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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: Upgraded Points
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’m English and moved my life to America at the end of 2011 to be with Erin – my (then) girlfriend and now my wife!
When I booked the flight from England to America I had gone with a standard economy ticket with British Airways that I paid for in cash. I wasn’t into miles back then and to be honest the opportunities in England for collecting points are horrendous compared to the States! Anyway – although I was so excited to get to the US, I wasn’t incredibly thrilled to fly in economy!
However, I was totally surprised when I was checking in my bags at London Heathrow Airport because despite having no real British Airways status, I was upgraded from economy to Business Class…just like that!
I was over the moon and had the most blissful and enjoyable journey to start my new adventure in the US! In England, you’d call me a “Jammy Dodger” for getting that free upgrade! 🙂
After that flight I thought “how can I do this again without paying full price?” – and that’s how I got into the world of points. I was totally hooked and I’m more addicted every month that goes by!
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
What we all know is that there’s SO much information out there about miles & points, but I felt that I could organize it just a little better to help others get started or enhance their current techniques!
I’m a very detail-oriented person, and our focus at Upgraded Points is to create the “Ultimate Guide” to every topic we’re blogging about. We want to leave few stones unturned, and a couple examples are our “51 Best Ways to Redeem AMEX Points” article or “44 Ways To Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Points“, which we wanted to go above and beyond to really showcase to travelers how useful these points are.
That’s our main passion here because it’s frustrating to have to visit 4 to 5 different blogs to get the answers that you’re looking for. I’m always so excited when we publish a 7,000 to 8,000 word article as my hope is that people will really benefit from our in-depth approach and find everything that they need!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
As we’ve seen said on Million Mile Secrets so many times by others – the best way to accrue miles is through credit card sign-up bonuses. It will beat the most creative “mileage run” or even the most generous category bonuses by a long way.
My second close favorite method is through maximizing earnings with everyday spending. We make sure that the worst possible earnings we are getting is 2 points per $1 spent and that can be achieved by having a range of credit cards that each fit a specific “spend” purpose.
For example – points for supermarket spending, or travel or dining or gas or gift cards, etc. It’s through this consistent discipline that you’ll supplement your sign-up bonus accruals and it’ll likely add up to tens of thousands of extra points per year!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
We are very fortunate and have experienced so many incredible travels. Over the last year, all with points of course, some of my most memorable trips have been on Singapore Airlines Suites, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines First Class, but those journeys were without my darling wife – so it can’t be the most memorable!
The most memorable was by far our honeymoon in 2014 when we went to Italy for 4 glorious weeks! We spent most of the time in the beautiful area of Tuscany, exploring remote olive oil farms, wineries, and taking fabulous walks around historic towns and villages. But we also visited Positano on the coast and the breathtaking views of the Dolomites mountains!
We can’t recommend those areas of Italy enough; if you ever have the chance to go – then we’d urge you to make it happen!
It was extra special too because it was our first ever time flying Business Class together, and what better time to start than your trip across the pond on your honeymoon!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Initially (and especially at the beginning), my family and friends thought we were totally bonkers and speaking a different language when we would chat about points! But as we continued flying on premium cabins in International Business Class and First Class over and over again using points, they became very intrigued 🙂
I’m always excited when a friend calls me up and asks “Ok…so – I feel like I should be collecting some points like you guys are – please tell me what to do!”
Just recently, one of our best friends earned a British Airways Travel Together Ticket and I’m excited to help them fly over to Europe for a very special First Class experience! This is also true of Erin’s Mum and Dad who have never been across the pond, and so we’re plotting our next adventure with them too. We’ll be trying to get 4 of us in First Class together and I can’t wait to see their faces when that day finally comes!
So, initially friends and family were skeptical (I can’t blame them as I’ve been known to be a bit of a wheeler-dealer sort of guy!) but now they’re really interested in learning more which is awesome.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
One of my favorite tricks I use when we fly back to England, which is at least once per year as that’s where my family still is! When we do so, we’re using the British Airways Travel Together Ticket and by making your final destination in a location in Europe (instead of London) you’re literally saving ~$700. The reason is because London has significantly higher taxes and fees, and so by avoiding making London your destination you’ll save all that money!
Plus of course, it’s the perfect excuse to visit somewhere new in Europe when we go back home, and the money we’ve saved goes a long way to funding that experience!
I didn’t know about this when I booked the first 2 trips home and it took me a long time to forgive myself! But, it’s certainly better late than never and so I get a little kick out of it when we’re booking our next trip back to Europe 🙂
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Ooo, great question. I think the least expected way must have been when I called to cancel The Platinum Card® from American Express. I had signed up because of a juicy bonus and to get a free Global Entry pass, but actually ended up using the card quite a lot during that first year. However, when it came to renewing I just couldn’t justify the $550 annual renewal fee so I called up customer care with the intention of canceling (See Rates & Fees).
Well, after expressing my intentions to leave they dangled the ultimate carrot in front of me by offering a special one-off bonus to keep me for another year. I mean, talk about preying upon my weaknesses! This ended up being a sweet 50,000 point bonus offer and I just couldn’t resist.
That was truly unexpected as I’d heard they might give me a small credit or perhaps 10,000 points, but 50,000 was unreal! Those points were then used towards my experience on Singapore Airlines Suites and I’m not sure I could have spent them much more wisely than that!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
The simple fact that you can have 5-10+ credit cards and if you understand credit scores, you’re smart with your credit usage and make sure you pay off your credit cards in full each month that your credit score will not deteriorate – in fact, it’ll actually improve and you’ll stay up in the top tier of credit scores!
I didn’t believe this at the beginning which meant I only had a couple credit cards and that led to me missing out on some incredibly generous sign-up bonuses. I was afraid that getting yet another card would really hurt my credit score, which of course has some scary knock-on effects, but man was I wrong!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I used to be 42 pounds heavier when I was 19 to 21 years old and was sick and tired of being overweight (205+ pounds!) despite exercising regularly! But I then learned that my body responded a lot better to eating fewer carbs and doing High Intensity Interval Training – and that is when I lost the weight!
For the past 10 years I’ve been a real fitness freak outside of the gym and jumping into Cryotherapy chambers that go to -238 oF to help with muscle recovery & inflammation (!). An interesting thing about me is that at work I have a treadmill desk. I get some very odd looks from my office neighbors. 🙂
I think it’s awesome (and very “Keep Austin Weird” as Austin is where we live now!) because you can set the hydraulic desk to whatever height that you like and then you walk at 1.5mph on the treadmill that just slides underneath! It helps me stay awake, think more clearly and is so much healthier than sitting all day! My wife Erin is a Physical Therapist though and has to remind me to sit down every now and then to give my feet and body a rest!
Any parting words?
In all honesty, I think it’s important to understand that credit cards don’t have to be portrayed as “evil.” If you’re sensible and responsible with money, pay off your balance each month and keep an eye on your credit usage, then the opportunities to earn miles & points in the US are almost limitless!
I suggest that if you’re new to the hobby to start off by transferring your everyday spend from your debit card to a credit card. Get used to this approach, read a little more here on Million Mile Secrets or your favorite blog and soon you’ll be earning enough points that you’ll be booking your next exciting trip on points (and with very little cash!).
Alex – 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!
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.