A few weeks ago, Daraius from Million Miles Secrets sat down with me for an interview on how to travel big with small money. We talked about the Pursued Adventures blog and I got to share some of my tips and tricks on how to earn more miles and points. I have been very fortunate to travel around the world on the cheap and I wanted to share these stories and tips with you guys so you can enjoy these amazing trips as well.
In case you missed it, I am reposting the original interview here. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
It should be noted that I do discuss some airlines, hotels, credit cards and stores in this post but I am NOT affiliated with them in any way NOR do I receive any financial incentive from them. I only reference them because these are the actual companies that I use and these tricks are how I am able to personally rack up all my miles and points to redeem for my trips.
James, how and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I’m a relatively new player to the whole miles and points game. When I first started traveling, I (like everyone else) just chose the cheapest flight or the most affordable hotel to book. I never really bothered signing-up for frequent flier or hotel rewards programs because I “didn’t travel that much.” But once I started traveling “that much,” I still chose the cheapest flight and hotels. Because of that, I ended up with a bunch of miles and points spread across numerous rewards programs.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I started dedicating my loyalty to one specific airline and hotel chain. At the time, I did some research on where I liked traveling to and the airlines and hotels that had a big presence in those areas. I ended up choosing United Airlines for their network and Hilton hotels for their variety of hotels throughout the globe. It didn’t matter where I wanted to go. United Airlines could get me there and Hilton had a place for me to lay my head.
That decision was based on my personal travel habits and I don’t recommend them for everyone. They just happened to be perfect for me at the time and I have stayed with them ever since. Because I have been with them for so long, you will find plenty of news and trip reports about United Airlines and their Star Alliance partners along with information and hotel reviews about Hilton branded hotels on my blog.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I started my blog in August of 2013 to bring back the love of traveling. I wanted to share my tips, tricks and stories with others to help them make traveling part of their vacation and not just a means to their vacation. I didn’t have all the answers or know all the tricks to travel hacking but I was determined to learn as much as I could. The more I learned, the more I shared with others. And the more I shared with others, the more others started coming to me for advice.
Most of my posts started off as a curiosity to certain topics. I wondered how to accrue these miles or how to redeem those points. I set out to research the topic, gathered all my information and then shared them with others on my blog. I think what separates me from the other bloggers is that I’m more relatable for the average traveler.
For me, it wasn’t always about first class flights and Presidential suite reviews. I have those on the blog too but I also talk about my travels on coach flights and my stays in standard rooms at the DoubleTree. They’re not as glamorous as the first class trip reports but they’re still important and can be valuable for the average traveler.
For example, if you’re paying out of pocket for your next trip to Japan, do you want to read about which airline has the best coach service to Tokyo? Or do you want to read about the aspirational product that you can’t afford or don’t have enough miles to redeem for? Well, truth be told I would want to read about both and that’s why I made sure to include both the luxurious trip reports and the practical side of traveling as well.
I’m also a very visual person. All of my trip reports now include a lot of photos to accompany the text. I know there are plenty of people out there that enjoy a good photo slideshow so these new trip reports with photos galore are dedicated to them. Pictures do speak a thousand words and you can count on my reviews to include a lot of them.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles and points?
I think the single most important thing people can do to get more points and miles is to double dip on their spending. I’m not saying spend more money to get more miles and points. I’m saying get more points and miles for the spending that you already do.
Let me give you a personal example. I love Groupon and I make purchases from their website all the time. From Crossfit classes to discounted meals and weekend trips, I’m a sucker for all that. Let’s say there’s a Groupon deal for dinner at a local restaurant for $50. What I used to do was jump online, go directly to Groupon’s website and use my credit card to purchase the Groupon.
Now, I have a Chase Ink Bold business credit card that I use for a lot of my spending. If I were to use that credit card, I would earn 50 Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for my Groupon purchase ($50 x 1 point/dollar spent = 50 UR points).
But instead of settling for 50 UR points, let’s look at how I can double dip on my purchase. Instead of going directly to Groupon’s website to make the purchase, I drive to any office supply store such as Staples or Office Depot and purchase a $50 Groupon gift card using my Chase Ink Bold card. I then jump online and instead of going directly to Groupon’s website, I go to United’s MileagePlus shopping portal. There I search for Groupon, click on the referral link to Groupon’s website and then make my purchase using the $50 gift card that I just purchased from the office supply store.
With both scenarios, I spend $50 on my Chase Ink Bold card but there’s a huge difference in the points accrual. In the first scenario, I only earn 50 UR points. In the second scenario, I earn 250 UR points and 150 United Airlines miles.
How is that you ask? Because my Chase Ink Bold card earns me 5 UR points for every dollar I spend at office supply stores. So I earn 250 UR points for buying the $50 Groupon gift card at Staples or Office Depot ($50 x 5 points/dollar spent = 250 UR points). And by shopping through United’s MileagePlus shopping portal, I earn an additional 3 miles for every dollar I spend at Groupon, which means I get another 150 United Airlines miles ($50 x 3 miles/dollar spent = 150 UA miles).
That’s just one example on how you can maximize your miles and points earning potential. And the great thing about office supply stores is that they carry gift cards for a ton of online stores such as Amazon, eBags, Macy’s, Nordstrom and others.
But what if you don’t have a credit card that earns bonus points at office supply stores? Then use a credit card that earns you bonus points at grocery stores (like the American Express Everyday Preferred card). You know what they sell at grocery stores? That’s right, gift cards.
Now I know what you’re thinking. That seems like a lot of work for some extra miles. But honestly, it’s really not that inconvenient. Just think of it as items to buy as part of your weekly shopping list. When I’m at an office supply store, I buy a bunch of gift cards for places that I know I’m going to spend money at for the week.
The shopping portals don’t require you to use an airline’s branded credit card or even a credit card at all. You can pay with any credit card, debit card or even a gift card. And all the airlines including Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways have a shopping portal.
When using this trick, always check with the different airline shopping portals as some of them will offer a better benefit for certain stores. For example, I just checked Alaska, American and United’s shopping portals for Nordstrom. Both Alaska and American were offering an additional 4 miles per dollar spent through their shopping portals. Not bad but checking United’s shopping portal, I saw they were offering 6 miles per dollar spent. United was the big winner in this case but that won’t be for every situation. Always check all the shopping portals when shopping for different stores.
Now what if you don’t have a credit card that earns any category bonuses? That’s okay too. You can still purchase gift cards (earn miles/points for your spending) and then use them at the online shopping portals. Using an online shopping portal will always be better than shopping at a store’s website directly.
Here’s another example of how I double dip on my spending. My Chase Ink Bold card earns me 2 UR points for every dollar I spend at gas stations. On the surface, that seems like a pretty good deal but you will never see me using my credit cards at gas stations. Because why should you settle for 2 UR points when you can earn 5 UR points instead?
Going back to my office supply store example, all office supply stores sell gas gift cards. So instead of getting 100 UR points for $50 worth of gas at a gas station, I will go buy a $50 gas gift card at an office supply store and earn 250 UR points instead (50 x 5 points/dollar spent at office supply = 250 UR points) and then use that gas gift card at the gas station.
Gas gift cards don’t cost you any more at the office supply stores and there are no activation fees to purchase them. But more importantly, using gas gift cards can save you in two additional ways.
First, some gas stations have a cash price and a credit card price. The credit card price is usually about 10 cents more per gallon than the cash price. Using a gas gift card, they will always charge you the cash price. Thus saving you some money at the pumps.
And secondly, using a gas gift card can save you from being a victim of credit card fraud. Let me explain. If you guys haven’t heard, credit cards are getting skimmed left and right throughout the country. Credit card skimming is when a crook obtains your credit card number and makes fraudulent purchases on your credit card without having to steal your actual credit card.
Because people are still in possession of their credit cards, oftentimes they don’t realize that their credit card numbers have been compromised. Crooks go out and make thousands of dollars worth of purchases and you get stuck with the bill. Of course you can get the charges reversed from the credit card companies but it’s still a hassle having to cancel your card, get a new credit card and update all of your auto-payments.
Now take a guess on where the majority of credit card compromises occur. That’s right, restaurants and gas stations. So how do you protect yourself? Use gas and restaurant gift cards instead. It’s a win-win situation all around. Not only am I earning more points by using a gas gift card, I’m also saving more money and protecting myself from potential fraud.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I have been on some amazing trips but my most memorable travel experience has to be a family trip we took back in 2008. That’s right, a family trip. And I’m not talking about a trip with my wife and kids (I’m single). I’m talking about a trip with my parents. LOL. Can you believe that?
My family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam back in 1977 and they have been wanting to go back to visit family and friends for a long time now. As luck would have it, my mom was able to wrangle all of us together for a family trip back to Vietnam (and a side trip to Thailand) back in the summer of 2008. I’m talking almost 30 of us, my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was an amazing trip and I’m glad that I was able to go with my family.
My parents took us around the country and showed us where they grew up, went to school and hung out as children. We got to see their old house and even re-connected with some family and friends. By itself, it was an incredible trip, but what made the trip extra memorable for me was that I got to see my culture and most importantly, I got to experience it with my family.
I think as humans, we all have this inherent desire to learn more about ourselves, to find out about our ancestors and discover our origins. And what better way to do all that than with your family. With the advent of online family origin websites, it’s becoming easier and easier for us to trace our roots back and I highly recommend all your readers discover their origins and visit their homeland. Who knows? They might be surprised by what they learn about their family history or about themselves.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I’m very lucky in this area. I know a lot of other fanatics out there with significant others that don’t quite understand their obsession with miles and points. Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to “convert” my family, friends, and colleagues and now I’m surrounded by other addicts. No matter where I want to go or when I want to go, I will always have someone to travel with.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
The only tip I have is to never let one point or mile go unclaimed! You should always be rewarded for your travel or spending and those points and miles add up more quickly than you think. That being said, you should have signed-up for all the frequent flier and hotel rewards programs by now. And if you haven’t? Do it now!
The key though is to not spend more money to get more miles and points. The goal is to get more miles and points for the money you already spend. Don’t spend more just to get more. Try getting more without having to spend more.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
The least expected way I earned miles has been with the dining rewards programs. If you don’t know, in addition to the online shopping portals, all the major airlines have a partnership with the dining Rewards Network. You register your credit cards with this program and when you use your registered card at any of their partner restaurants, you get a mileage bonus.
That’s it. There are no additional cards to carry, no coupons to clip or anything else. Eat. Pay. Get miles. And the best part, it’s free to join, easy to use, and a nice little surprise when you earn miles for a restaurant that you didn’t know was a partner restaurant.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Collecting miles and points is fun but it’s only part of the fun. The real fun comes in redeeming those miles and points for incredible trips around the world. My biggest regret is I wished I knew more about redeeming my miles and points when I first started out. I can’t tell you how many times I wasted more miles than I needed to or redeemed for a coach flight because I didn’t know how to search for business or first Class awards.
Let me give you an example. Two years ago I planned a trip to South Africa using my United Airlines miles. I didn’t know that I could search segment-by-segment and piece together a complete itinerary by myself. I thought I had to go with what the phone agent gave me or what the website pieced together. Because of that, I ended up paying for a business class award redemption for a mixed cabin itinerary with one of the longest segments, a 14+ hour flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town, in coach! Knowing what I know now, I would have searched the individual segments until I pieced together a complete business class trip. Never settle for a mixed cabin itinerary!
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
People don’t expect this from me because I don’t “look the part” but I’m actually a huge dork. I love all things gadgets, games, comics, science fiction and otherwise geekiness. I go to comic book conventions, play video games, and would wait in line all night for the next Star Wars movie or Apple product. I know. I know. I’m a dork. But as my friends describe me, I’m just a dork that found the gym.
Any parting words?
Thank you, Daraius, for this interview. It was a pleasure chatting with you and I want to encourage your readers to continue doing what they are doing. Go travel the world, do it for free (or cheap), and be goodwill ambassadors for the United States.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. You can visit the world but if you don’t meet the locals and learn about different cultures (or something about yourself), then you really haven’t traveled. So go out there and travel.
James – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!