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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: PointsNerd
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points ~20 years ago. It all started when I took my first flight on my own dime in university. I had heard about frequent flyer miles but didn’t know too much about them. But I decided that I would collect points in the event that they might turn into something useful down the line.
I actually remember having something like 1,500 Alaska Airlines miles and calling in to inquire about what I could do with them. The representative that answered the phone must have been silently shaking his head.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog based on the encouragement of some of the friends I met at PointsU, a conference for Canadian miles and points enthusiasts. I’ve been in the game for 15+ years and over those years I have helped a lot of people with questions about loyalty programs. I guess I came to the realization that I could help more people if I got off my butt and started a blog.
The reason my blog is special is that I’ve always written articles because I truly want to help people bridge the gap in knowledge that I faced for so many years. Let’s face it, a lot of the good stuff in this hobby is a bit secretive and unless you know where to look, it can be difficult to unlock the true potential that points and miles can provide. That’s why most of my posts provide step-by-step instruction on how to recreate the same results I have been able to find using the tricks I have amassed over 15+ years. Teach them to fish I say!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Read the fine print.
I’m not sure why people don’t do this more because the terms and conditions of contests and promotions reveal a lot about what is actually possible. Back in 2015, IHG had a “Priceless Surprises” promotion where you could win a surprise for every stay at an IHG hotel. But if you read the fine print, you would have seen that you could qualify for the prizes by sending in a postcard.
You could enter up to 94 times and the minimum you would win for each entry was 500 IHG points, so even if you won the minimum amount of points each time, you would still walk away with 47,000 IHG points.
There were lots of people that used the postcard trick to win significant tranches of points including people that reported winning a million points… for sending in a postcard.
This is just one example, and there are hundreds of them out there. Just read the terms and conditions of everything and see if you can discover a loophole or additional ways to win miles or points.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I would have to say that my most memorable travel experience has to be the latest major trip that I took with my family. It was a mini-round-the-world redemption on Air Canada Aeroplan miles that allowed us to travel to Istanbul, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro in Business Class. We flew with Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, South African Airways, and United Airlines for over 24,000 miles and it only cost us 150,000 Aeroplan Miles and about $275 in taxes each.
The flights were fantastic, as were the destinations… and that’s all you can really ask for.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Well my immediate family knows a lot about what I do, and I’m sure they had doubts about it until they flew for free in Business Class… I mean literally free… I got suckered in to coughing up the points. 🙂
I think my friends are fascinated by it and maybe a bit jealous of the adventures we get to go on. But it’s interesting how few take me up on my offer to help them become experts in the miles and points game.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given when searching for award flights is to piece together your itinerary segment by segment and always look for the transatlantic or transpacific flights first because they tend to be the most difficult to find. Once you find available award seats for the hard to find flights, it becomes a pretty easy puzzle to put together with other connecting flights. It’s like putting together a 2,000 piece puzzle. Start with the edges.
The tool that I swear by and recommend the most is a free tool called Award.Flights. You enter in your credentials for your frequent flier programs and it automates the search for you. It saves you countless hours in trying to find available flights and it’s quite robust in its ability to search across different programs. I actually have a whole series on the step-by-step methods to employ when searching for award flights that walks you through how to use Award.Flights.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Back in 2012, Aeroplan provided some of its members a 10,000 mile bonus if they had redeemed for a flight sometime in the year. I woke up to a free bonus and I could not be happier.
The same thing happened recently with Alaska Airlines when they brought over their Virgin America members into the Alaska Airlines program. I was pleased as punch to have 10,000 miles handed to me from Alaska Airlines! That was a happy day.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had realized how important it is to build a network of people that have the same interest as you do. Things like PointsU or Frequent Traveler University for people in the US are great ways to meet nerds like me that just want to talk shop all the time.
Having friends to bounce routing ideas off of is so much easier than trial and error. Most of the time, someone has already gone through the same struggles you have so if you can tap into that resource, you are way further ahead.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m an aspiring golfer and really just started taking it seriously this year. Last year my handicap was over 35 and this year, I have dropped it down to 17.5. Much like travel hacking, it can be incredibly frustrating, but when things come together, it’s simply amazing!
Any parting words?
It’s never too early or too late to start in this hobby. Set yourself a goal and work towards it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Jayce – 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!