“People Say They Can’t Afford Travel. But All It Takes Is a Little Knowledge and Discipline”

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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:  Points, Miles & Life

Ian writes Points, Miles & Life to share his travel experiences and give tips and tricks to friends and family.  He’s also a contributor for Points With a Crew.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Points Miles Life
My Wife and I on the Ferry Between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Canada

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

It started in 2012 while planning my honeymoon.  Six months before my wife and I got married, I took a trip to Mexico to visit a friend in ministry in Rosarito, Baja California.  The bulk of the trip was on Amtrak, before I crossed the border on foot.

While at Santa Fe Station in San Diego, I saw a sign advertising the Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard.  This spawned the idea of taking a train trip from California to Denver as part of our honeymoon.

Fast forward 2 months, when I had both the Amtrak Rewards card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in my wallet, and enough points to take my wife and me not only to Colorado, but all the way across the country from New York City for a total of $70 out of pocket.  Every leg was in a sleeper car.

I was hooked. Out-of-pocket prices would have been well over $3,000.

Points Miles Life
Visiting the Tiny Country of San Marino Was a Highlight of Our 2016 Trip to Europe

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

I started the blog with the idea of both documenting my own travel experiences and providing travel hacking tips and tricks to friends and family.  It’s also peppered with other life anecdotes and my own reflections.  Starting out, I wasn’t very confident in my writing, and I’ve only recently begun to really publicize the blog and plan its direction.

I hope to use it to form a small travel community of friends and family in isolated, coastal northern California, and I’m looking at hosting a local meetup here in March 2017.  The blog did help land me the contributor position with Points with a Crew.

Points Miles Life
Toboggan Run in Quebec City Last Winter. So Much Fun!

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

Credit card sign-up bonuses.  This has been my number 1 way of earning tons of miles.  I know there are other strategies out there for “advanced” hackers, but for the typical person starting out, learning the strategy of signing-up for credit cards is the first step.

Even if I only opened a few new cards per year, the sign-up bonuses are more miles & points than I would accrue from either flying or credit card spending.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Oh man…it’s hard to pick just one.  I have so many.  If you’ll permit me to grab a multi-day segment of experiences, I’d say it was driving across Newfoundland and seeing the harbor in St. John’s, icebergs in Twillingate, and Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park during summer 2015.

Newfoundland is exquisite.  I highly recommend visiting.

Points Miles Life
The Boat Ride Along Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne, Is One of My Favorite Travel Experiences

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

Some think I’m clever.  Others think I’m insane.

A lot of people see how much we’ve traveled and wonder how we are able to afford it (hint: we’re technically not, except for miles).  I only have a handful of friends that really understand the hobby the way I do.

My in-laws collect miles & points, as do a few of my friends.  But most of my own family has just begun to dip their toes in the water.

This is one of the reasons I hope to host a class or seminar to give people the basics.  I hear people either say they can’t afford to travel, or hear that they spent an arm and a leg on airfare, and think, man, there is a better way to do this.  All it takes is a little knowledge and discipline.

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

Many.  Not sure I can pick just one tool.  I *love* Google Flights.  And for award hotels, I typically turn to Drew Macomber’s (Travel Is Free) complete map series.

My favorite “tricks” I’ve exploited include canceling and re-booking Southwest awards to save miles after a price drop, and also booking and date changing a United award to save myself the ludicrous close-in fee.

Points Miles Life
The Colosseum Is My Favorite Place We Visited in Rome

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

Just a couple weeks ago, I logged into my wife’s Chase Ultimate Rewards account after transferring points from mine to hers, and I was surprised to find the balance higher than I expected.  It turns out she must have referred someone for the card, and I have no idea who it could possibly be.

We had sent out some referral emails a few months before, but nothing recently, and I was baffled.  Still, the extra 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points were heartily welcomed.

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

I wish I’d known how easy it is to apply for credit cards and begun sooner.  I thought applying for 2 Chase cards within a couple months (for my honeymoon trip) was insane, and I let things “cool off” for a while after.  I thought the bank would come after me or something.

I only applied for 1 or 2 cards per year, until I kicked things into gear in early 2015.  I haven’t looked back since, and my wife and I have cleared probably over a million points and miles from card offers over the last 2 years.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

My wife and I are adopting.  We are incredibly excited.  Currently, we are waiting to be matched with 2 or 3 children from Costa Rica, and are anticipating a referral or match in the next few months.  This is going to be the biggest change of our lives, and we cannot wait to be parents!

Points Miles Life
We Visited the “Sea to Sky” Country of Squamish, British Columbia, This January

Any parting words?

Earn miles.  See the world.  Enjoy traveling.

Ian – 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!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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