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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: The Faraway Guide
Kyle, co-founder and editor of The Faraway Guide has earned over 2.5 million points and traveled to 45 countries. He was eager to share his experiences and photos.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I began the hobby in November 2011, while I was working for Visa. As fate would have it, I was assigned a project to outline every single rewards card on the market – airlines, hotels, and cash-back. It covered quite literally every card.
During my research, I stumbled onto FlyerTalk. It was then that I had my “aha!” moment and I remember it vividly, 7:30pm, in my little office cube, learning this amazing secret. It was love at 1st sight.
Now, over 2 and a half years later, The Faraway Guide has grown from that initial moment of realization into a full-time, well-chronicled obsession.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Andrea, the other half of The Faraway Guide, and I started it for 3 reasons. First, we absolutely love traveling and writing about it.
Second, we wanted to have a resource to answer the FAQ’s that inevitably come with the hobby. If you are reading this site and tell others about it, you probably know what I mean.
Third, and most relevant, I thought there was a gap in the current points blogosphere, especially for beginners. Other websites were so far along that some of the simple, step-by-step instruction was either removed or hard to find.
That is the special feature of The Faraway Guide, its simplicity. Readers can get started on their own points hobby, whether it is 1 card or dozens a year, without being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of information out there.
We take them from beginner to expert and recommends places to go, all at a manageable pace.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Apply for more credit cards, especially business cards. It sounds simple, but the highest return has always been the sign-up offers. Plus the idea that multiple credit cards always hurt your credit score is just not true.
Besides American Express, getting the same sign-up bonus more than once is only a matter of timing.
Using online portals or category spending are valuable, usually resulting in 2X or 3X average bonus points. These should always be taken advantage of, but not at the cost of additional cards. Sign-up bonuses net 15X or 20X bonus points, meaning people should follow my mantra and always have your next card in the mail.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Andrea and I hiked to Machu Picchu, Peru, in April 2014. We used United Airlines miles to fly Business Class and used a combination of Marriott and Starwood points to cover accommodations before and after the hike.
Honestly, the Business Class seats were just OK and we’ve stayed at better hotels on points. But hiking for 5 days and finally resting our eyes on Machu Picchu is #1 for me.
On top of that, I was still working at Visa at the time and I remember coming back from the 11 days with a surprise. I had made more in paid time off salary than we spent on the trip. Here we were, coming back from this luxurious trip and private hike with more money in our bank accounts.
I realized then how powerful points could be.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Nine out of 10 think I’m crazy or that I’m doing something illegal. Which makes for pretty entertaining holidays. How do you tell someone, with no knowledge of the points world, that you booked a $7,000 flight in an Etihad A380 suite for a $100?
But there is always that 10th person, our blog is dedicated to that 10th person. He or she will ask more and more questions, then in a few weeks I’ll see the name on our newsletter, then in a comment. It is so much fun to see the idea stick with somebody like it did with me.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I’ll give you 1 tool and 1 trick.
I have tracked every card application I’ve made since November 2011 in a handy excel tool I offer free to readers. This is incredibly useful when I am applying to earn the same sign-up bonus again and need to know exactly how much time has passed.
I always urge readers to use this tool or make their own template, as long as you are tracking.
Now the trick, set email alerts on every 1 of your cards! I think a fear of uncertainty keeps most people from diving into the points world, because managing dozens of open credit cards sounds daunting.
But if you set alerts on every single credit card, you’ll immediately know if something was charged or if you have a bill due. Combined with the fact that banks offer zero liability on fraudulent charges, this takes nearly all of the uncertainty out of it.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I rarely like to pay fees, but there was 1 instance in particular where it made sense.
The old sign-up bonus of 100,000 American Airlines miles with the Citi American Airlines Executive card. The unique aspect of this promotion was applicants could cancel the card within 30 days, receive a full refund on the $450 annual fee, and keep any earned bonus miles.
Naturally I sprang into action. Using a company called RentShare, I used a credit card to pay off the remaining 8 months of my shared apartment lease.
There was a service fee, but it was covered by a $200 statement credit that was offered with the card at the time. I then used savings to pay off the card balances, canceling before any fees posted.
In ~6 months, we collectively signed-up for 9 Citi American Airlines Executive cards for over a million American Airlines miles. It cost us $153, the difference between the payment fee and the statement credits. That was the least expected and most lucrative 6 months of my points career!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Not to be afraid of business cards. When I was starting out, I ruled out any business card offer because I thought I didn’t have a business. In reality, I was constantly trying to make money in ways that were considered business-worthy, such as selling items on eBay, swapping event tickets and a couple websites.
Even with under $500 in annual revenue, I was routinely approved for business cards. And because these cards often have the best bonus offers, they have been vital in my collecting, making up about a quarter of all my miles earned.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I grew up the son of a professional baseball player turned minor league manager. Meaning I was constantly missing class and sometimes even being homeschooled to be the team batboy for a few weeks. It was a really fun childhood.
I have fond memories bouncing around from airport to airport in those days. Getting on a plane was always such an adventure, and it still is. Perhaps the only downside to all this is that I left so many frequent flyer miles on the table…
Any parting words?
Besides a big thank you to Million Mile Secrets, I’ll leave you with this, learning about the points world has been 1 of 3 or 4 life-changing moments for me. I have traveled further and in more luxurious style than I could have ever imagined.
But my true passion is sharing these tips and tricks with others. So if you read this and are hesitant to jump in, have questions or want to know more then comment below or contact me over at The Faraway Guide. We’ll do our best to help you in your journey.
Kyle – 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!