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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: Windbag Miles
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started a few years ago with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but I didn’t fully understand the value of the points I was earning right away. Long-haul Business and First Class always seemed like something for rich people, so I didn’t consider it could be attainable with miles. Once I found this out, I was off to the races.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started the blog in August of 2015 as a way to jot down thoughts as I went through the process of collecting points. It was fairly sporadic until recently…I uncovered a mistake price on Hyatt’s website last summer, and I got more traffic in one morning than I had received in the previous 10 months.
That emboldened me to start posting more, which forced me to expand the scope of things I write about.
I try to have fun with it, and I think that comes through in the writing, either through the excessive swearing, the poking fun at myself, or the post titles that are so un-SEO-able that no one wants to link to them.
I kind of define my blog based on what it isn’t: it’s not an advice blog, it’s not a news blog, it’s not a deals blog, and it’s not a review blog. So whatever’s left, that’s what you’ll find on my site.
Oh, and it has a green background with white text, and I think I’m the only one who does that.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
It depends how far down the rabbit hole you are…The biggest hindrance to most people earning as many miles as possible is the perception that it’s too much work.
You don’t have to be like Vinh from Miles Per Day if you don’t want to be – just get an AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card if you only want 1 card, and watch the points pile up. I know tons of people who use a basic card for everything, and the inertia to get them onto something that earns better points is ridiculous.
For people more into the game, I’d say that you should ignore people who tell you not to earn more points than you plan to use. I don’t get this line of thinking; yes, points become less valuable the longer you have them, but they’re still more valuable than nothing at all. I certainly didn’t need 40,000 American Airlines miles, and I have no idea when I’ll use them, but when Barclaycard has an offer on the Aviator Red for 40,000 American Airlines miles with no minimum spending, I can’t say no.
Okay, that was 2 single things, but 1 general point, which I guess is to pick all the fruit you can, because it will never be so rotten that you can’t eat it.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Definitely the Faroe Islands, which apparently I can’t shut up about. I’ll admit to being the guy who goes somewhere for three days and then blabs about it incessantly until people wish I’d move there permanently, just so they didn’t have to listen to me anymore.
I can’t even put my finger on why I loved it so much; sometimes there’s just a fundamental essence to a place that hits you on a really deep, affecting level. I don’t want to go back to do any one thing or see any one sight, I just want to experience being there again.
That, to me, is the holy grail of travel experiences.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Everyone has heard this: “Doesn’t having that many credit cards kill your credit score?” Who said this originally? I bet it was Christopher Elliott.
I’m also surprised how many people I know avoid credit cards altogether because they’ll use up the credit line and not pay it off.
It’s a reminder that this game isn’t for everyone, because you need to have a good sense of your monthly budget. And the discipline to put the brakes on your spending so you don’t go into debt. I don’t evangelize to people as much as I used to, because I’d hate for someone to take my advice and then wind up with a bunch of credit card debt that wipes out the value of their points.
I did get my parents into it though, so that has become a nice source of referral bonuses!
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Banks hate him! One weird trick to earn billions of miles! But seriously, I love Award Wallet for keeping track of balances for me. I used to do it in a spreadsheet, but I never kept the balances up-to-date.
Also, there’s a new website called Milesfeed that syndicates the top 35 or so blogs, and it has become the first website I go to every morning. Windbag Miles isn’t on there (yet), but I’ll still rep for it, because it’s an awesome resource.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Hmm…I don’t go too far out of my way to earn points, but I have come into some unexpected windfalls here and there. To wit: my wife’s health insurance company turned over a large bill to collections before they even issued it to us, so to avoid any credit implications, we immediately paid the amount to the collection agency. This was during AMEX’s small business promotion at the end of last year, and for some reason AMEX classified the collection agency as a small business, so we earned a bunch of extra points.
Even better, the collection agency refunded the charge after the health insurance company realized the error, and AMEX never clawed back the bonus points.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
I originally operated under the assumption that it would be too hard to figure out multiple frequent flyer programs, so I concentrated on earning only 1 type of points (United Airlines), or Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I would transfer to United Airlines.
When I learned how much more valuable other programs were for my particular travel goals, I was bummed that a big percentage of my points was tied up in United Airlines. Diversify!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
People might be surprised to learn that most of my online presence focuses on my side gig as a printer and bookbinder. I had to set up a second Twitter account under the @windbagmiles handle because I was responding to things using my old account, and people didn’t realize it was the Windbag guy.
Any parting words?
Don’t take the hobby (or yourself) too seriously…A mistake here and there isn’t going to cost you a free trip, so don’t worry if your value-per-point is a little low, or you didn’t quite max out your return on spend. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
Jordan – 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!