What Happens When You Crash a Rental Car at Autoblog
Best Credit Cards For International Travel at Global Traveler
Million Mile Secrets Interview 12.28.12
Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Andy is the author of The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook where he shares his secrets on acquiring miles and points, so I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
I started about 10 years ago. I had heard about the frequent flier programs a long time before that, but I was skeptical. Certainly feels like years of lost time now.
Why did you write your book?
Exactly for the reason mentioned above. People are skeptical about unconventional ways to improve their lives and for a good reason. It’s not limited to travel. Think about all those “get rich quick” schemes, “work from home” schemes, “phony travel agents” schemes.
Frequent Flier programs also have a lot of bad press and deservedly so. They can be very confusing and misleading to an untrained eye. I mean, I’ve always loved traveling, yet it took me years to realize the mind-blowing potential of Frequent Flyer programs. It’s no wonder that a casual traveler doesn’t even want to bother.
That’s why I wrote The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook: Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Travel the World FOR FREE. I just wanted to tell folks: look it’s not all that hard. Even if you are an infrequent flier like me, you can still get up to a million miles and points in just a year, and that number means as many free flights and hotel stays as you can handle. And even if you are extra cautious, like I was when I started, you can get a few hundred thousands easily.
What’s so special about it?
I’d like to believe that my book is a one-stop source. It won’t make you a mileage pro in two hours, and you still have to learn, but it will teach you enough to start churning. My primary goal was to shorten the learning curve and organize information in such a way that even a person with very limited or non-existent frequent flier experience could start immediately upon turning the last page.
My book is geared toward beginners and beginner-intermediates, so to speak. I focus on big stuff, such as credit card sign up bonuses, because that reflects what I personally do. I really don’t bother with “earning” miles the way credit card companies want us to.
I mean, a mile is a mile, and I won’t throw them back, but earning miles on an actual spend is small change to me. There is no other travel incentive in the world that can get you so much and so fast for so little. Everyone who is US-based and has access to credit should go for credit card sign up bonuses.
But then, your audience already knows that, so it’s like I’m singing to the choir:–).
In order to play this game consistently, you have to apply often, or “churn” as we call it. So my book also contains real-life tips on how to do that. It has a list of suggested App-o-Ramas for the first year to get your one million miles and points. It also suggests a spending pattern since most of the bonuses are conditioned on meeting spend requirements (your 40+ ways of meeting the spend surely come handy). It also gives you ideas on how to protect your good credit so nothing could slow you down.
Then it comes to yet another issue. Say you’ve got your miles, now what? A lot of people are put off by the games that the airlines employ in order to make us spend more miles for less travel.
This is when the knowledge of alliances and airline rules, such as stopovers and open jaws come handy. I believe that miles and points are like real money and should be used wisely. So my book talks about optimizing your redemptions, as well.
By the way, I have two more narrowly targeted books in the same Lazy Traveler’s Handbook series: Fly Me to Atlantis about free travel to Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. and Hilton Secrets Revealed about maximizing your free stay potential with Hilton, and they are free on Amazon until Dec 29th. I also run a blog and I’m on Twitter and Facebook, too.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I’ll give you three: credit cards, credit cards, and finally credit cards.
Look, I will admit I just don’t get it when folks who do know a thing or two about frequent mile programs (often more than me); who spend a considerable amount of time and energy pursuing every available opportunity to grab more miles; who track all their purchases religiously to make sure their miles get posted—when same very folks say they are uncomfortable to churn credit cards. How come?
Of course, there are situations when you shouldn’t. If you have a mortgage in the cards (pun intended) within a year or two you shouldn’t risk a churn. Or if you carry a month-to-month balance. Or if you don’t have a good FICO score. Or if you don’t live in the US.
It’s great when you know how to buy gift cards at Staples with a Bold or how to play all kinds of funny games with Vanilla (may it rest in peace, at least here in NYC). But how many gift cards do you need to go through in order to “earn” 50,000 miles? And those 50,000 miles is just one sign up bonus!
Quite honestly, my mile’n’point routine is very boring, because between my wife and me we’re always busy churning and meeting the spend requirements. I absolutely love reading about all those “insider” tricks on your and other blogs, but I rarely get to use those techniques, because, number one, I’m lazy, and two, I’m busy. It’s as simple as that:–).
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
That would have to be my extensive trip to Argentina and Brazil seven years ago. I started in Buenos Aires, then flew to Iguaçu Falls, boarded an overnight bus to Curitiba, took the train down the coast to Paranagua, rode the bus to Blumenau in time for Octoberfest, spent a couple of days in a beautiful resort town of Balneriao Camboriu, and flew back home from Porto Allegro.
Along the way I also “managed” to get off at a wrong bus stop in the middle of Brazilian highway and experienced life without reals (Brazil currency) in a town that didn’t recognize the power of almighty dollar (or credit cards) . That certainly added up to fun: –).
Since then I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, including Machu Picchu and Easter Island, but still, nothing beats that 7-yr old trip.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
They think I’m nuts, of course:–). I stopped arguing a long time ago.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
There are too many to mention. Citi 2-browser trick comes to mind. Then there are ITA software or Award Nexus to find flight availability, Award Wallet to organize miles and points, Yodlee to keep all your credit card payment information in one place, Miles.biz to find who’s flying where, Credit Sesame for free credit monitoring, and plenty of others of course.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Since my mile earning avenues are mostly limited to credit cards, I know what to expect most of the times. I could, however, tell you how one can lose miles unexpectedly. That’s much more fun (no it isn’t).
A couple years ago I got on that British Airways 100,000 mile bonus offer. I received my first 50-000-mile portion, and then met the spend requirement. Yet, the other 50,000-mile portion didn’t post. I went online to check my credit card statement and to my astonishment found that one of my payments hadn’t come through.
It was a payment made to one of the biggest professional National Associations in the country, and, for whatever reason, they failed to charge the card and never told me about it.
By the time I discovered the error it was already too late. Multiple calls to Chase to convince them to reinstate the bonus fell on deaf ears. I lost 50,000 miles. It still hurts when I think about it (sob).
Another time, I booked an American Airlines flight to Rio for just $300. I was so excited to find this incredible fare that I completely forgot they were running a double-mile promotion at the time. It totally slipped my mind. If I had registered for that promo I would’ve gotten 20,000 bonus AA miles for that flight instead of 10,000.
One more case study as another example of what can happen. My cousin (who is not exactly an frequent flyer aficionado) closed his Chase Sapphire before the annual fee was about to hit. What he didn’t realize was that he would lose the points too. All 55,000 of them!
To be fair, Timmy had a lot on his mind at the time; he had just lost some personal property because of Sandy, so he was very distraught and eager to save whatever money he could. Still it wouldn’t have hurt him to give me a call beforehand. Anyway, we managed to reopen the card, and they promised to restore the points (and they did eventually), but it took 4 telephone calls and another credit pull.
Unlike Sandy, it was a totally unnecessary and avoidable calamity.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
That churning credit cards is safe and easy if you know what you’re doing. I wish I hadn’t hesitated back then; I would’ve been an American Airlines Lifetime Platinum by now (sigh).
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
That I’m cute as a button? It’s OK, you can start laughing now.
Any parting words?
Pack and go. Here is my favorite travel quotation that for some reason is always attributed to Rudyard Kipling, although it belongs to T.S. Eliot.
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
It’s hard to do that in front of a laptop:–).
Andy– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Faces Of FlyerTalk – Mnscout
Posted By Rick Wednesday, September 12, 2012,
Andy Shuman (mnscout) came to the US in 1992 from the former Soviet Union and runs a small consulting firm in Brooklyn, NY. He’s loved to travel for as long as he can remember, and that goes back to really, really old days when his mother would take him for annual summer vacations to Crimea or the Baltic Sea.
Being self-employed is both good and bad for the hobby. It’s good because you can take off without asking anyone, and it’s bad because there is no soup for himself; and by soup he means traveling on his employer’s dime! Running his own business also means that the time he can spend away on each trip is very limited. His favorite destination is South America, but one day he will go on an extended trip to Europe and South East Asia and spend some serious time there.
Andy, thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences with us all. We’re thrilled to have you be a part of “Faces of FlyerTalk”. When did you find FlyerTalk and how did you find it?
Back in the last century from a link on FatWallet or some other consumer board, I don’t remember. But at the time, it didn’t really register, because those FF programs seemed too complicated and not worthy of my time. Only when I managed to get my first mile flight to Rio on Continental did I see the light . I finally joined nine years ago.
Do you consider yourself an infrequent, fairly regular, or miles and points addicted reader?
Oh, I am an addict, alright!
How often are you on FlyerTalk, and what forums do you typically visit?
Three or four times a day, normally. I typically visit Mile Buzz, Credit Card Programs, Airline programs, Online Travel Booking and Bidding Agencies when I’m not traveling on points, or Trip Reports and Destinations to research where I’m going.
Do you travel for business, leisure, or both?
Nine times out of ten, it’s leisure.
Are you involved in credit card churning?
Not only am I involved in churning, I churn with a passion! Since I almost never fly on business, this is what I do for miles and points.
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet right now, and which ones do you recommend to friends?
I’m kind of spoiled with all the sign-up bonuses I’ve been so fortunate to obtain, so I’m not overly concerned with getting miles for actual spending. Maybe that’s because I’m always busy meeting spending requirements for me and my wife. One particular card I like carrying around, though, is the Amex Hilton because it is so easy to earn HHonors points with it. I also use Chase Freedom a lot, but only when they have some interesting 5% categories and sometimes Sapphire for shopping at the UR Mall. Capital One Venture is good too for 2% points back, but I haven’t used it all that much lately. I don’t have Ink Bold because I’m maxed out on Chase at the moment.
As to my friends, unfortunately what I recommend to them doesn’t really matter because they never listen 🙂
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to acquire points and miles?
Last year personal and business Capital One bonanza. It coincided with my regular App-o-Rama, so I remember getting close to 500,000 miles and points in one chunk. Those were the times!
How many miles / points have you accumulated in the past year? In your lifetime?
Last year well over a million. Lifetime—really hard to say.
Do you use a tracking program to keep track of your miles / points? Which one?
Yes, I use Award Wallet, and I recently signed up for Using Miles, as well.
How does your spouse / partner / family / friends feel about this hobby?
They think I’m nuts. They won’t say it to my face, but it shows. Except for my wife. She does say it to my face .
What’s your most memorable trip?
Buenos Aires-Iguassu Falls-Curitiba-Blumenau-Camboriu-Porto Allegro. I took this trip, I think, in 2005. I used AAdvantage miles to fly into BA, had a 3-day stopover there, then continued to Iguazu and used an open jaw to fly back home out of Porto Allegro. That was the old AAdvantage program. I traveled on buses and a train everywhere else in Brazil.
From Iguazu I took a first-class seat on an overnight bus to Curitiba (a very comfortable but scary ride), then a famous train ride to the coastal town of Paranagua. In Paranagua, I ran out of Brazilian Reals and couldn’t even buy a bus ticket (I had gotten really spoiled because everyone takes credit cards in Brazil, just not in that little town). By the time I finally managed to change some money, I was exhausted; I fell asleep on the bus to Blumenau and got off at the wrong stop in the middle of nowhere. Then some good Samaritans brought me to the center of their little town and then found a guy to drive me to the nearest bus station. By the time I got to Blumenau it was already dark, but the next two days were amazing. Blumenau has a huge German community, and I had gotten there right in time for Oktoberfest—reportedly the largest beer festival outside of Munich. It was incredible!
Then I spent a few R&R days in Balneario Camboriu: “our little Rio”, as the locals call it (they even have their own version of the Cristo Statue, quite beautiful). It’s a gorgeous seaside resort with very cheap accommodations, but unfortunately it’s virtually unknown outside of South America.
I’ve had many great trips, but this one is still the most memorable.
What suggestions can you give to rookies and newbies on FlyerTalk?
Well, I think the general attitude toward newbies has improved considerably as of late, but still, this is a community. If a newbie with a couple of posts comes in and wants one tip on how to get that free flight, well, they might still get a few tips here and there. But if you demonstrate you’re willing to put an effort, you’ll fare much better. On the other hand, don’t be thin-skinned if someone snaps at you. Some folks here might have a short fuse, but most are willing and happy to help.
Here is a piece of credit card advice for those newbies who, like me, don’t do a lot of business travel. What I strongly recommend is to think of new credit card sign-ups primarily in terms of a sign-up bonus. No other benefits come even close! Newbies can find everything about churning and churning strategies in my Amazon Kindle e-book: The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook: Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Travel the World FOR FREE. I also write about some of those things on my Facebook Page.
Are there any particular fellow FlyerTalk members whose advice you follow?
Oh yes! I love reading Rick, AlohaDaveKennedy, Happy, Amolkold, SBM12, and many others; really there are too many to list everyone.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see change on FlyerTalk?
Well, some sections are better organized and others are more disorganized. I would love to see things like FAQs and stickies to be cleaned up and up to date. There are some stickies that go back 8-10 years. Why not cut out and archive the stuff that’s no longer relevant? And then we snap at newbies who don’t feel like reading a 100-page thread . I know that’s a lot of work, but it would make FlyerTalk much more user-friendly and easier to research.
Have you attended or are you planning on attending any FlyerTalk related events?
I’m going to the Chicago Seminar in October. A lot of good people I admire are going to be there. Wouldn’t miss it for the world! Oh, and one of these days I will do one of those “DOs”. I don’t know when and where but I will .
Any other comments / questions / suggestions / advice?
FlyerTalk changed my life and for that I’m eternally grateful. I did travel before FlyerTalk, of course, because I have always had this bug in me, but with all the advice and expertise I’ve been getting here, there is no stopping me .
I remember doing those international air-courier flights, and I had that whole list of consolidators that needed to be updated all the time because they would frequently go out of business. I did one-way rentals to Florida, and while it was fun, it was also exhausting and time consuming. At one point, I was seriously contemplating using a cargo ship for a “cruise” to Chile. FlyerTalk made all those burdensome tricks unnecessary. But the most important though unintended consequence of learning from FlyerTalk was that I really started taking care of my credit. It had never been terrible, but I just needed this nudge to do that extra work and it helped me a lot in all aspects of my life, way beyond free miles and points programs.
Andy, thank you again for sharing with us. We’ve got a couple of thank you gifts to get to you, and your avatar will now show you, as one of the Faces of FlyerTalk for years to come.
Here are a few pictures Andy has shared with us:
TANGO IN TAHITI INTERVIEW – 10.04.2012
The best way to get to a romantic destination is by flying for free. We recently interviewed Andy Shuman, author of The Lazy Traveler’s Handbook – How to Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Travel for Free to see how earns about a 1,000,000 frequent flyer miles a year just using his credit cards:
TANGO; How many miles do you earn in a typical year?
ANDY: Things changed in 2011. Never before there were the kinds of bonuses that are available today. How long it’s going to last—who knows! I made well over a million miles last year, over 1.7 million with wife. This year, the offers are still great but not as great as they were back then. Besides, I’m currently holding some of the best cards, so can’t double on the bonus yet. Still I should be able to collect close to about 700k. There is still time until Christmas.
TANGO: What’s the single best flight or hotel experience you’ve had, and how many miles did you use for that experience?
ANDY: Flight: LAN Premium Business NYC-LIM with full flat beds and gourmet dining. It cost me 70,000 AAdvantage miles if I'[m not mistaken. Hotels are tougher. I’ve had fantastic stays at W in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac during the Quebec Carnival, Westin Diplomat in Fort Lauderdale among others. I think Westin Diplomat wins. It’s probably the nicest resort in the Continental US. The cost was 48,000 SPG points for 5 nights (12,000 nights per night, but the 5th night is free).
TANGO: If our readers could only sign up for one or two cards, which would you recommend?
ANDY: Both should be Citi AAdvantage Visa and American Express cards that can be signed up for simultaneously, and they will net you 100,000 American Airlines miles. That’s 4 domestic round trips or a business class to Europe. (EDITORS NOTE, Since this interview the mileage bonus for the AA card has changed, check out Andy’s blog for more details).
TANGO; If I’m willing to put a little time into applying for the right cards (my wife and I normally charge about $2,500 a month on cards) how many miles could I earn over the next year?
ANDY: Provided you don’t have more than one or two cards from the same issuer, I’d say 500,000 easy. You can, of course, get much more if you are persistent and willing to learn a few tricks.
TANGO: What do readers need to remember to protect their credit score and/or avoid paying fees?
ANDY: I have the whole chapter in my book dedicated to this exact matter. Basically, one has to remember it’s not for everyone. You should not play this game if you don’t pay your credit card balances in full on time, and/or if you expect to apply for a serious loan like mortgage within the next 18 months. You also have to monitor what’s going on with your credit report regularly. Fortunately, it’s easy and cheap (or even free). It does require some work, but the rewards are immense.