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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: Jared Blank of Online Travel Review
I read Online Travel Review because Jared can always be trusted for short punchy posts which often look at Miles and Points from a unique perspective.
Jared also calls it like he sees it, and has a good sense of humor, which makes for some thought-provoking reading. For example, why you shouldn’t hate the airlines and be a little more grateful.
Daraius: How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve been a nerd about airlines my whole life, but it wasn’t until college that I realized how frequent flyer miles could open a whole world up to me.
In my house in college I was in charge of paying the phone bill. I set us up on a plan that earned points with Northwest Airlines and by the end of college I had enough miles built up for an award ticket to Singapore.
Why did you start Online Travel Review? What’s special about it?
I used to be an analyst at a company called Jupiter Research (now part of Forrester Research) where I wrote about the online travel industry. As part of my job there I started a blog writing about the airline industry. When I left in 2003, I continued the site at OnlineTravelReview.com.
I think the airline industry is fascinating – it’s a giant chess game, so the business aspect of it has always been interesting to me. There’s also lots of weird stories related to airlines, and I always enjoy writing about that. The site really focuses on the airline industry broadly, not just on frequent flyer miles.
Also, I appear to be the only person in the world who doesn’t complain about airlines. I am continually amazed that by opening 2 or 3 credit cards, you can get a free business class flight to anywhere in the world. That is no small thing.
If I wanted, I could get on a plane tonight and fly to Papua New Guinea, a place at the end of the earth (at least from New York), and fly there for free. Comfortably. Just because I opened a couple of credit cards.
That’s insane. So I try to write from that perspective: that not only is the industry fascinating from a business perspective, but you can experience the world in a way our parents only dreamed about just by doing a few simple things.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Every purchase you make should receive points that get credited somewhere. Assuming you have the finances to pay off your credit card every month, you should put every purchase on a credit card that is tied to a FF program.
And always sign up for the frequent flyer or frequent stay program when you fly any airline or stay at any hotel. It may seem ridiculous to have one night’s worth of points in some obscure hotel program, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found a use for a few thousand miles here or there.
One thing to get more value out of miles? Focus on one program. I know that may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people say they have 30k miles here, 30k miles there. You have to focus.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Two: My first big trip was with my father. I didn’t travel much as a kid, but my dad brought me along on a business trip to Kauai when I was in high school. It’s what made me interested in traveling, and it’s when I realized how amazing the feeling of culture shock can be.
I’ve been chasing down that feeling every time I’ve traveled since. I remember the flights, where I sat, the food, everything (Continental 747, PeopleExpress 747, Aloha Air 737). It was an eye opener.
Second, on our honeymoon we did a safari in Botswana. I remember thinking after that trip that I would never be able to top that. I’ve tried (Sri Lanka, Easter Island), but really nothing comes close.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I think everybody has a “guy” they go to for advice on various topics. I have a friend who loves Apple stuff, and he’s been invaluable when I have Apple questions.
For frequent flyer stuff, I’m that guy for many of my friends. They probably think it’s a bit goofy, until, for example, they come to me for advice on how to get 4 free tickets to Corsica and I can do it for them.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I’m sure everyone mentions the ANA tool and KVS and Expertflyer. But the best trick I have isn’t a trick: If you really want to find an award ticket for an upcoming trip, you have to keep checking.
I’ve found that most people call the airline once for, say, a business class ticket from New York to Paris. They’re told nothing is available, and then they decide they’re not going.
I understand why people do that – because they don’t know any better. But if you bother to learn the various routings, and which free online tools to check (ANA for Star Alliance, Qantas for Oneworld), and are willing to look twice a day, I promise something will open up.
You may have to fly through Glasgow to get to Paris, but I can pretty much guarantee something is available. Of course there are a bunch of folks out there who will do this work for you, as well. But people give up WAY too easily. I’ve never – not ever – not been able to get an award ticket to where I wanted to go.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I’m always amazed that companies will give you miles just for asking. This is especially true with credit card companies — if you signed up with a bonus and found out about a better bonus later, they will quite frequently give you the difference.
If your card is up for renewal, it’s certainly worth asking for bonus points to re-up for the year. If you had a legitimate problem on a flight, you should write a nice letter and ask for compensation. People are just afraid to ask, but I’m always shocked by how many points companies will give out.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew about the community of obsessives from the beginning. I feel completely out of the loop that I missed out on early mileage run-type deals found on Flyertalk.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I am the only person writing about this stuff, apparently, who is not obsessed with first class and hotel suites. As much as I love free travel (don’t get me wrong), I cannot understand when people write about premium cabin airline food as if it’s the best meal they’ve ever eaten. It is not. Or with airline seats in first class.
While better than coach, they are worse than every non-airline seat you have ever sat in. Of course I prefer flying up front to flying in coach, I’m not a fool. But I’m not sure I understand the level of obsession people have with it considering that while it’s better than coach, even a trip on Amtrak is more comfortable than flying in first class.
Any parting words?
We are in a golden age of travel. Between alliances, credit card bonuses, and the ease of acquiring miles nowadays, the world is at our fingertips.
I know everyone loves to complain about airlines, but I’m really not sure why. Every city on earth can be visited for free. It’s nuts.
Jared – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
So if you’re looking for airline news together with a dose of mile and point earning tips, check out Online Travel Review.