An Interview with Mark, a Man with a Very Particular Set of Skills

I seem to be on a “large family” kick lately or maybe that’s just a huge portion of my blog’s readership?  Anyway, here is another installment in my “interviews with readers” segment. This time we are talking to Mark who like many in this hobby is an M/S (manufactured spending) enthusiast. So, I thought it would be very interesting to get his perspective. Mark has a wife and four kids, so as you can imagine, affording travel outside of his home state can get pretty expensive. Miles and points to the rescue, blah blah blah.
mark dining

Dining with family in Auckland, New Zealand

Mark was actually kind enough to email me his answers while he was on a trip Down Under (I’m not worthy!) Without further ado:

1. What motivated you to research miles and points hobby?

My wife and I have always loved traveling, and it doesn’t help that we have immediate family scattered all over the world: Australia, Brazil, Scotland, France, Israel, etc. So, travel was a constant expense, but it wasn’t until kids three and four were on the way (twins, boy and girl) that I had the realization that traveling was about to get considerably more expensive. We had a choice to make: either cut back significantly on our travel, since buying five tickets for every trip would get real expensive real fast, or find another way.
My wife had seen advertisements about a course in the city that was supposed to teach about hacking travel using credit cards. I had been skeptical and not wanting to waste time on it, but with the spectre of five airfare tickets looming, decided to research it anyway. My first encounter with the hobby was through Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World (Perigee Book.)

2. What are the biggest challenges you face as a large family who is trying to navigate miles and points hobby?

 Finding five (soon to be six) award seats when we need them. We never plan more than a few months ahead, which makes finding award availability for all of us quite difficult even in coach, let alone in premium cabin. Earning is also harder, of course, since even saver redemptions eat a ton of miles.

3. What’s your favorite trip that was made possible solely due to miles and points?

The trip we’re currently on. We left NY on July 4, spent a week in LA, flew to New Zealand for 3.5 weeks, then headed up to Sydney where we are now, and will be returning home to NY on August 30th. We spent 100k Krisflyer miles in business class from EWR to LAX, 120k AA miles (106k after rebate) and 70k Avios LAX to AKL, 53k TYPs AKL to SYD, $625 error fare SYD to LAX, and 33k VX miles LAX to JFK.
mark twins in business class
Twins in United business class EWR-LAX
Two months of adventuring in the South Pacific for less than $1,000 out of pocket in airfare is pretty phenomenal, and we couldn’t have done it without miles and points.
Mark hobbit village
Hobbit village
More importantly, the hobby made it so much easier for us to be with family. It’s been nearly ten years since my wife and I were in Sydney last, and it was just the two of us then. I have my father here, two brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins… No way I would have spent $1,500 per ticket (what I used to pay) for five tickets to travel here.
mark by the lake
Rotorua, New Zealand
Before finding the hobby, I honestly didn’t think my kids would ever meet this side of my family. For all the bi#$&@ng (rhymes with “twitching”) and moaning that goes on in the community about devaluations and such (and I’m guilty of that as well), putting this kind of trip together should make anyone feel grateful for all the opportunities we’ve been given.

4.How often do you think about miles and points?

More often than I’d like. To be honest, it’s been detrimental to my work at times — instead of working, I would find myself researching ways to MS or actually MSing when doing actual work would give me far better ROI, as in I could make more $ per hour and just pay for stuff rather than scrape together some extra points. It’s a fallacy that we’re all vulnerable to, I believe. And it takes time and discipline to learn which deals are worth pursuing and which to give a wide berth.

5. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done  to earn miles or points?

In the fall of 2015 CardCash was having a big sale, and I’d been dipping my feet into gift card arbitrage to MS. I checked the projected profits and lost my head, buying thousands of dollars’ worth of cards. Little did I know CardCash is the world’s worst company. They screwed up a bunch of the orders, cancelling some, delivering wrong brands in others… It was a mess of massive proportions that must have taken me weeks to untangle. Then a bunch of cards that I resold started going bad, and I ended up losing about $1,000 over several months on bad cards that CardCash then refused to refund me for. It was a tough lesson on all fronts. I don’t do arbitrage from secondary exchanges anymore.

6. How do your spouse and kids feel about this hobby? 

The kids are too young to know what I do, but they definitely enjoy us being able to travel around the world. And my wife is getting spoiled! Even as we’re currently away she’s making plans for our next trips.

7. Do you ever wish you’ve never found miles and points hobby? Why/why not?

There are times when I feel that if I were to put the time and effort I’ve invested in the hobby into growing my business instead, I could afford to pay cash rather than points to fly business class. An exaggeration perhaps, but not entirely unfounded. Miles and points make it very easy to fall into the trap of being penny wise, pound foolish, and it’s something to be mindful of.

8. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out in this hobby, what would it be?

If you’re not patient, level-headed, practical, supremely organized and willing to keep an Excel spreadsheet with a gazillion tabs that you’ll most likely be checking on a daily basis, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” It takes a person with a very particular set of skills (HT Liam Neeson in the movie “Taken”) to extract real value from miles and points. For everyone else, the downsides stemming from lack of organization are very real. I manage over 30 credit cards for five people (myself and my wife, my mother and stepfather, and aunt), five eBay and PayPal accounts, etc. etc.
And if you are that person, my advice is to take it slow. I really wish I hadn’t gotten five credit cards in the span of a month when just starting out, especially with the Chase Sapphire Reserve on the way. Don’t listen to bloggers that yell about “limited time only!” deals. Choose a handful of quality blogs to follow and ignore the rest. Show appreciation to the bloggers you do follow by using their affiliate links, when available. And enjoy the ride 🙂
A huge thanks to Mark for giving this interview!

Author: Leana

Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

14 thoughts on “An Interview with Mark, a Man with a Very Particular Set of Skills

    • @Seth I’m glad you are enjoying it! It appears my readers have a lot of interesting stuff to share. Why not take advantage of it? 🙂

  1. Found this from TravelBloggerBuzz – good interview and some great thoughts and tips! I get obsessive about it at times, too. I guess the key, like all things in life, is balance. But I’d never have experienced the things I have without knowing all this stuff and at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    • Also found it via George.

      I like these sort of success stories. And also Mark’s willingness to point out how crazy the MS thing is and how you can lose a lot of money. His point #8 is PERFECT advice!!!

  2. Pingback: Chase Sapphire Reserve Massive Hit, MS Hobby, Sarajevo, Transportation - TravelBloggerBuzz

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.