1) What motivated you to research miles and points hobby?
I wanted to take my daughter to Israel for her Bat Mitzvah and was saving (or trying to save) $25-50 a month. It was proving much more difficult to do than I thought it would be (even though I had 8 years to do it), so I was looking for something that wasn’t so hard financially. I had done some credit card bonus “churning” in the past, but not nearly on the level I am doing now – maybe two cards a year or so.
I had gotten some free flights and some gift cards (oh the horror of such a bad redemption!), so I started researching different possibilities. My first blog I became addicted to was Million Mile Secrets, but it was mostly about flying first class to the Maldives, and I am all about free economy flights, free hotel and free car rental. I have been doing this for about 16 months and have taken 3 vacations since then, the last one was almost free.
We flew to Arizona and I was able to use miles and points to cover flights. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Oro Valley which we got via PointBreaks, so it was only 35,000 points for 7 nights. I had done Priceless Surprises promotion (now over) and earned a little over 50,000 IHG points with that. I also have Chase IHG credit card which gives me complimentary Platinum elite status.
When I checked in I asked if they had any upgrades (a benefit of elite status) and they said they didn’t have any for the first night, but if I wanted to change rooms the next day they could upgrade me, so of course I said yes! The standard room was just ok – although it did have a GREAT view of the Catalina mountains. But the suite was much better: it had a jacuzzi tub, a separate bedroom and a living area with a pull out couch. I LOVED their pillows. It was great to spread out.
There was also free breakfast. We only eat kosher food, so it was just yogurt, milk, fruit and oatmeal for us. But there were eggs, bagels, pastries, pancakes, bacon/sausage etc. I paid ZERO cash for the hotel. I rented a car using my Citi ThankYou points – it was 17,500 TY points for 7 days and $2-3 I paid with AMEX so it would trigger the primary car insurance.
So I ended up spending around $25.00 out-of-pocket on flights, hotel and car (besides gas), and only had to pay for our food and activities.
2) What are the biggest challenges you face as a single mom who is trying to navigate miles and points hobby?
Limited income and only being able to apply for one card per family. I am on Facebook group and someone had mentioned that they had two Capital One and two Barclay cards, and I was like: how do you get two of them? Obviously, it was one for wife and one for husband.
Besides that, for some reason, I can’t even get approved for one of those cards. Also, if I chose something like Hyatt offer for two free nights, I would just get two nights instead of getting four nights and making a really nice vacation out of that. On the flip side, I only have to worry about two people, easier to book flights, hotels, etc.
3) What’s your favorite trip that was made possible solely due to miles and points?
After doing tons of research, I learned that it’s probably best to use miles and hotel points quickly and not hang on to them forever (what’s the point of having them if you don’t use them?) They lose value over time, so if I planned appropriately, I could take the vacations I wanted AND still be able to make my Israel trip in 7 years.
So the next most important thing to me was making sure I could travel to see my parents and sister (we all live in different states), so they could get to know their grandchild/niece.
I was able to use points to bring my mother to see me last April for a two-week trip that otherwise would have been a financial hardship for her at the time. Also for my most recent trip home I used points for the flight, hotel and car rental. Even my father was impressed and asked me how I did it!
4) How often do you think about miles and points?
A lot. I constantly strategize on which card fits into my next travel goal, has the best return and how I plan to use the points/miles. I did just miss the Olympic US Bank promo (just crazy busy with life the last few weeks) and am kicking myself for it. But I can try again in two years, right? (Editor: Yes, you can!)
Also, I love all the different ways to earn cold hard cash, like sign-up bonuses on checking accounts. I originally thought I would use them to pay for the costs associated with M/S (manufactured spending), but I also utilized the money to cover basic expenses of my last trip – cat sitter, parking, and some food and touristy type things.
My next trip, over a year of planning so far, will be to World Disney World. I’ve been wanting to go forever, but no one would come with me, so now I get to go with my little girl!
5) What was the craziest thing you’ve ever done to earn miles or points?
I generally don’t M/S, but I did try it and it didn’t work out so well. The second I got my Amex Premier Rewards Gold, I promptly bought $3,000 worth of Amex gift cards but: 1) I had no plan for liquidating them and 2) My minimum spend to get the bonus was only $1,000. Oops.
It worked out okay, though. I somehow received the points and the bonus, and just used the gift cards for regular spend whenever possible. But I l learned that M/S is not for me! I have also added my 4 year-old as an authorized user – apparently Chase doesn’t care (or even ask) but Amex does.
6) How does your daughter feel about this hobby?
She is too young to know anything about it.
7) Do you ever wish you never found out about miles and points? Why/why not?
Nope, love it and it allowed me to travel. I hope one day to travel more, besides visiting family.
8) If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out, what would it be?
Respect the 5/24 rule and start out slowly. I think I have gotten 14 cards in 16 months. That’s a lot and probably not the smartest thing, but I have a nice stash now and a great credit score.
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.