Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How Do We Do It

I occasionally hear people whisper, how does he do it, how does he travel so much?  Let me dispel a couple of rumors, I am not a trust fund baby - we don't make a-million dollars a year. We earn a good living, but to do so we have to maintain two modest homes in two states, and only live under the same roof 4 months out of the year.  I don't own a Ferrari, I also don't have a car payment.  The MBAs say we use too little leverage, meaning we have too little debt.  We were both raised to live within our means.  As essentially farmers, my parents were never sure of income from one year to the next, avoided debt, and set a budget each year to live comfortably with what was available.  I learned from this. We have little debt, allowing us to live with the income we have.

So how do we travel so much?

We leverage business travel to take personal trips.  Sometimes, like Germany in 2015 and Italy in 2016, the personal trips are add on's to work travel.  J's work brings opportunities for international conferences and research from time to time. I try to add a night or two onto my work trips, if they are trips to someplace I want to visit.

For the trip to Italy, J's airline ticket, and five of the 14 nights accommodations were covered by his employer and the conference he was participating in. I used frequent flyer miles for my ticket.  Our out of pocket cost for the other 9 nights of hotels, food, rail, ground and water transportation was about $3,000.  Not a bad deal.  $3,000 is not that hard to come up with, $250 a month for 12 months.  Split that between two adults each earning a decent living and we can save it out of pocket money if we try.

I pile up a lot of frequent flyer miles.  One of my goals when I changed professions at mid-life, was to do work that allowed me to take 5-10 business trips per year.  There was something romantic about the idea of traveling for business.  About the second trip, I was passing through Orlando International Airport and someone solicited me for an airline frequent flyer mile credit card, from a company I already had a credit card with.  I called when I got home, and they converted my account.  With the sign up bonus miles and a couple of work trips, I did my first free trip the following summer, San Francisco.  I don't carry credit card debt, but I also don't carry a lot of cash or write checks.  So I use the cards for everyday expenses, and pay the bills in full when they come in.  In doing do I earn 25,000 miles per year, maybe more.

A key to frequent flyer miles is to concentrate all air travel on one or two airlines.  If you fly whatever airline you feel like, you end up with a few miles here and a few miles there, and never enough to do anything.  I have two credit cards tied to airline frequent flyer miles. Needless to say almost all of my travel is on those two airlines. I pay about $90 a year on each in annual fees, but I get extra miles, free checked bags and priority boarding with both of them.  If I travel a couple of trips a year on each airline, the free checked bags more than offset the annual fees.  When booking work travel, I can justify paying $50 more for travel on my preferred airlines, by simply putting in the comments that I get free checked bags with this airline.

I am also a member of about every hotel frequent traveler program out there.  Most of them allow you to designate an airline frequent flyer program to earn miles for hotel stays.  I occasionally earn a free hotel night, but I almost always earn frequent flyer miles for the 30+ hotel nights I spend each year.  I also pick up frequent flyer miles on car rentals.

When I add all of this together, I get to go and explore the adventure of the world.  


  1. The absolute key to this is your discipline and your belief.
    -Carry no debt, this is always the best way to wealth.
    -$3,000 is not a lot of money, very true when broken down and saved.
    -Use loyalty programs, they pay off big time if you stick to them.

  2. And I (the other half of the "we" above) concentrate on hotels in the Hilton family. The frequent customer points add up nicely and can be used to lower the price of a hotel room dramatically. I paid like $40 for a night at the Hilton right at Gatwick airport (like elevated pedestrian tunnel to the terminal). Nice!

  3. David,
    I had assumed that you took advantage of your frequent flying to accumulate frequent flyer miles. That is a smart use of your business travel and having met you (only once), I knew you were a smart guy. Also, NEVER carry debt. I got caught in that trap thirty years ago. When I lost my job at Mellon Bank and got a payout I paid of that credit card debt and vowed never to carry debit again, which I haven't. That decision alone has saved me thousands of dollars which certainly helps with my four times a year travel (with Pat, my Canadian friend) to LA, Philadelphia and Toronto.
    Good post!