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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook
Andy is the author of The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook where he shares his secrets on acquiring miles and points, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started about 10 years ago. I had heard about the frequent flier programs a long time before that, but I was skeptical. Certainly feels like years of lost time now.
Why did you write your book?
Exactly for the reason mentioned above. People are skeptical about unconventional ways to improve their lives and for a good reason. It’s not limited to travel. Think about all those “get rich quick” schemes, “work from home” schemes, “phony travel agents” schemes.
Frequent Flier programs also have a lot of bad press and deservedly so. They can be very confusing and misleading to an untrained eye. I mean, I’ve always loved traveling, yet it took me years to realize the mind-blowing potential of Frequent Flyer programs. It’s no wonder that a casual traveler doesn’t even want to bother.
That’s why I wrote The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook: Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Travel the World FOR FREE. I just wanted to tell folks: look it’s not all that hard. Even if you are an infrequent flier like me, you can still get up to a million miles and points in just a year, and that number means as many free flights and hotel stays as you can handle. And even if you are extra cautious, like I was when I started, you can get a few hundred thousands easily.
What’s so special about it?
I’d like to believe that my book is a one-stop source. It won’t make you a mileage pro in two hours, and you still have to learn, but it will teach you enough to start applying for credit cards. My primary goal was to shorten the learning curve and organize information in such a way that even a person with very limited or non-existent frequent flier experience could start immediately upon turning the last page.
My book is geared toward beginners and beginner-intermediates, so to speak. I focus on big stuff, such as credit card sign up bonuses, because that reflects what I personally do. I really don’t bother with “earning” miles the way credit card companies want us to.
I mean, a mile is a mile, and I won’t throw them back, but earning miles on an actual spend is small change to me. There is no other travel incentive in the world that can get you so much and so fast for so little. Everyone who is US-based and has access to credit should go for credit card sign up bonuses.
But then, your audience already knows that, so it’s like I’m singing to the choir:–).
In order to play this game consistently, you have to apply often. So my book also contains real-life tips on how to do that. It has a list of suggested App-o-Ramas for the first year to get your one million miles and points. It also suggests a spending pattern since most of the bonuses are conditioned on meeting spend requirements (your 40+ ways of meeting the spend surely come handy). It also gives you ideas on how to protect your good credit so nothing could slow you down.
Then it comes to yet another issue. Say you’ve got your miles, now what? A lot of people are put off by the games that the airlines employ in order to make us spend more miles for less travel.
This is when the knowledge of alliances and airline rules, such as stopovers and open jaws come handy. I believe that miles and points are like real money and should be used wisely. So my book talks about optimizing your redemptions, as well.
By the way, I have two more narrowly targeted books in the same Lazy Traveler’s Handbook series: Fly Me to Atlantis about free travel to Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. and Hilton Secrets Revealed about maximizing your free stay potential with Hilton, and they are free on Amazon until Dec 29th. I also run a blog and I’m on Twitter and Facebook, too.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’ll give you three: credit cards, credit cards, and finally credit cards.
Look, I will admit I just don’t get it when folks who do know a thing or two about frequent mile programs (often more than me); who spend considerable amount of time and energy pursuing every available opportunity to grab more miles; who track all their purchases religiously to make sure their miles get posted—when same very folks say they are uncomfortable to apply for credit cards. How come?
Of course, there are situations when you shouldn’t. If you have a mortgage in the cards (pun intended) within a year or two you shouldn’t risk credit card applications. Or if you carry a month-to-month balance. Or if you don’t have a good FICO score. Or if you don’t live in the US.
It’s great when you know how to buy gift cards at Staples with a Bold or how to play all kinds of funny games with Vanilla (may it rest in peace, at least here in NYC). But how many gift cards do you need to go through in order to “earn” 50,000 miles? And those 50,000 miles is just one sign up bonus!
Quite honestly, my mile’n’point routine is very boring, because between my wife and me we’re always busy meeting the spend requirements. I absolutely love reading about all those “insider” tricks on your and other blogs, but I rarely get to use those techniques, because, number one, I’m lazy, and two, I’m busy. It’s as simple as that:–).
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That would have to be my extensive trip to Argentina and Brazil seven years ago. I started in Buenos Aires, then flew to Iguaçu Falls, boarded an overnight bus to Curitiba, took the train down the coast to Paranagua, rode the bus to Blumenau in time for Octoberfest, spent a couple of days in a beautiful resort town of Balneriao Camboriu, and flew back home from Porto Allegro.
Along the way I also “managed” to get off at a wrong bus stop in the middle of Brazilian highway and experienced life without reals (Brazil currency) in a town that didn’t recognize the power of almighty dollar (or credit cards) . That certainly added up to fun :–).
Since then I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, including Machu Picchu and Easter Island, but still, nothing beats that 7-yr old trip.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They think I’m nuts, of course:–). I stopped arguing a long time ago.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are too many to mention. Citi 2-browser trick comes to mind. Then there are ITA software or Award Nexus to find flight availability, Award Wallet to organize miles and points, Yodlee to keep all your credit card payment information in one place, Miles.biz to find who’s flying where, Credit Sesame for free credit monitoring, and plenty of others of course.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Since my mile earning avenues are mostly limited to credit cards, I know what to expect most of the times. I could, however, tell you how one can lose miles unexpectedly. That’s much more fun (no it isn’t).
A couple years ago I got on that British Airways 100,000 mile bonus offer. I received my first 50-000-mile portion, and then met the spend requirement. Yet, the other 50,000-mile portion didn’t post. I went online to check my credit card statement and to my astonishment found that one of my payments hadn’t come through.
It was a payment made to one of the biggest professional National Associations in the country, and, for whatever reason, they failed to charge the card and never told me about it.
By the time I discovered the error it was already too late. Multiple calls to Chase to convince them to reinstate the bonus fell on deaf ears. I lost 50,000 miles. It still hurts when I think about it (sob).
Another time, I booked an American Airlines flight to Rio for just $300. I was so excited to find this incredible fare that I completely forgot they were running a double-mile promotion at the time. It totally slipped my mind. If I had registered for that promo I would’ve gotten 20,000 bonus AA miles for that flight instead of 10,000.
One more case study as another example of what can happen. My cousin (who is not exactly an frequent flyer aficionado) closed his Chase Sapphire before the annual fee was about to hit. What he didn’t realize was that he would lose the points too. All 55,000 of them!
To be fair, Timmy had a lot on his mind at the time; he had just lost some personal property because of Sandy, so he was very distraught and eager to save whatever money he could. Still it wouldn’t have hurt him to give me a call beforehand. Anyway, we managed to reopen the card, and they promised to restore the points (and they did eventually), but it took 4 telephone calls and another credit pull.
Unlike Sandy, it was a totally unnecessary and avoidable calamity.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
That applying for credit cards is safe and easy if you know what you’re doing. I wish I hadn’t hesitated back then; I would’ve been an American Airlines Lifetime Platinum by now (sigh).
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
That I’m cute as a button? It’s OK, you can start laughing now.
Any parting words?
Pack and go. Here is my favorite travel quotation that for some reason is always attributed to Rudyard Kipling, although it belongs to T.S. Eliot.
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
It’s hard to do that in front of a laptop:–).
Andy– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!