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You might know travel blogger Matthew Kepnes as Nomadic Matt. He’s been traveling the world on a budget for over six years now and recently published a book called How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, which contains tips and tricks to cut your trip expenses in half – including how to maximize points and miles – whether you are going away for two weeks or two months. I talked to Matt about his travel tips, the new book and how he uses points and miles to get where he needs to go. Here’s what he had to say.
Question: In the broadest terms, how do you see miles and points as part of your strategy to travel on a budget? Is it simply about getting farther cheaper or is there more to it than that?
Answer: Miles are incredibly important to reducing travel costs. For me, all my points are geared towards saving money on flights. I’m not really into staying at hotels so I rarely use my points for that. But flying around the world can cost thousands of dollars. And if you’re traveling as a couple or a family, that cost goes way up! Even a simple flight to Europe these days can cost around $1,000 USD. Therefore for me, I use miles and points as a way to reduce my airfare costs so I can travel more often at a cheaper cost. I especially love the Oneworld Explorer RTW ticket because you can get around the world for only about 120,000 miles. Incredible deal.
Q: When did miles/points become a major part of your travel strategy and why?
A: I didn’t get on this gravy train until very late. When I first started traveling around the world in 2006, I had a Citi Premier Pass card that I had gotten in 2005. I used the points I earned on that card get a free flight to Europe and a cash rebate of $300 dollars. After that, it was years before I got a rewards card. It can be hard to get and use American credit cards when you’re traveling and living overseas.When I came back in 2008 for a few months, I started collecting points credit cards and using them more and more often. I always knew they were great and should be used but it wasn’t until I came back to the States and could sit down and learn about these that I really got into them.
Q: Do you ever use miles and points to “splurge” on a luxury experience? If so, why, and how do you decide to use them like this?
A: I’m a miles hoarder. I collect, collect, and collect and when it comes to spend, I hate doing it! I cringe when I click “pay with miles.” But when I do use them, I tend to splurge. I use them for first class flights, upgrades, and nights in 5-star hotels. I go big. I fly a lot so I’m in economy a lot and if I’m going to have all these points, I want to use them for something better than I normally experience.
Q: What would you say has been your best use of airline miles and why?
A: Well, if by best you mean greatest experience, I would have to say firstclass British Airways. In 2010, right after they upgraded their first class cabin and built the T5 lounge at Heathrow, I used miles to fly first class from London to New York City and it was an amazing experience. I still remember asking the flight attendant if I could see the rest of the plane. His response? “Matt, you’re first class, you can do whatever you want!” Flying London to Hong Kong on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Deck was pretty fun too.
Q: What about hotel points?
A: The W brand is my favorite hotel brand in the world and I love staying at them. Sadly, they cost a lot of money per night so I use points. I have a Starwood Amex Business card that I use almost all the time. They have the best redemption program for hotels and conversion to other airlines so I stick with that card. I don’t use any other hotel cards or points programs. If a good sign up bonus happens, I may get a hotel card for that and bank the points for a later date but I won’t actively use the card.
Q: Do you have a preferred points-earning credit card? If so, which one and why?
A: For business I use a Starwood Amex card. For personal uses, I use an American Airlines Citi card as I’m a loyal American Airlines/Oneworld customer. Outside of that, I just sign up for card bonuses, collect the miles, and then toss the card. I try to keep everything simple and not use a lot of cards simply because I’m on the road a lot and it can get cumbersome keeping track of everything.
Q: Do you have any favorite tricks for using miles/points for budget travel that your average traveler might not know about or consider?
A: Well, since you’re The Points Guy, you’ve probably explained everything better than I ever could. You’re the expert but my personal favorite way of collecting miles that’s pretty simple is to put my parents on my cards and have them use them. This way I earn a ton of miles without having to spend anything. At the end of the month, my parents will send me money for what they spent and I pay off the bills. I think for a lot of people, especially young people who might not have a lot of expenses to meet spending limits or gain miles, this is a good option. At least, if you trust you’re parents to pay you back and really, who wouldn’t?!
A: It’s hard to unlearn all the marketing and ads we see. All you see advertised are fancy resorts, hotels, expensive cruises, and tours, right? Even those “deals” are often a lot of money. It’s because only big companies have large advertising budgets and the more expensive tours you buy, the easier it is to make money. Bombarded by this for a lifetime, people assume this is how travel is. But it’s not. The industry isn’t lying, they just omit all the travel that won’t pull in millions in ad revenue, which is about 99% of travel. I hate to use the cliche but if you travel like how locals life, any destination becomes affordable. If you stay in family owned guesthouses, eat at the local markets, take the public transportation, and stay away from the big box hotels, resorts, and restaurants located near them, you’ll save a ton of money.