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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: PhilaTravelGirl
Suzanne writes PhilaTravelGirl to share her stories of traveling to 40+ countries using miles and points.
And she’s giving away two $25 Nordstrom gift cards.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
In college, like most kids, I was lured by the “free flights” and signed-up for the American Airlines frequent flyer program despite their small market share in Philadelphia. I also signed-up for an American Express Membership Rewards card hoping to earn enough for a restaurant gift card (ah, to be young and naive).
I didn’t get serious about miles and points until 2004 when I changed jobs and flew to London on British Airways in Business Class. At that point, I didn’t want to go back to coach for long haul flights.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
After reading blogs on how to earn and burn miles and points, I didn’t find much on what to do once I got to the destination…unique experiences, private guides, boutique hotels, etc.
It was my trips to Easter Island and Africa that convinced me to share my experiences and photos with others. While I generally travel solo, I also manage corporate travel for an investment firm in London so I thought I could add a new voice to the travel space based on my experiences.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Ladies (and men) buy shoes! Taking your shoe addiction online with Nordstrom can earn you miles through shopping portals, if you can handle the shipping time and not run to the store for instant gratification. (Oh, the number of miles I’ve lost as I’m not patient enough for the UPS man.)
Seriously though, be strategic with your goals to get into the right program and diversify.
What your most memorable travel experience?
2012 was an incredible travel year. I redeemed miles for trips to both Easter Island (via Santiago and Lima) and Africa for safari (Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa), all made possible with points (for the most part) which is unbelievable! Watching the sunset over the Moai of Easter Island or from my mokoro boat in the Okavango Delta of Botswana were just amazing experiences.
Reflecting on my life and enjoying the world so far away from Philadelphia is something I never imagined I would do, especially solo.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They are fascinated by it, but think it’s too complicated for them (I’ve given up explaining it). They mostly use debit cards (and cash) to manage their finances and really don’t have a desire to travel so there is no pressing need to change the status quo.
Is there any tool/trick you’ve found useful?
Buying US Airways miles to reduce the airfare costs out of Philadelphia has been useful to me. I generally visit family in Seattle and attend the Toronto Film Festival each year and the coach tickets are usually in the $500 to $600 range. So when I had the chance to pay $700 (a while ago) for points and redeem for over $1,200 in tickets, I jumped on it.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Twitter has been a great surprise! I’ve won 40,000 points with IHG that I used in Johannesburg during my safari trip. I’ve won a 2 night stay at the Sydney Pullman from Accor hotels, which I used during my round-the-world Star Alliance award (via Asia and Europe) in Business Class on 4 airlines with 7 segments last November.
I’ve also won $250 from Expedia for a photo, a 1 night stay at Hyatt Place, and a $50 Nordstrom gift card during travel chats.
What do you know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew about partner alliances and to spread my miles across a few different award programs. To think of the abandoned miles and points and the number of AMEX Membership Rewards points I wasted on restaurant (and handbag) redemptions it makes me sad…so many lost opportunities.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I tend to share the highs and lows of my travels as well as my many addictions on my blog.
They might be surprised that for all the adventures, I do also enjoy film festivals where I see up to 5 films a day and get to hear the directors and actors speak about the creative process. I’m disconnected from my phone and all social media for the majority of the time. It’s just bliss….slipping into a new world when the lights go down in the theatre and escaping life a few movies and documentaries at a time.
Any parting words?
Miles and points opened the world to me and allowed me to dream bigger. I never thought I’d visit over 40 countries so far! You can start small (free lunch at Panera or shoes at Nordstrom), move to a free hotel in New York City, a plane ticket to Disney, or a round-the-world ticket. There is no right way to go, as long as you go! Explore the world, feed your curiosity, be happy…just remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring emergency chocolate!
Suzanne – 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!