What is realistic? How long does it take to travel like an award blogger?

Discussion in 'Newbies' started by TXtravelnut, Jun 25, 2016.  |  Print Topic

  1. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    Howdy!
    I have always loved traveling. Grew up traveling with my family, and now as a married lady want to continue traveling.

    I recently went to Kauai for 10 days with my husband. We got to fly round trip from DFW using mileage. IT WAS AWESOME! I am hooked. However, those 160,000 miles took me 5 yrs to earn! I am left with about 48,000 miles still. Anyway, I am reading award travel blogs nonstop for the past few months. Never again will it take me THAT long (to earn so much mileage), I hope.

    So what is realistic? I get that the bloggers have been doing this for a long time. In some cases, it's now their main job. I don't expect to travel quite as much as them, but I would like to have 4-5 free trips a year (at least hotel or air covered). That is the goal. Probably 1-2 of them international. I have amazing travel flexibility as I own my own business.


    In my spare time, I am ALWAYS reading and trying to learn about points/miles. But no one ever really tells their STORY. How long did it take them to fly international first class, etc? How long did it take them to fly for free (what appears to be) so frequently?

    How long did it take those with multiple credit cards, to sign up for them at once? I feel like I'm always reading about how bloggers will sign up for like 6 credit cards in a row. When can I get there? Small business specialist at Chase told me I need to wait 6 months between each new card. Is this true?

    Current card situation:

    I got the Hyatt VISA in April. Used it at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. We racked up a TON of points from that. To date, I have a little over 51,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points.

    I have the Citi American Airlines Advantage card. Got it in 2011. This is the card we used to fly free to Kauai on.

    I shop for every thing I possibly can on the AA shopping portal. I only buy what I would normally buy.

    I've educated myself about the next card I'll get (Chase biz card).

    I understand that I must be able to afford the minimum spend for each card. I always pay my credit card bills in full. In fact, I have never, ever not paid the full monthly balance. I have a 740 score.

    We have a good reliable, income.
     
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  2. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    You seem to believe that the "travel bloggers" only use points to buy their trips. That's far from reality.

    If you aren't churning massive volumes of transactions - either manufactured spending or reimbursed business expenses - across a CC then you're much better off looking for sale/mistake fares and using those to just go where you want when you want.
     
  3. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    I should have been more clear. I don't think it's only the "travel bloggers". They are just the most obvious ones, bc I read their blogs.

    What does churning massive volumes of transactions mean? We normally spend 3-7k each month on our credit card.
     
  4. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    So what's your travel award story? How long did it take you to reach your travel goals?
     
  5. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I mostly pay for my flights. I buy whatever is cheap and go there. I still collect points and redeem opportunistically, but that's not my only means to get to travel. I probably redeem ~150k per year, though I haven't checked in a while. I also redeem in Y a decent amount because the value proposition is better to me. I'd prefer more trips if I can stretch it out.

    I make it work by having a flexible work life that allows me to be productive even when on the road. I cut out most other discretionary spending for the sake of traveling more. And I'm willing to book random flights, piece together trips (my month away over Christmas through late January was 10 separate bookings, plus some trains!) and otherwise do stupid things to make it work.

    And I think most other folks only do one big trip a year, at most.

    You're probably low by 3-5x or more to get to high churning rates. The math is pretty simple. If you need 200k airline points and another 150k hotel points for a trip that's ~300k/year in spend, or $25k/month. It can come down some if you get more sign-up bonuses but, as you noted, the banks are cracking down on that (though I don't think 6 months between is a hard rule). And that's just one big trip for a couple. If you have a larger family or want to do it more often you need a higher spend rate.

    The version of the travel lifestyle sold by the blogs - that you can travel like that all the time if you just sign up for the CCs they mention all too often - is not sustainable. It never really was.
     
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  6. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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  7. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    Thank you for your reply! I appreciate it!

    Don't they ever get called out for it? I love their advice and tips, but if it's not realistic/sustainable it just seems very phony!

    Luckily, it is just me and the husband. So only 2 tickets!

    What is the best way you have found to earn miles/points WITHOUT opening new CCs?
     
  8. Dublin_rfk

    Dublin_rfk Gold Member

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    Howdy and welcome, I have some bad news for you. You have been bitten by a nasty and expensive bug.:D
    My personal travel is close to what your goals are. To do that I invest my business miles (way too much travel but the points help ease the pain). I spend 25K to 40K per year ( @85% business expense) I use one primary CC to gain airline miles and a secondary back up for hotel points. I find point transfers to be inefficient use of points. I have membership in many airlines, hotels, and in several chain restaurant programs ( because I have become accustomed to eating.:D ) I keep status with one airline and a couple of hotels which helps boost point/mile accumulation. I'm frugal (cheap) I invest time (here and there and late at night) and research in finding deal for both my personal and business trips. I'm flexible in my travel and like @Wandering Aramean using holidays, multiple modes of transportation and a combination of points and $. I dream and read the blogs (not write them) and occasionally leap on an idea. Earlier this year a fare sale was mentioned here and with a few hours I booked a four day excursion to SKG. Using $'s, points, and miles for under $300.00.
    So good luck, keep posting get out there and enjoy yourself!
     
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  9. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    I use miles to cover the vast majority of expenses for my travel, but not all expenses. I'll generally use miles for premium cabin international flights, but sometimes local flights I will pay cash. For instance in February I went to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the UAE desert.

    I bought my positioning flights in the US AUS-JFK-AUS because I wanted the non-stop versus awards connecting to and from NY. I bought my flight Male - Colombo because there wasn't ideal award space and because China Eastern was less than $100 for business class. I bought my Colombo - Dubai flight because it was too many miles to redeem and flyDubai was cheap.

    But I used points for JFK-AUH (first apartment) - Male // Abu Dhabi - JFK (first apartment). I used points for a villa at the Park Hyatt Maldives, was upgraded to a pool villa, and then paid for the upgrade from pool to water villa. I used Starwood points for Al Maha Desert Resort.

    I had food costs, I had the domestic transfers in the Maldives, those add up. You can use credit card bonuses/spend to offset those too (e.g. Barlcaycard Arrival points). But I don't, since that's not the focus of my earning.

    The more miles you're going to spend on a trip, the greater the tradeoff in terms of either (1) other trips you might take, and (2) needing to spend cash on your trip also.

    When I write about my trips I think I'm pretty transparent about that, my style isn't to travel on the absolute cheap but to get value for money.

    I *am* earning plenty of points from credit card signups. But I'm earning points from promotions also. And those promo points, while cheap, aren't free. It's harder to earn infinite miles from credit card signups than it used to be, since Chase limits card approvals on many but not all of their products and Amex gives out one bonus per card type in a lifetime. Citi generally limits a product's bonus to once every 24 months.

    Starting from scratch you can do a few trips quickly all on signup bonuses. Then it becomes about using credit cards to earn points at little or no cost. And paying attention to other opportunities.

    I didn't take my first international premium cabin trip until 3 years after I got serious about miles and points. That was mostly a function of where I was in my life (but remember that back then signup bonuses hovered around 15k miles and most cards earned only 1 mile per dollar without category bonuses -- only the Delta Amex bonused 'everyday spend').

    It was another four years before I booked an international first class trip. Then I started booking at least one a year. And moved on to a few a year.

    Even now I've taken 3 so far this year, I'm about to cancel my planned 4th (QF A380 F DFW-SYD-DFW). The biggest constraint I face is work obligations in the US.

    I have many millions of miles -- big balances with American, Chase, Amex, United, Delta, Aeroplan, BA to name a few (some in the 7 figures and in American's case not starting with a 1). But that's NOT a good thing in my view. I do earn miles faster than I spend them, which means I'm the victim of devaluation. I advise earning and burning in the same 'period' when possible, under the same award chart, but I don't have the time or inclination to do so. As a result I have to be extra cautious of the cost at which I accumulate miles, assuming that they'll be worth less than they are today when I go to redeem them.

    Best,
    Gary
     
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  10. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    You've neglected to answer the key question posed: What is your approach to acquiring the points. If you really are earning hundreds of thousands or a million points per year (enough for a few F trips) from "promotions, also" then which promotions? If not, how much is reimbursed expenses funneled through your personal cards or other manufactured spending? And if you're just buying miles as the "promotions" then that's far from free, though it is a decent way to pick up discounted premium awards in some scenarios.
     
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  11. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    So weird, you seem to criticize me for failing to point out that earning miles from promotions isn't free when I write that these miles "aren't free."

    And indeed, the whole point of my post wasn't to give a full spreadsheet accounting for my points-earn but to agree that even with miles the trips I take aren't free because I'm not using miles for all the expenses, like positioning flights and activities and in the case of the Maldives even a paid upgrade [albeit on the relatively cheap because I'm pairing it first with an elite upgrade].

    Maybe you're just assuming I'm chiming in here to take some other position besides the one I've written?

    The only miles I bought last year were LifeMiles, I find them a good enough deal at under 1.4 cents apiece. That's far from free but it doesn't speak to the large balance with AA, where I've never purchased any (or DL where until last year I could generate tons of miles with my Suntrust debit card, or Chase or Amex etc etc).

    I think you're also making some big assumptions based on a few years-old throw away comments when you write "how much is reimbursed expenses funneled through your personal cards" that's some of it [I do use my personal cards for business travel] but I'm not in a position to do larger pieces anymore since I live over a thousand miles away from the office.

    I still earn hundreds of thousands of points a year on signup bonuses. But most mileage-earning strategies aren't free, in fact on average a mile costs me probably half a cent.
     
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  12. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    Wow thanks for responding! I love your blog! Read it in the past, and enjoyed it!

    Funny you mention the Maldives. I was actually reading about visiting there, on award travel, last night. I read the domestic transfers are long and pricey. Plus food costs.

    Thank you for being so transparent and very helpful! It makes me feel better knowing that it took you a few yrs before you could fly international first and then 4 more before you did again.

    I definitely understand having to spend SOME money on trips. I don't like to take super cheap vacations, unless we are doing some sort of US roadtrip. I just want to get to the point where I can do a 3-5 trips with either hotel or flight paid for. Definitely more domestic than international. Luckily, I am still relatively young in my career and am making more money each year. So that will help rack up points/miles.

    I, too, remember how low my first credit card sign up bonus was compared to them today. It was only 35,000 AA miles! In fact, as I mentioned in the first post, it was this card I finally treated my husband and I round trip to Kauai from DFW. It was discouraging for it to take so long (opened card in 2011). I still have around 48,000 miles though.

    What are promotional points and how does one earn them? Do you have a good beginners post on this?

    Thanks so much!
     
  13. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    Oh the travel bug! That's why I named myself TXtravelbug :)

    Thanks for sharing your story!
     
  14. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Wandering Aramean mentioned bonuses for purchasing miles. I did buy Avianca LifeMiles last year when there was a bonus that let me do so for less than 1.4 cents apiece. A couple times a year they'll sell miles as low as 1.35 cents apiece. Not cheap, but a way to buy premium cabin international travel at a discount to regular price.

    The most miles I ever earned was during the US Airways holiday shopping promotion 6 years ago, for my own account and others I scored about 16 million miles but this was at a final cost of ~ half a cent apiece. You had to make purchases from at least 5 but not more than 10 partners to earn a 250% bonus on all transactions and then one partner was offering 40 miles per dollar [which gave you 140 miles per dollar]. Some people then sold or donated their purchases.

    There's a promotion right now where JetBlue will match miles in a Virgin America account, for the cost of a flight and a small transfer of Virgin America miles I've been considering anyway I'll net 75k JetBlue points.

    Arguably the biggest promotion ever years ago was a points match offered by KLM [only for people with addresses outside the US].

    Super generous promotions aren't as common from the airlines today as they once were, especially for flying, they don't need to spend a ton of marketing dollars to fill incremental seats, planes are pretty full. During United's backruptcy dozen years ago they offered quintuple miles (early bird bonus). Those were the days!

    The kind of bonuses we saw during the Great Recession. Back in October 2009 Hyatt was offering 13,500 United miles + a free night for every 2 stays. Those days are long past and I don't know anyone who suggests they aren't. But there are still great offers and opportunities to leverage loyalty programs for great travel experiences beyond what many could otherwise afford.
     
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  15. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Which is great, but it doesn't help the OP figure out how to acquire the points for travel that they are looking for. Your large balances were mostly acquired in a prior era, it seems. Not so helpful for someone looking to repeat that process today.

    Nope, just trying to help the OP understand that the cost to acquire points is significant, especially if one tries to do it in large volume for multiple premium cabin trips annually.

    Perhaps you can share what some of the recent good promotions are you've taken advantage of to acquire large quantities of points around that price point to help the OP out. The JetBlue one is a great deal but only if you already have points in hand; for someone starting from scratch it doesn't offer much.

    Also, good to see you participating around here. A pleasant surprise this morning. :)
     
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  16. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    It's absolutely possible to start from scratch and earn miles for a couple of very good international trips at very low cost within a year. If you haven't been signing up for lots of credit cards, grab a couple of Chase cards e.g. there was that great 70k United offer recently, there's Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold.

    You have to meet minimum spend of course. But you can rack up a bunch of points quickly.

    And Amex has been giving new customers to the bank 2x and 2.5x the normal publicly available bonuses for many of their cards.

    Citi Prestige at 50k and an American card for the same.

    It's easy to rack up 300k points or so across just half a dozen cards, you do it and a significant other does it and you've got plenty of points for a couple of trips without going crazy on cards at all.

    It's not viable for most people to use credit card sign up bonuses alone to travel several times a year for several years on points at next to no cost. [It *is* possible to do but takes effort beyond what those new to miles and points are likely to do.]

    I still earn more miles than I spend despite taking several great international trips a year. I also earn miles from business travel [I've already requalified for American's Executive Platinum status]. And earning comes quick at 3x on air and hotel when you're gone about 140 nights a year.

    I've earned a bunch of points churning funds through Fidelity accounts (you can still get big bonuses for funding accounts, can no longer deposit and withdraw the same money over and over to get there). And I earn American miles through BankDirect (which comes with a $12/month fee).

    My avenue for earning hundreds of thousands of Delta miles cheap finally ended last year (not several years ago). Contrary to popular belief I didn't earn most of my SkyMiles via multiple visits to Bosley hair restoration centers.

    Earlier this year I grabbed 75k IHG rewards club points for sending in index cards.

    My point is lots of ways to travel well for less. Or lots of ways to travel lots in less comfort. But I don't think I tend to oversell what's possible as some claim, I wasn't just replying to the OP here.
     
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  17. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    Like Gary has mentioned - there's a relatively straightforward path to building up an initial supply of points/miles via a few credit card bonuses. Things are tightening up for long-term "churning", but for a well-qualified new customer there's enough low-hanging fruit. The longer window you'd mentioned is generally appropriate for cards from a single issuer - the people doing 5-6 cards at a time are spreading through several banks - typically say 1-2 at each. But don't do this without researching rules (e.g the Chase 5/24 rule) and planning for the cards you want to get/hold.

    Also - keep in mind that a lot of people are doing a lot of paid travel. Either personal travel like Seth, or business travel. Also - there are lots of wonderful destinations that hotel points won't get you anything (or at minimum won't get you "face value" because you would otherwise choose and be happy with a cheaper accommodation. And even airline miles (as mentioned by Gary) aren't always the best option.

    Anyone who's Executive Platinum, 1K, Delta Diamond, etc is flying 100-125k miles paid (or a ton of segments) and earning historically twice that (e.g 200-250k+ miles) and moving forward ~11x the spend on those tickets (domestically in many markets approximately a wash, depending on purchase flexibility and fare availability). So anyone with those airline statuses is earning points through flying for such a trip for 1-2 people a year. And there's a good chance that they are spending 100-150 paid nights a year in hotels too. Add in earning from credit cards (whether reimbursed business expenses or personal only) and promotions (most notably hotels where promotions tend to outweigh base earnings), and maybe holding a few CCs that give a free annual night, and a lot of business travelers run a surplus (hence big balances like Gary mentioned...).

    And the people doing it as a full time business? How many of them hold top elite status (airline and some hotel chains). If they do...that means they are flying a lot on paid tickets too - not just rewards!


    Personally for 2015:
    I travel a fair bit for business, and between business flights and 1-2 paid longhaul personal trips I'll qualify for AA EXP. Previous years this has meant 200k miles, moving forward, for my business travel the earnings will be similar, but the longhaul personal travel much reduced. Also had earned via CC spend - overall approx treading water.

    I'll leave CC bonuses out of the below.

    Say ~100 paid nights in chain hotels, typically Hyatt/Starwood/Hilton. Examples from last year
    Earn:
    ~170k Hyatt points (predominantly stays and promotions, and some cc usage on stays)
    ~60k starpoints (mostly stays)
    ~70k Hilton
    Redeem:
    100k hyatt for 5 nights maldives
    30k hyatt for park tokyo one night
    SPG 2 nights Phoenician 24k used a suite upgrade
    spg 3 nights sheraton rio 18k used a suite upgrade
    SPG One night le medidien chambers 6k used a suite upgrade
    hilton 4 night hampton inn santa barbara 200k
    hilton 20k 1 night hilton sandestin

    used another 1-2 suite upgrades locally for nights out rather than driving 30+ miles home I think.

    and example airfare:
    We'd redeemed 157.5k x 2 for a trip to the tokyo/maldives/sri lanka/abu dhabi Can't recall if we'd used points or cash for the Male-Colombo flight. Either way it's cheap.
    Rio was a <$400 fare, upgraded using SWU.
    used cash attend my sister in law's wedding in DC
    phonenician was my wife extending work trips with girlfriends. u
    hilton sandestin my wife used a 2:1 certificate to visit and extend another friend's work trip
    le meridien chambers is local
    santa barbara was a work trip for me. I think we paid cash to get the required schedule. For short domestic trips in particular - mile flexibility can be hit or miss!
    We had a ski trip to tahoe in January. used AA miles for my wife, extended a work trip for me. Paid cash for hotel since not yet peak season. Used a hyatt suite upgrade.

    So more or less treading water on hotel points just with stays, and airline miles with flights and cc spend. Balances were established initially via CC bonuses, but not heavy churning. And spending cash for a lot of personal hotels where the chains aren't a viable option (e.g. we visited Sri Lanka last year, are looking at Bhutan this year, etc. Depending on your tastes - chain hotels may not be the best option (or an option at all) in the places you want to be. And things like a hotel breakfast are great and all...but only if you're not missing out on a better, cheaper, more local experience. So in expensive resorts they are a clear value add if you'd be eating there anyway, but e.g. in Paris with a great cafe next door the value is more ambiguous. Basically don't be a slave to points - especially hotel points. They're nice to have, and depending on your travel style and destinations they can be a great value, but sometimes independent hotels are either a better option or the only option. If I was purely on personal travel (especially internationally) at a more relaxed pace - the value proposition offered by benefits like guaranteed 4pm checkout, and guaranteed consistent quality from e.g. beds, rooms, etc. when often arriving late/leaving early/etc. would not be the same.

    So when you see people with big balances and traveling a lot using points and miles - remember that a lot of them are building up points via business (or other paid) travel and reimbursed expenses, and then adding CC earnings on top of that. Even with mile/point earning via stays and flights not what it was in the past...it can still add up. It's no longer viable in most cases to efficiently accrue miles via paid discretionary travel (e.g. mileage runs) so you don't see the post activity about earning miles through activity anymore...but if you travel a lot you do build up a reasonable amount of points, and if you reach the tipping point between deficit and surplus then you build balances over time.
     
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  18. eponymous_coward
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    eponymous_coward Gold Member

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    This sounds about right. For once in a while "splurges", a premium cabin trip for a married couple is quite do-able with fairly minimal effort. But "like the award bloggers" is not reasonable without a LOT of effort (and probably buying miles, manufactured spend and so on). (And quite frankly, my day job isn't updating a blog, running an award service, or anything I can do from some corporate chain hotel I reserved on points halfway around the world at weird hours).

    I'm happier on that lower end of the scale, where I get to fly in first class domestically more than usual because I optimize things while still paying for coach, I spend some money on travel to visit friends and family, and I use the "windfall" in miles for "once in a lifetime trips" more than once in a lifetime (every 12-18 months). That seems to me to be a happy median.

    I also am not as interested in things like the Maldives (tbh Ric Garrido or Seth's style is more my speed, where you should feel free to ignore the corporate Hyatt if there's a local hotel or a Best Western that fits budget and service level requirements).
     
  19. mattsteg
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    mattsteg Gold Member

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    Does filing overdue expense reports from the Maldives count as "living like a blogger, working in a corporate chain hotel half way around the world"? I guess I'm guilty of that...

    Honestly speaking - while "splurges" are great, the greatest luxury of points/miles travel is the freedom to look at a map or atlas, pick a point, and know it's most likely feasible to visit (although you may need (hopefully?) to pay for your hotel). The occasional luxury hotel is great, and flying up front is a great blessing, but the freedom to be inspired and plan a trip at the drop of a hat is the greatest benefit - and the random dots and lines of airline route maps provide a lot of inspiration.
     
  20. TXtravelnut

    TXtravelnut Member

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    Well said! I agree about getting to pick a point on the map. How cool is it that we have the ability to do that, and then eventually GO!
     
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  21. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

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    I would have to say that most of the full time bloggers that you read about travel a lot on paid travel (status like other people have said) and earn a lot from credit card spend/signup etc. I think TPG showed his cache of cards and they were like 30+?

    Me and my wife try to travel premium intl once a year and we earn enough to support that. Either through a few credit card signup or just specialized spend on the right categories. We don't shy away from cheap economy trips either (we just spent 60k TY points on the $400 PHX-Spain fares from a few weeks ago).
     
  22. Pizzaman
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    Pizzaman Co-founder

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    I'm not a full-time travel blogger, but I do blog and travel quite a bit. I'm lucky enough to generate a bunch of miles from work travel and from business credit card spend.

    Unless I missed it, you don't mention if you had kids. I'll assume it's just travel for you and your husband. Given that and your monthly credit card spend, I think it's fair to assume you can afford most of 2 trips a year on miles and points, though it will take some work.

    You mention that you're getting a Chase business card next. Is that one of the Ink cards? Without getting into manufactured spending, I think the Ink cards represent one of the best ways for "normal" folks to generate a bunch of miles.

    The biggest thing I can emphasize about manufactured spending is it's a LOT of work. I've dabbled a time or two and frankly find it overwhelming with a full time job.
     
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  23. edekba

    edekba Gold Member

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    Exactly.

    Ink is a great card if you have an OD/Staples around you and can keep track of gc. We buy our Netflix/Amazon/WholeFoods/Starbucks all from there.
     

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