Our ABC Nightline Segment and How We Travel for Much Less

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Last night our traveling trio was featured on ABC’s Nightline, and the story about how our family travels for much, much less (and sometimes nearly free) was shared with anyone who happened to tune in to watch.  I have no clue how people stay up that late on a regular basis, so here is the online clip in case you missed it snoozing!

Mommy Points Nightline

Talking the all important credit card points…

There was an accompanying online story as well.

Spending a couple of days with a film crew, and especially flying with a four year old and a camera, was a little bit nerve racking, but also really fun.  In the end, it’s not about us, it’s about encouraging families to expand their beliefs about what is possible.  Where you can travel isn’t limited by your budget, it is only limited by your desire.  There are so many ways to find deals, earn miles, or heck even win trips as we did in the segment that where there is enough desire, there will be a way.

That is something I realized over years of slowly listening and watching others who were doing things with miles, points, and travel deals that I didn’t think possible on a middle class budget.  People like Gary at View From the Wing, Rick the Frugal Travel Guy, and Brian The Points Guy.  Of course, those guys weren’t moms with young children, so I still didn’t think what they did totally applied to what was possible for my family.

There was no way we could earn enough miles and points in our everyday life to fly around the world in a lie flat seat.  Wrong.

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EVA Air Lie-Flat Seat

Josh relaxing on Singapore Airlines seat

Josh relaxing on Singapore Airlines seat

There was no way a kid could fit in or have fun at a posh hotel in Paris.  Wrong.

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Looking out at Park Hyatt Paris

Fun in Paris!

Fun in Paris!

There was no way we could stay on Hyatt points in a villa in the Indian Ocean.  Wrong.

Park Hyatt Maldives

Park Hyatt Maldives

Heck, there was no way a young kid could learn to be totally at ease on a plane.  Wrong and wrong.

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Can sleep in first or coach

There was no way my travel-resistant husband would want any part of this miles, points, and travel insanity.  Wrong.

There was no point taking my family to Hawaii because a beach is a beach is a beach to a kid.  Wrong.

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Part of what we learned over time (and share here) is how to make trips cost much, much less.  That strategy usually comes from using miles and points that are earned from everyday life and partly from following folks like @theflightdeal and @airfarewatchdog to find killer airfare deals.

The other part of what I was inspired to do over time was to make travel more comfortable.  My six foot, three inch travel-resistant husband wasn’t keen on flying to Europe through the night sitting upright in coach, but when we are able to use miles to get him in a lie-flat seat, the frown turned upside down so to speak…

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Smiling in first class!

Spending time in a hotel with a young kid got much more comfortable once we found ways to affordably go from a base room to a suite for certain trips.  Tip: Email the hotel ahead of time and just ask what it takes to get into a suite and sometimes you will be quite surprised with the answer.

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Yes, much of what we do is thanks to the 40,000, 50,000, 70,000, or even 100,000 miles you can get as a credit card sign-up bonus, but that’s not the only thing we do.  And yes, you must always be responsible with your credit and not spend more than you otherwise would.  Simply maximizing how we buy stuff everyday by using rewards earning credit cards to give us up to 5x points for purchases and shopping via online mileage portals and registering for dining programs to earn bonus miles also helps.  Just like with the hotel nights at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek that we had won in the Nightline segment, we also enter contests like this one and this one on a pretty regular basis.

Miles, points, and eventually elite status not only made travel possible, but much more enjoyable as some of the normal headaches and burdens of travel were lessened or eliminated.

We are very thankful to all of you who help spread the world about how everyday families can (and should) do this, as well as to the Nightline crew for taking the journey with us.

 

Comments

  1. “Where you can travel isn’t limited by your budget, it is only limited by your desire”

    So true, yet we have friends who incredulously watch us fly FC to Europe every year (last year TWICE), and yet either can’t believe their eyes, or can’t be bothered to learn to do the same thing. It does take some time and work, and so you do have to actually want it, but what you can get for so little money is so worth it.

  2. awesome site…. this is something i’ve been doing for several years and i absolutely LOVE it! thanks for the tips i didn’t already know about! you’re awesome

  3. All good. I still wish Brian, Gary , Darius or you could find a way to make a Orlando Disney / Disney Cruise (almost) free. May be such a thing just does not exist 🙂

    • Tom – have you considered the Barclay Arrival card for a Disney trip? That is what I’m considering. If you just did all of your spend on the card you could probably easily rack up enough points to cover a lot of the costs of a Disney trip.

  4. Great segment to share! I’m a more casual reader, but always love reading yours and other bloggers tips. It’s so true that all you need is that desire to travel. Makes all the difference in the world.

  5. Congrats, Summer! What a wonderful piece on your family and your awesome tips for us all! Glad to see you’re getting the recognition you so deserve as an expert with a big heart in this crazy hobby.

    Hope to see you soon at another Houston event!

  6. The vitriol in the comments on the ABC website is astounding. I suppose folks prefer ignorance to changing their belief system. I’ll just keep eating caviar while they suffer in coach.

  7. Congrats on the TV appearance and finally someone who comes out with an Ebook with all these strategies. I was wondering why nobody has done so before. I have been reading your blog and you have mentioned your husband does quite a bit a business travel. Not everyone is in the same situation so it takes the “rest of us” probably a bit longer to collect points and enjoy the perks. Not bashing or anything just wish you would mention it a bit more. Thanks for all the valuable content. Great work!

  8. MP, I have been reading yours, but never commented on here. But I MUST today! I just showed your clip to my husband and he laughed out loud where your husband said “I’ve been conditioned.” Yes, he felt the same. We have been doing this for some time and I guess I have converted him to this religion (or conditioned him?).
    It was a good clip.

  9. I crscked up at the “conditioning” comment. I’ve only gotten my husband to be semi-conditioned! Congrats on the segment. Your little girl is adorable!

  10. Great segment! My wife would never let us switch hotels night-after-night like that, but I understand the logic. There was a brief scene of your family loading up into a rental SUV. Was that the $300 upgrade?

  11. Pretty good segment they included you in. That said….are you serious that your husband is changing hotels every night on business trips? I am sorry but that is not a great idea on several levels. Not the least of which is that it may signal to an employer that your husband is using the trips for personal enrichment rather than to be focused solely on business. I know if he was an employee of mine, we would probably be having a chat at some point if I found out. Probably something I would have kept out of the segment if I was you.

    Also, this game is getting a lot harder than it used to be. Miles required to fly in J or F are way higher than used to be true. Availability is terrible on all US carriers and getting worse on foreign airlines, too. And hotel redemptions rarely make sense given that some of the best hotels can be unaffiliated properties.

    I wonder if selling this lifestyle is akin to selling snake oil at some point. The availability will not support significant influx of interest in this game. And how realistic do you think it is for the average middle class family to take 19 trips in 12 months? I mean let’s wait and see what’ll happen when C gets into 1s tgrade and you have to heed school vacation time…I’ll tell you exactly what it’ll do…it will cut down on the trips you can take, it will make finding inventory exponentially more difficult and everything will be more expensive on the trips you do take (again reducing trip frequency). That is the reality of having school age kids that most middle class families deal with.

    And none of this considers what can happen when a free trip goes sideways and all of a sudden, financial liabilities are not covered…

    I certainly wish the blogger community was more upfront about the limitations of the game and more transparent about its income generation…if you make $1000 per year in credit card signups, I suspect your view on certain cards to be prtty unbiased. If you are making $100k annually off cc apps with your links, I have to assume you’d be willing to sell things that don’t always make sense for everyone.

    • AAExPlat, no I don’t think hardly anyone who doesn’t have a travel related job should take 19 trips in a year. However, the point of this site was never to say “you should do exactly what I do”. You really shouldn’t – at least not the 19 trips part! This is my job now, so unless it is also your job, that would be crazy. There are pieces of what we do though that I think can absolutely help anyone who wants to, travel more. Two trips a year may be the goal, and that is a totally realistic and attainable goal. More than that can be attainable if that is your desire.

      It also may be surprising, but we are already 90% on a school schedule, so the overwhelming majority of the trips didn’t impact C’s school attendance. Some of that is because we live so close to grandparents and she stayed behind on a couple, but we already utilize long weekends, spring break, summer, and other school breaks to our advantage. A little further tweaking will be necessary as she hits Kinder next year, but not much.

      As far as the changing hotels, most of us trips are one nighters anyway. However, when he does have multi-night trips he does change hotels and it is not an issue for his employer. They don’t care of it is a Hyatt House and then a Hyatt Place or similar if the price is right. That isn’t to say it might not be for some employer, so of course think through your own situation, but it is well within his travel policy and they have open communication about it. Getting free internet, breakfasts, etc. actually saves the employer money on work trips, too, so it is something that has benefits that go both ways…just a little bit of a pain to pack up each morning.

      Regardless, I agree with you that every nuance of our hobby can’t be shown in a 6 minute TV clip. For that, we have thousands of posts already here, and thousands more to come. Thanks for reading!

  12. I have a problem with this TV segment because — for the average viewer — it is pretty darn misleading. The segment basically says you can travel for free by doing a few simple tricks like “Maximize Rewards By Choosing the Best Credit Card for Each Purchase” and “Shop Online Through Airline Shopping Portals.”

    That is just not true.

    To get these free vacations (as opposed to just some modest cashback), you have to employ a MUCH more sophisticated strategy. Basically, apply for a ton of credit cards with large sign-up bonuses. And then you probably also need to do a significant amount of what we call “manufactured spending” (buying cash and getting back more in value than the service fees).

    Alternatively, of course, you can be a successful blogger and make good money from credit card sign-ups.

    That’s how you travel for free. The rest is really just a rounding error. And it’s certainly not something an “average American” can do. This stuff is not easy to do (something I’m constantly reminded of every time I try to help friends and family plan cheap vacations), and not something that can be accurately portrayed in a 6-minute TV segment.

    • iahphx, I respectfully disagree. On the site I have seen hundreds, or really thousands of “average Americans” absolutely do this without having a hugely complex system. You don’t have to apply for a ton of rewards cards, and you don’t have to do a significant of manufactured spending. No one I know in the “real world” around here does that (friends, parents, etc) and yet lots of them travel almost for free. I agree that not all aspects can be shown in a 6 minute segment. The segment combined with the online article they released starts to paint a more complete picture, but still it’s just a short story on what is possible. For anyone interested, there are thousands of posts out there waiting for them to learn more, but you can get quite far in this with a very simple plan.

      • I side with MommyPoints – we live abroad and are in the US for only a couple of months each summer, so there’s definitely no room for MS, and we’re conscious of our spend in USD when we’re back home, but we’ve utilized the tips here (and other blogs, but with 2 young kids, we definitely aren’t flying and staying in luxury like The Points Guy) to be able to stretch our budget further so that we can actually go home each summer to see family and friends AND also take a Christmas vacation. I wouldn’t call it free travel, but it’s definitely more affordable.

    • I absolutely disagree. I am a very “average viewer.” I am a part-time school teacher with a self-employed husband and two school-aged kids. We make a very modest living, and before discovering this points game, we took one vacation every year to Florida for a week, staying in a condo that we’d pay exactly one month of my salary to reserve.

      I do not MS at all, as it takes more time and thought than I’m willing to give. I do, however, utilize credit for almost every, single monthly expense possible and strategically apply for one card each every six months for my husband and I, so four cards per year total.

      We now travel about four times per year spending just about what we spent on that one vacation before, however, now we are able to see places we never could have imagined seeing. Travel is not “free” for most when you consider parking, food, activities, etc., but for us now, getting there and staying there IS free. That’s a game changer.

      It is certainly possible to play this game as a middle-class family. We do it well, and are reaping the benefits of reading blogs like this one.

  13. iahphx this is good that the segment isn’t representative. If more people find out about MS you can be sure it’s going to fade away quicker. It’s sad that this mommy points lady want to bring this to the main stream. I’m unfollowing.

  14. At 63+ years old, my husband and I have passed the years of big family spending. We are now members of the semi-retired group. That makes accumulating credit card points more difficult. The process is slower. I am a retired teacher still working to earn extra income. I would have to classify us as not middle class but rather below that category, and yet we have had been able to use the ideas and concepts that mommypoints shares to create three wonderful years of travel opportunities. Not 19 trips a year, but rather a couple of awesome annual adventures that fill our hearts and minds. We plan a year out for big trips that require accumulating more points for plane fares and hotels. We may take advantage of more short notice opportunities when they come up such as a $100.00 roundtrip tickets to Boston this fall. Being semi-retired, we can be more flexible with travel times. Being semi-retired, we have to find the best deal. That’s part of the adventure. Spirit Airlines has made travel to Las Vegas very affordable. We let the Vegas connection be the portal to Zion National Park, Bryce, Death Valley, snow skiing at Mt. Charleston…where lift tickets are $50.00. There is no magic button for truly free travel. There is magic to being able to make travel affordable with planning and using your money wisely. I can’t wait to finally see those fall colors on the East Coast!

    • Grandma, hope you have a wonderful time this fall back east! I wouldn’t trade my 10YO for anything but I do look forward to not worrying about the school schedule & jumping on those great last minute deals. Frontier just had $98 RT to San Diego from Denver but I couldn’t make it work. Glad you are enjoying your semi retirement & making travel a reality!

      Great job on your tv segment, Summer! Just did my 1st shipped order today from Walgreens of TP, bodywash & lotion with free ship & good prices at 4x miles after reading a shopping portal article of yours because why not? I’ve always tried to buy shoes & Lowes stuff through the portals but I never really considered home goods. If the price is right & free ship, I’m going for it! 🙂

  15. As a traveler anyway, I’m in this hobby for discounted travel for my family. With sabbatical coming up after many years of earning/saving/scrimping, etc… I got worried our savings would be eaten up with a need to buy a new car. Then, I discovered this hobby from ftg on tv last summer. Now, I can still do sabbatical with my kids if my cars die or not, but I hope they don’t. I don’t do free and it’s a misnomer cause there are just a lot of variables like $150 to park my car at the airport when I leave, but the discounts and the hobby have opened up my mind to a whole new world. Also, it only can work well for people who are great and disciplined with their credit anyway. We have spent years prior already doing that. Great job Mommypoints!

    • Agreed–travel & this crazy miles hobby has costs but it makes trips attainable for my family. Enjoy your sabbatical with your family!

  16. I side with some of the other commenters that the segment was full of fluff and very misleading.

    The 1 bag to avoid baggage fees for your family makes no sense as you have status, so you can each bring 3 bags (70 lbs each), and if you were appealing to the masses who don’t have status, first class on a paid ticket is certainly not free. How much mileage running did you need to do to get those first class upgrades?

    The United Clubs are not available even to 1k’s on domestic trips even in first class unless you PAY for membership or take out the United Club card with a hefty annual fee, so stating that it’s free is simply misleading.

    Shocker that you won the promotion to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek! With the ridiculous amount of advertising that you give them, and your status as a blogger, it’s hard to say that the contest even gave anyone else but you a shot at winning.

    19 trips a year and 100,000 miles and you can’t find a better use for your FOUR Diamond Hyatt suite upgrades than to burn 2 a night on a stay in New York (with TWO separate New York properties) that “were going to expire anyway”? With cash and points being eligible for Diamond suite upgrades which can be used for up to 7 nights, it’s hard to believe that you couldn’t find a single use on your other “18” trips.

    Using a coupon to buy granola bars is a great idea, but has nothing to do with collecting miles and points. There was nothing substantial in the entire 6 minute segment about collecting miles and points other than an advertisement for your blog.

    One last point, points are not free. You could earn 2% on the Fidelity card or 2.2% on the Barclay card, so in general, redeeming 30,000 Hyatt points a night at a category 7 bears a cost of at least $600 cash. People need to understand their lost opportunity of cash accrual when redeeming points.

    Other than that, very nice fluff piece!

  17. Nice job censoring my comment. I did not even use any obscene language or anything. But I concur with the other posters who point out the marketing ploy, especially the poster right above me.

    Also in order to take 19 trips a year, you’d have to churn credit cards pretty heavily which is frowned upon by the banks which is why bloggers do not dare using this word and dance around it.

  18. What will forever be interesting to me from some in this hobby is anger/frustration/outrage when the entire picture isn’t laid out, and also the same level of “outrage”(or sometimes more) when the entire picture is laid out in detail.

    I had no control over how the two full days of filming were put into a six minute clip. I can tell you the granola bars were relevant to not wasting tons of money on snacks on the trip. Gift cards at the grocery store are also important, though I was careful to keep that on a level that I think is relevant for beginners and a TV audience.

    The United Club theoretically could be accessed with the two passes that come with the United card, or via buying them cheap on eBay. The United Club card with unlimited entries also has first year free at times. Limited bags saves everyone time, money, or both. I don’t check because I don’t want delays along the way.

    The PH promo I won with my own personal FB entry, not from Mommy Points, and while filming they told me how many took the time to enter. It was a very small number. The odds were very good which was the point of the segment. Take the time to enter those easy things. I have no reason to think that the individual hotel did the research to find out I had this blog before I won, but anything is possible. Either way, the odds were great.

    No one should do everything we do. 19 trips is crazy. Almost as crazy as 19 kids. Lots of people can and should take pieces of what we do to save tons on trips. Some things really can be free. Others can be much, much less than many people think possible. As much as there are warnings shared in the comments here that six minutes of video didn’t show everything involved (of course it didn’t!), there should be equal warnings that lots of people in this hobby don’t want others in because it can be that lucrative. Newbies are intentionally scared away on a daily basis by people who want to keep them out.

    Yes, this is my job. Yes, the blog is my business. It would be amazing to live in a world where I could devote infinite time to this for free, but time (at least when you have a family) is the one thing that will never be free.

      • I guess what bothered me the most — and I know you didn’t control the editing — was the constant reference to things being “free.” Honestly, the mileage “game” isn’t really about “free” (although the excellent travelisfree blog gets pretty close!) — it’s about discounted and affordable travel. I wish you had stressed that to the reporter and her staff. It’s NOT realistic for an average viewer to travel “for free” — it’s reasonable to help them travel for less.

        And, honestly, 90% of this game these days somehow involves manipulating credit card bonuses. Nothing else comes close to creating “free” travel, and nobody playing this game could get close to what you do without the sign-up bonuses and/or manufacturing spending. I don’t recall any advice to sign up for the bonuses — which, of course, are a mixed blessing for folks who may not be sophisticated in managing their credit.

        I know it’s nice to thing that “anybody” can do this, but experience tells me that’s not really true.

      • Considering that some people use their points/miles to stay at the PHV and then only eat at the hotel (sacriledge!!!!!)…why can’t MP urge people to help lessen travel costs by using coupons? I haven’t seen the segement yet, to be fair, but there are lots of costs in travel that people forget. Snacks are one of them.

        Last month, on a road trip, I would buy 2 for 1 bottles of Coca-cola instead of my usual Pepsi because I wanted to cut down on costs. The money I saved doing that on our road trip paid for a picnic lunch on the beach. Was I wrong in doing that?? The pennies/dollars do add up! Huh, let’s see. Full price or sale/coupon prices that saved enough money that allowed us to eat on the beach?

        Yea, there are issues. Everyone has their limits with the miles/points hobby. But seriously, the snark on the granola bars was too much!

        The whole point is to encourage people to travel more affordably. If one doesn’t do research or applies someone else’s strategy entirely to their own lives, without adjusting it for their personal goals…I don’t know what to say. Buyer beware, perhaps?

  19. Mommypoints: i appreciate your sensitivity to the MS world and points world but I gotta agree with Mark on this one. Also, it’s interesting to see your blog transition from early on where you weren’t about the milage running and status chasing and focused just on family travel without the frills to now where your chasing the upgrades, status milage runs etc.

  20. My honest opinion after playing this game for the last 4 years is aligned with IAHPHX. If you are disciplined, then this game can make travel/hotel affordable/may be almost free at times. One thing : This game is absolutely not for everyone.

    MP was fortunate to have a spouse doing business travel, A ‘real’ business to apply for both versions of any CCs and Parents living close by. That’s not the case with an average Joe/Mary.

    If MP would proudly announce how many of those 19 trips in premium classes (for a family of 3 ) would have been possible WITHOUT the referral bonus she earned, then the clear picture would emerge.

    • Tom, totally agree that the more disciplined you are the more successful you will be…though I suppose that is true with almost anything. If this wasn’t my business I would guess we would have shot for 3-4 trips so far this year. We could have afforded more (I had a job before this blog as well, so affiliate bonuses are a wash), but we wouldn’t have wanted or had time for them. That is still way more than most, but that was my pattern before blogging, so I would assume it would be the same.

  21. Hi MP
    You look great in the TV segment. I started this game a few years back.I am doing amex preferred for groceries.
    Chase freedom each quarter. chase ink for TV, internet and office supplies

    now is there a way to squeeze points (not cash back) out of drug stores and other purchases?

    • Raghu, thanks for the nice comment! You can 3x HHonors points at drug stores if you like with the HHonors Visa Signature. Gas stations are easy to get bonus points on via various cards including Amex EveryDay Preferred. Dining can be 2x via Sapphire Preferred or 3x via Citi ThankYou Preferred. Just a few ideas…post on category bonuses coming soon.

  22. I don’t usually care about the ways miles and points bloggers seek to increase readership, but I found your Nightline segment particularly egregious and it immediately struck me as the worst kind of greed.

    This isn’t about entitlement, I do not think those ‘in the know’ are entitled to know about the tricks and schemes over anyone else. This also isn’t about the whole “bloggers spoon feed our tricks to the masses”. This is about having essentially no shame, being excessively greedy and simply not caring about ones reputation.

    As our miles and points collector community grows, opportunities have become more limited. This is, in my opinion, indisputable (whether bloggers hastened the demise of many opportunities is besides my point). United’s devaluation, Chase’s new T&C language are just two glaring examples. No, you didn’t talk about specifics in the piece, but you knew the new traffic to your blog would inevitably discover the ‘opportunities’ out there.

    The way the piece was edited (and I’m being generous here) was either appallingly irresponsible (no, nothing you mentioned being ‘free’ was actually free, and ABC’s lack of disclosing the bias of your credit card affiliations), as the previous critical commenter noted or asinine (couponing at the supermarket to save on snacks?). This all screams of a publicity stunt for your blog, for your advertising dollars, AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYONE ELSE. No, the effects are not immediate, you can (and probably will and likely have already) argue otherwise, but it doesn’t take much reasoning to realize what you’re doing is solely for yourself, to earn more money, and greedily not care about the consequences of having millions more shutting down opportunities faster.

    How about creating a bigger audience by creating better quality content? And do you care about your reputation at all? I hope people will wake up to the overwhelming harm she’s doing to us and how comparatively little she contributes to this hobby.

  23. Joshua —

    This is the irresolvable conflict that Mommy Points will ultimately have to resolve for herself. Most of the interesting tricks that can earn you truly “free travel” are incompatible with a mass audience. If you want to take your spouse and kid to Europe or the Maldives in biz class and not pay for it, you have to adopt techniques that are not suitable for the vast majority of individuals. And that’s a huge problem before you even get into the difficult moral dilemma of hawking credit cards (with huge commissions) to people who may not have the expertise and ability to manage their credit. As the famous physicians’ creed goes, you want to do no harm before you do good.

    I’ve always greatly respected Rick Steves, because he’s helped so many “ordinary” Americans travel affordably overseas. Yes, his advice is not always the most sophisticated (like you won’t find me staying at the hotels he recommends in Paris — using the points game, I’ll have much better accommodations for much less money) — but his advice is scalable for a mass audience. He’s not going to require you to be a points guru to follow his tips, and he’s not going to get you over your head in debt.

    Summer, you’re going to have to make a choice with your blog: be a “points guru” catering to the small but sophisticated “points community,” or be a voice for affordable family travel. You’re also going to have to resolve the inherent conflict of making your living on credit card commissions while simultaneously trying to offer “unbiased” travel advice (there’s a reason Rick Steves pays for his own hotels). It’s not an easy choice to make.

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