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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where travel bloggers share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: Shell On Wheels
Jack and Rose write Shell On Wheels to share their adventures in an RV and using miles and points.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
In 2004, while in the military, I was assigned to a position that included significant international travel on commercial carriers. I had been in a similar position a few years earlier, but had failed to take advantage of frequent flier programs.
With this new assignment, and through reading sites like FlyerTalk and the major points-oriented bloggers, I began to understand the full potential of airline and hotel loyalty programs.
In the summer of 2004, I put my toe in the water of the various airline and hotel rewards pools. And over the next few years, with the encouragement of my new, travel-oriented wife, I became a serious points junky.
At 1st it was just signing-up for all the relevant programs. But it rapidly morphed into careful monitoring of points and offers, consolidating travel into primary programs to gain elite status, and eventually the real pot of gold: credit card sign-up bonuses.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’ll answer the 2nd question 1st: Within the travel blogger community, we are at the intersection of 2 sub-groups, connecting the mile and points trackers with the full and part-time RVers.
I’m sure they exist, but we have not run across any other RV blogger. Much less 1 that is full-time, retired early, and that also includes the miles and points in their blog.
We are on a 1 year circuit of the continental US in our vintage 1963 GM bus converted into a motorhome. Yet we are still using the extraordinary benefits of the various rewards programs. For example, we took a points paid trip to Hawaii this past April.
As for the 1st question: We started Shell On Wheels in 2013, shortly after we transitioned from full-time jobs into early retirement and full-time travel in a recreational vehicle.
For years we debated our options for a nontraditional future, considering things such as moving to Central America or onto a 42 foot or larger boat. It was actually my dad’s idea to move into an RV. He had been making plans for such a move for years.
When he 1st mentioned it to us we thought it was absurd; why on earth would you move into a little trailer when you can own a house? But over time, as we contemplated our own options, we realized that an RV was a much more realistic option than a boat.
Now that we have transitioned, Shell On Wheels serves to keep friends, family, and anyone else interested abreast of our travels and adventures.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I can’t restrict myself to 1 thing, it must be 2:
1. Never fly in a plane, sleep in a hotel, or rent a car without getting credit through the associated loyalty program.
2. If you are going to have a credit card, why not get 50,000 airline miles for signing-up? Ignore those offers for 10% off your 1st (limited) purchase at a department store and get real value. As in round-trip tickets anywhere in the US value, via the offers available to anyone with reasonable credit.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Thailand. This was back in the heady days when American Airlines was offering Double Elite Qualifying Miles during limited periods once or twice a year. When my business travel was peaking such that I was on the lookout for ways to maintain Executive Platinum status on American Airlines.
The very same week we were getting ready to buy airline tickets to Hawaii, American Airlines opened up Double Elite Qualifying Miles for a couple of months.
We immediately changed plans and went to Thailand instead. My wife flew First Class on points and I paid for a coach ticket but was upgraded for most of the trip due to my American Airlines status.
We stayed in 3 high-end Starwood hotels on points or cash & points, and were upgraded to executive floor every time. Oh yeah, and Thailand was magnificent in every respect.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
The wife? 100% on board with the plan. Everyone else? Mildly to deeply skeptical, with the general assumption that it is more trouble than it is worth. I tend to think that my heavily subsidized trip to Thailand in First Class seats with free upgraded hotel rooms was easily worth the trouble.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I would offer this: Knowing the reconsideration phone numbers for all the major credit card suppliers is a real winner in the current market.
Case in point, during my recent credit card applications I was only immediately approved for 2 of the 6 cards for which I applied. But with calls to the reconsideration lines I was able to get 3 of the others approved within a day.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Can I answer a different, but sort of related question? How about “the least expected advantage we received from a loyalty program?” That would be the surprising benefit of merely signing-up for Thrifty Car Rental’s Blue Chip Rewards prior to renting a series of cars on each Hawaiian island we visited during a Norwegian cruise.
We had no status at all with Thrifty, just basic members of their loyalty program, but having signed-up we had a separate line whenever we arrived. This saved us hours of time and significant aggravation over the course of the 1 week cruise. Plus, we were upgraded from the basic compact model to an SUV or Jeep more than half of the time.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Man, I so wish I had started just a bit sooner. Not just to have gathered more miles and points, but also to have gained lifetime status in Starwood and American Airlines before my business travel disappeared and before American tightened the lifetime status earning method.
Had I begun in 2000, or even a bit more aggressively in 2004, I would have lifetime Platinum status in both of those loyalty groups, and probably have a larger stash of points to vacation on today.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I don’t know, we have been pretty open on our blog about our situation, the why and how we transitioned to full-time RVing. I suspect for the RV-oriented readers, any post I do about loyalty programs is a surprise, and for points readers finding our blog, the RV focus is a surprise.
Any parting words?
It’s easy for those of us already sold on the benefits to get a bit zealous, even evangelical, but not everyone has the credit readiness or spending habits suitable for getting into this hobby, much less signing-up for lots of credit cards.
Get your family to sign-up for American Airlines and Hilton rewards accounts if they are using those companies. But be wary of convincing them to sign-up for the associated credit cards without careful consideration of their financial readiness and responsibility.
Oh, and get an RV and travel the world, or at least your state!
Jack and Rose – 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!