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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: Mr Pickles from TheMrPickles
Mr Pickles is a legend among mile and point collectors for not only collecting millions of miles and points, but for making it look so darn easy!
Mr Pickles will be speaking on Sunday at the Chicago seminar, but he has agreed to also share his story for those of you who can’t make it to Chicago.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting S&H Green Stamps as a child whenever we went grocery shopping. My mother would let me get the green stamp catalog and select an item for the house or a toy. I would then have a goal for stamp collecting, go to the S&GH Green Stamp store and redeem them.
As an adult I started collecting miles from Pacific Southwest Airlines when shipping same day packages via their SmilePak service. I would get 500 miles per shipment. Soon after I became a member of Eastern Airlines OnePass, United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage and Delta Skymiles. I never started to collect hotel points 2 years ago but now have over 750k Hilton Honors points and 500k Starwood SPG points.
Why did you start TheMrPickles? What’s special about it?
I started tweeting, but needed more space than the truncated character format allowed by Twitter. The blog allowed me to write without the constraints of Flyertalk (being edited by moderators and blasted by the haters).
The blog allows me to tell it like it is since I don’t really need the advertisers. I am not worried about giving away the secrets and pissing off someone like Chase bank. Lately I have been tweeting more, but intend to begin blogging more.
I have also been invited several times to guest blog on The Points Guy that is run by Brian Kelly.
Could you talk about your most successful way to earn miles and points?
Last year you could open a bank account over the phone with Citibank and fund it with a credit card as a purchase instead of it posting as cash equivalent. I had a $55k Citi AAdvantage credit card and was able to convince a Citi Private Banker to open 3 checking, 5 savings accounts and 2 CDs consecutively, paying off the credit card only between each account.
I was able to do this for both my partner and myself, with all of the award miles posting to the same American Airlines AAdvantage account. I never had to leave the house. I never kept more than $10 in each of the accounts and I closed all of the accounts within 3 months of opening them.
My most lucrative way to earn miles is the now dead US Mint $1 coin purchases. For those of you who are not aware, until just recently you could purchase $1 coins in boxes of 250 each for $250 with free overnight shipping with a rewards credit card. It was a lot of work to haul all of the coins to the bank, and I had to often bribe the tellers with pizzas to deposit the coins, but in the end it paid off by securing my American Airlines 2 Million Mile Lifetime Platinum status.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Stop using cash. I practically have a stroke whenever I see someone using cash. I might even get a job as a waiter and use my own credit card on everyone’s transactions.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
In the late 80s I took 6 weeks off of work at the University of California to travel to Thailand and India. A lot of it was on points and miles. I was able to see tigers in the wild at Kanha National Park and stayed in a villa at Kipling Camp where “Jungle Book” was written.
When I got back to work they opened an investigation because they thought that I must be embezzling, because how else could I afford to fly first class and stay 6 weeks in high end hotels. They were wrong. If I could move anywhere in the world it would be to Lake Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They think that I am obsessive compulsive and spend too much time trying to figure out how to make an offer more lucrative. But I also notice that they call me first when they need travel tip.
They do listen when I tell them to apply for certain credit cards and have been thankful. They also understand that it is a way of life. I get a rain check when they run out of stuff at the grocery store, and not for one item, but like a rain check for 50 lbs. of filet mignon or 30 lbs. of ground sirloin when the price is great and they run out.
If the store has a discount sale on gift cards I will buy 50 of them. When the post office first offered “forever” stamps I bought 2000 packets, on a credit card for the miles. They understand that it is a way of life.
Is there any tool or trick that you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I have picked a select group of friends to network with and have an understanding that we will keep each other updated when there is a good deal. Exchanging phone numbers and names with others when networking at frequent flyer events makes it much easier to contact each other.
Many people think that the event is where you learn, but the real learning is in the networking. I have had several flyertalkers fly out to San Diego just to meet me for the afternoon to share or get ideas.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
FedEx Reward Points. I have two FedEx accounts, one I earn FedEx Points that I usually cash in for Home Depot $100 gift cards and the other account accrues miles with Delta Skymiles, which I intend to use on Hawaiian Airlines.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points that you wish you knew when you started out?
There are easy ways to keep miles and points from expiring. I use Award Wallet to track all of my points programs for family and myself so I don’t have expirations again.
I wish I understood that you could apply for Citi credit cards like candy years ago. I must have thrown out over a hundred mail offers.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I am certified by Royal Yachting Australia and US Sail and own and sail a 50-foot cutter rigged custom blue water sailboat based in San Diego. I worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic for over 5 years and taught Advance Cardiac Life Support classes for nurses and doctors.
I was written up in the local newspaper after delivering three sets of twins in the same night. I am also a California Notary Public. I am currently a senior vice president at an FDA regulated biotech company. My 9-year-old African Grey parrot is whom the name mrpickles comes from and I have developed that into my pen name.
Any parting words?
I have become know for gaming the US Mint coin deal, but I am much more than dollar coins for miles. I have learned that the miles game is a game of waiting, and the miles and points will make themselves appear when you least expect them.
Join every frequent flyer program you can and sign up for their email alerts. Watch and be prepared to jump on an opportunity when it is presented to you. Look for the offer that no one else can see. Usually it will be right in front of you.
Mr. Pickles – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!