Ask an Expert Interview Series: Casey from Points Away
I know there are already a million interview series on miles and points bloggers, but my goal is to interview a handful of some of the smaller bloggers you may not be familiar with. My second interviewee is Casey who writes at www.pointsaway.com and has written a cool travel eBook titled The PointsAway – The Deluxe Edition (read review here). Without further ado, here are Casey’s answers:
1) How did you first begin to discover the power of miles and points programs?
Luck, as much as anything. I was planning about a year in advance for a conference in Portland last Summer and was unhappy with how expensive airfare was for the dates I was looking to travel. Around the same time, I received an offer for a Gold Delta SkyMiles card by American Express with a hefty mileage sign-up bonus. I applied and was quickly approved and earned my sign-up bonus in the first month. Shortly thereafter, my first award trip was booked. Though it was scheduled for many months in advance, I didn’t need to set foot on a plane to be convinced; the itinerary confirmation in my hand reading $10 instead of the $460 or so the cash ticket would’ve cost was all I needed to see!
2) What led you to start your site?
After booking several award trips, it became obvious just how powerful miles and points programs can be. I figured that, like me, most people probably have a dream trip of some sort in mind. Top 10 lists are great for inspiration, but figuring out how to make a specific trip come together could be very difficult for beginners. I decided a site that focused on reader-submitted itineraries, using them as case studies and teaching tools, could be valuable and address an area other sites weren’t yet covering. A few weeks later, PointsAway was born!
3) What was the first trip you were able to book using miles?
That trip to Portland was the first I was able to book using miles, but I booked it so far in advance that the final itinerary ended up changing. I was offered a few days’ free stay in Las Vegas at MGM Grand that I decided to tack onto the end of my Portland trip. That meant changing my return itinerary. I ponied up the change fee to Delta to change my return flight from Portland to Jacksonville to Las Vegas to Jacksonville. Then, I booked a separate award flight on the cheap with Southwest from Portland to Las Vegas to cover the open-jaw. My first award trip ended up turning into two award trips!
4) What’s the most outrageous value you’ve received by redeeming miles and points?
Between the time of booking that flight to Portland and actually going on the trip, I began planning how I could go to London to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play the 49ers in the NFL International Series in Fall 2013. After briefly considering Delta’s program as an option, I determined I’d need to learn about a new program for this trip. I quickly began to absorb as much information as I could about miles and points, stumbling upon various blogs and forums and studying award charts in depth. After a few weeks of doing this, I’d figured out a master plan that would allow me to not only go to the game, but take the whole family with me, continue on to France after touring the south of England and stay in 5-star hotels in London and Paris, all while saving nearly $8,000 off retail.
5) How do friends and family look at your miles and points hobby?
My family is 100% on board after the success of our adventure to England and France last Fall. My parents just used miles and points to travel to Milan, Zurich and other destinations throughout Europe and will be heading to Alaska this Summer for another award trip. Going to Europe was once a one-time lifelong dream for them; now, they see just how attainable travel can be!
My friends see the type of travel I’ve been able to accomplish but for the most part haven’t grasped how they can take advantage of the same techniques for their own travel goals. They’re a work in progress.
6) What are your favorite airline and hotel programs and why?
Some of the recent changes, like cutting stopovers and the Oneworld Explorer award, have hurt American’s standing to me, but I’d still rank them as my favorite overall airline program due to their stellar Off-Peak rates to Europe and Japan and the reasonable Saver Business fares they offer on many international routes. Using Avios for short-distance trips would be a close second, followed by the consistent value of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program.
Hyatt is far and away my favorite hotel program, given how easy it is to earn Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred into their program and how few points are needed for most stays, especially when taking advantage of the Points + Cash option.
7) What is the most important piece of advice you’d offer to someone taking their first steps into the world of points and miles?
This stuff works. It’s real. It can work for you, too. Miles and points are not too complicated, the savings are real and the only thing preventing you from taking advantage of it is a lack of imagination and ingenuity. Start with a very specific goal in mind and bring that goal to reality. Once you do that, you’ll see how limitless the possibilities can be and your travel life will be forever changed for the better.
Thank you Casey for taking the time to answer some questions. Please check out Casey’s site (www.pointsaway.com) for more interesting articles. If you have any questions for Casey, please leave a comment below.