Mileage junkies, mileage addicts, points professionals — whatever you want to call them, they’re out there, and they’re working the system in ways you never thought possible. Recently, we had the good fortune to chat with one of the best.
David Atlas (not his real name) lives in Maine and is a husband, father of two and owner of two businesses. His friends call him the “Miles King,” namely because Atlas has traveled more in the past four years than many do in a lifetime — and he’s done it all on miles and points. Atlas’s excursions have included:
- St. Lucia (free airfare and free hotel suite with private plunge pool)
- Aruba (free airfare for six and free two-bedroom hotel suite with kitchen)
- St. John (free airfare for 10, two three-bedroom villas with private plunge pools, five First-Class upgrades on return)
- Cayman Islands (free airfare for six and free hotel room)
- Margarita Island, Venezuela (free airfare for six and free hotel suite)
- St. Thomas (free airfare for six and free two-bedroom suite, plus three free nights at the Ritz Carlton)
- St. Thomas (free airfare for five and a free suite)
- Belize (free airfare for eight)
Remarkably, Atlas earned all of those awards despite the fact he typically only takes about 4-6 flights a year. Most of his points and miles are earned on credit cards, phone lines and from online shopping.
Mr. Atlas graciously took the time to fill in the blanks for Inside Flyer. Pay attention … you might learn something. (we started David off with just the few bold words and let him talk…)
If you haven’t bought the OnePass prestige pack, you are not a miles addict
It thrills me to plan award trips. I even have a system I go through. I play a special CD in the background to set the “planning mood.” The CD is from Amiedus: Songs of Sanctuary album, title track #1 “Amiedus”. I play it over and over. Why? This is where my first free redemption started. I booked my first award trip to St. Lucia in 1998, and I remember being on hold with Delta Air Lines forever. In the background this song played over and over again while on hold. It kind of affected me in a positive, therapeutic way, and I need it to get me juiced up to be on hold with airlines and hotels for several minutes. Also, it thrills me to put company charges on credit cards and rake in the miles, while most people are thrilled to write checks … go figure!
There are few people who will purposely go to the same restaurants over and over again to earn extra points from iDine. Thankfully, my lovely wife is supportive of my hobby, and my kids are too young to debate why we go to the same places.
What I love is to talk about real estate and miles. I just wish there were more people in my circle that had the same interests.
It’s not right that airlines charge you after you book a reservation to make any changes, but hotels and car rentals don’t!
What happened on September 11th does make me think it will be more challenging to use miles in the future. Not because of people redeeming miles; I think that will go down because of fears. It will be more challenging because of fewer airlines left on the scene. There will be takeovers and closures, which will make less overall seats available.
I don’t want anyone to think that this is a breeze. It takes work; work every week to keep track of what miles I’m earning and so forth.
When it comes to elite memberships, I’m not too interested. That doesn’t mean I do not try to get upgraded to first class, I have done so successfully in the past. It means that it is not my primary goal. I am gold in some hotel programs, but believe me, it’s not from stays. I have no elite airline status in any airlines, and I am a member of all the majors.
I’ve earned miles from so many methods that sometimes it can get very overwhelming to keep track of all the postings into the proper accounts … but not enough to stop.
Why should there be a two-percent fee to pay federal income taxes on a credit card? I refuse to do it.
If I can help someone see the light of “getting out of the rat race of debt” and earning miles at the same time to travel with his or her family, it makes the cost of giving out info that ultimately uses up free seats worth it.
I never ask if any merchant takes Diners Club, because I’ve never tried the card!
The ability to earn the amounts of miles that I have earned is probably out of the reach of the average person, but not impossible. It must be said that when you own a business, the ability increases dramatically. You have numerous phone lines and credit card charges, you can buy online to increase the bonuses, and decide which airline to fly and where to stay and rent cars. Most people do not have that liberty, and that limits their earning potential. It’s amazing to me how many people I talk to fail to earn any type of rewards. Instead of earning points for airlines or hotels, they have a card that does nothing. I guess I shouldn’t complain, because it leaves more seats for my family. They just don’t get it!
The first thing people ask me is usually one of two questions. First, what is the interest rate on the card? I love this question, because the answer is always the same … I have no idea! Truly! I do not finance anything. People give me the strangest looks, and then ask the same question again … “Yeah, but you must have an idea of the interest rate” … nope! Couldn’t tell you. Second, how do you earn all those miles? I explain, but it is useless many times, because people rarely put in the effort that I am willing to put in.
If everybody knew how fun and rejuvenating tropical travel can be…
I think in terms of assets/liabilities, increase net worth/decrease net worth, income/expense, and how I can earn miles/points when it comes to every decision I make. This has truly helped me in life. I also think car rental (award) programs and their coupons stink and are useless!
I did something a little unique. I had a client who owed me $12,000, and I knew they would never be able to pay me. They were a time-share company with their own property, and I foresaw that they were heading toward bankruptcy. Being preemptive, I knew I’d lose my money, so I approached them and offered a trade. They accepted, and we swapped a 2-bedroom in February at a major location on their system. So I have a deeded timeshare, for free. Then, if you can believe it, two years later I bought another one from my relatives for $2000. Now, because of these two time-shares I have shifted more to earning airline miles.
A good rule that has helped me is to simply be flexible with my travel dates! I think this is the biggest reason that I have been able to book so many people on flights. I try to travel before peak — Dec 15 — so most of my year-end travel is between Nov 1st and Dec 14th. I have never been denied seats during this time. On my next trip to Belize I booked eight seats on Northwest on the first phone call in less than 20 minutes. I even got the first dates I asked for.
I’ve always been willing to switch credit cards for promotional reasons. I write letters closing out past cards to keep my credit score above 700.
If I had to pick between earning miles or points, I think I would be one of the few that would pick hotel points. In my opinion they (Marriott & Starwood, particularly) are worth more. This formula works for me when it comes to travel from, say for example, the U.S. to the Caribbean for my family. If you were traveling outside North America, then this formula would be switched.
How much money someone would have to spend to have enjoyed what I have enjoyed for free would truly stun people.
When I started earning miles, I knew I would be good at it. I am a big-picture type person, but when it comes to hobbies I go into detail mode. I think to be successful in earning miles and points you need to be more of a detail person.
I’ve always liked the Maldives Islands (haven’t gone yet). Also, I’ve always liked Delta Air Lines and Continental … I’m not sure why.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be profiled in InsideFlyer? Send along your reasons why and perhaps you’ll be able to share some of the very same thoughts, tips and words that got this reader featured.