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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: Your Mileage May Vary
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Joe: Both of us have had frequent flyer accounts since the time we became adults, so that would be the mid 1980s to early 1990s. We knew as early as 1998 that we wanted to go to Japan someday, so we started increasing the ways we could collect miles (not points so much at that time).
June 2004 was the first time we used our miles for anything complicated. That was our flights to Japan in April 2005, when we flew Business Class from Orlando to Chicago to Kansai, Japan. Then from Tokyo Narita to Chicago to Orlando, for 90,000 miles each.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Sharon: For years, Joe had been gathering information about flights and hotels and points and miles from when we would go on vacation. He’d tell our friends about it and they eventually started asking him questions about the best way to get from here to there or how to get enough points for a particular trip or things like that. Several people suggested he should start offering classes.
We thought that might not be so easy to do, but I started throwing hints that maybe he should start a blog where he could give pointers about points and miles, and we could talk about the experiences we’ve had with travel.
Joe: Our travel style is very eclectic. We’ve stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York because we never had (and it was closing for 3 years), and the Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg to visit locations where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. But we have also stayed at the Quality Inn to visit South of The Border, and the LaQuinta Inn to visit Schlitterbahn Water Park in New Braunfels, Texas, and were equally happy with those trips.
I’m also just as interested in possibly booking a flight on JetBlue as one on Singapore in Suites Class.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Joe: Making sure they have the right credit cards that fit their spending.
Because Sharon does the grocery shopping, I make sure she has a card that maximizes our return on those purchases. I, on the other hand, have the cards that give us good returns on restaurants and travel. We’re lucky in that since we’re a couple, we’re able to diversify our credit cards that way.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Since we’ve been doing this for so long, we’ve had many memorable trips and we each have our favorites.
Joe: I planned our trip to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Napa Valley for my “ends with a zero” birthday trip a few years ago, which included dinner at The French Laundry. There were so many small events that happened during that trip and they still make me smile. That entire trip was memorable.
Sharon: I hated Yosemite. 🙂 But it was his birthday trip, so what could I do? I had to grin and bear it. I don’t think I have one absolute favorite travel experience.
Like Joe said, we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to go to a lot of cool places. Some of my favorites have been the Grand Canyon, Havana (Cuba was MY “ends with a zero” birthday trip last year), Japan, and Salzburg. Oh, and I LOVE London and Sydney.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Joe: I got my dad and his wife hooked after I helped them use their Delta miles to book Business Class seats for their honeymoon to Southeast Asia. Now I have a hard time keeping him from signing-up for every credit card bonus he sees. Our friends say they like to live vicariously though our travels, but they do seem to think we’re independently wealthy because we get to go on all these trips.
Sharon: I admit that I thoroughly like the benefits of being married to someone whose hobby is points and miles. Obviously, flying First Class is really cool and we’ve been able to get reservations in some hotels we’d never stay in if we had to pay cash. I just wish he didn’t talk about travel so much. 🙂
I mean, as I’m writing this, he’s telling me the Delta flights we already have booked for a trip to Tennessee later this year went down in price. And I’m like, “We’re already locked in and the flights have been paid for…who cares how much they are now?!” 🙂
Is there any tool or trick that you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Joe: I’ve learned to scan reviews on TripAdvisor, Oyster, and Yelp for information that’s relevant to me. I don’t care if someone gives a bad review because the place has old equipment in the gym or doesn’t have room service, because we would never use those amenities anyway. But I am interested in knowing if the rooms are quiet and clean and, if it’s a longer vacation, what people say about their on-site washing machines and dryers.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Sharon: When Joe asked me to fill out 192 postcards for IHG points – it was a promotion IHG was running. It took a couple of days and I got some major writer’s cramp, but we each got something like 50,000 IHG points in the end.
Joe: I like getting the surprise dining bonuses, like when we went to a favorite bar in New York or a Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, and all of a sudden I got points for them because of Alaska Airlines’ dining program. We also were able to get some extra miles when buying Sharon’s new car. The dealership had a limit of how much of the down payment could be on a credit card.
When the finance manager saw I was paying with my Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, she asked if Sharon had her own card, which she did. We were both listed as buyers on the contract so she let us each charge the maximum so we could get double the miles.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Joe: I wish I hadn’t earned all those miles on my Disney and GM credit cards all those years ago, when I was getting a penny a point. I could have been earning so many more AMEX points and gotten a much better return on my purchases.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Joe: I’m an Eagle Scout and I have two 300 games in bowling.
Sharon: I’ve been singing in auditioned and non-auditioned community choirs for years and in the process I’ve been able to sing 2 times each at Royal Albert Hall and Lincoln Center, several times at Walt Disney World’s Candlelight Processional, and a few other really cool places.
Any parting words?
Sharon: Collecting experiences is what’s most important to us. We hope our blog is a reflection of that and that people enjoy reading about our adventures.
Joe: We’re trying to teach others, especially newbies, that collecting and using points and miles for travel is NOT as difficult as one would think. We know the whole process can be very overwhelming at first, but you shouldn’t think you have to learn it all in 1 day. I’m still learning things all the time. It gets easier as you go along, and the more you know, the more points and miles you can collect and use!
Joe and Sharon from Your Mileage May Vary – 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!