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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money! If you’re interested in reading more articles like this one, please subscribe to our email newsletter! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Miles & Points Interview: Prince of Travel
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I grew up in China. I was on a school trip when this obsession started. During some downtime at the airport, a friend and I tried to sneak into a lounge. Well, sneak perhaps isn’t the right word. We just waltzed in there and proudly took a seat on the nearest couch, before we were promptly booted out by the lounge staff. That was when I realized that “airline status” was a thing.
Fast forward to 2013, when Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus was offering an extremely easy path to Star Alliance Gold Status. You could earn it by accumulating 20,000 status miles! And the status would then be valid for 3 years.
I was flying back and forth between Toronto and Beijing at the time because I was visiting my family while attending university in Canada. I realized I could credit all my Air Canada flights to Aegean and earn Gold status with just a handful of round-trip flights! I could finally experience the airline lounge life I had been craving ever since getting unceremoniously ejected from an airport lounge all those years ago.
In researching the Aegean Star Alliance Gold Status trick, I stumbled upon FlyerTalk and miles & points blogs. I haven’t looked back since.
I didn’t get into collecting points through credit cards until about 2015. But since then I’ve racked up millions of points and turned my love for travel into a lifestyle.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’ve always been passionate about travel and learning more about the world around us. But I never considered properly investing time in that passion until I realized I had accumulated a wealth of knowledge about how to travel the world using points (especially from a Canadian angle). And it’s nice to share that knowledge.
Once I got into the miles & points hobby and started traveling much more, I spent about a year toying with the idea of starting a blog. I wanted a domain name I really liked.
Then one day “Prince of Travel” came to me as I was sitting in a coffee shop by my house and I snapped it up. I think it has a nice ring to it, as it emphasizes my love of travel while also promoting – granted, perhaps with a tinge of self-importance – the luxury and lifestyle that comes with being able to use points to fund my adventures.
I’d like to think everything I do at Prince of Travel ties back to learning more about the world and being a global citizen. I find many blogs get bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of using points without tying it back to why we do all of this.
For me, I can talk about the sweet spots of earning and redeeming points for hours on end. But only because it’s ultimately being done for the love of travel and the ability to satisfy that undying curiosity about the world without spending lots of money. I do my best to make sure my readers never lose sight of this as they build their credit card spreadsheets and calculate their costs.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
For me it comes down to one central tenet: Taking action! I believe experience is the best form of learning. I see too many people thinking that reading blogs and scouring forums is enough when it comes to racking up miles. While research is important, ultimately there are certain things you can only figure out by trying it yourself.
The way I see it, by researching blogs and forums and following the advice you find there, you might be able to earn enough points for 1 or 2 luxurious trips around the world per year. But at some point, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands if you want to get the most out of this hobby.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Admittedly for a self-styled Prince of Travel, I haven’t quite seen as much of the world as I would like. But the most unforgettable experience I have had is when I visited Brazil for the World Cup in 2014. I’ve been a huge football (soccer) fan since I was very young. Being able to attend a celebration of the game in a country as passionate for the sport as Brazil was a truly special experience.
I spent about a week in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and got to watch one of the quarterfinals matches in Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, one of the world’s great footballing venues. This was also my first independent trip to a part of the world that some might deem unsafe – indeed, many were warning me about the dangers of Brazil prior to my trip – and I found it to be an eye-opening experience that helped me grow as a traveler in many ways.
Visiting Brazil in person and seeing my fears were unfounded helped make me aware of the significant influence of the media and our social circles on our perception of other countries and peoples. This further elevated the importance of travel in my mind as a means of overcoming these warped perceptions.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Traveling on points is sort of my “thing” and everyone knows it at this point. They’re all pretty amazed by the First Class flights and fancy hotel stays. But no one in my circle has taken it to quite the same level as I have.
I recognize not everyone is as obsessive about travel. But at the same time, I’ve offered to help people through the entire process of booking a 2-week luxury vacation for little money out-of-pocket, and there haven’t been many people taking me up on that offer.
I find that my friends who do show an interest tend to be good with numbers, comfortable with their finances, and at least slightly more interested in traveling the world than your average vacationer. And they are at least slightly more of a risk-taker than your average person.
Meanwhile, the typical travelers tend to look at me like I’m a snake oil salesman when I talk about this stuff.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Plenty! I spend hours upon hours playing with the Great Circle Mapper. As a Canadian points collector I love making use of Aeroplan’s generous routing rules. I also enjoy using Wikipedia’s airport articles and Google Flights to figure out which airlines fly where.
I also swear by ExpertFlyer as an essential tool for someone who’s engaged in this hobby. The number of hours it’s saved me when searching for awards is too much to count! Throw in the useful info on fare availability, minimum connection time, and flight loads (especially in a pinch during irregular operations!) and it’s something I can’t live without.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
This would have to be the time when I asked American Express Membership Rewards to move 30,000 points from one account to another, except they ended up adding 30,000 points to both accounts! Whoops, free 60,000 AMEX points for me!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m very passionate about learning foreign languages, and always try to pick up as much of the language as possible before embarking on a trip. My native languages are English and Mandarin. And I picked up some Cantonese as a result of living in Hong Kong for a few years. Then I studied French and Spanish in a classroom setting before tackling Portuguese and Japanese as part of my travels in recent years.
I find that knowing a bit of the language – even just a few words – helps make my travels richer and more meaningful by a huge margin, because you’re able to communicate and form a local–visitor connection with so many more people you meet along the way. I’ll be heading to Russia for the World Cup this summer – continuing on the tradition from 2014 – and so picking up a bit of Russian is my next big challenge!
Any parting words?
Ultimately, you just gotta be thankful this all exists – somehow amidst all these institutions of banks, airlines, hotels, and credit bureaus, our tiny subset of consumers is able to figure out a way to travel the world almost for free! It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, and it might not be around forever, so let’s enjoy it while it’s here.
Ricky – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Big Travel with Small Money!
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