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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money! If you’re interested in reading more articles like this one, please subscribe to our email newsletter!
Miles & Points Interview: Wheelchair Travel
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
My parents became interested in frequent flyer programs in my pre-teen years. But my own obsession didn’t kick-off until I was 16 years old. I applied for my first rewards credit card on my 18th birthday, and began using miles & points forums to learn about the hobby, find mileage run deals, and to meet other travel-obsessed people who have become good friends.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
A little bit of background is necessary – In 2012, at 23 years old and fresh out of grad school, I had a bad car accident that changed my life. It left me a triple amputee and gave me a cool new chair with wheels!
I’m a realist and don’t like to beat around the bush. So I demanded the hard truth from my doctors. The outlook was not good. I was bedridden for more than a year, and it seemed my life of weekend mileage runs was over.
In 2014, something changed. My alma mater, Florida State University, ended up in the college football national championship game. I had told myself I would be there – come hell or high water – if the team ever made it.
Of course, when I made that promise to myself, I never imagined obstacles like amputated limbs and a wheelchair weighing 400 pounds. I did make it to that game, figuring things out on the fly. I celebrated 2 championships that night in Pasadena: Overcoming my disability and the football team’s historic victory!
That first trip set the stage for my return to regular travel. And I started a new blog to share my experiences with others. That blog, aptly named Wheelchair Travel, has grown beyond my wildest dreams. People with disabilities desire to travel, and there are a lot of us – 19% of the US population, according to the 2010 Census.
I am privileged to be the source of travel information for my peers in the disability community. I’m thrilled to hear about the many personal championships my readers are winning through travel.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Seek out information. I follow countless blogs, forums, deal sites, and Facebook groups so I am aware of opportunities as soon as they become available.
When the Egyptian Pound was devalued in 2016, I used that knowledge to book a lot of Business Class fares on Qatar Airways at half price, which credited to my American Airlines account under very favorable terms.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I took a solo trip to Alaska in 2011 and fell in love with the beauty of the state. I spent my time hiking and kayaking, creating memories that will last a lifetime. It’s a trip I’m glad I took before my car accident.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
People often disapprove of things they don’t understand. And few are willing to spend time learning about miles and points. Many see it as a waste and react with disgust when I explain why I’ve booked a different hotel for every night of a 5-day work trip.
But their attitude changes to one of jealousy when they see me staying at $1,000 a night hotels, sipping champagne in a posh airline lounge, or snapping photos of ice cream sundaes and lie-flat seats in First Class. How much did that cost? $5.60 and some frequent flyer miles. 🙂
My family has always been accepting of my travel habits and points obsession. But, I come from a family that gets it. There is no shame in trying to squeeze the greatest value out of your resources, and in that way my hobby is a game.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I keep an Excel spreadsheet for everything, including points balances, historical and expected earnings, award redemptions, flights, hotel nights, and my progress toward elite status requirements. Perhaps a bit obsessive, but having that data at my fingertips allows me to make informed decisions about my travel loyalty.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
It’s no longer possible, but I used to earn airline miles by completing web searches using Bing. I search the web at least a hundred times a day, so it was a no-brainer to pick up free rewards for something I was already doing. While the amount of miles earned through Bing Rewards was small, every extra mile adds to the total.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
There is value in diversifying. It seems like common sense now, but I used to be laser-focused on loyalty, costing myself a lot of money and also missing out on thousands of miles and points. The best value might be with the airline and hotel chain you like the most, or it might not be.
If you’re committed to maximizing the return on your investment of time and money in this hobby, earn points in as many places as you can.
I never stay at Wyndham Hotels, but a couple of promos earlier this year encouraged me to log a few nights at their hotels. I earned enough points for 2 free nights and redeemed the first for a $400 Manhattan hotel.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Large crowds intimidate me. I am an outgoing person, but when faced with a large group of unfamiliar people at an event, conference, or night club, I have a tendency to become a wallflower.
Any parting words?
I try to promote the virtues of travel through my website – things like opportunity, responsibility, respect, diversity, love, and community. Seeking these things out has made my travels better, and allowed me to better serve and represent a community of people interested in unlocking possibility.
Even if you don’t have a disability of your own, you may know someone who does. I would be grateful if you followed my journey at Wheelchair Travel and shared it with those who could benefit from an open world.
John – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Big Travel with Small Money!
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