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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: First Class for Free
Ben is a program manager in a big software company and been traveling to different country in First Class for free. He also writes First Class for Free, so I was looking forward to finding out how he does it!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started collecting miles and points in 1999 since I used to travel a lot between China and the US. After I immigrated to Canada in 2002, this hobby started “erupting.” In Canada though, the offers were not that good. However, when I moved to the US in 2008, my Lord, I rarely pay for air tickets for the whole family.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Believe it or not, I just started my blog last month, yes, April 2012. The motivating factor was because I am known to my friends as the “go-to-person” in terms of deals, free stuff, accumulating airline miles, and hotel points.
My friends believe I have this talent due because of my “stinginess.” I have also become tired of answering those types of questions via email, Facebook or weibo (Chinese twitter).
My blog has two very simple goals:
- Take your kids to Disneyland for free. Yes, you only pay the food and theme park tickets.
- Take your wife (partner) to any place in the world flying FIRST CLASS for free to celebrate your anniversary.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
My philosophy is “the early bird catches the worms” (It may not be true sometimes though). In other words, do your homework, spend 30 minutes browsing blogs & forums every day (for example, flyertalk and the Million Miles Secret website).
Those “early birds” bloggers have already done tremendous work and all you have to do is to digest what they have found out and tailor it to your needs. For instance, I’d rather collect one rather than multiple programs. To be more specific, Chase ultimate points can be converted to a lot of airline and hotel miles and points.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
In 2009, I was on a business trip in Tokyo, Japan and took my wife Irene with me. It was there that we celebrated our 10th anniversary during Christmas. I swear, Irene appreciated the trip so much that she cooked me nice meals the entire year of 2010. I have to keep traveling with her afterwards as the “companion pass” is only valid for a year. LOL.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I have to separate family from friends.
Friend’s verbatim: “Ben, you are a genius, I paid $300 for Vegas and you flew there for 10 bucks.” My response, “Dude, that would be way too easy for a genius. Remember the Home depot slogan, you can do it, I can help”.
Irene (my wife) before 2009, “Can you spend more time with kids instead of doing that crazy thing?” (I am actually a good Dad and play with my two kids often. I know I spend too much time seeking deals and free miles & points).
Irene after 2009, “Ben, do we have enough miles to fly to Disneyland this summer?”
Ben: “I don’t have time to research. The kids are bugging me.”
Irene: “Cynthia, leave your Dad alone. Come to mom”.
Ben: “Bingo ”
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
First of all, every family varies. You have to be absolutely sure what you are looking for prior to hunting for those deals & offers. Some families never have plans to go abroad and domestic flights are all that they need. In terms of miles, Southwest is their best friend. Since our family always flies to Asia, United, AA miles are more precious to us.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
I do have sad news that I have to charge $8,000 into my Costco AMEX before May 15th for my cruise as I don’t have a minimum spending on a card right now. I spent $6,000 last month for my two American Airlines cards. This is also a lesson for everyone that you need to plan your spending and apply for the right card in advance.
In this case, if I charge the $8,000 to British Airways Chase or Chase Ink Bold, I would have easily gotten 75,000 or 50,000 points respectively. Now I get 2% rebate which is equivalent to $160. However, this is my best option for me now.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
This website, 100%. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, Daraius has done such a GREAT work that I “borrowed” his content a lot in my blog.
For example, I got a friend who asked me whether or not he should apply for the 30,000 Delta card. After I spent 2 hours giving him a brief of what exactly he should do, he used the 2-brower trick for those American Airlines cards.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Not surprised I guess. I am a Program manager working for a big software company. In my spare time, my wife Irene, who is nearly a certified trainer, teaches me how to roller skate. I am also a big fan of all kinds of casino games. Las Vegas is my preferred vacation place apparently.
Any parting words?
If I can do it, you can do it. I came to the US with zero credit. It’s a shame that Canada & the US don’t share credit bureaus. I managed to get the best rate for my mortgage at 2.9% for 15 yrs at a fixed rate and still maintain my credit above 700 after those credit cards.
So, don’t get scared or listen to just one-side of the story that applying for too many credit cards will ruin your credit because it’s NOT true. There are a lot of ways to “protect” your credit and I will cover it in detail in my blog in the future.
So far, I’d like to thank Million Mile Secret for having me here and for exchanging ideas with our readers. Keep up the good work, D and our most lovely audience, let us FLY FIRST CLASS FOR FREE. (sorry for the commercial)
Ben – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!