“We Took a $20,000 Vacation for Basically Peanuts”
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Miles & Points Interview: PointsCentric
Ralph advises clients and writes PointsCentric to give folks tips on how to accumulate millions of miles and points with credit cards, promotions, etc. at almost no cost!
You can follow PointsCentric on Twitter.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Before points & miles, I thought I was a pretty savvy traveler. I used to focus on vacation packages from Orbitz or Priceline as both would offer a bit of a discount booking the flights and hotels together.
Additionally, I would search for a coupon code online and generally take another $50 to $200 off. I remember getting round-trip flights from New York City (JFK) and a week stay in Cabo San Lucas at an all-inclusive resort for about $825 a person…I thought that was a deal!
Shortly after that trip in late 2010, I stumbled across an advertisement for the infamous and no longer available 2-browser trick for the Citibank American Airlines card that allowed you to get both the Visa and American Express versions of the card. I thought about the offer and realized that got me 3 domestic flights per card for absolutely nothing as even the annual fee was waived for the 1st year. I signed-up, got approved, and I got addicted.
Within the next year, I signed-up for several more credit cards, opened various checking, savings, and brokerage accounts to earn mileage bonuses. I also started following any points and miles blog to stay up the date including Million Mile Secrets, View from the Wing, and The Points Guy.
Now that I’m fully immersed in the points and miles game, I’ve learned the best deal is actually travelling the world for almost nothing out of pocket. 🙂
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started PointsCentric to give people a clear and guided voice on the journey to collecting points & miles. There is a ton of great information posted on sites like Million Mile Secrets and Flyertalk, but it can be hard to compress that information to form a gameplan to begin your quest into points and miles. It takes a significant time investment to truly understand the intricacies of this game and even then you can certainly be overwhelmed!
Whenever I tried to get family or friends involved, they loved the idea of free travel but always remarked they didn’t have the time “to figure it out.” My blog hopes to highlight only the most important items to know along with a focus on promoting any good deals or promotions that are travel related.
I think 1 of the unique features that set me apart from the big blogs is that I’m small enough to offer, for a fee, personal consulting sessions and guides to help you get the right miles and points for your travel goals. Based on a client’s current mileage portfolio, timeline, credit history and a few other factors, I work with them to create a custom guide that details exactly what they need to do to accomplish their travel goals.
Additionally, I make myself available to them via email or phone to send me any questions or concerns along the way, no matter how big or small. I’ve had great results so far and met some very interesting people who are quite happy to get some free travel!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Many people say to apply for rewards credit cards, but I’m going to tweak it just a bit. My advice is apply for credit cards that offer a high initial sign-up bonus and offer miles and points for trips that you actually want to take.
Just because a card has the highest sign-up bonus ever on it or offers the most points out of all the current offers, doesn’t make it the best offer. For example, the Chase Southwest card sign-up bonus of 50,000 points that comes and goes is great, but if your goal is to go to Europe you should pass on this card and find a better card for your travel goals. Don’t get distracted by the “big numbers” or the “limited time, highest offer” verbiage. Instead, focus on the destination, what miles you need to get there, and then determine the best card for you.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It has to be our honeymoon last year to Moorea and Bora Bora. Everyone says it but ever since I saw those villas above the water, I knew I wanted to go there and lose track of time sitting on the dock of our overwater villa.
While we couldn’t wait to experience that, the build up to our wedding last year was stressful. We were in the process of buying a house, the initial maid of honor got kicked out of the wedding for being a loudmouth, drama queen and there were several severe illnesses in our families. The icing on the cake was when 1 of my groomsmen missed his flight and ended up arriving just a half hour before we left to go to the church.
The wedding turned out great, but we were just exhausted from all the events of the prior 6 months. The day after we left for our honeymoon was our 1st time flying Business Class. It was such a calming feeling to get on the plane for the 1st time as husband and wife and leave everything else behind.
Once in Moorea and Bora Bora, we disconnected ourselves from the world and enjoyed 8 nights in true paradise. To think we took a $20,000 vacation, that we certainly could not afford if we had to pay for it, for basically peanuts is absolutely amazing to me.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I’ve been told what I’m doing is a “scam,” “impossible,” “illegal,” and “too good to be true.” I remember discussing this with my parents early on and I’m pretty sure they assumed it was some sort of fad that I was into, much like Pokémon or Pogs (way back in the day), that I would quickly lose interest in.
Well 4 years later, I’m pushing myself harder than ever and slowly winning over my family, friends and co-workers. My wife loves what I do as she is the direct beneficiary of all our travels. I’ve even gotten her parents involved and sent them to some nice beaches to relax and get away from it all.
I still endure a fair share of skepticism though and still get that look from a 2nd uncle who is convinced I’m off my rocker. I don’t think there is anything I can do about him haha.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I would be lost without AwardWallet. My wife and I have over 60 airline, hotel, or credit card accounts to manage. And I don’t have the time to log into 60 different accounts every week (ya, I’m a bit obsessive) to check mileage balances, expirations, or if my points posted correctly.
A close 2nd would be Flyertalk, Milepoint, and all the blogs out there covering our hobby. I have a day job as an accountant and a growing base of clients at PointsCentric so I don’t have a ton of excess time researching every deal or travel hack. In order to stay current, I scan all the blogs in my RSS reader and skim the topics in certain areas on Flyertalk and Milepoint. If I see any exciting deals I will investigate further from there.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I seem to have bad (or maybe it’s good from a mileage perspective) luck with this but I’ve had a bunch of flights in the past 10 months where either the TV in my seat wasn’t working or 1 of the bathrooms was unavailable for the whole flight. However, I’ve turned those experiences into a positive!
We were flying JetBlue back from Austin and someone flushed a diaper down the toilet in the bathroom. That toilet clogged and was unavailable the rest of the flight so 140+ passengers had to share 1 bathroom. When we got home, I emailed customer service about the incident and they credited each of our JetBlue accounts 5,000 miles!
Another time on a red-eye flight home from Vegas, the TV didn’t work. I planned to sleep the whole flight anyway but I still emailed customer service after the fact and received 3,500 Delta Airlines miles for the inconvenience!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I found this hobby sooner! In college, I was tasked with managing the finances of our house or dorm each year as I was the lone business school undergrad in our group. Each month my roommates would give me cash or deposit amounts in my bank account to pay rent, utilities, groceries, etc.
However, at this time I only used a debit card even though I had a credit card to pay for things! I really don’t know why I did that and I really don’t want to try to calculate how many points or miles I left on the table by not using a rewards credit card.
As a result of this, 1 of the biggest things I push on my clients is to never use cash or a debit card (unless its mileage earning). You are giving up at least 2% in rewards on each purchase and credit cards are so much more powerful in protecting yourself from fraud with return protection and extended warranties.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Growing up, I had very little experience traveling except for a yearly trip down to Florida to visit my grandparents. Up until I was 21, I had never even left the Eastern Time zone!
In 2009, I received an internship which required a week’s rotation in London. It sounded awesome but I had 1 little problem…I didn’t have a passport! I wasn’t going to pass on this opportunity so I got a passport and now many countries and times zones later, the rest is history. In the past 5 years, I’ve come a long way.
Any parting words?
One of my favorite quotes is by Muhammad Ali, “Impossible is nothing.” And my site exists to make that mantra true by making impossible trips happen for everyday people.
Choose a place in the world you’d like to go and make it happen with points and miles. If you have bad credit, no credit or just a fear of the unknown, there are solutions. It might take time, it might be tough, but You. Can. Do. It.
We are lucky to have such an easy solution to difficult and costly trips to almost all ends of the earth. I don’t say this lightly but points and miles have changed my life.
My best memories with my wife have been on our travels and I hope to instill those lasting memories gained by traveling in our future children 1 day.
Thank you Daraius for allowing me to share my thoughts on this crazy, fun, & addicting game we play!Ralph – 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!
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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! :)