Q: First off, where did you travel to most recently and what's next on your agenda?
A: This is a bit of a cheat, but since my husband and I just moved to California, we haven't taken a substantial vacation this year (SoCal is summer all-year round anyway, right?). We did use Starwood points to cover our hotel stays on our cross-country trek, and recently spent a night in Palm Springs where we took advantage of what was essentially a BOGO free night with Hyatt.
Q: How is all this possible? Milage? Points? Scams and Schemes? I never understand!
A: My obsession with hotel points and airline miles came about early in my relationship with my husband. He's a master couponer and his knack for saving tons of cash on clothes, music and scented body products rubbed off on me. Mix that with my love of traveling and voila! There are easy ways and slightly not-so-easy ways to accumulate points and miles to pay for trips. You can easily sign up for a credit card that gives you a sign-up bonus of several thousand miles, but that's tricky if you don't want to mess with your credit too much. You can also amass miles more slowly if you pay VERY close attention to different travel blogs, which usually post when there are great deals like "Earn 600 miles per $1 spent on magazine subscriptions!"
Q: Any particular deal or trip you're especially proud of?
A: Our last trip to Hawaii was one of my best and most complicated schemes, in terms of saving money. We used miles for our airfare (saving the pair of us $1600 off the bat) and hotel points for three of our nights. I then used Marriott's and Hyatt's Best Rate Guarantees to further bring down the cost of our hotels, and then further stretched our pennies when Marriott was offering 10% off on hotel gift cards. All told, we got 10 nights, two round-trip Philly-Hawaii flight and two round-trip inter-island flights for a smidge over $1000.
Q: How can the rest of us plebes get in on the action? Where do we start?
A: If you're comfortable doing so and it makes sense in your particular financial situation, signing up for an airline- or hotel-branded credit card is probably the fastest way to earn points; I only have one, the Hyatt Chase card, but I earn points for regular spending and get a free night every year (which can more than make up for the annual fee if you choose an expensive hotel on which to redeem your free night). If you have lots of spare time, you can also save a fair amount by utilizing the Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) programs of hotel chains like Radisson, Marriott and Starwood (Sheraton, W, Westin, etc.) Most of the BRGs will not only match a third-party competitor's price, but shave off another percentage off the final bill at that! Fair warning, though: terms and conditions for these BRGs are getting more strict all the time; if the competitor says check-in is at 3:00 and Radisson says check in is at 3:30, that might cause the BRG to fail because the information does not exactly match. So, YMMV.
I consider this more of a hobby than anything, so I love spending time on trying to get the best deal I can, but it requires a LOT of time on your part! Whether or not it's worth it to you is definitely something you have to ask yourself. Still, I know that if I weren't playing the points game, I would not have been able to afford some of the great trips I've been able to take over the past several years.
If you're keen to get in on the mileage game, Jeff suggests starting with Mile Nerd's Newbie Guide, Mommy Points, and Hack My Trip. To read more about Jeff's trips and tips, find him at lanceandjeff.com.