We’re back with the latest installment of our Expert Interview series. This month, we had a chance to talk to Dan Miller with Points with a Crew. Dan started Points with a Crew in the summer of 2014 after planning a cross-country trip to a family reunion for his family of 8 (3 boys, 3 girls from 4-16 years old). Having a large family qualifies Dan as an expert in family travel, especially family travel with points and miles in place of cash. When Dan isn’t helping families travel through his blog, he is a Computer Programmer based in Cincinnati, OH. We hope you enjoy our interview with Dan and learn something along the way!
What’s your favorite thing about traveling?
Travel is a way for us to show the world to our kids and get them out of the norm. It is great to make memories with each of them while showing them the similarities and differences of people and cultures outside of their neighborhood. We do something unique with our family. Each year, my wife will take 3 of the kids and I will take the other 3 kids and plan individual, long weekend trips with each of them. For example, my wife and son just got back from a concert in Louisville. One of my other sons wants to go to Sweden, so he and I are going to Sweden this year. It’s fun to have these bonding experiences with each of them.
One of the toughest things about traveling with a family of 8 is cost. It’s difficult to afford flights, hotels, car rentals, you name it, for 8 people, so points and miles are key to our travels. Points and miles have allowed us to do things that we would have never been able to do before.
Tell us about your blog. What’s the most interesting/helpful post there?
I started Points with a Crew in the summer of 2014 after learning that our family reunion that year was scheduled to be in Lake Tahoe. I knew that 8 cross-country flights from Cincinnati to Reno would be expensive, which may have caused us to miss out on the reunion. After doing a bit of research, I found that there weren’t many blogs that focused on family travel. Most of the blogs out there were written by single men or married couples that took more extravagant trips in international first class, 5 star hotels, etc. There’s nothing wrong with those things, in fact we have done some of those trips, but I felt like the family market was missing. I wanted to focus on something that was more relevant to our situation. I wanted to let people know that it is ok to drive to your destination instead of flying first class. It’s ok to stay in a Holiday Inn Express instead of a 5 star hotel.
Interestingly to me, the posts that seem to get the most comments and activity are the posts about policies and experiences traveling with my kids. For some reason, that is a tough pill to swallow with some folks. For example, I recently wrote a piece about the American Express Platinum card changing their lounge policies from allowing your whole immediate family to enter to only 2 family members as of March 30, 2017. If you read through the comments, you’ll see what I’m talking about!
How often do you travel internationally per year?
We have yet to take all 8 family members on an international trip at the same time. We’re gradually working on getting them all their passports, but 8 passports are expensive! My son and I are going to Sweden later in the summer and we’re planning on spending a couple of weeks next summer with the whole family somewhere internationally. It’s tough to try and coordinate around school and work schedules for 8 people.
To date, my wife I have been the ones to do the majority of the international travel. We did an around the world trip first class trip last year together. We flew Japan Airlines and Emirates in first class and it was quite the experience. We’re also planning on a trip to Peru for the 2 of us in a couple of months.
How did you first learn about using points? What was the first card you opened?
I knew about using credit cards to generate points for travel for a while, but it wasn’t until planning the family reunion to Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2014 that I really started using credit card points for travel. We needed to fund cross-country airfare for 8 people, so I thought that was a great place to start with applying for credit cards. We opened up a couple Chase Southwest cards and got the Companion Pass and then opened up a couple other Chase cards that had points that transferred into Southwest. In all, we used about 170,000 Southwest points to book the flights.
What’s the most amazing trip you’ve taken with points so far?
Well, first of all, there have been so many times when my wife and I have said to each other “we live a ridiculous life!”. And, the reason is because of points and miles. We wouldn’t be able to have the experiences that we have without points. With that said, I would have to say the around the world first class trip was the most amazing trip. But there have also been experiences like flying in a helicopter from Monaco to France or taking 2 cross country train trips with the family that have been amazing. Sometimes we have to sit back and pinch ourselves.
How did you get the points you needed, how long did it take to get them?
It is probably easiest to direct folks to this blog post so they can get some more details on what points we used, how we got them, etc. There were a lot of moving parts!
What do you say to people when they ask “how does this affect my credit”?
I tell them the facts about credit scores. I have a couple of posts about the impacts of credit cards on credit scores. The short version I tell them is that there are 5 components that make up your credit score and the largest is credit utilization. If you have 1 credit card with a $10,000 limit and you’re using $1,000 of it, you have a 10% utilization. You add another card with a $10,000 limit and you’re still using $1,000 of your limit, you now have a 5% utilization. The lower the percentage, the better your score is going to be (considering all of your other financial habits are in check).
How many cards do you apply for a year?
My wife and I, in total, apply for and open somewhere around 20 or so cards a year, 3-5 cards per quarter.
When was the last time you got a new credit card, which one did you get / why?
This should be easy, because I just applied for them. I opened the Citi American Airlines Platinum card and the Barclay AAviator Red card for a total of 100,000 American Airlines points. The Barclay AAviator is nice because you get the 40,000 points after your first purchase and paying the $95 annual fee. For $95 and a pack of gum, I got 40,000 American Airlines miles.
Is reward travel hard or do you think anyone can do it?
What I tell people is to set a destination goal and open up the 1 to 3 cards that are going to help you get there. Put your normal daily spend on the card and you’ll get the bonus points in no time. I recently helped a family of 3 go to Australia for their anniversary and a family of 5 go to Berlin for a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip. I’ve also helped people go on weekend trips just up the road. So, yes, I think if you are already financially disciplined then you can take advantage of reward travel.
Where can we find you on social?