Category Archives: Travel Hacking

Cooking Miles 101

airplane-flight-sunsetIt’s been about six weeks since I started my new hobby of maximizing the miles in our frequent flyer accounts, and it’s been a learning experience. With a moderate amount of money and effort, I’ve added about 12,000 miles to my United Mileage Plus account, and have probaby another 5,000 or so in the pipeline. Accumulating miles does take some patience as you don’t always get the miles instantaneously. Some, particular though the MyPoints service, can take weeks or months to show up in your account. There are weeks where miles fly in fast and furious, and others where it it is just a trickle.

Understanding the cost of miles is important here, so if you decide to get into this dust off your math skills. The value of miles varies from airline to airline and program to program. I’ve been focusing on my United Mileage Plus account, and it seems that a lot of folks value them from 1.5 to 1.8 cents per mile. United recently “devalued” their miles. this means that it now costs more miles to fly to certain locales, especially if you want to fly on any of their partner airlines and in better seats (business and first class).

I discovered that my wife’s 25,000 MP miles had expired, but could be reinstated for a fee of $50. This worked out to .02 cents per mile, so it was an easy decision to buy. If you buy miles from the United, you could be paying 3.5 cents or a bit less if you do so during one of their promotions, but concensus is this is almost always a bad deal unless you desperately need a minimum amount of miles to reach a goal.

A lot of folks apply for credit cards frequently for the miles they offer, particularly those that waive the yearly fee for the first year. They earn their miles, and close the cards before being billed for the fee in the second year. This is referred to as “churning” cards, and there is no way I’m playing that game. But after doing some research on the issue, I got a Chase Business Ink card. Why? One, it does have a 50,000 mile bonus after meeting a modest minumum spending goal. Two, it offers 5X miles for every dollar spent at office supply stores and for telecommunication services. I spend about $275 a month for cable, Internet and cell phone service. This means 1,375 miles generated per month (16,500 per year) and simply routing the payments I’d be making anyway through the Business Ink card.

Some folks refer to this as “travel hacking”, a term that others deride, and I can understand why. Compared to computer hacking (i.e., gaining illicity access to computer systems), the activity of accumulating miles by using strategies discovered by miles hardly qualifies. I agree. It takes some skill and creativity to come up with these “hacks”, and when someone used the methods developed by others it was referred to as using “cookbook” methods. Those that come up with the schemes deserve some accolades, like the fellow that earned 2.4 million miles by ordering coins online at face value, with free shipping and miles. If you are simply following the methods thought up by others, you’re cooking miles, not hacking them, at least in my opinion.

For anyone interested in taking up this hobby, I can only counsel that you do your research, follow the blogs of folks who have been doing this for a while and share their discoveries and those of others. I’ve been using an RSS reader and subscribed to about a dozen miles-related blogs that produce regular posts and highlight new methods for cooking miles and carry other news about miles and traveling in general (click here for an OPML file that contains my subscriptions). Start off cautiously but once you’ve learned from small mistakes you’ll inevitably make (frequently caused by failing to read the fine print in some offers), be brave and step up your game.

If you are an experienced travel hacker who has a blog on the issue, feel free to leave a comment and let me know about your site. I realize that what I have here is miles hacking/cooking 101, so no snide comments, please. I’m just posting as I’m learning.

Facebook Vacation

facebook

I decided to take a vacation from Facebook for a while. It’s been a week and while I miss my friends there I don’t miss the amount of time I tend to spend on it. Dealing with the Institute of Hawaiian Music, my music classes at UH-MC, trying to put together my contract renewal document (due Nov. 1), and my new travel hacking hobby, I have plenty to keep me busy.

Just as a quick update on the travel hacking – I’ve padded my United Miles account by about 5,000 miles with modest effort in less than a month, have another 3,000 or so pending, and using a couple of other mileage accumulation sites, should have another 5,000 or so within the next we weeks. It’s mostly fun work, sometimes tedious, but I’m looking at is as thought I’m creating a travel savings account, using my time rather than money (mostly).

If you are a Facebook friend of mine, feel free to leave a comment if you like. But life is good, and I’ll probably stay off of FB for another few weeks, at least until my contract renewal document is completed and submitted.

Travel Hacking

Travel HackI’ve been a member of a couple of frequent flyer programs for as long as I can remember, including Hawaiian and United Airlines, Avis Rent A Car and a few others. If we’d take a long trip and find a better fare on a different airlines, we’d sign up for that airlines program, book it, and not think about it again. There was no real forethought about the value of the miles, concern if they were lost, or planning made to maximize them.

Last week I made a trip to LA for business. I took Hawaiian as they had a flight at a decent price that got into LA late in the day, and enabled me to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s meeting. Flying United from Hawai‘i at a decent fare almost always means catching a red-eye that arrives in LA early AM, resulting in a red-eyed Keola at meetings later that morning. I am rarely able to sleep on airplanes.

I was booked at a Hilton hotel for the trip, and forgot to check my Hilton Honors status before leaving. I hadn’t used it for years, and apparently my account was purged from the system. Arriving at my room I found that they charged $14.95 a day for Internet. I can’t work without it, so out came the credit card, got online, and one of my first acts was to reestablish an HH membership. I noticed that Hilton provides free Internet for HH members who have Silver status, but clearly didn’t qualify. When I returned to Maui, I did an online search, and found a link that provide a free upgrade to HH Silver status. The site also mentioned a term I had heard before but didn’t think too much about – travel hacking.

Travel hackers take a systematic approach to maximizing the miles they earn and minimizing the amount they use while traveling. I was surprised to discover how many sites are dedicated to this endeavor, and the extent to which these folks will go to earn and save them. There are also some interesting sites that offer miles for filling out surveys online.

It seems that there are some folks out there who are as obsessive about this activity as some “extreme couponers” area, and I have to admit after a few ours I found myself wrapped up in it all. I got my HH Silver Status, joined a few airlines that are part of the three major frequent flyer alliance programs to make sure I don’t miss out on any opportunities, and started filling out some surveys. A few hours work netted a few thousand miles in my United account, though that includes a few “signup bonus” rewards that won’t be awarded again. Hopefully it will be worth it somewhere down the road. The other component of this activity is maximizing the miles you travel using at minimum cost in cash and FF miles. But I’ll worry about that part when I get the miles.

If any of my friends out there has any experience with this activity please feel free to drop me a note.