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My Interview with Hilary, a Single Mom who Is Happy to Vacation at a Holiday Inn Express

 All of my interviews so far involved families that have two parents in them. But there is another type of family, the kind that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and I’m guilty of that as well. I’m talking about a situation where there is just one parent, a single mom or dad, struggling to afford travel with their kids.
 
He or she may have  limited income, and putting away even $25 per month is a challenge. I know I take for granted the fact that I have a husband with a decent job, which allows me to stay home and work on this blog on a part-time basis. Many women aren’t so lucky. They have to earn a living, make sure their kids get the attention they need, and hustle to arrange a trip with whatever little money they have left at the end of the month. And sometimes there is none left.
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Single moms and dads, my hat is off to you guys! 
 
With that, I hope you’ll all enjoy  this interview with my reader Hilary:

 

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.

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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!

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Some background on the photo above: My daughter wanted to get her face painted at Busch Gardens amusement park. We stayed one night at Embassy Suites for 30,000 points, and two at Doubletree for 20,000 points per night. We used  70,000 points from just one sign-up bonus on no-annual-fee Citi Hilton HHonors card. Drove down from New Jersey …never again.

 

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. 

A huge thanks to Hilary for agreeing to do this interview!
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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and 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.

19 thoughts on “My Interview with Hilary, a Single Mom who Is Happy to Vacation at a Holiday Inn Express

  1. That’s great that you can travel with your daughter. I am sure you are building memories that will last a life-time, and I am sure your family is grateful you make it a priority to visit them. Happy planning on your Disney trip. I live less than 2 hours from Disney and have yet to take my kids to the actual theme park. Some day…

  2. Thank you. Looking forward to many more trips. Disney is finally all done – I have Hotel, Flight and Park Tickets, just need to do FastPass+ and a touring plan!

  3. Didn’t have time to read article yet, but KUDOS for landing an interview with a Presidential Candidate!!! Any chance of landing one with Donald or Ivanka?

    • @Ramsey Gracias! I’m so glad you are back. It’s been what, two years at least? Though I have to say, you aren’t looking so good. Last time you commented on my site, the gravatar had a gorgeous male model in it. I just assumed it was a photo of you. What happened to you, man? I know there have been a lot of negative developments in the hobby lately, but still.
      As far as interviewing Donald or Ivanka, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll have my people talk to their people.

  4. Hi Hillary, it sounds like you’re doing what works for your family which is great. I have a family of three but my husband’s credit isn’t good so I. The only one applying for cards for her three of us to travel so there you go, not everybody can apply for two hotel cards and get two nights. I am also happy to stay at Holiday Inns.

  5. The hotel earnings point you make is a good one. You definitely get scale with hotel cards and a significant other. My wife, kids and I are doing 4 nights at the grand Hyatt Kauai next March for Spring Break. Given we both got the Hyatt card, we’ll have ample time to enjoy the facilities for our family of 4. 2 nights can feel a bit rushed with really only one full day at property.

    But the flights! It’s so manageable finding award availability for 2! So jelly right now.

    You’re making some serious deposits in the memories account with your daughter. Enjoy it!

    • Thanks! Yep, I would need to have enough points and/or cash to pay for one additional night to make it really worth it. But not complaining, have gotten lots of use out of the whole game, I am very lucky.

  6. Yes! So glad you did this post! Too little attention in this game to the perspective of folks using miles & points in the most fiscally frugal ways! I’m a fellow single parent too.

    • @Lela I’ll let Hilary respond, but just wanted to thank you for stopping by. Honestly, my biggest joy in blogging comes when I help someone on a tight budget afford a decent vacation. It’s a huge thrill!

    • I’ve seen a couple of sites that cater to more frugal ways of doing this but most are for families are at least couples (two adults getting credit cards). There is a blog written by a single guy, but that’s a whole other ball game too.

  7. Leana,
    I can’t thank you enough for this interview. It is so funny as human beings we need to have a sense of belonging. Miles and points hobby can be very lonely for a single parent. No double applications, no dreaming of 1st class romantic trips and no 4 night stays like Hillary mentioned. Maybe there is niche for a single parent blogger because a single parent has PLENTY of time to write a blog ????

    I’ve been churning cards for a couple of years, even before I got divorced. I was able to fly my 92 year old grandmother from Brazil in business class to visit her first great grandson. It did turned out to be her last plane ride before she passed in 2014 and I am so thankful for miles and points. I could never afford to pay business class and to think I was able to give her this gift it makes all the spreadsheets, recon calls, sock drawer overflowing with cards so worth it.
    Because of this hobby I can afford to create beautiful memories with my son and also send him a couple of times to FL so he can see his dad (love Avios points).

    Hillary,
    I fell your pain “wasting” points visiting family. My family lives in Brazil and my ex lives in Orlando. Besides having no free babysitting on regular basis I have to accumulate a lot of points to visit them. I’m hoping by the time my son is in college I can fly to the Maldives 1st class and stay on a overwater bungalow. ????????????
    Keep up the good work with your daughter.

    PS. I had to skip work today due a sick child so lots of free time to write long comments ????

    • @Tania It’s Hilary who deserves all the thanks for agreeing to this interview! I’m very glad she did.
      Who knows, one of these days you too might be planning a romantic trip to Maldives with a special someone. 🙂 Life can surprise you when you least expect it.
      In the meantime, feel free to contribute a post or two on your trips as a single parent. I’ll be happy to feature them in my blog!
      Oh, and I can totally relate to what you said about bringing your grandmother over here. We were able to take my daughter to Belarus when she was only 18 months old. My sister got pregnant, so I wanted to see my new nephew. We weren’t really planning a trip that year because money was tight, but miles and points have allowed us to go anyway. Well, as it turned out, my grandmother passed away only a week after we left Belarus. The last thing she told my dad was that she was so happy that she got to see my daughter. It makes me happy and sad when I think about it because my grandmother pretty much raised me.
      P.S. I hope your child feel better. It’s hard to see your kids in distress, isn’t it?

  8. ahhhhhhhhh, free babysitting…the things we dream about…My family tells me to move back to home and then I’ll have free babysitting.

  9. Pingback: Five Miles and Points Strategies for Single Parents on a Tight Budget - Miles For Family

  10. Hi Hilary,
    Once you get closer to that trip to Israel, do reach out through Leana/MFF – as a part-time Israeli I will do my best to help with tips and maybe even free night certificates, depending on what I have at the time.

    • Hi Uri,
      Thanks so much! That is such a generous offer, but I can’t take your free nights. Will definitely reach out for insider tips of what to do/where to go though when I start planning.

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