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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: Trips With Tykes
Leslie writes Trips With Tykes to help make traveling with young children easier and less confusing.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
For as long as I can remember, my family traveled a lot when I was a child. My father wisely signed me up for all the frequent flyer programs of the time. By the time I headed off to college, I had a decent-sized Delta frequent flyer account balance.
I started collecting miles and points more seriously around 2007, when my husband and I started traveling for work. We expanded our focus to more airline and hotel programs and even achieved airline elite status for the 1st time.
When we had our 1st child in 2009, work travel slowed down, we gradually shifted our miles and points strategy. With 2 children and a full-time job, I no longer have the same incentives or time to devote to the acquisition of miles. But pursuing this hobby more on an enthusiast’s level still makes sense for our family.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog, Trips With Tykes, in the Summer of 2012, for reasons totally unrelated to miles and points.
The driving force was my daughter. My husband and I had traveled extensively before we became parents, and we felt it was important to continue so we could visit family as well as raise a well-traveled child.
Traveling with a baby is an entirely different world. The airlines don’t exactly make it easy to travel with kids. Rules vary extensively between airlines and are inconsistently and erroneously enforced.
After 3 years in the air travel trenches with a baby or toddler, I had a lot of expertise to share and some frustrations to vent. So the blog was born.
Although I’m a miles and points enthusiast in my personal life, I don’t blog about it except in passing. There are other true experts who amply cover that field. The expertise I have is in managing the logistics of (mostly air) travel with babies and young kids.
I’m also a Disney fan, so my love of mastering family travel logistics translates well there. On our frequent Disneyland visits over the years, I’ve discovered and exploited many tricks and loopholes to save money and minimize waiting in line.
It’s not unlike discovering and exploiting loopholes in the travel hacking world. We just do it with Mickey Mouse instead of Vanilla Reloads. If you are interested in Disney tips, I’ll be speaking all about Disney at the Family Travel for Real Life Conference hosted by The Deal Mommy in March 2015.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Credit card sign-up bonuses are king, but I have a pretty conservative personal limit on how many cards I’m comfortable getting each year. For my family, simply spending on the right combination of cards makes a huge difference in our mileage accrual.
We also aren’t afraid to put spending on cash back cards. My husband has the old American Express Blue Cash Preferred, and getting 6% cash back on our family’s groceries is usually a far better deal than accruing more miles for us to spend on a domestic coach ticket.
I believe that everyone should crunch the numbers to account for their own unique needs and travel goals.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
My husband and I took a month-long trip to the South Pacific as a delayed honeymoon in 2005. Scuba diving in the crystal clear water of Bora Bora is something I’ll never forget.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
A lot of people were doubtful in the beginning, but now that miles and points collecting has gone more mainstream, the skeptics have retreated.
I’ve even converted a few friends and family members along the way. My father recently retired and my parents have really enjoyed the additional free travel to come visit the grand kids, while my husband and I have loved the free extra babysitting!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
It’s not really a trick: just be nice. I’m a Southern girl and I was brought up with the lesson that you always catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. When it comes to travel, the adage absolutely rings true. Like any frequent traveler, I’ve had flights cancelled or delayed on many occasions.
I know I’ve gotten better compensation and assistance in these situations than the average Joe just by being kind to beleaguered agents. On 1 occasion, a particularly appreciative agent gave me vouchers that I was able to use to fly our entire family to Hawaii completely free.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
From a fellow passenger. My husband was traveling on United Airlines in Business Class to China a few years ago when the in-flight entertainment system went down. Flight attendants were handing out vouchers for miles like candy to apologize to the Business Class cabin.
My husband didn’t really care about the loss (he had to work), so he gladly pocketed the miles. The passenger sitting next to him grumbled about how the miles were worthless to him and asked if my husband wanted his voucher too. Yes, please.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had known more about Alaska Airlines frequent flyer program and its unique no alliance, but many partners status.
I was crediting my Alaska Airlines flights for a while to my Delta Airlines or American Airlines accounts because I didn’t want to start earning in a new frequent flyer program. But Alaska Airlines has so much more partner flexibility.
I should have been crediting my Delta and American Airlines flights to Alaska! Since my closest airport is Oakland and is served by a lot of Alaska Airlines flights anyway, this looks like such a no-brainer to me now. Live and learn.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
In addition to blogging about family travel and being a mom of 2, I have a (pretty all-consuming and demanding) day job as an attorney.
I’ve found it interesting to discover how many lawyers are involved in travel hacking. I suppose it has to do with the fact that a lot of us have to travel for business. And we, of course, also like parsing through fine print and finding loopholes.
Any parting words?
Since I’m a pretty cautious advocate of this hobby, I suppose I have a few words of caution to share. It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of miles and points, but I always try to keep things in perspective. Ultimately, miles and points are just a tool for me – a means to an end.
They are a wonderful tool to enable me to travel more with my little ones and build amazing family memories. As soon as accruing them causes me to take time away from my family or compromise my other life priorities, however, I know it is time to scale back.
Those who participate in miles and points should always carefully evaluate whether it is worth it to them. I know I make these evaluations constantly. It is perfectly okay to pursue this hobby at just a casual or intermediate level. There are benefits to be had no matter how many hours you sink into it.
Leslie – 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!