“People Need to Realize That Having Credit Cards Does NOT Equate to Being in Debt!”

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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 Sterling Traveler

Adam blogs The Sterling Traveler to teach others how to “travel inexpensively without going cheap.”  You can check him out on TwitterPinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Sterling Traveler
Touring the Hudson River

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

Traveling has always been a part of my life.  I don’t actually recall my first flight, but I know the thrill of flying became something I looked forward to.  The idea of flying around the world, exploring new places, taking in the culture, the food, and the sights, has become a passion of mine.

In my mid-20’s I had an opportunity to travel Italy.  It was my first solo trip, and I was excited!  It was this trip that cemented the need for more adventures in my life.  I had officially been bitten by the travel bug.  The only thing holding me back was the expense!

I have always been financially aware, ever since obtaining my first credit card at 18 years old.  The responsibility of maintaining my credit was important, as was the ability to get to explore the world I so longed to see.  By learning to earn miles & points, I found the perfect recipe.

People often ask me about how I collect my points and miles, but I feel that the terms “collect” holds meaning different than what I am actually doing.  I prefer to say I earn, and most importantly use, my points and miles!  Learning how to earn rewards wasn’t as difficult as some may think.

About 5 years ago, I heard about the potential to get points and fly for less, and it intrigued me.  I started reading blogs about others who were doing exactly what I wanted to do.  These blogs taught me how to utilize my cards to gain the most rewards.  I was instantly hooked, and have been earning my miles and points on everything I buy!

The Sterling Traveler
From the Top of The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona

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

Traveling is not just the experience of going somewhere – it is the ability to gain knowledge of new and familiar places and cultures.  And to share those experiences with people I care about.

After one of my adventures,  I met up with my dad to share some of my experiences.  After recounting a story,  my dad asked:  “How did you manage to do all that without paying a ton of money?”

It was then that I told him about the credit cards that were allowing me to travel without the stress of breaking the bank.  As I spoke about this, I realized how earning miles & points had become a passion of mine!

Not long after that conversation, my dad applied for many of the same cards I had.  He began accumulating his own miles and points and after his first trip (paid entirely by points!) said that I should share this knowledge with more people.  I realized he was right!  Even though I understood the hobby, many others did not.  So I decided to create my own blog to help simplify the process and help others to understand.

In the original days of air travel, passengers traveled in luxury.  Due to the changes over the years,  travel has become more economical than luxurious.  I believe you can still travel in an upscale manner, without breaking the bank.

The Sterling Traveler
Viva Las Vegas

In my blog I share how I’ve maintained upscale travel in an affordable way!  It’s more than just a reference for how to get points and miles, or a typical guide to places I have seen or done.  I try to weave those together, and share my experiences about traveling while incorporating tips and ideas for all travelers.

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

Credit cards are obviously what most people use to earn more miles.  While I don’t feel like there is 1 perfect credit card for everyone, people should embrace using a credit card as much as possible.  Even 1% cash back is better than 0% – as long as you pay off your bills in full every month!

People need to realize that having credit cards does not equate to being in debt!

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Every trip holds a special memory for me.  But I’d have to say that my most memorable travel experience was my first trip to Italy.  This was my first trip on my own, and I traveled solo.  I learned so much about myself and experienced many incredible moments while I was there.

I got out of my comfort zone.  I was nervous to be on my own, and anxious for what might happen.  It ended up being the most amazing trip of my life.

It is true what people say, the food in Italy is hands down the best you’ll ever have!  This trip was all I needed to develop my passion, and I haven’t stopped traveling since!

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

This question really depends on which family member you ask.  As I mentioned above, my dad has followed me “down the rabbit hole” and embraced using credit cards.  I also have some good friends who have taken on this adventure, and it’s great to have them to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.

Many friends think it is incredible what I have been able to accomplish, but they are hesitant to get started themselves.  I also have a few family members that think I’m crazy (and think I’m the only one doing this!) or are intimidated by it all.

The Sterling Traveler
Eating Lobster in Nova Scotia

Regardless, they all support me and are genuinely intrigued and curious about my travels.  It has even gotten to the point where some will hand me cash without asking when the dinner bill gets dropped off at our table, just so I can put the entire meal on a credit card.  Nothing beats free points!

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

It is absolutely essential to know where your points are and how many you have.  Because most of us have accounts with many different airlines and hotels.

I can’t live without Award Wallet!  It makes managing my miles & points effortless.  I am able to save so much time each week, and feel less stressed because Award Wallet does all the work for me.

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

I typically don’t seek out restaurants that participate in dining programs, but I do add all of the credit cards I might use to my dining program accounts.

It’s always a pleasant surprise when I’m notified several days later that I earned miles just by eating out with my friends.  Not only is it completely unexpected, but it’s one of the easiest ways to earn rewards!

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

Networking!  I really did not have any idea just how important it is!  There are some truly amazing individuals that have a wealth of knowledge.  Like tips and tricks to enhance, increase, or improve your travel experiences and mileage gains!

I have found that people are usually eager to share what they’ve gotten away with.  Just make sure you give back and have some things to share as well.  The holiday spirit lasts all year long, not just in December!

The Sterling Traveler
At a Miles & Points Conference With Elana (From Giddy for Points) and Jon Khoo

Other than that, I honestly had no idea the breadth of knowledge that can be learned about each loyalty program.  Many programs are complex, but the basics are all pretty much all the same.  Don’t be intimidated – if you aren’t sure, reach out for guidance!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I like meeting my blog’s readers and fellow miles & points hobbyists, near and far.  Locally, I co-host a meetup every other month with a fellow travel blogger.  I always share it on my Facebook page, so make sure you “like” it and sign up for my newsletter.

Any parting words?

Traveling is a passion of mine, and I want nothing more than to share that passion with others.  I love showing people how they can travel, no matter their budget or life situation.

Traveling well is not as expensive or difficult as most people think.  It just takes creativity.  There is so much to do and see, even if you are on a budget or time constraint.  Sometimes a staycation or a weekend getaway is the best vacation you can take!  You just have to do it!

Adam – 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!

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

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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