Miles Away Episode 16: Curating Your Trip With Social Media

Apr 17, 2019

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While many of us use Google, TripAdvisor and, of course, this lovely points and miles website to plan our travels, more and more people are looking to social media for vacation inspiration. On this episode of Miles Away, Zach Honig sits down with two members of TPG‘s social media team, Samantha Rosen and myself, Danielle Vito, to learn more on how we use social media to plan our adventures.

Sam and I touch on how we favor Instagram to find restaurants, activities and photo-worthy spots during our travels. I also share some insight on how to get the most out of Instagram’s best travel planning feature. We’ll dive into how influencers are playing a role and why you can’t believe everything you see on social media.

Finally, we finish off the episode talking about our favorite travel reward credit cards to earn points and miles.

You can play this episode of Miles Away above, or listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, including:
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Make sure to follow Samantha and Danielle on Instagram, where you can watch them put their social media travel tips into action.

If you have any questions, thoughts or topics you’d like us to cover, please email Zach at milesaway@thepointsguy.com, tweet him at @zachhonig or find him on Instagram — He’s @zachhonig there as well. And please don’t forget to subscribe!

Full Transcript:

Zach Honig: Hey Miles Away listener, it’s your host, Zach Honig. We wanna hear your feedback about the show. What kinds of topics do you want to hear more of or less of? Who would you love to hear me interview? And what destination should we cover? Do you have a favorite episode so far? We really wanna get your feedback, so please go to ThePointsGuy.com/Podcast. Again, ThePointsGuy.com/Podcast, to learn more, and please let me know by May 1st. Thanks and safe travels.

Zach Honig: Welcome to today’s episode of Miles Away. We are sitting down with Sam Rosen, TPG’s social media editor. Welcome, Sam.

Samantha Rosen: Thanks so much for having me.

Zach Honig: Moving on, Danielle Vito, our social media producer. Welcome, Danielle.

Danielle Vito: Hey, excited to be here.

Zach Honig: Funny that we have the social media team here. Our topic is how to travel using the power of social media. I’m gonna start with a bit of an anecdote, I guess. How I travel generally now is, I spend a lot of time researching destinations at first and then hotels. So I will look, and obviously we do a lot of hotel reviews, and I spend time reading reviews on other blogs, on Trip Advisor, all over Google. But I don’t really focus much effort on activities and restaurants. And so that’s really where social media platforms come into play. So once you’re on the ground, if I’m looking for somewhere to dine, I might pull up Trip Advisor, my Trip Advisor app. Sometimes Foursquare, which got some chuckles from the social media team before. But what platforms do people use or what do you guys use when you travel to find hot spots?

Danielle Vito: I personally use Instagram as a search engine, almost. The first thing I do is whenever I know where I’m traveling to, whatever destination, I’ll type in that destination and just start following a bunch of accounts. Like, for example, Bali. I type in “Bali” and you’ll see the top accounts that pop up are “Life in Bali” or “Living Bali” or Bali whatever. And I follow these accounts and then you can actually go about your day and not even proactively be planning, but you’re gonna get to your feed suggestions on where to go by what they’re posting.

Zach Honig: Are these aggregators? Do they pull in…

Danielle Vito: Yeah, so there’s…

Zach Honig: Posts from visitors and locals, things like that?

Danielle Vito: Yeah, exactly. So I would say pretty much every destination is going to have its own Instagram, whether it’s the tourism board or just people that love this place and created a themed Instagram based on Bali or wherever you’re going. So I follow these accounts and then what I do, which I don’t think a lot of people take advantage of, and I think it’s a great tool on Instagram, is the save feature. Do you guys use it?

Zach Honig: Yeah, it’s a little flag, right?

Danielle Vito: So on the right hand side under the photo is this little bookmark-y tab looking thing. If you click on it, it’ll just save the picture. But if you hold it down, you can create a folder.

Zach Honig: I did not know that.

Danielle Vito: Yeah. So if you hold it down, you can create a folder and what I’ll do, if I know I’m thinking of or I have plans to travel somewhere, I’ll create a folder for that destination. So I actually have folders and folders of destinations, whether they’re ones that I’m going to or ones that I’m planning on going to eventually. So when I plan on actually going there, I can just open this folder and I have a curated, by picture, list of things to do, places to see.

Zach Honig: So you not only know where to go but what to eat when you go to a restaurant.

Danielle Vito: What I like to do is besides just following these Instagrams, I like to look at the geotags. For example, in Paris, I’ll type in “Eiffel Tower,” and you’re gonna see the general pictures you always see of the Eiffel Tower, but you’re also gonna see people just tagging it because it’s in the background and they’re out to dinner somewhere and you see a restaurant that has a great view of the Eiffel Tower. Basically, you can geotag a restaurant and even though it’s not tagging Paris per se, it will come up under the Paris geotag.

Zach Honig: Oh, based on your GPS location.

Danielle Vito: Yeah. And I’m a very visual person, so I find that super helpful for me.

Zach Honig: Sam, how did you use social media on your trip to New Orleans?

Samantha Rosen: I did kind of 50/50 where it was a lot of my favorite restaurants that I went to while I was in college, but then there were a few that had opened up after I graduated and I wasn’t living there anymore. For example, this one spot called Turkey and the Wolf that I kept seeing come up on Instagram and on Eater and all the food sites of, like, “This is the best sandwich in the universe, you have to go.” So obviously I went. As far as during my general travels, I was in Hawaii about a month ago for work. I was on the inaugural Southwest flight from Oakland to Honolulu. When I found out I was going, my first reaction was, “I need to figure out where I’m going to eat.” So I went onto Google. I usually check The Infatuation there, my absolute favorite for finding out restaurants.

Zach Honig: Which is kind of a food blog but all over the world now.

Samantha Rosen: Yeah. They have guides for different cities and then they also have different restaurant reviews. Basically they help you figure out where you wanna eat for anything. And then I went on Eater, they do this cool thing. I believe it’s the “38 Best” in any city. So they round that up. So I kind of look for that as opposed to going on social media, going on Instagram, just kind of a different route.

Zach Honig: So there’s a few different ways to accomplish this.

Samantha Rosen: Exactly.

Danielle Vito: And then also, going off what Sam said, when I look up accounts, another big thing I do is look up foodie accounts in those cities. Because all cities have, like, foodie accounts designated to them. So that’s another really good one.

Zach Honig: How do you find them?

Danielle Vito: Just type in “New Orleans food” and you can just find, it comes up. I don’t know. Instagram’s a great place.

Samantha Rosen: Some people that I know actually run an account called NOLA Food Gals.

Zach Honig: So do you then purge your account after you take a trip?

Danielle Vito: Yes, oh my god. I do. So, it’s ’cause it’s sad. ‘Cause you’re not there anymore and I don’t wanna see a reminder of the things I didn’t… I can’t go back. I’m not going back. So I actually just unfollowed a ton of the Bali accounts that I was following ’cause I don’t wanna see them, ’cause I’m upset.

Zach Honig: So you’ve both been in TPG for a bit now, a few years in some cases. What would you say was your favorite trip? And do you remember, and it can be before TPG, I guess. But your favorite trip that you’ve booked, let’s say, with points and miles. How did you use social media to make that trip even better?

Samantha Rosen: Hard question. I think my favorite trip that was for work was when I went to Hong Kong and I got to fly Cathay Pacific first class, which was like the coolest thing that has ever and will ever happen to me. My life is all downhill. But we booked it using 70,000 Alaska miles.

Zach Honig: Yeah, that’s quite a deal.

Samantha Rosen: Which is the equivalent of about $1,200, $1,400 for like a $16,000 flight. When people are like, “How do you know when to use points or miles versus cash?” That is when.

Zach Honig: Did you look up pictures of first class on Instagram before?

Samantha Rosen: Oh yeah. Yeah. I saw your Instagram, I looked on TPG Reviews. I knew what it looked like and I knew what the city looked like. As far as Hong Kong, I was there for like three days. It was a really quick turnaround. But I was using the Hong Kong geotag to search different restaurants. I had researched a bunch of the different places on Google that I knew I wanted to go see and then I was on Instagram making sure that those were the places that people go to and they take pictures of that are still culturally relevant. I really wanted to get a taste for the city.

Zach Honig: So if you’re thinking about just getting into using social media to plan trips, is that what you’d recommend? Start with Google and, what search terms might you use? Like, “Hong Kong best dumplings?” Or…?

Samantha Rosen: So yeah, I think it depends what you’re searching for. I think as far as food, I would search for best restaurants in any city. I don’t really go off Trip Advisor and I don’t really go off Yelp because I think that those are people that either have something really good to say or something really bad to say, and I want something that is…

Zach Honig: There’s a lot of gaming, too…

Samantha Rosen: Totally. I don’t trust it, so I’ll kind of look at the different restaurants that are listed and then I’ll go on their Instagrams. I’ll either go to the geotag or their own account and then I’ll look at the different food or activity, whatever it is, so that I can get a little bit more of a sense of it. So I definitely did that for my Hong Kong trip.

Zach Honig: Did you find that you ended up eating the prettiest things you could find rather than…

Samantha Rosen: No. That’s a really good question and I go for the ones that A, look really good, and B, if the caption on the Instagram was, “Best dumplings I’ve ever had” or something like that. That kind of counts a lot for me.

Zach Honig: So Danielle, how about for Bali? I’m just gonna go out on a limb from looking at your pictures and say Bali was one of your best trips. Or you tell me.

Danielle Vito: It was. But it’s not the one I was going to say. I actually would say my favorite trip, my best points redemption would be for my honeymoon, when I went to French Polynesia. This was when I first really started getting into points and miles, and you know, what better time to do that than when you’re planning for a wedding? So you’re spending a ton of money. I had signed up for cards, my husband signed up for cards. So we had a ton of points. So I paid for the InterContinental, Thalasso Spa, which I know…

Zach Honig: That’s the nicer one.

Danielle Vito: Which I know … you didn’t go to. You went to the other one.

Zach Honig: I know. I visited for the day though. I went to Moana. Some [crosstalk 00:09:10] rough it a little bit.

Danielle Vito: But yeah, what a rough life. So I paid for that through a travel agency because I still didn’t know what I was doing. So I paid for that on my card and then I used me paying for that to get all the points for sign-up bonuses. So I was able to use points for Moorea, Tahiti, and I also stayed in LA and San Francisco on each end of the trip, all … stayed all on points.

Zach Honig: Now did you research each of these hotels on social media?

Danielle Vito: Yes. For sure. I used Trip Advisor a lot but I also like to see what I’m getting myself into besides the pictures that people post on Trip Advisor. Because the people that post on Instagram are a little better photographers. I was sold when I saw the coffee table that just looked down straight into the water. So I was like, “OK.”

Zach Honig: Oh yeah, the glass bottom floors.

Danielle Vito: Yes, so that sold me on Thalasso Spa.

Zach Honig: Do you even look at pictures on a hotel website now?

Danielle Vito: I do but it’s just a much more realistic representation on Instagram.

Zach Honig: This might be a good opportunity to talk about influencers, perhaps. I wanna know, what makes an influencer an influencer? Is it the number of followers? And what goes into some of those pictures that we see?

Danielle Vito: I feel like I have some influencer friends. I’m friends with the Blonde Abroad, she has 500,000 followers. I went to South Africa with her on this retreat that she runs, which was really fun. Basically, what I like in an influencer is someone who’s very genuine, not going to sugarcoat everything. Because when it comes down to it, travel is never perfect. Everyone has hiccups. So I like when people are really relatable. Rather than being like, “Here I am and my life is perfect and amazing…”

Zach Honig: “Here’s my tent on the side of a cliff.”

Danielle Vito: Yeah. I like to see their tent on the side of a cliff and be like, “I fell down the cliff and I scraped my legs.” I just find that more relatable, and I find that more fun to watch and you can relate to it a lot more.

Samantha Rosen: I was gonna say something similar. I think the biggest thing for me is trust, especially with the landscape of social media now when it’s so easy to just post a pretty picture and call it a day. But you wanna know that the person that you’re looking at is actually telling you the truth and that, you know, they’re not promoting anything that they wouldn’t buy themselves or going anywhere that they wouldn’t do themselves. I admittedly follow more of brands than actual influencers. I think that there’s very few influencers that I genuinely trust. I really like Lindsey Silverman, I like [inaudible 00:11:42]. She’s a New York City fitness, health lifestyle influencer, does a decent amount of travel too. So I think I’m more looking for real people than opposed to just someone who’s just like, “Here’s a cool picture of me living my best life.”

Samantha Rosen: There’s always something behind the picture. Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram.

Danielle Vito: Oh yeah. Well going off of that, when I was in Bali, there’s this beautiful spot that I’ve seen on Instagram and I knew I had to go there.

Zach Honig: Are there rice paddies involved?

Danielle Vito: No. So I mean, yes, that’s obviously beautiful and I’ve been there and that was really great, but there’s this one spot. It’s called, in English, it translates to the Gates of Heaven. On Instagram, you see the pictures of it, it’s these huge two, like templ-y looking gates and right in front of it is this beautiful, calm body of water where the sky reflects into it and the pictures just look amazing with the clouds reflecting into the water.

Danielle Vito: So when I got there, I see the gates but I don’t see the water — and I realized that there’s a man, a local man, that sits in front of the thing and takes pictures for tourists and he puts a little mirror under the camera phone. It’s not really a body of water!

Zach Honig: Oh my god. Okay.

Danielle Vito: It’s a mirror! So I put (it) in the caption, because like I said, I like influencers that are transparent and are honest and I wanted to say, “I had looked so forward to seeing this in real life and it wasn’t what I expected.” So sometimes you have to remember, Instagram isn’t always what… what it seems.

Samantha Rosen: Cheers to that.

Zach Honig: So I ended up downloading, I forget the name of it, but I downloaded this app because it was on sale and I’m a sucker for a good sale.

Samantha Rosen: Love a good sale, same.

Zach Honig: So it was marked down from $2.99 to $1.99.

Danielle Vito: What a steal.

Zach Honig: Heck of a deal. Anyway, the way it works is it does an extended exposure. And so even in daylight, and it can just combine all of these elements and the idea is that you get rid of all the people and the cars. And so you could be at, like, the Colosseum in Rome and if you didn’t want all the tourists standing around in front of it…

Samantha Rosen: That’s amazing.

Zach Honig: It’s amazing but then it’s also not realistic at all.

Samantha Rosen: Right, right. Like, you’re never gonna go to the Colosseum in Rome without 5,000 people.

Zach Honig: Exactly.

Danielle Vito: Well, you know what a lot of influencers are doing now is they’re taking these shots — I don’t know if you’ve seen them, I follow so many so I see them all the time — but they’ll do a magical place and then it’s the perfect time where birds are flying by. And they Photoshop birds in. That’s a really big thing, actually.

Samantha Rosen: And the snow. The snow is a big thing there too. They Photoshop snow falling down.

Zach Honig: Before we take a break and jump into some points and miles, do you guys have anything else you wanna add?

Danielle Vito: Yeah, I think just also, another really good place for, especially women to find travel influence on social media, would be in Facebook groups. There’s some really great solo female traveler groups and maybe you’ll even see one coming from The Points Guy soon.

Zach Honig: Ahhh cool. A little foreshadowing.

Danielle Vito: There’s one called Girls Love Travel. It’s actually a huge, huge group. There’s 700,000 women in that group. And you can ask questions and basically, whatever question you have, you can probably type it in the search bar and find it already answered. But it’s really great for people traveling alone because you can see what places are safe, recommendations from a female’s perspective, and I think that’s really great, especially if you’re traveling solo.

Zach Honig: Do you follow any blogs as well? I feel like there’s a lot of…

Danielle Vito: I actually use Pinterest a lot because everything that’s on there, mostly, is written by a lot of female bloggers, actually. Because 80 percent of Pinterest users are female. So I actually like the blogs because they’re much more personal than just reading a website’s guide to something. Like, this is much more, “Here’s what I did and how I did it,” and I like that because I can kind of tweak it to what I would like to do and it’s just more personal. So I do like to use Pinterest for that, for sure.

Zach Honig: So let’s take a quick break right here and then when we come back, we’re gonna talk about how you guys accumulate your points and miles.

(Commercial break.)

Zach Honig: So, tell me a little bit about how you use points and miles when you travel and your go-to credit cards.

Samantha Rosen: So I knew nothing about points and miles when I started working at TPG almost two years ago. And now I’m the person that my friends are like, “What credit card should I get?” And even random people on Instagram. The primary way to get points and miles just in general is through sign-up (welcome) bonuses on credit cards. As far as everyday spend, if you’ve been paying attention, I really like food. So my Amex Gold is really my go-to. It gives you an (up to) $120 statement credit and 4X points on dining. So it really does add up. So that’s kind of my go-to for food. And then, just in terms of everyday purchases, I go to Soul Cycle or go shopping, whatever basic girls do in Manhattan. I use either my Amex Everyday or my Chase Freedom and in terms of my favorite overall travel card, probably gonna have to say Amex Platinum.

Samantha Rosen: I think that the perks it gives you, I know this is such a debate in the points and miles world, but I like the perks it gives you better than the Reserve. I like my Sky Club access and my Centurion Lounge access. The 5X on airfare is huge. And even just the elite status that it gives you, I now have gold status on Marriott which isn’t huge, but it’s something. It adds up.

Samantha Rosen: The thing is though, because I’ve used my Amex cards a lot, I’ve got a ton of Amex points so I transferred 58,000 to Aeroplan, which is Air Canada’s loyalty program, and it shows award availability, which is another way to say using your points for a flight on different Star Alliance airlines such as United, Lufthansa, Turkish. So I was able to book a one-way trip to Croatia on Turkish Airlines in business, which was honestly unreal. The food was really good. It lives up to the hype. And, yeah, it was a really, really good way to start my trip and I think I only paid $10 in taxes and fees or something like that.

Zach Honig: Oh wow. And some carriers do have fuel surcharges … but Turkish does not.

Samantha Rosen: Lufthansa has big surcharges, so look out for that one.

Zach Honig: How about you Danielle?

Danielle Vito: So unlike Sam, I use the CSR.

Samantha Rosen: We’ve got a rivalry here.

Danielle Vito: So I have the CSR.

Zach Honig: Which is the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Danielle Vito: Yes. The Chase Freedom Unlimited. And I have the Chase Freedom, actually.

Zach Honig: That is the trifecta.

Danielle Vito: Yes, I just need to be a business now and get the Ink. But I, like Sam — I eat out a lot, so 3X points on CSR is great. Travel, Ubers, it gives me a good excuse to get Ubers when I shouldn’t be, especially when you have that $300 credit. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a $300 credit, whatever. Let me buy Ubers everywhere I go.”

Samantha Rosen: I get 200 on my Amex Platinum.

Danielle Vito: I actually have a question. So I have a Delta Amex Platinum, which gets you free baggage and stuff. But then also, I wanna use my CSR because I get the points and also the travel protection. But also free baggage. So, like, how do you pick?

Zach Honig: The Platinum really comes in handy if you’re trying to earn medallion qualifying miles.

Danielle Vito: I’m almost Silver. Isn’t that amazing? Silver?

Zach Honig: Very close, Silver within sight.

Samantha Rosen: Can I have your autograph?

Zach Honig: Silver’s such an…

Danielle Vito: No, it was last year.

Zach Honig: It really depends a lot on how you travel and how you spend, but if you’re not going for status and you use the CSR for most of your purchases, it might not make sense to pay the annual fee on the Delta Platinum as well.

Danielle Vito: More so, when I’m booking a flight, do I wanna get that free baggage or do I wanna feel safe with the travel protection?

Zach Honig: Ah, right, because you need to book it with the Delta card. That’s a good question.

Danielle Vito: And that’s what I am always like, “Hm, what should I do?”

Zach Honig: You need to earn the Silver status so that you get a free bag anyway.

Danielle Vito: Yeah, I know. Maybe this year.

Samantha Rosen: Good work-around.

Zach Honig: Have you transferred your Chase points to partners at all?

Danielle Vito: I only really started out with the CSR. So only the China Eastern trip that I did.

Zach Honig: And you booked that directly so that you got 1.5 cents in value towards a paid ticket, which gives you, kind of, unlimited options.

Danielle Vito: I don’t know. I just did it on Chase.

Zach Honig: Perfect. Well done. Good redemption.

Samantha Rosen: You did well.

Danielle Vito: And then another card I really love is the IHG card, just for having your Platinum number [crosstalk 00:20:03].

Zach Honig: And you get a free night each year.

Danielle Vito: Yeah, you get a free night. Unfortunately, they downgraded it. Now it has to be under 40,000 points. But before, that’s how, I used that card when I went to Moorea and I was staying at the InterContinental Moorea and it was amazing.

Zach Honig: That’s what I did at the InterContinental Bora Bora Moana.

Danielle Vito: Yeah, yeah. It’s a great card and when I went, I mean, other places do this too, but when I went there, they literally made me feel like a princess. As soon as I got there, they brought me to a special spa with champagne….

Zach Honig: Yeah, me too.

Danielle Vito: Yeah, I’m sure, you felt like a princess. And then they had a whole dinner, like, a VIP dinner and they brought us out during sunset with passed hors d’oeuvres and champagne. It was amazing. That was at InterContinental in Bora Bora.

Zach Honig: You’re making me feel so bad about my Moana choice.

Samantha Rosen: Hey, I haven’t been to any of these.

Zach Honig: It’s a great movie, by the way.

Danielle Vito: I watched Moana, I watched it on my way back. It was so…

Samantha Rosen: On brand.

Zach Honig: Let’s wrap up by telling me how to find your content on social media, Destination Danielley.

Danielle Vito: Well that’s it. @destinationdanielley. I try to have fun pictures of pretty places, so give me a follow.

Samantha Rosen: And I’m @Samantha_Rosen, R-O-S-E-N. Don’t forget to follow The Points Guy on Instagram. We run that.

Zach Honig: I always forget that.

Samantha Rosen: Shameless plug.

Zach Honig: Good job. Okay.

Danielle Vito: And The Points Pups because they’re very cute.

Samantha Rosen: And The Points Pups, they are really cute.

Danielle Vito: Follow all of our socials while we’re at it. We have Facebook, we have Twitter.

Samantha Rosen: We have all the things. Please follow us.

Danielle Vito: Pinterest, Linkedin.

Zach Honig: Well thank you so much for joining.

Samantha Rosen: Thank you, thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Zach Honig: Thank you for coming, safe travels everyone.

Samantha Rosen: Thanks for having us, Zach.

Danielle Vito: Bye.

Zach Honig: That’s all for this episode of Miles Away. Thanks again to Sam Rosen, TPG’s Social Media Editor and Danielle Vito, our social media producer, for joining me on the podcast today. This episode was produced by Margaret Kelley and Caroline Schagrin, with editing by Ryan Gabbos. Our music is by Alex Schiff. If you’ve been enjoying Miles Away so far, please subscribe, rate and review on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you choose to listen.

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