The Secrets of Travel Grrrls

5 07 2014

This is the grass hut we stayed at while living on an elephant sanctuary in Thailand

Today we hosted a Meetup group of vegetarians for a potluck lunch (called a pitch-in here in Indiana). We had just flown in the day before from Montana, and were excitedly sharing stories about our trip to hike Glacier National Park. Meanwhile, one of our guests was looking through our photo album from Thailand, and we started sharing stories about staying at the elephant sanctuary, and the sound of elephants purring. After a few minutes of talking about all the places we have traveled, one guy in the room looked at me incredulously and said, “what do you DO?”


I laughed, and briefly explained that we don’t come from rich families, or make six figures (in fact my wife just graduated and we are a single income family right now). We are just travel lovers who have found a way to travel as much as possible on the cheap. We camp, we use mass transit when we can, we bring our own snacks, and the most expensive part is really just getting there. I’m pretty sure he still thinks we are filthy rich and that’s the only way you could see the world like we do. Here’s our little secret…


About a year and a half ago, my wife and I started exploring this new hobby. We collect air miles. we had heard about it from others but were suspicious at first. “Surely, this ruins their credit score,” I presumed, since it involves repeatedly opening up new credit cards that award you bonus miles when you sign up. As it turns out, it’s legit. And after reaping the benefits for over a year, I can honestly say it is too legit to quit.


Hiking Kauai's version of the Grand Canyon in Hawaii

Hiking Kauai’s version of the Grand Canyon in Hawaii

What changed my mind was when we met another older couple who was already doing this. We were staying in an AirBnB (peer-to-peer room rental) on the island of Kauai. We were there for just 3 days, on our way back home from our epic honeymoon in southeast Asia. The place we were staying was a large home with 5 bedrooms, a large shared kitchen and dining area, and an outdoor pool and hot tub. And it cost half as much as a boring hotel on the beach, while giving us a view to Hidden Falls out the back door. Another couple staying there was telling us about how they flew there for free. FREE. Really? We were doubtful.


After talking with them (and basically grilling the husband), I was finally convinced enough to give it a try. He explained that there was this website, MillionMileSecrets, run by another couple who does this way more intensely, and makes money telling other people their methods and the latest deals. Once you find the right deal for your goal (maybe with a particular airline, or hotel versus flight points), you apply, and then you must spend a certain amount of money on that card in a given time in order to earn the bonus miles. When we first started, the goal was relatively easy. We would have to spend $1000 on a card within 3 months, and then earn 30,000 bonus miles (which is enough for a free domestic flight!). Of course, these cards also award you points or miles for every dollar you spend on that card from there on out. But the big money is in the bonuses.


THE CREDIT DING?Credit-Scale-pic1

Every time you apply for a credit card, you get a hard inquiry into your credit report. This shows up as a ding, usually about 5 points or less. The drop in your credit score is temporary and it goes back up in a few months. If you start out with a good credit score, like my score of 815, 5 points is pretty minimal and does not impact my ability to do things like, say, get a mortgage for a house. Over the past year or so we’ve been doing this, we have actually applied for and received a new mortgage with no problem, and a great rate with no points, so we can personally vouch for this being a true statement.



Credit-cardThis only works if you PAY OFF your credit cards in full every month. If you can’t afford to spend your target goal (like $1000) without risking exceeding your budget, then you should not be looking into this right now. The trick is to funnel all of your expenses onto that one card that you are working on hitting a goal for bonus miles, and you need to be pretty organized and diligent in keeping track of all of this. We have an online spreadsheet that logs which cards we have used in the past, how long ago we closed it, and then we enter in the new card goal and deadline, so we know whether or not we are going to be able to spend enough to earn the bonus miles. If you are unable to devote some time to this hobby, you’re likely to end up wasting your time with little reward.



Believe it or not, it’s not that hard to hit some of the target spend goals. You just have to get a little creative, and sometimes decide if it’s worth it. We are always looking for things we can pay for with credit card. Besides the obvious stuff like gas and groceries, there may be other places that you already are spending that much each month, and it could be earning you miles. Utility bills? Laundromat? Restaurants? Home improvement projects?1601579_592594560823172_69793799_n


Some cards have been easy for us, and others we have had to work hard and plan ahead. For example, we knew we were going to need to buy a new washer and dryer when we moved, so we planned to open a new card around the same time, so we could use that big-ticket purchase to count towards a card with a much larger goal. We also had to have our house insulated, so we found a contractor who would let us pay for the materials ourselves with our credit card, and we just paid him for the labor. We’ve even found some contractors who were willing to accept partial payment in the form of Home Depot gift cards (which we bought with credit card) instead of a check. And if you are getting close to your deadline but still haven’t made your spend goal, you can pay ahead for some things by buying gift cards for yourself to places like gas stations and grocery stores.



bk grinell hikeAfter playing this card game for over a year, we have had a total of 6 credit cards, earned over 200,000 miles, and also received other perks like free checked bags, sky club membership, and discounts on other items via our card membership. This year alone we have used these free Delta miles to get one free ticket to Croatia, one free ticket to Montana to hike Glacier National Park, A free ticket to have my wife join me on a business trip to Raleigh, NC, and two free tickets to fly to Las Vegas for a road trip through Zion National Park in Utah and the Havasu Falls in northern Arizona. And we just got an email yesterday stating that we have earned another free Delta Companion Fare to use anytime in the next year. In January we are planning to fly to Florida to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday, and roll in a trip to the Everglades and the Florida Keys, all using stockpiled miles. With 175,000 miles sitting in my American Airlines account, I’m not even sure where we will go next!cambodia thailand 455



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