Want to know more about the Faces of FlyerTalk?
Bill (general45) is an original member of FlyerTalk and has been on the site for 14 years! A small business owner in Northern Maine, Bill has been at this for years and knows the landscape. A previous semi-pro hockey player and married man of 35 years, when it comes to travel we can only call him quiet and sly. You won’t see Bill posting a lot on Flyertalk, but be sure he’s reading. Bill, we’re thrilled to have you be a part of “Faces of FlyerTalk”.
When did you find FlyerTalk and how did you find it?
I joined FlyerTalk as an “original member” back in 1998. I sort of stumbled on it, read some of the advice on how to accumulate points for free travel, and became instantly hooked. One post talked about becoming Marriott Gold by applying for the Marriott Credit card and paying the $35.00 yearly fee. I only received silver status with my offer so I wrote the card company and asked them to explain why my $35.00 was worth silver and another person’s $35.00 was worth gold. Oh, and I told them that I wanted Gold. To my surprise they gave it to me and each year after that until 2006. That year someone decided that I shouldn’t receive it anymore. I’m still Gold though using points to maintain my status. I liked what I read on FlyerTalk and applied the things I learned to accumulate points and miles.
Do you consider yourself an infrequent, fairly regular, or miles and points addicted reader?
I’m a regular reader but infrequent contributor. I’m a 14 year veteran with only 699 posts. I post when I think it’s relevant. I am truly a mileage and point addicted reader.
How often are you on FlyerTalk, and what forums do you typically visit?
I usually visit every day. I always visit the hotel forums and occasionally visit some airline forums and MilesBuzz.
Do you travel for business, leisure, or both?
I am a business owner in Northern Maine with 50 employees at 5 locations. I might get away on a business trip once a year. Most of my attention is given to leisure travel with my family. I take vacations a couple of times a year but do make frequent weekend trips to the Southern Maine area to visit my children and grandchildren. My attention to points and miles focuses on getting the greatest amount of pleasure using the least amount of cash.
As a kid of the 50′s and 60′s and having a German mother, I traveled each and every year from 1956 (L1649A Super Constellation Starliner) through 1971 (DC-8′s and B707′s) to Munich. My mother would travel to Munich with my brothers and I just after school was done to visit my grandparents and we wouldn’t return until the last week of August. The time was filled by staying at a farm in the Chiemsee area of Southern Bavaria and taking day trips to exciting destinations all over the area. My father would join us for the last couple of weeks and accompany us on the return flight home. I always marveled at the aircraft I traveled on. I guess that’s why I always have enjoyed traveling.
In 1978 I won $1,000.00 in the lottery and proceeded to purchase tickets for my wife and I to do a summer vacation in Germany. The years in between were spent with my kids growing up and making sure they didn’t have a bill when they graduated from college. We did a lot of scrimping and saving over those years to make it happen. With all that behind us we decided to enjoy life a little more by taking some trips. Since 2004 my wife and I have flown to Dublin, Vienna, Rome, and Munich (5 trips) as well as many places throughout the USA and Canada using only points and miles and very little cash.
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet right now, and which ones do you recommend to friends?
I carry the AMEX Hilton Surpass Card and the Chase Sapphire. Right now I’m doing the spend to get the 50,000 bonus points with the INK Bold Business Card. Hilton is my hotel of choice because they really treat me well and the Sapphire Card allows me to put points into a variety of accounts.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to acquire points and miles?
I guess that would be the Citi Card AA applications. My wife and I received a little over 900,000 miles while that lasted never flying a mile on AA metal. Since the closest AA airport to me was Boston (375 miles), I instead turned a lot of those miles into Hilton points. I still have a balance of over 1,000,000 points in Hilton today.
How many miles / points have you accumulated in the past year? In your lifetime?
The key to our being able to travel is to make sure my wife signs up for exactly the same things I do. I didn’t even think about this until a few years ago reading about it here on Frugal Travel Guy. Last year we did close to a million miles with different card signup bonuses and spending. We own a mutual Hilton account so we both earn into that account. My balance today is a little over 3,900,000 points and miles. I estimate that we have received 8,000,000 points and miles over the last 12 years. I spend in bunches since I include family members in our travels.
Do you use a tracking program to keep track of your miles / points? Which one?
I use Awardwallet and Miletracker allthough Miletracker has had a lot of program exclusions or glitches recently.
How does your spouse / partner / family / friends feel about this hobby?
I have heard this by so many other contributors but here goes; my wife and family members think I’m completely nuts but love the trips I plan. Friends say they want to know how to do it but never do. I consider this crazy hobby much the same way a person that plants a garden does, only my hobby reaps travel while the other reaps tomatoes.
What’s your most memorable trip(s)?
I have a few. In 2004 my wife and I were able to take my son, daughter, and new son-in-law on a trip to Germany. I used NWA points for the airfare. At the time, a FlyerTalk member wrote about getting Gold status with NWA (lounge access) by signing up for an offer that was for Asian addresses only. The only problem was it worked for everyone. So my whole family signed up, and became Gold NWA status flyers enjoying the lounge access and early boarding that it offered by special entry. I still have the luggage tags! We stayed in Germany for 2 weeks using 2 timeshare weeks I had for 2-2 bedroom condos in Schliersee Germany, and than staying in Munich at the City Hilton using points for 3 rooms. We all had lounge access and free full breakfast in the restaurant and did daytrips by train or bus.
Another trip I will always remember was taking my wife, brother-in law, and his wife to Germany to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010. Many of my relatives have played leading roles in this play and my great grandmother was from the neighboring town of Ettal. We used points in Business/First for ourselves, and coach for my b.i.l. and his wife. We stayed at the SPG Schloss Fuschl the first few nights, 2 rooms upgraded to tower suites and breakfast using points in their beautiful restaurant. Zilch for a bill when we checked out. We went to the play and then travelled to Munich staying there a few more days with the same amenities as 2004, but this time I had to write requesting special consideration for breakfast in the hotel restaurant before we arrived. Again, no charge for this stay. The only expense was my SIXT BMW X5 rental of a little over $500.00 for the week, food, and incidental expenses as well as the taxes on the airfare.
My last trip was my most memorable to date. My wife and I accompanied my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren ages 2 and 4 to DisneyWorld this past November. I used 150,000 points for the tickets and $60.00 for the airfare with Delta, and points to stay at the Sheraton Vistana on International Boulevard getting 2-2 bedroom condo’s. There was absolutely no charge for the condo stay. I did a last minute rental with Advantage for a brand new minivan at $18.00 per day plus taxes, and used my rental car coverage with AMEX to cover the entire rental. I will never forget the kids expressions when they first met Minnie and Mickey Mouse. My daughter and s.i.l. will be flying to Washington D.C. and staying at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel using points and miles in June for their 10th anniversary. I’m sure this will be a memorable occasion for them.
I also like using my hotel points arranging stays for people with limited resources and having the need to stay in a hotel while caring for a loved one in the hospital. This could also include enough miles to fly them to a destination in order to provide this care.
What suggestions can you give to rookies and newbies on FlyerTalk?
Never call the card companies or airlines to see if an offer is valid. It never ceases to amaze me how something is killed as quickly as it started because someone decided to make a phone call. Sign up and participate with any and all airline and point programs. You never know when one program merges with another making your orphan miles into something of value.
Are there any particular fellow FlyerTalk members whose advice you follow?
Not really. I concentrate on the things I find interesting. Sometimes this comes from the ones that have 20,000 posts and sometimes it comes from a new member. That’s the great thing about FlyerTalk; just when you think you know everything, someone comes along and proves you totally wrong.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see change on FlyerTalk?
Not a thing. I cringe when I see a website add so called “enhancements”. I’m not tech savvy enough to keep up with these things so old and reliable works better for me than new and improved. FlyerTalk appeals to all users because it’s changed very little since it’s inception.
Have you attended or are you planning on attending any FlyerTalk related events?
My business is busiest during the Spring and Fall/early winter. Sometimes Winter arrives in early October so I need to be around. I would like to attend the event in Chicago someday.
Any other comments / questions / suggestions / advice?
Do the points and miles in programs that work for you. Use the points and miles for travel that fits your needs. While I have flown first and business class a few times, the one thing I can say consistantly is no matter what class I fly, we all arrive at the destination the same time, albeit some more rested than others.
I ALWAYS call the hotel before arrival and speak to a manager or someone with authority requesting room upgrades or special considerations. It has always worked except for one occasion and that was because the hotel was completely sold out.
One other thing is to value and guard points and miles like you would your money in a bank account. Know when to pay with cash and know when to use points. Some programs now allow cash and points for stays and can be a great $$$ savers especially in expensive cities.
One more thing about points and miles … My wife and I have enjoyed travelling as an entire family and enjoyed some pretty great vacations. My kids still talk about that trip in 2004 and want to know if we can ever do it again. Remember these “kids” are 30 and 32 years old. I’m so grateful and blessed to have the means of now including my grandchildren in our travels. As I previously mentioned, my daughter and S.I.L. will be flying to Washington in June and staying at the Willard Intercontinental for 3 nights to celebrate their anniversary; all courtesy of points and miles. Sure, I could have reserved a Choice Hotel, but theyr’e my kids and it gives me a thrill to provide accommodations in surroundings they would only be able to dream of. I guess that’s what makes this all worthwhile to me. No one knows it yet but in a couple more years we will be doing a trip to Germany again with the same bunch as 2004 but with 2 additional members of the family in tow. And if my son gets married there will another one in the mix. Again, points and miles will play a great part in making this all happen.
When you read all the negatives by so called travel experts and reporters saying points and miles are a worthless pursuit, show them all these success stories.
Bill, thank you again for sharing your story, experiences, and family with us all. We’ll be changing your FlyerTalk membership to premium service; in addition your avatar will now show you, as one of the Faces of FlyerTalk for years to come.
Here are some pictures Bill shared with us:
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, mistake 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.