Want to know more about the Faces of FlyerTalk? We’re also looking for some more ladies to be a part of Faces of FlyerTalk; us guys know who really make the travel decisions anyway. Please shoot me a note at email@example.com if you’re interested.
Hans Mast (HansGolden) has graciously shared a bit of his background, and who better to tell us about his story; read on:
When I was under the age of five, my dad was in the process of starting a travel agency out of our home. At a very young age, I was familiar with terms such as PNR, getting bumped (one time over Thanksgiving, our whole family got bumped 3 consecutive times!), frequent flyer miles, and such. As we would navigate through airpforts as a family, my dad would give me our boarding passes, have me look at the monitors, and then have me lead the family to the gate. I flew by myself without unaccompanied minor support (somehow the checkin agent overlooked it and dad was happy to not pay the fee since he knew I could get around the airport without help) for the first time around the age of 9 or so. Back in those days, there were a lot more perks for travel agents, so we’d fly often and often for free or on very cheap AD90s (90% discounts). However, as travel agent benefits phased out, dad began to collect large numbers of frequent flyer miles through credit card spend and our family continued to travel for free in that way. I have been fortunate to have been to 37 countries and every continent except Australia and Antarctica. The former I will remedy this fall. I’ve lived overseas 2-3 times, spending 8 months in Thailand, 5 months in Israel, and 2 months in India (not sure if 2 months counts).
From a young age, I took care of all the IT systems for my dad’s travel agency (Golden Rule Travel) and several sister companies. I also had a several year stint as a full time travel agent. Our agency specializes in international adoption, missionary, humanitarian, and non-profit travel; we have special contracts directly with the airlines that give special benefits and rates only for those working on behalf of a non-profit organization. Right now, I still do the IT stuff and also do a number of miscellaneous jobs for Golden Rule, including sometimes manning the 24/7 emergency phone. I also have a couple of small side-businesses, including buying and selling electronics and doing some wedding photography and videography. I’m also involved part-time with a couple of non-profit, humanitarian organizations. My sister and I started a semi-monthly club for disadvantaged children. I’m also working on a documentary film project for an organization in India that provides free schools for slum children, free vocational training for impoverished young adults, medical camps, and bores wells in villages without clean water, among other things. One personal fact that some may find interesting is that I my grandparents grew up Amish and that I’m Amish-Mennonite.
Hans, thank you for sharing so much with us and welcome to “Faces of FlyerTalk”.
When did you find FlyerTalk and how did you find it?
I first ran across FlyerTalk when I would Google for answers for clients who had travel questions. Often it was about the best way to transfer from one airport to another (like LHR-LGW or JFK/LGA/EWR) and other times it was on VDB policies or baggage policies or frequent flyer program questions. FlyerTalk was often near the top of the Google results for those kinds of questions, so the FT brand awareness slowly began to build. I joined FlyerTalk in December of 2009 in order to answer a question about UA consolidator (my agency is one) fare mileage accrual.
Do you consider yourself an infrequent, fairly regular, or miles and points addicted reader?
To tell you the truth, I get a little tired of the cliche old phrase in every frequent flyer interview in which the interviewee earnestly attests that they are totally “points addicted”. However, at this juncture, I’m not quite sure how else to say it but that I’m fairly dedicated.
How often are you on FlyerTalk, and what forums do you typically visit?
I follow the RSS feeds for three forums: the Mileage Run Deals, Hotel Deals, and MilesBuzz. Outside of that, I venture elsewhere when I have spare time (reading eightblack trip reports, for instance, or wandering around the UA, TalkBoard, or travel photography forums) or when I need to find the answer to a specific question.
Do you travel for business, leisure, or both?
Some of both, but only about 10% of my travel is for business, the rest for pleasure or volunteer work. The business work is the cheapest coach fare which is reimbursed by my wedding photography/videography clients and of course I keep the FFMs. If UA is more expensive (it almost never is), then I’ll pony up the difference between UA and the cheapest carrier. For leisure, I mostly follow the jumbo fares and super sales. I try to do MRs only when the RDMs cost less than my 2 cpm valuation (which is 4 CpPQM). I have 1K for 2013 already booked, with about 121k PQMs in 2012. I figured that 68k of that is “pure” MR (weekend visits) at an average of 2.3 CpPQM and 53k is necessity travel (or weeklong trips) at 5.7 CpPQM. It strikes me as amazing that I can fly from Wichita (my home airport) to Delhi/Bombay (India) at ~6.6 CpPQM (with no tricks, only a $400 off VDB voucher) in W class and upgrade using SWUs.
Since my 1K is all booked up, I’m going to book any additional travel this year on AA as a newly minted Executive Platinum. (Except for an upcoming flight in which Delta was the only option because of price and schedule.) I’ll at minimum hit the 30k EQM to get 8 eVIPs and I’ll be on the lookout for any jumbo deals that might let me hit 100k for next year, though it boggles my mind to think that two years ago I was a premier Silver and now I’m contemplating top tier status on two airlines. Crazy. However, it’s so tantalizingly lucrative when you pencil out what MRing costs and the kinds of trips you can get with the RDMs for friends. The key is being able to use airplane time to read or get other work done.
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet right now, and which ones do you recommend to friends?
Old Ink Bold (aiming for $50k annual bonus), New Ink Bold (office supply spend), Sapphire (travel and dining), United MP Select (old card that gets 3 mi/$ on UA flights), Hyatt (now with UR cards, I only use keep this for annual free night and spending at Hyatt hotels), Priority Club (ditto), Amex Business Platinum (use OPEN savings and lounge access), British Airways, Amazon
The top ones I recommend to friends (who generally have less annual spend they’re able to put on CCs and who are not as interested in maximizing) are of course the New Ink Bold and Sapphire Preferred. Then as I learn of specific needs or spending patterns, I recommend others. Two cards I wish I had (but don’t because Amex hates me post-FR) are the SPG Amex and the HHonors Surpass. I’d be delighted to earn top-tier Hilton Status with $40k/year and need to bolster my SPG balance as I’m aiming for SPG Platinum this year (I’m switching from PC/IC Plat RA.)
Another important question, given the number of credit cards that I have, is what wallet is carrying my cards right now? I LOVE my All-Ett World’s Thinnest Wallet. Holds tons of cards and is not bulky. I’m the moron that hopes I never get pickpocketed (I DO thin out my wallet before heading overseas) and carry every single credit card, debit card, loyalty card, gift card, drink chit, lounge pass, etc that I own in my wallet (along with Euros, Rupees, and Peruvian Soles, but strangely $0 USD), just in case.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to acquire points and miles?
The single most successful thing was the recent Delta SkyMall promo in which I got 1 million Delta miles and made a profit of $1500 by buying and reselling items. The promo was that you got 25k miles for every purchase above $500. The promo went live around midnight and I stayed up all night until 6 am or so buying stuff. If you want to learn how I did it, come to the Chicago Seminars!
Dad and I each picked up about 300k UA miles apiece on the Months of Miles promo by buying Home Depot and Walmart gift cards, which we used ourselves or gave as gifts, so no marginal cost.
There’s a deal pending that would dwarf the DL deal by about 28 times, but it’s not successful yet, so we shall see what the deliberations produce.
How many miles / points have you accumulated in the past year? In your lifetime?
That’s a very difficult number to pin down as I manage my father’s FFMs as well as my own. My father has large amounts of business credit card spend. My current Award Wallet balance is showing 7.5 million for the whole family.
Do you use a tracking program to keep track of your miles / points? Which one?
How does your spouse / partner / family / friends feel about this hobby?
They were very happy recently when the whole family went on a CO/UA jumbo fare MIA-LIM for ~$200 each and I upgraded all of us to business class using RPUs. They get a bit weary of it sometimes, but usually their awe overcomes their weariness.
What’s your most memorable trip?
That’s a tough question to answer since they’ve all been so different. Probably one of the most memorable trips was flying into Muscat, Oman and going overland (stopping in Nizwa and Fujairah) to Dubai, flying to Erbil, Iraq and going overland to Cairo with stops in Dohuk (Iraq), Urfa (Turkey), Damascus, Amman, and Jerusalem/Ramallah on the way.
What suggestions can you give to rookies and newbies on FlyerTalk?
The number one suggestion is working hard and the number two suggestion is networking. Working hard is a pre-req to effective networking and effective networking is essential to getting in on the best deals. Go out of your way to help people and they will generally remember and help you in return. The beauty of making friends (beyond the friendship!) is the incredible synergy that results! If I have 25 friends who I share info with and who share info with me, that means that my hard work will now find 25x as many good deals! Furthermore, when I discover a good deal and share it with my friends, often they will improve it! The best mileage deal I ever discovered (which I referenced above) was improved about 10x in increments by various friends.
Are there any particular fellow FlyerTalk members whose advice you follow?
Sagy, BryanIAH, Bikeguy, rankourabu, giggy, geoffco… really, I’d better stop with what I’m able to remember off the top of my head. I’m sure that this list would 10x as big if I went about it systematically.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see change on FlyerTalk?
Well, I expressed this fairly verbosely in the recent TalkBoard threads regarding adding requirements for MR Deals forums, but I think FlyerTalk would increase its relevance by vertically integrating. There will always be private lists and forums–by not jumping into that pool, FT simply loses that sector of the game. Allowing private forums to be created on an invite-only basis by senior FT members would bring a lot of that off-site traffic back to FT.
Have you attended or are you planning on attending any FlyerTalk related events?
I’ve attended a few informal FT meetups in BRU after the last Vayama AC jumbo fare, but nothing formal so far. I’m confirmed for the Krakow DO and am also attending (and speaking at) the ORD Seminar DO.
Any other comments / questions / suggestions / advice?
Always be on the lookout for opportunities. Opportunities are everywhere. Educate yourself, even on arcane programs, which allows you to put the pieces of the puzzle together when an opportunity comes along. Arbitrage opportunities are everywhere. Remember friends and family who might need 100 of something even if you need only 2 of something. Think of ways that you can manage friends and family’s mileage accounts in a mutually beneficial way.
Most of all, share your discoveries. Think carefully about the scalability of the deal before you decide the venue of sharing. Think about how many people are likely to use the deal if you post it publicly and further whether the deal will remain alive if that many people jump on it. If it’s a $200 airfare to Europe, then thousands if not tens of thousands of tickets will be booked if you share publicly. However, if it’s a multi-step cashback plus purchase plus selling on eBay deal, then obviously fewer will take advantage of the deal. However, the former deal has a much higher tolerance for a lot of people buying that ticket while the market will get quickly flooded with the latter. The other important question to answer before deciding venue is whether it’s a time limited deal that will not come back (an easy-to-find error fare) or a long term, sustainable deal (a 3x fuel dump). But that’s just deciding the venue. Either way, share. If it’s something that can be shared publicly, definitely post it to FlyerTalk. If it’s not, share it with your FlyerTalk friends.
Hans, thanks again for sharing with us all. I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing pictures from your future trips, and for the opportunity to meet in Chicago this October at the Chicago Seminars. We’ll be changing your FlyerTalk membership to the Premium Service, sending you a pair of luggage tags, and exclusive FlyerTalk lapel pin. In addition your avatar will now show you, as one of the Faces of FlyerTalk for years to come.
Hans shared a bunch of pictures with me. Here they are:
Deal of the Day
For today’s Deal of the Day AutoSlash is donating a $50 Hertz Gift Certificate for the best overall travel deal submitted. A great mileage run, jumbo fare, partner promo, new card sign-up offer, or the special twist you figured out on a deal today. Add it to the comments section of this post (make sure to include your first name, last inital, and home airport) or this afternoon’s Deal of the Day post to be eligible to win.