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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: SuperNoVaWife
Melissa writes SuperNoVaWife to share her adventures in everything for home improvement projects to technology projects to travel.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My dad worked as a baggage handler for nearly 40 years at a major US airline. So I grew up flying entirely free on that airline (or, in airline industry jargon, I flew as a non-revenue, or “nonrev” passenger). At that particular airline, dependent children could retain their flying privileges until they were 24.
When I turned 24 (nearly 10 years ago, yikes!), I found myself having to pay for airfare and was pretty bummed that I could no longer just hop on a plane to visit friends or family several states away, or go to Paris for the weekend.
Although I should point out, traveling on a non-revenue ticket is not all rainbows and candy. You fly at the absolute bottom of the standby list.
If a flight is full, or especially if flights cancelled you could end up stranded at an airport for days. There were many times growing up that we ultimately had to end up driving 18 hours just to get home.
As somebody just out of college and earning an entry level income in a very expensive city, I was in a hurry to find a way to get free airfare once again. I traveled occasionally with my 1st job, so I signed-up for frequent flyer programs.
I applied for a Southwest credit card that gave me enough Rapid Rewards points for 2 free round-trip tickets. I used that credit card for all my purchases. I rarely had to pay for domestic airfare thanks to the points I earned through my everyday purchases.
Then, in late 2010 and early 2011, as my husband Ken (then fiance) and I were in the throes of planning our wedding, I was looking for ways to earn miles on our wedding purchases.
At the time, there was a 100,000 British Airways Avios points credit card (you can currently get 50,000 points with the Chase British Airways card) offer and the Citi AAdvantage double browser method was alive and well (this offer is no longer available)!
I started with those offers, and it gave me an entirely new perspective on earning points beyond my Southwest card! I started reading travel blogs every day!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
SuperNovaWife doesn’t have a particular niche, but instead focuses on a smorgasbord of our adventures and interests. It covers our travels, some DIY home improvement projects, our personal finance goals like early retirement, cooking, as well as some of my husband’s elaborate technological projects.
It’s name is born out of SuperNovaBride, which was where I blogged all about our wedding. The “Nova” part is shorthand for Northern Virginia, which is where we live.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Credit card sign-up bonuses. Rinse and repeat. Although I have earned points through other mechanisms, like the shopping portal bonuses, nothing has netted me more points than credit card sign-up bonuses.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
There are too many to count. I think many of my most memorable experiences are related to the amazingly helpful and friendly individuals I have met while abroad, as well as experiences that remind me how fortunate I am.
For instance, during a trip to Japan in my early 20s, my friend and I were staring helplessly at monitors in a Tokyo train station, trying to decipher what line to take to get to our hostel. There were probably no fewer than 6 strangers trying to help us. Two very kind women walked us all the way to the train platform we needed to use.
In 2001, I was in Vietnam, and was traveling along the Mekong River. As we approached very remote areas, I would see folks filling up buckets with water and start walking away.
I’m not sure what that water was being used for…cooking, drinking, bathing, or whatever, but it just made me realize that no matter how bad of a day I’ve had, it will never be carrying water in buckets for miles bad. It’s nice to be reminded of the things I can often take for granted.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
It really runs the gamut! My husband doesn’t quite understand the technical aspects of it, but he loves the end results of free and amazing hotel stays and flight options. So he supports it all the way.
Just last year I had him start to sign-up for credit card bonuses to fully maximize our earnings. Many of our friends and family members are genuinely concerned about how much it must “hurt my credit.” (Spoiler alert – it doesn’t hurt my credit in the long-term!)
Other friends and family members seem content to travel to the same destination every year (Ocean City, Outer Banks, or Myrtle Beach) and don’t really see a need to collect hundreds of thousands of points to have different travel options. Some seem interested and ask for advice, but are pretty quickly overwhelmed and say it’s too complicated.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Yes! Shopping portals! My husband and I do the vast majority of our shopping online. Before making any purchase online I always check miles and points reward aggregators like evreward or Cash Back Monitor to determine which shopping portal will give me the most points for my purchase.
We frequently shop on Amazon, which rarely has shopping portal bonuses. So instead, I purchase Amazon gift cards from Staples using my Chase Ink Bold card and collect 5X points.
When we have to purchase items in a brick-and-mortar store, I always check if I can order ahead online to earn points through the shopping portal or I see if I can buy a store gift card from Staples.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
About 2 years ago, we did a full renovation of our kitchen. We made as many purchases as possible online to maximize our earnings through shopping portals. In July 2012, Lowes was offering 10X points per dollar on items purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
We bought our new refrigerator, double oven, dishwasher, and microwave from Lowes online using the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. Just by using the portal, we earned nearly 40,000 Chase Ultimate rewards points!
The cooktop we wanted to buy was sold at Sears, not Lowes. But at the time, Sears was only offering 2 or 3 bonus points per dollar. I knew that every few months Sears would offer a 10X points bonus, so I suggested to my husband that we wait until August to buy the cooktop.
Sure enough, I checked the portal bonuses on August 1st and Sears was offering a 10X points bonus. Following some advice on miles and points blogs, I logged into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and purchased Sears gift cards.
Then, through the Ultimate Rewards portal again, I purchased the cooktop using the gift cards. It was a risk that might not have worked, but it did, and I ended up collecting 20X points for our cooktop purchase at Sears!
In addition to earning miles in different ways, I’ve also had to use miles in unexpected ways. In late 2012, my parents were in a serious car accident. My mom died on the scene, and my dad was airlifted to a trauma center nearly 200 miles from their home.
As my sister and I tried to coordinate everything as we made our way to the hospital to see our dad, the question that came up was, “Where are we going to stay?” We had no idea how long my dad would be in the hospital. I used my phone to look up hotel options, I was able to see that there was a Marriott hotel right next to the hospital.
I had plenty of unused Marriott points and called to book the hotel using the points. Not worrying about spending money on nights in a hotel was 1 less stress during such an emotional time.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
It’s normal to be overwhelmed! You can’t learn everything overnight.
There was a time when I also didn’t understand a lot of the terminology (like transfer partners, mileage runs, etc.). I just read miles and points blogs every day and slowly but surely I was able to make connections among the things I was reading.
And there were many more “advanced” techniques that I thought I was going to have to utilize in order to truly maximize my points earning potential.
I don’t rule out things like buying gift cards to load Bluebird completely, but folks should not feel like they have to participate in anything they find overly complicated.
Heck, I was happy for years simply earning free flights by putting my everyday spend on my Southwest card!
There was also a time when I was perhaps a bit too obsessed with only staying at chain hotels in order to earn or redeem points.
We went on a 2 week road trip of the Southwestern US in 2012. When I was planning the trip, I was annoyed that there were no points earning option hotels near Monument Valley.
I almost wondered whether it would be worth spending the night there! Then I realized I was being completely ridiculous. I’m glad I changed my mind, because the view from that hotel was stunning!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Despite a lifetime of flying, I’m still a pretty nervous flyer, especially during turbulence. Conceptually, I know that turbulence does not affect the safety of an airplane at all, but I still can’t help but grip the armrests a little tighter (and start drinking the First Class wine a bit faster) when turbulence hits!
Luckily it’s not a debilitating fear, and even though I get pretty nervous, I don’t let that affect my travel decisions. If anybody has tips for getting over that type of fear, I’d love to hear them!
Any parting words?
If there’s an amazing deal that pops up, jump on it! Good deals never last!
Melissa – 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!