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How To Travel More And Spend Less With These Travel Hacks

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Travel Hack Thursday feature, but today I’ve got a real treat in store for you with an interview with Lee from BaldThoughts.com. His motto is to ‘Travel More. Spend Less. Live Better’, a philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with. I’d much rather spend my money on travelling and creating memories than on things that collect dust or take up space in my ever cluttered garage!

Lee works full-time for a bank in finance and writes his blog to chronicle his family’s adventures and share strategies so that you, too, can travel more, spend less, and live better.  His favorite hotel chain is Kimpton, where he gets spoiled as an Inner Circle member.  He loves the domestic airline Southwest because of their low-priced flights and their Companion Pass, which allows his wife to fly free wherever he goes. Who can blame him? I am green with envy at the thought of the Southwestern companion pass. If only a European airline would hurry up and do something similiar!

Here’s Lee and his family enjoying dinner at Kimpton Tideline. Aren’t they cute?

Kimpton Tideline
Source: Lee

So, let’s pose the usual questions to Lee and hear what he has to say.

Are you rich?

I am fortunate to have a good paying job with four weeks of vacation, but I’m not rich.  Regardless of income, I’m frugal and love being able to use miles and points to travel.  The strategy is to use all extra money to pay down mortgage, student loan, and auto debt with the goal of retiring from the 9-to-5 job in 10 years so I can spend more time with my kids [Timmy, six and Scarlett, two) as they reach their teenage years. Anne: oh boy, I hear you. It’s amazing how sexy saving gets the older I become!

How did you discover travel hacking?

About 15 years ago, a travel agent client at the bank advised me to get a co-branded airline and hotel card and stick with them.  So, for a long time, I really focused on Southwest and SPG (Anne: one way to earn more SPG points in the UK is with their AMEX credit card by the way).  I thought I had everything all figured out, until my wife told me she wanted to visit Paris.  My reply was “But Southwest doesn’t fly there!”  That’s when I dove into the deep-end of travel hacking… because there was no way I wanted to pay for flights and hotel to Paris.

Southwest wing tip
Source: PIxabay

Anne: ha ha I’m pretty sure I’ve said something similiar to my hubbie! British Airways really need to launch a New Zealand flight so I can use the companion voucher to fly business and go back to one of my favourite places on the planet.

Where did you go on your first long haul trip using rewards, and how many points did you use?

Our first major trip using miles was our trip to Paris in April 2013. We flew LA to NYC, with a stopover to catch a New Jersey Devils’ game, and a layover in Madrid on the way to Paris.  Going there was in Economy because I knew we’d be excited and would put up with the discomfort.

Eiffel Tower
Climbing the Eiffel Tower with Timmy (Source: Lee)

On the way home, I knew we’d be tired, so we flew Business Class.  We routed through Madrid on Iberia rather than Heathrow on British Airways to save $600 a person in taxes and fuel surcharges.  In all, it was 70,000 and $300 per person (20,000 in Economy and 50,000 in Business), or 280,000 AAdvantage miles and $1,200.  While in Paris, we used our timeshare and hotel points to further reduce the out-of-pocket expenses.

Flying business class
Its been a hard trip to Paris! Source: Lee)

How long did it take you to accumulate the points, and using what methods?

I used the old double-browser trick to get two Citibank cards in January 2012, transferred points from SPG, and cycled many $8,000 deposits with Fidelity to reach $100,000 in deposits in Q2 2012 for all of the miles.  I was able to accumulate enough miles to book tickets for me, my wife Anna, our son Timothy (26 months at the time), and my mother-in-law at the end of the American Airlines off-peak schedule.  Brownie points with the MIL for that one!

Overall, from start to finish, it took about eight months to earn all of the miles and book the flights.

Your tips for others wishing to do the same?

The best advice I can give is two-fold.  First, be as flexible as possible.  The exact dates or locations may not always be available when you want them.  If you can adjust your schedule a little, you have a better chance to get the itinerary you want.  Also, pay attention to airports that are nearby the preferred destination.  I live in Los Angeles and sometimes the flights I want aren’t available from LAX, but if I am willing to fly out of BUR, LGB, SNA, ONT, or even make the 90-minute drive to San Diego. That way, I can usually find award space that works for me.

As a side note, I usually keep a top 10 list of places that I want to visit.  If I can’t hit #1 this year because award space isn’t available, I’m totally fine with crossing off #2, #5, and #8.  Flexibility and an open mind.

The second bit of advice is to have a focused strategy.  Having little bits of miles and points across multiple programs will do you no good.  (Anne: check this beginners guide out for some great advice on this very subject!) Collect the miles and points into one or two preferred programs to accelerate your free travel awards!  And know which partners you can earn miles with or transfer points from.  When you can take advantage of these relationships, your miles will accumulate so much faster.

What’s the best think about travel hacking in the US?

There’s a big part of me that likes “winning” the game.  But, even more important than that is being able to explore the world with my family.  I love introducing them to new architecture, cultures, food, languages, etc. across the US and internationally.

They’re too young to really appreciate it now, but I’m really proud as a father to know that they’ll grow up thinking travel is something worth doing and that it’s ok to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people that aren’t just like you.  I think they’ll be better humans for it.

North Shore Hawaii with Timmy Source: Lee)

Anne: What a great note to end on Lee. Thanks so much for sharing your insight and if you would like to connect with Lee, check out his website BaldThoughts.com or follow him on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips


  1. Thanks for sharing such interesting and helpful tips! Saving money for traveling is a huge hobby of mine and I’m always looking for more advice for something I haven’t thought of yet. As a Canadian and someone that doesn’t spend much money it’s hard for me to build up Air Miles, especially if I want to use them for traveling. I also don’t fly that much – I tend to stick with taking the bus or train. Anyways, it’s good to hear your story and I’ll definitely be applying some of your strategies to my own travel hacking methods!

  2. There are some handy tips in this post. I agree, being flexible is important in seeking out the best travel deals.

  3. I really wish that budget airlines would have miles programs. We fly a lot, but fly budget airlines often within Europe. So we miss out on a lot of miles doing that. And you even get a discount when you pay with a debit card instead of a credit card, so we don’t get the miles either by using a credit card.

  4. Eight months isn’t too long at all! I just love travel hacks. Also, that photo of your son sleeping in business class is just too cute. All great tips, thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Megan Jerrard

    Thanks for such a fabulous interview – the US is very lucky for the opportunities for points and travel hacking – sadly Australia doesn’t come close to the same kind of offerings … though we can dream! Maybe one day in the future. It’s so fantastic that he’s able to enrich his boys lives with international travel this way – I’m a strong advocate that no matter how young your children are, you’re imparting valuable life experiences which will shape the way they grow up and view the world 🙂 Kudos!

  6. Although I do try to save as much money as possible on flights and accommodation, I haven’t tried travel hacking. But here in Canada we don’t have as many options (credit cards with lots of points, airlines offering reasonable advantages) so it is harder to accomplish. It’s great that Lee is able to travel with his whole family at discount prices (I’m sure his kids will appreciate it more as they get older)!

  7. Love that Southwest Companion Pass! I’m flying to New Orleans, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Seattle in the next few weeks and my sister is the lucky companion! Great last comment, too, about his kids and the rewards of travel. They may not get the same as an adult from it, but the experience and impact resonates as they grow.

  8. Great post on travel hacking. I am not a fan of the idea at all since it requires people to utilize credit cards and I have never met a successful person who gambles with credit even to win on points.
    However, with that said, I am always glad to hear people like Lee who work hard to manage and maintain control. Its such a slippery slope for many in the US but if you can keep your focus (his family is a major focus) then you can do well with the points hacking game.

    • We certainly would never advocate getting into debt. In fact, one of my prior posts on travel hacking has tips for managing credit and also suggests if you lack spending control, travel hacking may not be for you. I pay my cards off in full every month but put everything on them – even those £3 coffees. Those points add up over time!

  9. Great interview with some good advice for points/miles. I’ve been doing this for a number of years now, and used miles on numerous occasions to fly from the UK to the US. In fact, I’m currently sitting on the beach in St. Kitts, where I fly to on points last week!

    • oh lucky you. If you are a diver,please go check out my friend Terry who works at Prodivers. I did my divemaster course with him as a tutor and he was AMAZING!

  10. Great tips! I could definitely up my travel hacking game.

  11. Great interview and tips! Interesting to find out how Lee does it. The US market is so much bigger when it comes to credit cards with rewards,etc, compared to the rest of the world. I’m doing quite well here in the UK with some nice cards and promotions but before moving, it was really hard to be able to apply any of these travel hacks.

    • Hugo, that is my frustration in the UK. There are simply so many more options to earn rewards in the US and with different programs. IN the UK, the best chance of earning is with British Airways but it isn’t a great scheme, what with devaluations, limited availability, high taxes and also rumours that they prioritise those on a companion voucher for downgrade. I keep thinking of jumping ship but without the companion voucher, it is even harder to redeem for business class.

  12. These are some interesting tips! I’m trying to become more frugal in my everyday life, so I can save more money for travelling! Getting air miles would be highly beneficial, it’s a shame, I’ve not started accumulating them already, due to 2 trips to NZ and back!

  13. It’s always nice thinking back on awesome promos from yesterday. It’s awesome that we still find some gems that help get us a bunch of miles so we can travel more, spend less and live better! I like how you put this article together. Baldthoughts has some great advice there. Always be flexible and consider alternative airports, destinations and creative routing. It looks like Timmy loved the trip to Paris!

  14. Anne, thanks for asking me to participate. I enjoyed sharing my story with you and your readers. I hope that my family’s story inspires others to travel more, spend less, and live better. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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