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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: Root + Revel
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I first got into miles & points after my friend, Andrea, a fellow travel writer, started sharing with me how she was traveling the world for free. I had been a freelance travel writer for magazines and newspapers for years, so the concept wasn’t totally foreign to me. But what attracted me to using miles and points was that it was on my own terms – I didn’t have to work while I traveled, and I could travel in First Class and stay at luxury 5-star resorts, not having to report back to anyone!
It sounded too good to be true, but Andrea put together an incredible guide for me and turned me onto some of her favorite frequent flyer blogs. I spent ~2 weeks devouring everything I could about this new hobby, and before I knew it, I was taking my first free flight to Istanbul. That was back in 2012.
Since then, my husband and I have traveled to Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, France, Amsterdam, London, Hawaii, New York, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Denver, Washington DC, and more…for FREE! And all in Business or First Class.
I did the math, and we’ve collected and spent over 1.5 million miles and points for over $80,000 worth of FREE travel. This is easily the most worthwhile hobby I’ve ever had!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
My blog is really focused on food and wellness. I started it after I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Leaky Gut Syndrome, insulin resistance, and hypothyroidism. I’ve subsequently healed most of my symptoms naturally.
I’m a food and travel writer (it’s literally my job to eat and report on the world’s most delicious foods!) and a food lover, who believes strongly that life is not worth living without fried chicken, cheese, and wine. But I’ve also seen firsthand the power of nutrition and how much the food we eat affects the way we feel.
After my diagnosis, I was blown away by the rapid transformation I saw in my own body from simple lifestyle changes. The food I ate and the natural products I used (and the toxic products I tossed!) have helped me live a near symptom-free life. And I wanted to share what I’ve learned with the world.
Travel is a big part of wellness for me. Exploring the world allows us to learn from other cultures, to experience new things, nourishing our minds, bodies, and souls along the way. So, Root + Revel is a site bursting with advice for people ready to celebrate life and experience the world.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Sign-up for credit cards with big bonuses. The bulk of my miles and points have come from great sign-up bonuses. I always wait until there’s an incredible offer, like 100,000-point offers for the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN (both no longer available). And I make sure to meet the minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus, pay my balance off in full every month, and keep a detailed spreadsheet logging my activity, to-do’s, and redemptions.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Oh gosh, it’s so hard to say! We’ve been so fortunate to travel to so many exotic and special places that it would be nearly impossible to pick a favorite. But I will say that I will never forget walking through the streets of Hanoi in Vietnam.
It’s the most chaotic, delicious, aromatic, exciting city I’ve ever been to – even just crossing the street is an adventure. And the food is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. I still dream of the Bún chả and Bánh xèo we ate in the back alley of a busy intersection. One of the best meals of my life. You can read more about that trip here.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I think they can hardly believe that it’s true. I’ve had some friends try to get in on the hobby, and some do a pretty good job. But others get confused because, admittedly, it’s not always a straightforward process. It takes a ton of research to understand all the rules, and even more time to find the right flights and hotels when you want to use your rewards.
But it is possible and it is so worth it! I always have friends and family asking me for advice when they’re trying to use points to go somewhere. So they must think I’m onto something. 😉
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I highly recommend shopping online through frequent flyer shopping portals.
When I’m shopping online, I start by going to EVReward.com and seeing what bonus offers are available at that retailer. I choose the one with the highest bonus.
Then, I click through their shopping portal back to the retailer, and pay with whatever card will earn me the most rewards. Sometimes, if I know exactly how much I’ll need at a store (or if I know that I’ll definitely spend the money over time, like at Amazon), I’ll also go to Staples or Office Max and buy gift cards with a credit card that earn a bonus at office supply stores.
So I earn bonus rewards all for making purchases I planned on making anyways!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Oh there’s been a lot of unique ways I’ve earned points, but most of my points come from the typical ways, like credit card sign-up bonuses and using the right cards at the right places.
It’s key that you maximize your earning potential. I use my Chase Ink Business Cash card for all of my bills and utilities, and at gas stations.
I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for restaurants and travel to get 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1, and my Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express for most everything else because Starwood points are so flexible. Plus, you get a bonus of 5,000 miles every time you transfer in increments of 20,000 to an airline partner!
I also always watch the bonus categories on my Chase Freedom card to make sure I maximize them. And I’ve gotten some great bonus points for adding special offers to my AMEX cards, like with Uber and Whole Foods.
Interestingly, the worst way I’ve found to earn miles and points is by actually flying and staying at hotels. It takes FOREVER these days to rack up enough for a free flight or stay doing it that way.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Redeeming miles & points for fancy seats is a MUCH better value than for coach seats. And international awards are usually a much better value than domestic.
If you’re interested in using miles and points for free travel and you really only want to get around the US, or you prefer quantity over quality, then domestic coach redemptions could make sense. But I prefer to take a few luxury trips per year to exotic destinations. And on a point per dollar basis, you get much more bang for your buck when you redeem rewards for Business or First Class international travel.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I had never been out of the country (not even to Canada or Mexico!) until I was 20 years old and studied abroad in Italy for a summer. In those 8 weeks, I added 5 countries to my passport, caught the travel bug, and never looked back.
Since then I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries, and dozens upon dozens of cities, nearly all of which has been free.
Any parting words?
Keep it flexible – with few exceptions, I usually try to collect miles and points in flexible points programs with tons of partners, like American Express, Starwood, and Chase.
You can use those points on a variety of airlines and hotels. And even those that don’t have loyalty programs, like boutique hotels. It makes it so much easier to redeem your rewards and find the best value!
Kate – 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!