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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: She Travels Free
Merriah blogs She Travels Free to share the best-kept secrets of the world’s premier travel loyalty programs and what you can do to maximize your points, miles, and travel rewards! You can follow her site on Facebook.
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I began a job with a lot of travel back in 2001. For some reason I knew instinctively to travel with 1 airline and to choose 1 or 2 hotel chains to stay at while traveling, to achieve elite status sooner and enjoy more comfortable travel. I also paid close attention to the reward promotions and understood early that most required registration to earn the rewards.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I am a business executive and have a limited amount of vacation time. I have never encouraged methods for generating points and miles dishonestly. Loyalty to 1 airline, 1 hotel chain, and 1 car rental company and acquiring a small handful of credit cards associated with those programs has helped us amass enough points and miles to enjoy fabulous long weekends away and luxurious international vacations every year for a small fraction of the retail cost.
Unfortunately, many of my fellow road warrior peers are overwhelmed by all of the loyalty program complexities and don’t have the time or patience to sort through the information. Consequently, many of them spread themselves too thin across too many travel loyalty programs or simply don’t sign-up. This approach results in too much risk and too little reward!
So, it’s been incredibly rewarding for me to help so many people navigate a simple and strategic approach through the loyalty program maze, which is why we started trvlvip and She Travels Free (both sites direct to the same place) in order to teach more people to do the same!
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Airlines and major hotel chains offer credit cards with excellent sign-up bonuses, elite status, and free perks at airports and hotels. Acquire a credit card from your favorite airline and hotel chain and use those cards to pay for everything you can, and then pay off the balance each month. The rewards will add up fast without the need to change anything except how you’re charging and paying your bills.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
In the last 5 years, we’ve traveled in luxury all over the US, Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Cambodia, Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, Argentina, Chile, and the United Arab Emirates. We’ve stayed in high-end hotels and our international flights are typically in Business or First Class. And because we are loyal to a primary airline, hotel, and car rental company, and have the right credit cards, we earn miles and points simply and redeem them efficiently to enjoy wonderful benefits.
The fact is, we typically enjoy luxurious travel for 85% off retail value – and that’s the average. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes, it’s pretty much FREE.
In December of 2015, we enjoyed a 3-week holiday trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Bali in Indonesia, Singapore, the Maldives, Muscat in Oman, and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The basic trvlvip strategy I employed turned a trip that would have cost us ~$34,000 into a trip of a lifetime for under $5,000!
Our next trip is to Vietnam, and the savings are equally impressive.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They love it and have all integrated some of the simple steps we’ve suggested to save money and to enjoy more comfortable travel.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
We plan our international vacations ~10 months in advance. Airlines typically open their schedules 10 to 12 months in advance, so if you’re looking for an award ticket, booking early, when there are a lot of available award seats, has always helped us in finding those coveted Business Class seats using miles to the destination we desire.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
You simply access your favorite retailers (like Macy’s, Home Depot, Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, Groupon, Overstock, Staples, etc.) through your preferred loyalty program’s online shopping portal, and earn reward points or miles for every dollar you spend!
As for dining, with over 11,000 restaurants to choose from and regular bonus offers, it’s easy to earn airline miles and hotel points by simply adding your credit cards to dining programs. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, Hilton, and IHG all have programs!
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had started collecting points and miles sooner. Most people feel you have to be a frequent business traveler to enjoy great savings on luxurious travel. But everyone can benefit and enjoy more comfort and savings on travel by simply being a little more strategic and loyal.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I didn’t take my first overseas trip until I was in my 30s. I grew up in a financially challenged family, so once I figured out how to travel in luxury for a fraction of the retail price, I was hooked. Now we travel to places far and wide and have been to more countries than most people will ever have the blessing to see in their entire lifetime.
Any parting words?
This wonderful gift of luxury can be achieved by following these 5 simple tips:
1. Get Loyal
Pick 1 airline, hotel chain, and rental car company and use them whenever possible. Choose the airline that has the most flights from your home airport to the cities you travel to most. And pick the hotel chain with the most options. Loyalty leads to elite status and more comfortable travel.
2. Add a Credit Card
Once you’ve made your pick, earn even more rewards with the right credit card. Airlines and major hotel chains offer cards with excellent sign-up bonuses, elite status, and free perks at airports and hotels. Whichever card you choose, use it to pay for everything you can, and then pay off the balance each month. The rewards will add up fast!
3. Opt-In on Promotional Offers
With only 3 loyalty programs to manage, it’s much easier to track and manage opportunities to earn extra miles and points. Open those promotional emails (and be sure they’re not going to spam) and always register for bonuses. Most programs have multiple major promotions each year, but you can only earn those extra miles and points if you take the time to register. Sign-up at She Travels Free or with Million Mile Secrets and we will remind you when the major promotions are launched!
4. Spend Your Points and Miles Wisely
You may not be paying cash for your flights, but remember that reward miles and points are still a form of currency. To get the best bang for your buck, book international award flights 8 to 10 months in advance, when availability for international award travel is plentiful. And be sure the value of your purchase is greater than what the miles and points are worth.
Simply divide the cash cost by the number of reward miles or points to determine the value of the reward and to see if cash is a better option, or if you’re getting a good deal, a great deal, or even an “I-can’t-believe-it” deal using your reward miles or points. Use these valuations (based on my own experience and industry research) as a simple points-to-dollars guideline:
- IHG – 0.7 cents per point
- Hilton – 0.5 cents per point
- Hyatt – 1.8 cents per point
- Marriott – 0.7 cents per point
- Starwood – 2.2 cents per point
- Alaska Airlines – 2 cents per mile
- American Airlines – 1.5 cents per mile
- Delta Airlines – 1.5 cents per mile
- United Airlines – 1.5 cents per mile
5. Mix Points and Cash to Stretch Your Spending Power
Combining points with cold, hard cash can provide excellent savings and stretch your reward points. IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood, all offer particularly nice cash and points awards that are available for almost every hotel category. This option can make it much more affordable to travel in luxury at a fraction of the rack rate.
Merriah – 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!