“I Was Actually Getting Paid to Stay at Marriott!”

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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:   Travel Brainstorm

Jon writes Travel Brainstorm to help others lean how to stretch their travel budget and take amazing vacations while remaining debt free.

He’s also giving away a $25 Starbucks e-gift card.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon
Glacier National Park

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I started collecting miles back in 1995 when I began traveling between Seattle airport and Reagan National in Washington, DC, once a month for work.  I always flew American Airlines, so I joined the American Airlines frequent flyer program to capture all those frequent flier miles.

It wasn’t long after my 1st trip that I also applied for and received my 1st American Airlines credit card.

And back then those miles would have applied towards Million Miler status.  Now that benefit has been removed and one has to actually fly the miles to have them applied to their lifetime status.

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

I started my blog October 3, 2013, so it’s been in place for just over a year.  I started it in order to pass along the knowledge I have gained over the years traveling and collecting miles and points.  What makes my site unique or special is my approach to collecting miles.

I know many people have great strategies at maximizing their miles and points, and I love it, but I just don’t have the time to accumulate a million miles and points every year.

My approach is that of someone who captures all the miles and points he can while balancing the effort required to do so with a full-time job, family of 5 and an active spiritual life.

I incorporate how to remain debt free while vacationing, reduce the cost of travel (not necessarily making it free) all the while making it something anyone can do.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon
Garmisch Germany

I guess you could call it the layperson’s approach to accumulating points and miles.

I wish I had more time to devote to accumulating miles, but I don’t.  I know many others are in the same boat.  So I just want to show how they too can collect miles and points no matter how little time they have to contribute and still save thousands of dollars a year.

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

I know it has become cliche, but it really is credit card sign-on bonuses without getting hardcore into buying & selling gift cards or merchandise with a points rewards credit card.

I do not have the time to invest in buying merchandise past my personal purchases.  And I don’t always agree with the tactics sometimes required.

So I stick to applying for credit cards (3 or sometimes 4) times a year.  By picking the best available credit card bonuses at the time of my applications I am able to obtain at least 500,000 miles & points a year just with these new credit cards.

If you have the time, check out these tips on how you can dwarf your minimum spending requirements.  Of course, 1 of the easiest methods, Amazon Payments, is gone.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

This 1 is hard because I have had so many.  But if I had to pick just 1 as my most memorable I would say it was our Disney World Land & Sea vacation in 2009.

My kids at the time were 6, 8, & 11 which are perfect ages for anything Disney, let alone Disney World and a cruise to multiple tropical paradises.

The trip included visits to all the Disney parks in the Orlando area and finished up with the Disney cruise to the Caribbean.

My kids still talk about this trip to this day and I can still see the look of awe in their eyes as they boarded the Disney cruise ship and their names were announced.  This trip wouldn’t have been possible on our travel budget at that time without the use of points.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon
Smiles Like This Are Priceless!

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

In my family I am viewed as the “finance” guy as I am a CFO at a local healthcare integrated delivery network.  I have always focused on personal finance and staying out of debt while still traveling on awesome family trips every year.

Many of my family members just view this hobby as another way for me to save money.  My mom always used coupons and applied for rebates as I grew up.  My points & miles habit is the same thing just taken to the next level and digitized.

I love getting cash back or points on all my purchases without doing anything but using a certain link or credit card.  I know my mother is proud of my “value-oriented” mentality.

I am always the one family members rely on to plan our family reunions and get the best deals and I am always happy to oblige.

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

Unfortunately, the 2 best tools I’ve been using in the recent past, Vanilla Reloads and Amazon Payments, are gone.

This leaves evreward as my prime tool to ensure I double-dip every opportunity I can with online purchases.  So I earn points through the shopping portal and with my rewards card.

The only thing better is if you can triple-dip or even quadruple-dip by also taking advantage of any special promotions that may also be running at the same time.

I know this may all be confusing to folks brand new to the miles & points game, but in time it will become 2nd nature to maximize every online purchase, especially the large ones.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon
Family Fun at Mount Vernon

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

When I lived in Northern Virginia there was a Marriott hotel near my home.  My wife and I could go for staycations over the weekend and have some quality time.  This hotel would run specials for ~$60 including tax.

To save even more, I would buy Marriott gift cards through the Southwest promotion where you get 6,000 points per $500 Marriott gift card (this promotion has ended).  I would then use that gift card to pay for the Marriott nights which then also earned additional free nights during Marriott MegaBonus promotions.

I would earn Southwest points and free Marriott nights that I could then redeem at Category 5 Marriott hotels, which were valued at more than what I spent to earn the free night.  I was actually getting paid to stay at Marriott.  This was unexpected, but sure appreciated!

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

Without a doubt it would be signing-up for the same card more than once.

I wish I started doing this back when I 1st started collecting points in 1995.  I would have been so much further along with lifetime status and additional trips.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I am a retired military man with 5 years in the Kansas Army National Guard, 5 years of active duty Army service and another 16 years of active duty Air Force service.

It was hard finding time for personal travel with the family during that time.  But I always made it a priority to create memories with my family through travel.  I always found ways to make time every year for a special family trip.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon

I have also been a physical training leader (military fitness) throughout my military career and still love helping others with their fitness goals.

Any parting words?

My blog, Travel Brainstorm, is really still a work in progress.   I have so much more I want to share with everyone, so they too can create tremendous memories with their families.

I see the accumulation of miles & points as something that shouldn’t happen in a vacuum and should be coupled with getting and remaining out of debt while maintaining a balanced healthy lifestyle.

It makes no sense to save a dollar using points when you’re thousands in debt and being healthy allows one to enjoy their trips and family more while using those points.  It’s all about a balanced approach and that is what I strive to provide with my blog entries.

TravelBrainStorm - Interview With Jon
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Jon – 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!


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