We’re excited to launch 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 first installment of our Expert Interview series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Kerr. In his professional life, Richard serves our country as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. In his free time, he is a big voice in the reward travel space through his Travel Hacking 101 Facebook group and also holds the title of Sr. Points & Miles Contributor for The Points Guy.
What’s your favorite thing about traveling?
One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” My favorite thing about travel is definitely the enlightenment factor. Every time I go somewhere new I am enriched.
How often do you travel internationally?
While stationed in Tokyo I would travel almost every day. We would travel all around Asia. Our travel has slowed down a bit and I’ve only traveled internationally one time this year, which was to Panama last weekend.
How did you first learn about using points? What was the first card you opened?
In 2010 I was based in Seattle, Washington. I learned about using points after realizing I wasn’t getting anything in return for spending with a debit card and cash. The Chase Sapphire Preferred was the first card that I opened. There were no big blogs around at the time to gain knowledge from, so I relied on flyertalk.com.
What’s the most amazing trip you’ve taken with points so far?
During my time in Tokyo, my wife and I went to Oceania using United Airlines miles. We flew from Tokyo to Auckland to Fiji back to Tokyo then to Bangkok. 25 hours of business class for only 40,000 points/person. This little-known routing is still available to book today.
How did you get the points you needed, how long did it take to get them?
Combination of United Airlines and Chase cards. My wife and I each got our own cards. It took us no time at all to hit minimum spending on the cards – less than 3 months.
What do you say to people when they ask “how does this affect my credit”?
First they need to do some research on FICO credit scores and understand the five aspects that make up your credit score. If people ask for resources, I always send them the Wikipedia FICO page for reference. You need to pull your own report and make sure it’s error free. The main things this impacts are credit ratio and inquiries when opening new cards. Your score drops a few points from the application, but your utilization (credit used vs credit available) will drop, which increases your score; most people’s scores will go up. Starting out, I was pretty terrified myself, but my score has gone up about 100 points since my wife and I started.
How many cards do you apply for a year?
Yes… [haha, now that’s a points enthusiast!]
About 15 per year each for myself and my wife. I’ve had years with more than that. I’m about as aggressive as it gets when it comes to applying for cards, and funny enough I’ve never been denied for a card.
When was the last time you got a new credit card, which one did you get / why?
This past Friday I opened the Citi AT&T Access card, which I got for the $650 credit. You get the credit after hitting the minimum spend, which is enough to buy a $650 phone (and then resell it)! Just before that my wife and I each got the 100,000 Hilton card and 75,000 Hilton card and the Bank of America Amtrak card since we live in Washington, DC and the Navy base is on the Amtrak line.
Is reward travel hard or do you think anyone can do it?
Not everybody should or can do it. It really comes down to staying out of debt. It takes the right kind of person who can maintain finances without getting into debt, so I can’t encourage anyone to play this game unless they don’t have any credit card debt. Takes a certain kind of patience and analytical thinking. Now, if you’re self-disciplined and willing to learn, then sure. People who redeem points for blenders hurt my feelings!
Tell us about your blog. What’s the most interesting/helpful post there?
In addition to being Sr. Points & Miles Contributor for The Points Guy, I also run Travel Hacking 101 – a Facebook community with 10,000 members. I’ve put together a FAQ that highlights the two main questions that I get.
Where can we find you on social?
Note: All pictures are property of Richard Kerr.