Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
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 Points Guide
Derek writes The Points Guide to help people earn free travel, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat! He’s also giving away 25,000 Delta miles on his blog.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting America Express membership rewards points in late 2007 but didn’t realize the power of collecting those points until I met my, soon-to-be, father-in-law in the summer of 2010.
I used my membership rewards points for free travel, but it wasn’t until my father-in-law showed me how I could gain an extra 20% to 50% more miles, thus helping to stretch my miles even further.
When you use rewards points to book your travel, like with the membership rewards portal over at American Express, you can pay for your airline ticket with points, but the overall cost of those tickets are higher. You gain miles since the ticket is being paid for, but you lose value in redeeming your rewards points because you are exchanging your points at 1 cent each.
What I learned from my father-in-law changed how I managed my miles and points. As you can say, it was revolutionary to me, but it wasn’t new. I never knew Delta offered transfer bonuses; I also never knew other airlines offered these same types of bonuses.
I started taking advantage of these ‘extra’ bonuses, so my rewards points went from 100,000 points to 120,000-150,000 airline miles. Not only did I gain extra miles but I am also redeeming my miles at a higher value. I also got an instant Silver Status with Delta and soon got 3 First Class upgrades. That ruined flying economy class for me! It’s all about the First Class!
Once I learned this tactic from my father-in-law, I started reading everything I could about gaining more miles and points so that I could gain more on these transfer bonuses. Just last year I earned over 600,000 points/miles and this year I expect to be closer to 700,000 points/miles.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started ThePointsGuide because I wanted a place to share my knowledge of being able to travel for free. When I was a kid my family never had the money to fly anywhere. In fact we would drive everywhere we went. I always wished we could have flown but I’m also grateful for the places I got to see while I was growing up. Being able to see most of the USA is more than most people are able to ever do.
I also realized that most of my family and friends never registered for miles and points accounts. I think back at how many miles and points I could have had, had I started collecting when I was 18 years old!
Hopefully my blog will inspire others to register and capture all of the miles and points they are missing out on. This includes Dining programs and shopping portals!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
The easiest way to gain miles is to CHARGE EVERYTHING! My wife still has a hard time with this concept because growing up you are taught credit cards are bad!! But if you are able to manage your debts and pay them off, then why wouldn’t you charge everything and earn miles or rewards points on your purchases!
Just by charging everything, you could earn enough rewards/miles for a free ticket every year.
The second best way of gaining miles or rewards points quickly is by signing up for a credit card with a large bonus. My wife signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which at the time came with 40,000 bonus points after spending $3k within the first 3 months.
Since we were planning on getting our new lawn installed, we knew we could meet any reward’s bonus requirement. Paying $6,000 for our new lawn, the Sapphire Preferred card will give us back 40,000 rewards points plus another 6,000 for the purchase. 46,000 rewards points with Chase = $460… free.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My absolute most favorite travel experience was with my wife for our honeymoon to Egypt in 2011. I didn’t use any free miles or rewards points because it was a gift from my father-in-law. We spent 3 weeks in Egypt and had an amazing time. I could spend months there touring the entire country and probably would never get bored.
Egypt was in turmoil until late April when the rioting stopped. We were there for 3 weeks and everything was calm. We left early in the morning on a Friday, the same day that the protest broke out again. Both my wife and I looked at each other and said we would be back, but with all of the recent uprisings and de-stability of the area, it’s hard to say when it will be safe to travel back to Egypt.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Once I started earning hundreds of thousands of miles and rewards points, my family loved it and now does it on their own on a much smaller scale. For Christmas I give the gift of free travel to my family members, so you know… they love what I do!
Is there any tool or trick that you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I’ve found it better to earn rewards points and then transfer those points to my airline of choice, usually the airline that is offering a transfer bonus. Taking advantage of those transfer bonuses from American Express to Delta or American Express to British Airways can really add a lot of miles to your account.
I would rather transfer 50,000 rewards points into miles, which can usually give me 2 free tickets, if I were transferring to Delta. Otherwise if you were to have 50,000 rewards points with Chase, the value of those points is a measly $500. Transferring points to miles will give you a bigger payday, especially with getting free First Class tickets!
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Every thing I do I try to earn some form of miles or points. I was surprised to receive an email from SkyMiles Dining (Delta’s dining program) that I had earned miles. Whenever I travel to Washington I take my parents out to eat.
I wasn’t able to see if the place we were eating was part of the SkyMiles dining program. A few days later I learned that I had earned 356 SkyMiles plus a 300 bonus for the meal. I earned 656 Delta SkyMiles for something I was already going to do, so the way I see it, I got free miles.
If you earn miles, then you need to be registered with your specific airline’s dining program to earn miles for just eating out. We all eat out; why not earn miles for it.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points that you wish you knew when you started out?
Sign up for everything that is free! Everything can pay you a dividend of either rewards points or miles; you just need an account for it. Every time I stay at a hotel or rent a car I capture the points because I never know when I might need those extra points or miles.
I now ask myself, if I could fly anywhere in the world, where would I go? Because really, once you have 600,000 airline miles in your account, it really opens the doors to where you could travel, especially in First Class!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Since getting serious about miles and points, I have earned over 1 million miles and have flown First Class multiple times without paying for the ticket. I’ve giving free airline tickets to family and friends over 10 times, giving them the ability to travel for free when it was never possible.
I love to give and believe that giving should be a way of life! Currently I am raffling off 25,000 Delta SkyMiles* on my blog and hope to do multiple raffles, as my blog gets more and more popular.
*These miles come from my personal account and have not been given by Delta or American Express.
Any parting words?
Look into First Class seats. If you compare the price of First Class with the number of airline miles needed, it’s usually a better deal going First Class.
Derek– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!