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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: Simply Well Spent
Hey everyone! My name is Ian, and along with my wife Sarah, we blog at Simply Well Spent, named so because that is how we seek to spend our time and money.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting points back in university, which seems pretty crazy now that I think about it. I got a student credit card (shout out to Discover) and focused on learning more about credit, so I could have some control over it. Before long, I was referring friends and helping them build their credit. And I was trying to figure out how to pay my tuition with a credit card and moving into airline cards.
I am from Maryland, and went to school in Birmingham, Alabama. So I saw airline credit cards as a great way to offset some of that travel cost.
Once Sarah and I started dating (she’s from Toronto), points really came in handy! Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I come from a family of frugal spenders and couponers. So I like to describe my miles and points hobby as couponing on steroids.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Sarah and I started Simply Well Spent because we were itching to share more about our adventures. I have all this credit and finance knowledge and she has a knack for travel and design. I think of our blog as a bit of a lifestyle blog, with dashes of finance, travel, and life.
We just wanted a platform to share and write about the things that are important to us. And we really were drawn to the concept of living a well spent life. So that’s where the name and inspiration came from.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’m going do a bit of a cop out for this question and give you the 2 things I always tell people who are getting into this hobby. First, be intentional. Have a plan.
Set some travel goals, and then sit down and see what cards work best to meet those goals. That’s not to say you don’t jump on this increased sign-up bonus or that airline card before it goes away. But even a simple plan can help you pursue the right cards and use your credit pulls towards the best possible options for your travel goals.
Secondly, get to know the ins and outs of your points. Try to understand all about what they can (and can’t) do for you. For example, I’ve saved thousands of points (AKA, gotten more travel) by knowing my way around Southwest’s Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.
As soon as the calendar opens up, I’ll book our anticipated travel as far out as I’m allowed. I’ll use multiple one-way flights to provide flexibility. And if those flights drop in point cost, I’ll re-book and get the difference refunded to my account! Thousands of points have come back to my account because of simple management like this.
So those are my 2 tips: Be intentional with your applications and learn as much as possible about your award program to take advantage of any perks.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Our most memorable travel experience is our most recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. I had saved up points for a couple years knowing I wanted to take this trip. And this year, the timing finally came together. We spent 3 weeks there, splitting our time between the 2 countries.
We used an assortment of American Airlines miles, Citi ThankYou points, Barclays Arrival miles, Hilton points, and IHG points to make a really expensive, bucket-list type trip into a reality.
You can read an in-depth financial overview of the trip on our blog. We have more recaps coming up.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Probably at different points, many of them have wondered if I’ll be going to jail eventually, ha! Miles and points is at an intersection of reality and too-good-to-be-true scam. Most people have a hard time understanding how we can afford to travel so much. And when I tell them it’s all because of credit card points, they probably think we are racking up big debt on our cards.
Even my own parents, who I have helped (forced?) to get the Southwest Companion Pass twice, are still pretty skeptical of it all, which I find pretty amusing.
Really though, I’m at a point with miles & points and credit where I feel very comfortable and in control of my credit destiny. That’s a good place to be. And one I enjoy helping people get to.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I have found the flexibility of Southwest points incredibly useful. There is a good amount of travel we know we are going to take every year – Canada for Canadian Thanksgiving (we get picked up in Buffalo to let us use our Southwest Companion Pass), Maryland for American Thanksgiving, and both for Christmas.
So I’ll book multiple one-way flights for each direction to give us flexibility when the actual travel gets a little bit closer, and then cancel what we don’t use. This locks in our award price at travel times that sell out pretty quickly. It’s a handy tool I’ve used to maximize our points without limiting our flexibility.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I once earned referral points because I was lucky enough to have a referral link that came with a 50,000 Southwest point bonus for a Southwest card when the current bonus was only 40,000 Southwest points. Some time later, I stumbled across an old article that had an expired 50,000 Southwest point link and noticed a bunch of people were requesting 50,000 point links if anyone had them.
Every couple days I would throw my link into the mix and before I knew it, I had maxed out the referral points I could earn for the year at 50,000 Southwest points. That was a nice surprise, and easily the most unexpected way I’ve ever earned miles.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I knew what an increased sign-up bonus was, and what it looked like. Haha, I definitely applied for a card or 2 that didn’t have the best sign-up bonus on it. Looking back I cringe a little bit.
But these are all things I had to go through to learn how it can be done better. Because of that, I don’t regret them…what I didn’t know, I didn’t know. I just think about those times and laugh about how far I’ve come.
Another thing I didn’t know then was how sustainable miles and points are. When I was first doing this, I thought it would be a great way to build credit and save on some flights. But I figured at some point it would run out.
I’m glad to say things have come and gone in this hobby of ours, but the core of it – sign-up bonuses – are still around. And as long as they are, so I will be!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m an American who married a Canadian after meeting at Bible School in Germany and we are incredibly normal. Probably boringly normal. Sarah owns a calligraphy business. I’m a project manager.
We are in our mid-twenties, without a lot of disposable income. But we have been able to use miles and points to go and see places we never would have been able to otherwise.
I think because of that jet-setting focus, from the outside looking in it would be easy to assume we have a bunch of money or our parents are subsidizing our adventures. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every time we get a new card, we work hard to hit the minimum spend to get the sign-up bonus, sometimes enlisting friends and family with big purchases to help.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, we don’t travel because we have a lot of money, we travel because points make it too easy not to.
Any parting words?
Don’t look at people like us on the internet talking about credit cards and traveling and let that intimidate you. You’re in the same position we were!
Like Daraius and Emily have always said: Big Travel with Small Money. It doesn’t take a lot of money, at all, to succeed in the miles & points world. It just takes a willingness to learn, an open mind, and an attentive focus (ok, ok, and maybe some initial guts).
Ian and Sarah – 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!