“Use your points, people! Don’t hoard!”

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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:  Points for the People

Greg is a typical guy who works by day.  He also writes Points for the People  blog where he shares his knowledge on how to use miles and points for cheap travel and luxurious vacation at an affordable price, so I was looking forward to our chat on Friday!

Points for the People – Interview with Greg
Greg on the Bruce Trail near Tobermory, Ontario
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I lived and worked in Thailand from 2001 until 2004.  I flew back and fourth five or six times.  Unfortunately, I let a couple of those round trips pass by before I started collecting miles!  I had also travelled to Europe three times in college before I started collecting, so I missed a lot of opportunities to earn miles.

So I started in 2002, and by the end of my time in Thailand, I had earned enough miles for a much-needed trip back in 2005.  I only really paid attention to the Northwest Airlines program at the time.

My interest lapsed after that.  I stopped reading Flyertalk because I wasn’t traveling much.  Then, a year ago, I heard about the end of the dollar coin scheme on the NPR Planet Money podcast.  Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time was interviewed, describing some elements of “travel hacking.”  I thought, “I used to do that.  I should do it again!”  So I got back in the game and started reading some of the top blogs, including Million Mile Secrets.

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it?

I started Points for the People to share my travel experiences with friends, family, and anyone else who is interested.  I also share my own take on strategies for earning and using miles and points.

Points for the People is slightly different from other blogs, in that I do not travel for work– I am a public school teacher.  I try to keep things very simple and realistic for other people who don’t necessarily have the advantage of traveling for work or putting reimbursable expenses on a credit card.  My aim is to integrate miles and points into my personal finance strategy, and to help others do the same.

I like luxury travel, but I am not fixated on it.  I also enjoy biking, hiking, and camping, which don’t generally lend themselves to fine accommodations.  I don’t write about elite airline status because I will never achieve it with my current lifestyle.  Besides, I’d rather fly for free on miles!

The reality is, we are playing with fire here.  Loyalty programs exist to entice us to spend more of our own (or our company’s) hard-earned money.  We have to do our best to remain rational and make sure we get value out of loyalty programs without being seduced into spending more and more.  That’s what Points for the People is all about.

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

Paying attention to promotions is really important.  Skim those pesky emails from airline and hotel loyalty programs, then go to blogs and forums to read up on the best strategies.  If a promotion requires you to sign up, do it right away!

What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Points for the People – Interview with Greg
Greg’s wife on Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

I think I can narrow it down to three.  My wife and I took a six week honeymoon trip to Thailand and Laos in 2008. In 2007 I biked 150 miles over two days, traveling from my hometown of Columbus, OH to Cedar Point in Sandusky.  I made that trip with my wife (then girlfriend) and her brother.

Finally, my first trip that truly included “big travel with small money” was our Spring Break trip to Las Vegas this past March.  My wife and I flew for free and stayed five nights at The Palazzo.  Two of those nights were free on Priority Club points, the other three were at a very reasonable rate.

I’ve had so many memorable experiences, many of them in Thailand, my favorite of the 23 countries I have visited.  Traveling and living abroad has enriched my life, and I hope one day soon it will enrich the lives of my two children, currently aged 2 and 3.

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

Very few people I know understand the game, but I’m working on it with my blog and free consulting.  Lots of people fear credit cards, and for good reasons.

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby? Award Wallet and Mint are two online tools every newbie should consider.  You have to have systems for tracking finances and points, and these two tools are the best I have found. What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?  

The ongoing bounty from shopping online continues to amaze me.  I earned 2,000 AAdvantage miles when I bought tires last winter.  In another example, I tacked on 1,060 Ultimate Rewards points by clicking through that portal when booking a Holiday Inn stay.  Extra points are out there if you take the time to employ strategies, and these small amounts of points add up over time.

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

I wish I had known how little Delta Skymiles are worth.  I have 125,000, many of which came from regular spending– the Worldperks Visa and Skymiles Amex were the only cards I used for several years, before sign up bonuses became so lucrative.

When I get the chance to travel, my schedule is usually inflexible, and the Skymiles program really punishes inflexibility.  My feeling is I will be lucky to get more than a penny per point in value out of that Skymiles stockpile.  That’s a little depressing, but I’m not going to waste my energy lamenting it.  I’d rather waste it scheming up ways to earn more valuable points.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I have been an avid Ultimate Frisbee player for the past 13 years.  I have played in dozens of Ultimate tournaments around the United States, and a few in places such as Thailand, Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong.

Any parting words?
Points for the People – Interview with Greg
Greg in Luang Prabang, Laos

Use your points, people! Don’t hoard!

People who read travel/points blogs probably know that bloggers generally discourage redeeming points for anything other than travel.  I have earned so many miles and points in the past year–more than I can use at this time in my life.

So, I’ve decided to burn Citi Thank You points (from sign up bonuses) on Best Buy gift cards.  I will use these to buy an iPad.  On a cents per point basis, it’s not a great redemption, but I will get more use out of an iPad than a stock of dormant points.

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

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