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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: Straight To The Points
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
In 2015, I started a new job at an office that rewarded you for taking all of your vacation days. I didn’t believe it at first! As someone who has always enjoyed flying, this was an amazing opportunity to find cheap fares and travel. I found cheap flights to Europe (twice) and Asia that year, and hit the skies.
In fact, on one of these flights to Europe, I was upgraded to Delta One on an oversold flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. I was stunned that a Gold Medallion member would get an upgrade on an transatlantic flight – I guess the Platinums and Diamonds stayed home that day.
That flight ruined me. At 6’3”, it was the most comfortable I’d been on a long flight and I was determined to figure out how I could keep flying like that. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t about to start spending thousands of dollars on flights.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started Straight To The Points as a way to cut through the noise and show people that credit card points, frequent flyer miles, and award travel are basically all part of a game. Once you learn the rules and some basics, everything becomes much easier. In fact, it can be quite fun!
Things are only at the beginning stages now, but the focus of Straight To The Points generally covers three main areas:
- Make the basics of award travel easier to digest
- Shine some light on fun opportunities within less well-known loyalty programs, such as Singapore Airlines’ partnership with Alaska Airlines
- Share awesome airfare deals like the ANA business class deal to Sydney that I booked
In the coming months, you can expect to see some flight reviews that share the points required, the booking process, and the experience.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Leveraging credit card spending to earn miles and points is the obvious answer here, but I’d like to shift the focus of this question a little bit to the redemption side of things. Plenty of people talk about earning more points, but if you learn the different ways to redeem your points for travel you can really stretch your points.
If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points and want to fly Business Class to Tokyo, your first instinct might be to look at using 160,000 United Airlines miles. You might even think to use 125,000 Korean SkyPass miles if you’re traveling during off-peak dates. But, if you really want to stretch your points, you could book a round-trip Business Class award ticket on ANA for 95,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.
Think about that for second. If you booked that same ANA flight with United Airlines miles, you would have wasted 65,000 miles. That’s enough for a round-trip coach flight to Europe!
Additionally, keep an eye out for promo awards. Air France and KLM’s Flying Blue program runs popular monthly promo awards that provide 25% to 50% discounts on select routes. Less well known, the Miles and More program (Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, etc.) runs Mileage Bargains for 50% off award tickets on select routes.
You might even stumble across even more amazing award promos like the one Garuda Indonesia ran last year for 90% off awards.
There are tons of these opportunities out there, so I’d strongly recommend people spend just as much time learning how to use their miles and points as they do earning them.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Like many, the first trip I booked with points stands out. It was also the first time I tried international Business and First Class. I still smile thinking about it.
Having read so much about Etihad’s First Class Apartments, I knew I wanted to try that experience, so I booked it from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.
It was the peak of luxury for me, from the car service from my hotel to the airport, to the dedicated First Class check-in, to the First Class lounge. However, it was the in-flight experience that really made this trip memorable.
No one was seated in any of the other Apartments or The Residence. It was just me! I was already so excited to be there, but to have what was basically a private jet experience was out of this world.
I’m sure the butler and crew manager could see how excited I was to be there. Act like you’ve been there before? I don’t think so. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Imagine being on your first international First Class flight and being offered a tasting menu with a wine pairing. There was no way I was going to act cool. To top it off, the crew manager gave me a tour of the whole plane.
I honestly don’t know how this flight could ever be topped!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Hobby is such a nice word for obsession.
The reactions I’ve received have ranged from fascination to disbelief to concern. As friends and family have started to see pictures from the First and Business Class flights I take across the world, many have started reaching out for advice about which cards to get and how to use the points they’ve earned.
Some continue to worry about my credit score… which is probably higher than theirs!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
It sounds boring, but stay organized. Keep track of everything from card open dates to minimum spend requirements to statement close dates to payment due dates. Additionally, stay on top of your credit reports so nothing catches you off guard.
If it takes an Excel spreadsheet, set one up that makes sense to you so you never miss anything. It takes just a little effort up front to save you from a lot of frustration down the road.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
When I first started using credit cards to earn points, I never would have expected I could pay rent with a credit card. Now, services such as Plastiq provide a great way to pay rent and help you hit a minimum spend requirement to earn a sign-up bonus.
Some apartment complexes will even let you pay rent without a processing fee! So, make sure you check before you send in a check. You could be leaving tons of points on the table!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Focus on the big wins whenever possible. When it comes to earning miles and points, don’t lose sleep over finding the absolute best deal possible when buying something online. The difference of a few points earned won’t make or break your future travel.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Starting in college, I worked in politics for nearly a decade – I can hear your groans from here – and rarely took any vacation. With many 20-hour days and 7-day weeks, taking time off rarely seemed like an option.
As someone who knocked on plenty of doors and managed plenty of people doing the same, be nice to campaign staff and volunteers during election season. They probably haven’t slept more than a few hours in months!
Any parting words?
Decide what you want out of miles and points. If that means booking coach awards so you can squeeze in as many adventures as possible, go for it! If that means booking 1 or 2 premium cabin awards for special vacations each year, that’s great too!
As I said earlier, this is a fun game, and you can shape it to fit your travel goals.
Spencer – 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!