We’re excited to bring you the next installment of our Expert Interview series. In these short interviews, we hope to give you some insight into the reward travel world from another perspective. For the third installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Grant Thomas. During the day, Grant works at Ebates, an online shopping portal that rewards users for purchases. In his free time, he writes about his experience and knowledge on his site, travelwithgrant.com.
What’s your favorite thing about traveling?
I really like to see new places, experience new things, and get out of normal everyday life. It’s fun to break up monotony with something new.
How often do you travel internationally?
I take about 2-3 international trips a year on points. I try to take a big trip every quarter of the year, except Q4 (October-December), which is always busy at work. I also try to take 1-2 weekend trips per month. Living in San Francisco gives a lot of options and is equal distance from San Francisco and Oakland airports. Most of my weekend trips are up and down the west coast, sometimes going as far east as Chicago or Dallas. It’s tough to do an east coast trip on the weekends. I grew up in Orange County, so I try to get down to that area as often as possible.
How did you first learn about using points? What was the first card you opened?
I actually stumbled upon reward travel while doing some searches for gift card buying and selling. The first blog I read was Frequent Miler and I was hooked. I expanded my interest from there and started reading a lot of the top blogs. The first cards I opened were the American Express Delta Gold Skymiles card and the Chase United Airlines card. The Delta card had a 30,000 point sign-up bonus and the United card had a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.
What’s the most amazing trip you’ve taken with points so far?
I’ve taken three trips to Europe and all of them have been 2 week trips. Part of each trip is memorable, but the trip this past January is the one that sticks out the most. My roommate and I flew American Airlines business class from Los Angeles-London using American Airlines miles. That was awesome. We visited seven cities (London, Paris, Nice, Monaco, Munich, Venice, and Dublin), staying two days in each place. I’d have to say that Nice and Monaco were my favorite – great weather! We used hotel points for the majority of the stays. On the way back, we flew Dublin-San Francisco on Aer Lingus.
How did you get the points you needed, how long did it take to get them?
Little by little over time. I used several different “currencies” to fund the trip. I opened an American Airlines Citi Executive card when it had a 100,000 point sign-up bonus for the LA-London flights and used the Chase British Airways sign-up bonus for the Aer Lingus flight from Dublin-San Francisco (Aer Lingus is a partner of British Airways). For the hotels, I’ve had the Club Carlson cards for a while. It was great when they offered the last night of your stay for free – you basically used half of the points required for two night stays. I had a bunch of Club Carlson points, so we used them for the majority of the hotels, since they have some nice hotels in Europe. I had two IHG free nights, so used those for a hotel in Paris and then paid for a Hilton in Venice since it was off-season and they price was so low. I have Hilton status, so we were upgraded to a suite and had lounge access. For the flights within cities, we just paid out of pocket since flights in Europe are so cheap and taxes and fees on award flights are so high.
What do you say to people when they ask “how does this affect my credit”?
I feel like the people that know the least about credit and credit cards are the ones that are the most opinionated. Most people don’t understand how credit works. They think there is a “magic number” on the amount of credit cards you can have and if you go beyond that you have bad credit and are in debt. Most of them think that you can only have one, two at max, credit cards. They all think my credit score is bad when I tell them how many cards I have, but I tell them it’s good enough to be able to open 30 cards! People that “get” the hobby know how to leverage their credit for great opportunities. The key is to be financially responsible and organized.
How many cards do you apply for a year?
I have anywhere from 28-30 credit cards open depending on the time of the year. In the first couple of years I started applying for cards, I would apply for 12-15 cards every year and was approved for 10-12 of them. There was a strategy to apply for 3-4 cards on the same day, but it’s become a little more complicated now. I’m personally bumping up against the number of cards that each bank will give me. The Chase 5/24 rule has pretty much stopped me from getting anymore cards with Chase, but it hasn’t stops me from applying for cards in general. There are too many good offers out there.
When was the last time you got a new credit card, which one did you get / why?
I did a little app-o-rama (apply for several cards at once) shortly after the Olympics ended this summer. US Bank Flexperks business card was tied to some generous Olympics bonuses. I really like US Bank Flexpoints and there are a few Flexpoints cards out there (offered by Visa, Amex), so you have some flexibility in earning. Each card has a slightly different earning method, for example one card allows you to earn 2x points at grocery stores and gas stations. What’s nice about Flexpoints is that you can redeem 20,000 Flexpoints for any flights up to $400 in value.
Is reward travel hard or do you think anyone can do it?
That’s a good question. It depends on your situation. I’m single, with no kids, not tied to school schedules and I can travel whenever I want. It’s easier to find award space for me. For people with larger families and / or limited timing, it could be more difficult. If you have flexibility, award travel makes sense. Flights are tricky because of limited seats. One thing that I would note is that even if you have a more limited schedule, hotel awards seem to have a lot of availability. It may be a good practice to acquire hotel points and find a more cash-back type of credit card for flights. Any savings is good savings, in my opinion.
Tell us about your blog. What’s the most interesting/helpful post there?
On Travel with Grant, I write about a bunch of different topics. I think the most helpful posts and the ones that I enjoy writing are the detailed, step-by-step plans. For example, I just wrote a post about the Chase Ritz-Carlton card, which is a Visa Infinite card that offers $100 off domestic round-trip flights. I walk the readers through specifics on how to book this discount. I also enjoy finding breaking news and posting about it, like the news I broke about American Express changing their transfer rates to British Airways from 1,000:1,000 to 1,000:800. I have all of my credit card statements scheduled to close at the end of each month and while going through them a few months ago I found this information. It was cool to break the news on this.
Where can we find you on social?
Note: All pictures are property of Grant Thomas