“I was flipping the Citi AAdvantage MasterCards before I knew card flipping had a name.”

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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: Marshall Jackson from Marshall Jackson on Travel

I read Marshall Jackson on Travel because I love MJ’s enthusiasm and perspective, as an ex-aviation insider and pilot, on the aviation and miles and points world!

Marshall Jackson on Travel - Interview with Marshall Jackson
Marshall Jackson & His Wife On Top Of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

Believe it or not, I started collecting points as a teenager.  My first frequent flier program was the Piedmont Airlines Frequent Flyer Bonus Program.  I believe I was 17 when I joined.  Back in those days I was earning 1,000 mile minimums per segment.

At some point, I had amassed enough miles to fly to the west coast, and I did just that.  I was 19 years old, and I still can’t believe my mom let me do it!  I got a 25,000 mile award to LAX.  In those days, the airline mailed you paper certificates, and they usually came with a certificate for a free rental car and hotel night.

I didn’t need the car, but I got a free hotel, the Stouffer’s LAX.  My routing was Fayetteville-Charlotte-Los Angeles-Charlotte-Fayetteville.  Back then, Piedmont sold upgrades to first class on the day of departure with fees ranging from something like $25 dollars to $60 dollars depending on the distance.

You guessed it!  I upgraded myself to First Class!  The short flight from Fayetteville to Charlotte was on a 737-300, and there were 2 of us in First Class.  But from Charlotte to Los Angeles, the plane was a 767-200.  Piedmont operated theirs in 2-class configuration internationally and domestically.  At the time, I’d say they probably had some of the most comfortable front cabin chairs in the sky.

They were set up in a 2-1-2 configuration. And the meal….was incredible… at least to a 19 year old who had no idea what he was doing!  I still have the menu! I didn’t know it at the time, but a mileage junkie was born that day.

Why did you start MJ On Travel?  What’s special about it?

I started the blog back in the summer of 2006.  I can’t say that any one specific thing drove me to begin blogging.  The first 10 years of my post-college working life were spent in the airline industry, and I felt I had some insights worth sharing.

And I have to tell you that my “day job” is very writing intensive.  I don’t even want to talk about it, but my work writing gets a lot of scrutiny and a lot of layers of input and editing. Writing the blog is almost like therapy.  It’s the only place I can write where I’m the “decider” so to speak.

I see MJ on Travel as a collection of experiences from my perspective.  I hope my shared experiences can help someone else travel better.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

To the maximum extent possible, leverage ONE program to your benefit. There are a lot of people that will disagree with that.  And I’m not saying don’t collect miles in more than one, I’m just saying make one program your primary focus.  I certainly have miles in American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways, but right now, my focus is in US Dividend Miles which I had honestly sworn off for 5 years.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

There’ve been so many that are so good, but I have to say the 11 night Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey cruise Mrs MJonTravel and I took last year aboard Celebrity Equinox is tops.  Everything about the trip from using points to fly us to Rome in Business Class, getting to unexpectedly visit the great British Airways lounges in London Heathrow, and of course 3 days in Rome before the cruise.

Taking the train down to Naples to visit friends and side-trekking over to Capri… and then Venice after the cruise.  And of course, the cruise itself. So many  remarkable sites, Santorini, such a gem.  Private tours of Ephesus.  The ancient city of Delos. I could go on for hours.  I’m kind of into cruising if you can’t tell. 🙂

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

Mrs MJonTravel is quite a fan of flying first class, so she likes my hobby just fine.  The rest of the family views it as some kind of curious affliction.  I have a couple of friends that have expressed at least passing interest…. but none really quite get why I’m usually in first class when they are in coach.  It all seems just a little kooky to them.

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

There is no one thing.  Just stay informed.  Pick the most informative blogs (5 are on my list of must read every day) and add them to your RSS reader.  Shameless plug: MJonTravel RSS feed. 🙂

Try to frequent the mileage forums like MilePoint and FlyerTalk for your favorite airline and hotel programs.  Subscribe to the forums and set up email reminders if offered.  I receive a daily update of all new topics on the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles forums from FT for instance.

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

I earn miles from my local dry cleaner through Thanks Again.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

Until AA announced the most recent changes to its million-miler program, I’d have to say that I wish I’d known about their current (until December) million-miler program when I got started.  There is no doubt in my mind that if I had truly understood what a tremendous asset AAdvantage and their soon to be defunct million-miler program is, I would be a lifetime Platinum 2 million miler today.

Instead, I’m a 1.2 million lifetime Gold, and I’m glad to have it.  I worked for American for over 10 years, and I was earning miles through credit card charges and various other non-flying methods as an employee.  I was flipping the Citi AAdvantage MasterCards before I knew card flipping had a name.  That’s the one thing I wish I’d known.

But now that AA’s million miler program is changing, let me offer something else.  I’d have to say that I wish I’d truly understood the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program and the Amex SPG Card earlier than I did.  If you are focused on programs other than United where the transfer ratio is only 1 mile for every 2 points as opposed to 1 to 1, this can be a tremendous value especially since SPG kicks in a 5,000 mile bonus for for every 20,000 you transfer to an airline.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

That I have a secret desire to earn my master mariner’s license before I’m too old to fool with it.

Any parting words?

In closing, I’d just like to say that I’m flattered that Daraius picked me and MJonTravel for a chat today.  I hope those that read find the blog useful and entertaining, and if you have any tips or requests for topics that you would like to see coverage of on the blog, click on the “Contact Me” form and email me. I love hearing from readers.

MJ – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

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