“Pick a Singular Goal, Then Spend Time Reading About Points or Credit Cards You’ll Need to Achieve It”

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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 First Class Travel Guide

Lou writes about chasing elite status and making business travel more comfortable at The First Class Travel Guide.  Check him out on Twitter and Facebook!

The First Class Travel Guide
First Class Bar on Board an Emirates A380 First Class Flight

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I’ve kept track of points and miles ever since I started traveling for work, around 8 years ago.  However, around 2 years ago, I started paying closer attention.  I have a high-stress day job in the financial industry.

Because vacations tend to be few and far between, I wanted to make the most of the little time off available to me (without spending wasteful amounts of money in the process).  Collecting points and miles offered the best way to experience some amazingly expensive trips for a fraction of the cost, once or twice a year.

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it?

Initially I started the blog as a response to the startled reactions and questions I received from friends and family when I explained I would be traveling halfway around the world on a $20,000 airline ticket for less than a few hundred dollars in fees.

Over time I realized that writing was actually a pretty good stress reliever.  Since I don’t take outrageously expensive trips everyday, I decided to write about questions or themes I encountered as an everyday business traveler.

The First Class Travel Guide
Venison Served Inside the Etihad First Class Lounge and Spa in Abu Dhabi

So my blog straddles a little of bit of luxury travel with points and miles, as well as things business travelers might pay attention to like tips for getting a suite upgrade at a business hotel.  Or whether it’s better to use points to pay for a domestic First Class ticket outright or try to upgrade from a coach ticket with points.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

I’m a little bit of a contrarian when it comes to that.  I think the best approach is to pick a singular goal; like a First Class flight or a hotel or whatever your goal might be.  Then spend some time reading about which points or which credit cards you might need to reach that goal.  Points and miles aren’t worth anything if you can’t spend them.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Because of a policy change at my day job, everyone in my department was required to take a full 2 weeks off from work at least once per year.  I had never taken a full 2 weeks off in one shot, so I thought it was great news.  My goal was to take the most expensive trip possible around the world while paying as little real money in the process.

The First Class Travel Guide
Seat 4A on My Etihad Apartment Flight From Abu Dhabi to Sydney

I managed to fly from the US to Germany, Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Singapore, and back to the US.  I was able to spend a few days in each of the cities and managed to book a Business Class ticket on each leg of the trip with a First Class ticket from Abu Dhabi to Sydney on the Etihad Apartment.

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

Depends who you ask!  The reaction probably ranges from crazy to crazy like a fox. 😉

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

A spreadsheet!  I’ve learned to think about credit cards like a stock portfolio.  You need to diversify across a few different brands, but you also need to be disciplined about recording the details of things like minimum spending requirements and annual fees.  Make sure you go slow and keep good records.

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

I pre-bought birthday gifts (over 6 months in advance) and household items from Neiman Marcus when they were offering 15 points per dollar spent when shopping online through the Alaska Airlines shopping portal.

The First Class Travel Guide
Inside the Massive Emirates First Class Lounge Restaurant in Dubai

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

There will always be another great deal.  When you start out, there is so much information out there that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and chase every opportunity simultaneously.  Pick a few blogs or forums to read.

Go slow, try a few things out, but don’t worry if you miss out on a few deals.  There’s always more.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Before I learned about points and miles, I never traveled outside of the US.  I hated the idea of suffering in an uncomfortable coach seat for a long international flight.  After I focused on collecting points, I managed to visit 3 continents and 5 countries in 2 years.

The First Class Travel Guide
Inside the First Class Cabin of a Lufthansa Flight

Any parting words?

Make sure you double-check visa requirements before you visit countries for the first time.  Since I was working so many hours, I had the habit of booking things at the last second without taking the time to research the places I was visiting.  Before I stepped on the Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, the Etihad staff informed me that I needed a temporary visa (Electronic Travel Authority) to visit Sydney.

Thankfully I was in First Class and the Etihad employees pulled a few strings to arrange a visa for me at the very last second.

Lou – 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!

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