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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: TravelZork
Michael co-founded TravelZork to bring the best travel and Las Vegas information and resources to the web. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or through his podcast. And you can meet-up with him at ZorkFest in Las Vegas this May!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started in ~1982. I was 12 years old. I was always obsessed with airplanes, and wanted to fly, especially in First Class. I traveled to Europe for the first time when I was 6 years old (in 1976).
I was a massive fan of TWA, and living in the New York area we used to fly them a lot. The TWA frequent flyer program came about in the early 1980s. I joined the program and became obsessed with it.
A few years later (around 1986) TWA (and all the other airlines) had a triple miles promotion. I figured out a legal loophole in that program. I would like to think I was one of the earliest “mileage runners.”
It wasn’t the easiest thing before the internet, but I did run a bulletin board system, and was involved a bit on travel forums on places such as CompuServe. I managed to take my grandparents to Egypt in TWA Royal Ambassador First Class. As well as numerous other trips, and a First Class trip for my parents to Rome.
Tickets (working the promotion) averaged around $650 all-in for Royal Ambassador First Class to Europe & the Middle East and if I recall, also included a few nights at a hotel. Back then, the frequent flyer awards included air, hotel, and car rental perks.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
TravelZork was started because I wanted to brand myself prior to a FTU (Frequent Traveler University) in Amsterdam. I had been on FlyerTalk for years and years. I wanted a name that was easy to remember. And because I didn’t know if I would focus more on my passion for travel loyalty or casino loyalty; I wanted travel in the name. I also wanted the name to be easy to pronounce, spell, and find globally.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’m a huge fan of encouraging people to use their often significant day-to-day spending to earn more miles. Not obsessively, but by making it a part of their life. This is the same thing I sometimes discuss, but slightly differently, with regard to casino loyalty via spending and non-gambling activities.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
TWA Royal Ambassador First Class on the Lockheed L-1011 from New York to Paris to Cairo. I took a Nile cruise with my grandparents. I was very close to my grandparents, and will always cherish that trip.
Also, as an #AvGeek, the L-1011 was an amazing plane.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Most are curious but supportive. I have been answering questions for family and friends since I was 12 years old.
Casino loyalty and casino recreational AP (advantage play) came much later. People are way more opinionated about the casino loyalty programs and gambling. Often in a rather negative way.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
My final “tool,” is just approaching telephone and airline or travel employees politely. I try to make myself an easy customer to deal with.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Service recovery situations where I explained my story logically and firmly, but did not ask for anything specific. I have found that about 50% of the time, just being reasonable will yield great results. In some instances 50,000+ miles.
Does not work all the time, but I am big picture guy. I also only tend to complain when I have a significant issue.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I took a bit of a hiatus in the 1990s. Young kids, focused on other things. I had the miles, but missed opportunities like using SkyMiles to fly on a Concorde.
So, my advice, if there is something you always wanted to do… JUST DO IT! You never know when the opportunity might disappear.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I had planned to become an archaeologist. I really enjoyed African pre-history and studying the Native American tribes on the east coast of the US.
Any parting words?
I have 2 major passions: Travel loyalty (miles & points) and casino loyalty. I love teaching people to do things a “bit” better.
We do not all have to become obsessed loyalty geeks. Even a little knowledge goes a long way. I encourage people to follow me on Twitter. And to attend one of my travel loyalty conferences. The next one is in Las Vegas on May 25, 2018.
Michael – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Big Travel with Small Money!
If you’d like to be considered for our interview series, please send me a note!