance already and don’t plan on switching. I think I ended up with 1,500 miles for less than 5 minutes of my time.
Oh, and I gladly paid $150 for flowers for Mother’s Day, knowing I was earning 40 miles per dollar, or 6,000 miles for a purchase I would already be making.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Before I was a points junkie, I only thought of using my miles for coach redemptions. I never thought about all the aspirational awards in premium cabins that I could obtain. I think you get the most value out of your miles and points when you redeem them for incredible experiences that you otherwise could not afford.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m a sports fanatic, especially with football and basketball. I grew up in East Tennessee (only 20 miles away from UT) and so sports, especially college athletics, became ingrained in me at an early age. And yes, despite moving away from there in 2000, I still bleed orange for the Tennessee Vols! 🙂
Most of my life I have had a love of theater. I got a chance to do a fair amount in middle school and high school. I also love watching it, and thinking about how I would have portrayed a role. I find the whole experience to be a rush for me, just like travel is. In fact, I just started rehearsal for a play with my community theater.
Any parting words?
Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and sure don’t pet the sweaty stuff.
Jumping in on a mileage or mattress run, or taking advantage of a mistake fares can sometimes be a gamble. Just don’t put more in on something than you are willing to lose. You win some and you lose some. Most of all, don’t get too greedy—it has killed many a deal and ruins it for others.
Be organized, and have a goal in mind of what you want to obtain with miles and points. Remember, most programs devalue their mileage awards over time, and your miles certainly don’t appreciate, so use them (wisely) as you get them.
Bryce – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!