“The Secret Sauce to Travel Hacking…Learning How to Stretch Every Mile and Get the Most Use Out of Them”

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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 Economical Excursionists

LeAnna and Andy write The Economical Excursionists to share their adventures around the world and show readers they can do it too!

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
LeAnna & Andy Live in Bavaria, Germany, Which Gives Them the Advantage of Living and Seeing Life as It Really Is for the Locals

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

About 5 years ago, we spent a month backpacking several countries in Europe (not via Travel Hacking) and fell in love with the continent so much, that we decided to move to Germany and travel as much as possible before starting a family.  The problem was that there was no way we could afford to travel as much as we wanted, even on a frugal traveler’s budget.

Andy (my husband) mentioned credit card sign-up bonuses before making the move and I said, “NO WAY!,” just like the many people who misunderstand credit cards, credit scores, and debt.  After several convincing articles and proof, I tentatively said yes to our 1st round.

Once we started earning free flights and nights and I saw my credit score only going up, I was fully on-board and we have never looked back.

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Elephant Spotting in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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

I have always loved writing, so when we took our backpacking trip through Europe, I started writing our daily adventures for our parents to read while we were gone.  After moving to Europe, I would post a destination here or there.

But as more and more friends started asking for the same destination advice or realizing we were doing it for close to free on points, I wanted 1 spot to send them to instead of going on repeat time after time.

Right now, the blog is in a transition stage, but our main focuses will be on 3 main topics:

1.   Destinations

Our blog is different because we actually LIVE in Europe, so I get to post about destinations that most people miss out on (but should really consider!).  These are mostly personal adventures that let people see the ups and downs of travel.  I also post suggested itineraries based off of the in depth research I have already done.

2.   Travel Hacking

We are also different because many travel hackers are all about flying First and Business Class and staying in fancy hotels.

We will splurge (now that we have more than enough points) occasionally on long haul flights or stay at the world’s most expensive hotels like the Park Hyatt in Sydney just because we can.

But we still like to do the lowest category of hotels and coach flights to spread out our points, which only results in more possible travel!

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Andy Getting Ready for a First Class Flight from India to Germany, All Paid for With Points

Therefore, we still maintain a budget traveler’s philosophy in all of our travel.  Every penny saved counts towards a next potential trip!

3.   Frugal Living

We take this budget philosophy with us throughout life, not just when traveling though.  We make our own laundry detergent, only have 1 car, and I cut Andy’s hair just to save us $10.  We put this money towards travel or long-term investments to obtain financial independence and early retirement.

Many people are not aware of either of these terms and think that they have to work for the rest of their lives.  Our goal is to be retired by age 35 through extreme savings and investment, so we combine our travel and lifestyle goals for readers to see that you don’t need money to travel.

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

Most of your readers (and all true Travel Hackers) already know about the glories of credit card sign-up bonuses.  That is really the 1 thing to EARN more miles.

While this is not earning miles, the secret sauce of travel hacking, in my opinion, is learning how to stretch every mile and get the most use out of them.

Sure, you can use up 150,000 points on a round-trip Business Class flight and enjoy the champagne and steak for the 8 hour long haul flight.  Or, you can learn to work the system of using stop-overs for days, weeks, or months to your advantage and how to redeem your miles with alliance partners.

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
LeAnna Up Close and Personal With the Lion on our South African Safari

This makes it so you don’t have to confine yourself to the issuer or airline of the miles (like most people assume they are).  For example, using American Airlines miles to book the flight but actually flying on an Air Berlin aircraft.

By doing these things you aren’t necessarily earning MORE miles, but you are getting more value and use out of the miles that you do have.  Which means MORE FREE TRAVEL!  (See a trend here with us???)

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
One of the Many Perks of Travel Hacking – Drinking 1 of the World’s Most Expensive Champagnes for Free in the Doha Lounge

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Unfortunately, as most of your interviewees have already expressed, it is simply too hard to pick just one.

One of my favorite travel experiences was when I decided to go live and work on a cheese making farm in Switzerland for a month through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

During a weekend off, I decided to go make MORE cheese in an Alpine village.  After hiking to a random village, the farmer who spoke very limited English greeted me by handing a shovel over and asking, “You shovel sh*t??”…and that’s how I learned to make cheese!

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Helping a Swiss Farmer Make Cheese

My other favorite travel moments have to include 2 separate trips to Thailand.  The 1st was during their New Years celebration, Songkran.  It is tradition to throw buckets of water on each other and smear a clay-like substance on strangers.

While all the other tourists feverishly tried to avoid buckets of ice, we embraced the tradition and accepted every smear and ice cube along the road.

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
After a Songkran Attack for the New Year in Thailand

The 2nd Thailand memory was spending the night at The Beach.  Yes, The Beach where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed well…The Beach.  Part of the evening was swimming in the pitch dark ocean surrounded by glowing phytoplankton.

Each time you dove under the calm waters, it was as if you were surrounded by millions of sparkling diamonds.  It was 1 of the most magical moments I have ever experienced.

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

Just like I was concerned about the myths surrounding credit cards at 1st, our families were extremely hesitant and scared that we were going to tank our credit scores and therefore ruin our lives.

However, they now love it when we are able to visit them almost every Christmas because we have free flights and love seeing what new adventures we constantly go on.

We have helped our best friends go to South Africa with us, had my sister and her husband join us for a week in Greece, and helped my parents do a stopover for 3 days in Fiji on their way to Australia.  All through travel hacking and points.

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Lion Yawning in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Just like me, once someone can experience a free flight or free nights at a hotel, they quickly change their mind about “this scheme.”

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

There are plenty of great tools available for free.  Some of our favorites are AwardWallet and Mint.com for tracking all our expenses for each credit card.

To put a shameless plug in for my husband, he created the FlyerMiler.  It automatically compares many popular award charts for frequent flyer programs allowing the user to easily find the best miles to use to get from destination to destination.

When I was 1st trying to understand how to book award flights, it made it really easy for me (who at the time was still a newbie.)

As for tricks, as mentioned earlier, knowing how to utilize stopovers is 1 of our favorite workarounds.  The best time we used this was when we flew a round-trip flight from Munich to Athens.  We used a stopover in Munich for 2 months (we live in Germany) with the final destination being St. Petersburg.

We could then use British Airways Avios points for a 1-way flight back home to Germany from Russia.  So, we were able to fly to both Greece and Russia for the cost in points of 1 round-trip flight + one 1-way flight.

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
LeAnna in Russia After Using the Same Ticket That Got Us to Greece and Germany

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

The least expected way we’ve earned miles isn’t really all that extravagant or exciting.  However, when we have decided to cancel a credit card due to high annual fees (vs rewards), there have been many times where the fee has been waived.  Plus, a retention bonus has been offered to us to stay on as customers!

It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s great to get free points just for trying to cancel a card!

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

Besides dismissing the many myths that surround credit cards, credit scores, etc, we wish we would have taken advantage of the spending techniques when we lived in the US, like AMEX Bluebird.  There are so many workarounds to meet minimum spending.

We also wish we would have started collecting hotel points as soon as we started collecting airline miles (we didn’t do this until almost 2 years into the game).  After all, while you typically only fly for 2 days of a trip, you are staying at a hotel every day of the trip, which adds up fast in costs.

Having points to not only GET you to the destination for free but also to STAY for free is huge.
The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Andy and LeAnna With Nothing but the Packs on Their Backs for 2 Months of Budget Traveling in Asia

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

Even though we promote a frugal living style, most people are still surprised with how we live our daily lives.  Our goal is to live off (including rent, mortgage, travel, food, etc) about $30,000 a year all while still managing to take trips every few months to outlandish locations as well as do local trips monthly here in Europe.

To do this, I don’t have a cellphone, we share 1 car, and we don’t have a TV subscription.

Part of wanting an early retirement and making travel possible is making sacrifices now, but the truth is, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice because I’m not convinced that the newest Apple product will really make my life more meaningful.

Another thing readers may be surprised to know is that, as hinted at previously, I have a strange love for all things cheese related and Andy loves brewing his own beer (when not in Bavaria, where it’s just easier to go buy great brews!).  So it’s not uncommon to have a strange assortments of refreshments and foods when at our place!

Finally, we love connecting with other fellow travelers and helping anyone take a trip for very little money.  It may be small, but we have an extra bedroom in our apartment that is always open for fellow nomads when in Germany!

The Economical Excursionists - Interview With LeAnna And Andy
Not Only Were We Able to Fly to Greece for Almost Free on Points, but We Also Helped My Sister and Brother-in-Law as Well!

Any parting words?

There is a quote along the lines of, “Travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you richer.”

You can actually decide just how much travel can cost you.  Whether you are using points or cash to get around, it truly does change who you are.

You see the world and the people in it in a different perspective.  To NOT travel (even just locally if that is all that time and money can afford you) is cutting yourself off from a world of opportunities (no pun intended!)

Finally, thank you to Million Mile Secrets for being a great resource and value to the travel hacking community!

LeAnna and Andy – 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!


Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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