Online since last May, TravelWithGrant follows the points and miles life of Grant Thomas.
Grant’s a points and miles buff who fills his site with valuable information about the financials of free travel and trip reports detailing his points and miles-powered adventures.
He loves Segway tours, and has been on seven of them thus far. He’s traveled to Hawaii, Europe and across the United States using points and miles.
His site is filled with information not just for those looking to save big on travel, but to save money in general by effectively utilizing some of the great points and cashback-earning mechanisms out there. We sat down with him for a quick interview recently:
How did you first begin to discover the power of miles and points programs?
I got into the crazy world of miles and points on accident when I was in the back side of a mini van on a short family road trip. I stumbled onto Frequent Miler‘s blog and the rest was history. This was back in March 2011. Fast forward to today, I currently have my own travel blog that I created last May.
What led you to start TravelWithGrant?
I was reading several miles/points blogs from BoardingArea.com, to The Points Guy, to Million Mile Secrets and others and I felt like I knew enough that I could contribute and make a difference in the miles/points community.
At the time, I was a recent college graduate and looking for a job/career. I was frustrated that it was so hard to find a job that I thought blogging would be a good use of time and maybe impress potential companies to hire me. After blogging for a few months, I was hired by an in-flight entertainment company and it was a perfect fit. Without my blog, I don’t know what I would be doing.
What was the first trip you were able to book using miles?
I think the first trip that I booked with my own miles was a Delta flight to visit a college friend of mine who moved to Iowa. I had signed up for a Delta SkyMiles credit card and had 30,000 SkyMiles in my account.
At the time, I didn’t know about award tickets who how to search Delta’s website (I still don’t know how to!), so I ended up using 30,000 Delta SkyMiles for $300 toward a Delta flight with their Pay with Miles option. That was my first “true” adventure into miles/points.
Since then, I have booked several flights for myself, my family, my relatives, and some close friends, all with miles. Living in SoCal, I tend to fly Southwest Airlines a lot and love using Rapid Reward Points to fly to San Francisco or to Las Vegas for the weekend.
What’s the most outrageous value you’ve received by redeeming miles and points?
I took my friend from college and the hotel upgraded us to the Honeymoon Suite and provided complimentary buffet breakfast for both days. Total retail cost was probably €1,100 per night plus €90 for breakfast, but it only cost me €10 at checkout. That was awesome!
How do friend and family look at your miles and points hobby?
My parents get it. I tell them which credit cards to apply for, I have them add me as an authorized user and then I help them do most of the minimum spend requirements. My younger brother (senior at UCLA) doesn’t understand credit cards. He still uses his Wells Fargo debit card for everything. He is a lost cause. My relatives and very open to suggestions. I am their on-demand travel agent.
Only a few of my friends understand the hobby. They see all the fun of free trips and nice hotels but they don’t understand how it is possible. They want the free travel but they don’t want to invest the time and energy in learning how to make it happen. I’m trying to follow the axiom “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Let me just say that it is quite hard to teach people to fish…
What are your favorite airline and hotel programs and why?
For US travel, I really like the Southwest Airlines program. If you book early enough and during their frequent promotions, you can score great deals on flights.
A close second is the British Airways program. It is great for short flights on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines. I have booked several 4,500 and 7,500 Avios awards with British Airways.
For hotels, I really like Club Carlson. If you have the US Bank Club Carlson credit card, the stays are incredibly cheap and it’s easy to manufacture points. In terms of best hotel experience, I am a big fan of Hilton, especially as an HHonors Gold member. I thought Hilton was dead after their massive devaluation in 2013, but it is not as bad as you think. If you don’t mind staying at lower-tier hotels, there is still great value to be had with Hilton HHonors points or with Cash and Points.
For international air travel, I am a big fan of US Airways off-peak travel to Europe. You can’t beat 30,000 miles roundtrip to Europe, especially coming from the West Coast. I have gone to Europe in January of each of the last two years and I loved it. Being in SoCal, you don’t get much cold weather or snow, so it is a nice change of scenery going to Europe during winter. Plus, winter in Italy or other southern countries is not as bad as you think.
What is the most important piece of advice you’d offer to someone taking their first steps into the world of points and miles?
Hmm, if my friend asked me that question, I would tell him to start small and apply for one credit card from the major banks. I would recommend the Chase Freedom, the Citi Dividend, and the Discover It credit cards. They have no annual fees and you can rack up cash/miles/points quickly with 5x categories.
You have to build your credit score/history before you can qualify for the best travel reward credit cards. Some people have to work harder at it than others, but everyone can get there. You have to practice self control and financial responsibility. If you can’t handle those things, then the travel reward credit cards are not for you.
Of course, there are many other steps along the way, but you have to start small. Once you become more accustomed to the travel miles/points game, you can start branching out into airline credit cards, hotel credit cards, and transferable points credit cards.
This is a long term approach with very few shortcuts along the way. You could spend years reading the various miles/points blogs, you can go to travel conferences like FTU or the Chicago Seminars, and still not know everything. But that’s not the point. Just learn enough to build up a balance of miles and points and then learn how to redeem them.
Thanks to Grant for taking the time to share his story with us!