We recently chatted with Spencer Howard, a man of many hats in the reward travel world. Spencer left his career in politics at the end of 2016 to begin chasing his passion of writing about points and miles full-time.
He’s always been a travel nut and has fascinated with flying since he was a kid. This fascination led him to launch a new site, Straight to the Points, as well as lend his expert knowledge to a few other blogs and social channels. We hope you enjoy our latest Expert Interview with Spencer!
What’s your favorite thing about traveling?
I’m very extroverted and love meeting new people. One of my favorite things to do is meet and talk to Uber drivers. On a recent trip to Singapore, I learned more about the city from Uber drivers than anyone else.
One of my drivers is a chef. He knew everything about the city. He told me how freakishly safe the city is and how there are times where he has left his phone in his unlocked car without any problems.
Another driver previously was a military and police offer in Singapore. Talk about interesting. This guy knew a ton about Singapore’s law enforcement policies and the impact they have on the country. It was certainly an interesting trip.
I love getting to know people while in transit – whether it’s on a flight or in a lounge. On a recent trip I met a guy in the Etihad First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi who was flying to Brisbane. I was flying to Melbourne. We struck up a conversation and ended up getting dinner in Melbourne a couple days later.
We’ve become friends and even met up for lunch when he was in Washington, DC.
Tell us about your blog. What’s the most interesting/helpful post there?
I am in the process of launching my new site, Straight to the Points. I’m looking forward to talking about the trips that I’ve booked with miles and points and how other can do the same.
Since I spend my days writing for others sites, I’m particularly excited about the “Hot Takes” section of my site where I can share quick blurbs about fun miles and points news and the articles I write on other sites.
At 10xTravel, I serve as Editor in Chief. We help people who are very new to the world of award travel. With a site geared toward beginners, we like to keep things fun. We’re a very hands-on team and spend a lot of time in our Facebook group interacting with readers.
I also write for Upgraded Points, a site that we view as a ‘Wikipedia of award travel’. We aim to write content that is comprehensive. It’s a new site, but growing rapidly. I write a new piece almost daily including booking guides and other in-depth articles. I’ve put together over 15 booking guides so far and our team is working on more as we speak.
Finally, I am a co-founder of a award travel consulting business called The Points Consultants. Our business is centered around helping small business owners and executives maximize the points they earn to fly business and/or first class. We take the work out of earning and burning miles and points for them.
How often do you travel internationally per year?
When I was working in politics, I traveled very little. In fact, I didn’t really start traveling much until 2015 when I started hunting cheap fares. In 2016, I took one big 3-week trip around the world that I booked with points.
In 2017, I’ve already taken another 3-week trip around the world thanks to Garuda Indonesia’s 90% award discount. I just returned from a last minute trip to London after chasing down my friend Gib from God Save The Points to ambush his upgrade promotion with British Airways.
I have flights booked to Europe for Oktoberfest, though I’m not sure how I’m getting back to the states yet. I also have another 3-week trip planned that will take me to Southeast Asia and Cape Town, South Africa.
If that’s not enough, I already have a trip booked in Emirates first class early next year that will take me from New York City to Dubai to Bangkok to Dubai to Milan to New York City. With a quick stopover in Dubai, a week in Southeast Asia, and a week in Europe it should be a blast.
If it’s not abundantly clear at this point, there’s nothing “normal” about the way I travel. I try to pack in as much as I can while I’m traveling and hit as many places as possible. Oh, and I still love the flying part. The fun begins the moment I set foot in the airport.
How did you first learn about using points? What was the first card you opened?
I’ve always loved flying and travel. Growing up I would join my mom to pick up my dad from the airport when he returned from his weekly business trips. When family would visit for the holidays, I’d tag along to get them too. I just liked seeing planes take off and land. My mom thinks I enjoyed the possibility of what the world had to offer.
In 2015, with a job that actually supported vacation, I booked a quick 3-day trip to Taipei (cheap cash fare) in economy class. In September of that year, I started researching how I could fly business or first class.
I’m 6’3”, so getting more space was a high priority. Besides, why not fly in style and have more fun if I can! I started researching credit card rewards and loyalty programs and here we are.
The first miles-earning card I opened was the Amex Gold Delta Skymiles card. It was a horrible mistake, but I opened right before I started learning about award travel.
Knowing what I know now I would have opened something like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I think I’ve more than made up for that poor decision since then.
What’s the most amazing trip you’ve taken with points so far?
I’m going to break this up into 2 categories: Experience and Flights
The best experience I’ve had was a scuba diving trip in the Philippines. I met up with a few friends who flew the Island Hopper together. We spent a few days scuba diving off the coast of the Philippines and it was absolutely amazing.
The best flight I’ve taken has to be on Etihad in The Apartments from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne. I was the only one in first class, which is arguably the best product in the sky.
With no one in The Residence, the butler, Johan, was there for me every stop of the way. I think he could tell how excited I was to be there. The crew manager also seemed to pick up on my excitement and gave me a tour of the A380 we were flying. It was unreal!
How did you get the points you needed, how long did it take to get them?
For the flight, I used American AAdvantage miles and booked the trip less than a month prior to the American Airlines devaluation. It was 60,000 points one way from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, which is now 100,000, so I was very fortunate.
I received a targeted offer for 60,000 American AAdvantage miles on a Citi card. I knew the devaluation was coming so I moved quickly to get the flight booked once I had the points. It was the first award flight I booked and, I think, pretty indicative of how crazy my travel planning can be. Who books a flight from the Middle East to Australia before booking a flight to the Middle East?! Yeah, this guy does.
What do you say to people when they ask “how does this affect my credit”?
The big thing is responsibility. If you’re responsible, you’ll be fine. It’s a matter of how you’re spending. If you keep your utilization low and don’t treat your credit card as “free money” – treat it as a debit card – you’ll be fine. Getting points is entirely worthless if you’re paying interest. If I can’t pay back card before the due date if not even earlier, I’m not spending.
I think people would be less hesitant to dip a toe into miles and points if they had a better understanding of their credit score. In doing so, they could feel confident in their decisions.
How many cards do you apply for a year?
I would say now, I apply for anywhere from 10 to 15 a year. I started at a faster rate, but now I’m more strategic.
When was the last time you got a new credit card, which one did you get / why?
Two weeks ago, I opened the Citi Business AAdvantage card, the Bank of America Merrill Plus card and the Barclaycard Miles and More card.
The bonus on the AAdvantage card was high and I know I can find some good use for them. The Merrill Plus card is a great card that doesn’t get nearly enough talk. I already have fun ideas to maximize the points from this card.
The Miles & More card was more of an opportunity to experiment. I enjoy learning other programs and how to use their points, so I thought I would apply for it. Besides, there are some really interesting Mileage Bargains that people should learn.
Is reward travel hard or do you think anyone can do it?
I think there are a few things to consider with reward travel. If you’re not good with staying within your means, don’t do it or you’ll rack up debt.
If you’re good about tracking things with a spreadsheet and being organized, you’ll be fine (or use RewardStock!). I think if people are interested and enjoy the process, they can succeed.
It’s all about perspective and what you want to do. Some people are completely satisfied with getting the Southwest Companion Pass and flying their family of 4 around the United States. Others would rather spend their points on premium cabins internationally.
You can make what you want of it. I would say that people should take their time to learn. Once you think you’ve figured things out, go back and figure out what you missed. Take the time to work your way through a process and refrain from the shiny objects. Don’t jump at credit card offers without a goal in mind. It might be a great card but it might not be the right card for you in the moment. Remember to think long-term.
It seems like a lot at first, but you’ll be fine.
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