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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: The Gross Travel Chronicles
Liz writes The Gross Travel Chronicles to document her and her husband’s travels.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’ve been a passive user of credit card rewards for ~10 years. I started with a credit card sponsored by my favorite sports team, and used the points for free tickets, memorabilia, and even the chance for my husband to throw out the 1st pitch at a game.
In early 2014, I signed us both up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and used my 1st redemption to save $750 on airfare to Austria. But it wasn’t until ~6 months ago that I started collecting miles in earnest.
I came across the Travel Hacking Cartel, joined for a few months, and have since moved on to reading independent blogs. In 6 months, we’ve collected over 275,000 miles.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’ve blogged on a variety of topics since the early 2000’s, but I started my travel blog The Gross Travel Chronicles in 2014 to document our trips and provide a resource to travelers that are also obsessed with travel.
I was researching river cruises at the time, and although the best resources available were personal blogs, I couldn’t find more than a handful of them. So, I started my own. I’m not a miles and points blogger, although I do highlight the flights I’ve been able to book with our recently-acquired miles.
What makes my blog unique is the in-depth description of everything we do on our vacations (down to the food we eat and type of beer we drink). I’ve received multiple emails from people that have used the information on my blog to plan similar itineraries. Some have even told me I’ve saved them from travel disasters!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’m not the 1st person to say this, but credit cards are key.
In the last 6 months, my husband and I have applied for and received 11 credit cards without damaging our credit. We charge everything, including travel and supply expenses that we can get reimbursed through our employers. This strategy requires 2 things, though:
- A commitment to paying off the balance every month
- Enough organization to keep track of the cards, annual fees, balances, and payment due dates.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Last fall we took a river cruise on the Danube from Austria to Germany (and then on to Prague via land). One of the activities we enjoyed was a 16-mile bike ride from a small town in Austria across the border to Germany.
I had lost about 50 pounds before taking this vacation, so the ability to participate in an activity like this (and be 1 of the leaders of the pack) was extremely gratifying, even though I’d hardly ridden a bike over the last decade.
We rode through tiny towns and followed the Danube, picking out a variety of houses that would make excellent places for us to retire. We even stopped and picked fresh apples from a tree to eat.
After arriving in Passau, Germany, we traded our bikes for walking shoes and immediately hit the beer garden, and then later that afternoon we visited a gorgeous cathedral and I climbed the steepest hill in town to visit the Uberhaus. We packed an awful lot into 1 day, and I enjoyed every second.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Since it’s a fairly new hobby, most are just curious. A few friends have asked me to teach them my ways so they can get to Europe more often. I finally convinced my parents to get a few credit cards that offer rewards, but I don’t think they’ve bothered to cash any in yet.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I organize the RSS feeds of all my favorite blogs in Digg Reader and try to check in every day. Usually in ~10 to 15 minutes I can read about any new opportunities to accumulate miles, and also read reviews of amazing travel destinations I hope to visit.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
The 1st trip my husband and I ever took overseas was a trip to Germany in 2011. We flew on US Airways, and signed-up for frequent flyer accounts before we booked our tickets. We each accumulated over 10,000 miles on just 1 trip, but we had no plans to use them.
Eventually, they expired. Earlier this year, we each applied for and received the Barclays US Airways card (no longer available), and learned that getting an airline card re-activated our miles. The re-activated miles gave me just enough to redeem Business Class return flights for our upcoming trip to Asia.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I didn’t pay any attention to hotel rewards when I started collecting miles. Now I’m realizing that with the right program, I can use hotel points to stay free all over the world.
I also put myself in a pretty precarious situation by committing to collecting enough miles to fly to and from Asia in Business Class, after already booking the trip, which falls over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. I am amazingly lucky that I was able to get miles fast enough and find award availability.
Next time, I’ll be more flexible with my redemption goals.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
In addition to my love of travel and new-found mile and points hobby, I’m an avid vegetable gardener and will complete my Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education this fall.
My husband is a dedicated home brewer and vlogs about his brews.
Any parting words?
If you want to travel, you can. Whether it’s by collecting miles and points or prioritizing saving for your dream vacation, you can do it if you put your mind to it.
Liz – 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!