“Treat Traveling Like It’s an Investment and Education in Yourself”

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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:  Trip Astute

Ernest and his partner Fiona create videos on Trip Astute to help travelers with tips, gear and destination reviews, and points and miles tutorials.  You can follow them on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter!

Trip Astute
Before Climbing the Coba Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I have been collecting points and miles since 2010.  I started out by reading blogs like Million Mile Secrets, and was quickly amazed at how much potential there was for Big Travel with Small Money.  My first travel card was a Capital One Venture card, and I now have a mix of credit cards earning points in various programs (my favorite being Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program).

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

It all started when I was recommending a points strategy to a coworker of mine, who then suggested that I create a YouTube channel.  I know there are tons of points and miles blogs, so I thought I would try something new and pursue video content instead of articles.

Trip Astute
Hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

Much like blog sites, there are a lot of YouTube travel channels that showcase lavish luxury travel experiences.  While we are inspired by these channels, the focus of Trip Astute has always been to give our viewers practical tips and tricks to improve their experience and knowledge.  We want to help our viewers get to their travel destinations and be able to maximize their experiences.

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

Credit card bonuses seem to be the most effective way to get more points and miles.  Though I always warn my viewers on the importance of getting their personal finances in order first.  Credit cards are an incredible tool, but can easily be abused.

In addition to bonuses, I have found that developing a strategy for earning points to be important when getting started in the hobby.  Understanding where you generate the most spend (for example, groceries, parking, etc.) and determining where and how you want to travel to be very useful when selecting the cards and programs to pursue.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

That’s a tough question!  Two travel experiences come to mind.  One was swimming with whale sharks in Cancun, Mexico.  It was one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences.  We were truly humbled being in the presence of such large and graceful animals.

Trip Astute
Swimming With Whale Sharks in Cancun, Mexico

Another memorable trip was visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  The scale and mystique of the ancient temples made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie!  Getting to Siem Reap can be a bit tough, but it was completely worth the effort and journey.

Trip Astute
Watching the Sunrise at the Temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

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

At first, I think many were suspicious and dismissive of all my credit cards and tricks.  However, as I have traveled more and the hobby has become more popular, I now have friends asking questions about it and wondering how to get started.  I think most are surprised at how accessible and easy it is to earn and redeem points toward amazing travel experiences.

Also, I was fortunate enough to use points and miles to send my parents on a vacation to Maui when they retired.  I love that I am able to share my points and miles with those who have helped and supported me throughout life.  This hobby has provided so many opportunities that would normally be outside of my financial means.

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

Since it’s important to get your finances in order before stating the points hobby, I personally have used You Need a Budget (YNAB) to help me understand and manage my spending.  What’s great about the program is that it also helps me to track spending toward minimum spend requirements.  Since credit cards are my primary method of payment for 90% of my daily purchases, using a tool like YNAB has been very helpful to ensure that I’m always spending within my budget regardless of what credit card I am using.

Trip Astute
Exploring Sea Caves by Kayak in Channel Island Off the Coast of California

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

There was an IHG contest and promotion in 2015 where you were allowed to send in 94 mail-in entries and earn at least 47,000 IHG points.  All it took was the cost of 94 stamps, envelopes, and some hand-written notecard entries.  In the end, I earned just under 60,000 points for about 2 hours of work!

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

Before I got into the hobby, I always assumed that earning points required you to be a big spender.  However, as I got deeper into the hobby, I realized that it’s not so much about how much you spend, but how you spend your money when it comes to earning points.  By maximizing the bonuses that I earn in my daily spend categories, I have been able to earn points automatically.

Trip Astute
Visiting the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin, Hong Kong

Also, I wish I knew that I qualified for a business card earlier.  Once I understood that my side gigs qualified as businesses, it opened up a whole new world of cards to me!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

People seemed to be surprised when I tell them my ethnic heritage.  My mother is Japanese and my father is Armenian, and they met in London before getting married and moving to Los Angeles.  I think growing up and hearing my parents’ stories of their travels always made me curious to experience and see more in life.

Also, for some reason, people always seem shocked when they find out that I served in the military.  I think it’s because I’m not a “tough guy” by any stretch of the imagination.  Again, while a military career wasn’t for me, I feel like the experience helped to shape my curiosity and desire to travel and see the world!

Trip Astute
Hiking the Chiriquí Highlands in Boquete, Panama

Any parting words?

Being able to travel is not about having lots of money.  It’s really about planning and having the motivation to leave your comfort zones.  The reader stories shared on Million Mile Secrets are a testament to how so many are able to experience Big Travel with Small Money.

Lastly, treat traveling like it’s an investment and education in yourself.  I feel like I have learned so much about myself and broadened my perspectives by traveling.  It’s an experience that not only helps your grow, but is something that becomes a part of you forever.  Unlike material things, no one can take away the experiences and insights you gain while traveling.

Ernest and Fiona – 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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