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Side Hustle Series: I’m a Frequent Flyer Mile Specialist

by J. Money on Thursday, January 31, 2013

aeroplane

(Guest Post by Mike Choi, who once got me into this VIP airport suite on our way back from last year’s FINCON – thx bud! He knows the ins and outs of all this airline stuff :))

Want to go somewhere with your miles and can’t find the availability? Do you have a bank of frequent flyer miles and unsure how to redeem them?

This is where my expertise comes in. I help travelers redeem their points and miles the most effective way, no matter what their itineraries look like (and I help make those for them too).

How I Got Started

It started with a passion for frugalness and travel. The intersection of these two areas had me scouring forums and sites daily to learn about earning and redeeming miles/points to subsidize my travel costs. By being an airline miles collector, my friends turned to me for questions related to miles and if I didn’t have the answers, I’d search for them – allowing me to learn more about the miles and points system.

Additionally, one of the forums announced a meet up in Chicago, which I attended in its inaugural year. It was at that seminar where I learned of people offering an award booking service One of the notable ones was Gary Leff’s service, which I thought was a neat idea. I wanted to offer a similar service, but I didn’t want to crowd the space. Essentially I wanted to differentiate myself in this niche.

What’s my offer?

Gary has an unsurpassed knowledge for redeeming frequent flyer miles for first class itineraries. So needless to say, he caters towards clientele that want to redeem miles for premium class itineraries. These types of itineraries cost thousands of dollars if one were paying out of pocket, thus one could justify paying several hundred dollars for a service that Gary offers.

Now, there are some travelers that don’t care for the in-flight experience of flying up front as much as their final destination. Simply because they don’t have the required miles to fly up front, or they’re perfectly happy flying economy to make use of their miles for another trip.  These folks can either: do the research themselves or pay for a service.

That’s where I want to differentiate myself.  I help people save time by finding all the flights with availability, but doesn’t warrant the specific knowledge of redeeming miles for first and business class seats like Gary offers.

How much I make?

I currently charge $80 to make an itinerary up to two people in economy class, or $150 for two people in business class.  I’ve been fortunate enough to network with people to allow some guest posting, thus getting some business.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • The rewarding feeling when you receive a big “thank you” from clients to help make a trip possible.
  • Learning rules about different frequent flyer mile programs
  • Making extra cash

Cons:

  • Taxes and Fees that it costs to redeem miles doesn’t make it cost effective for an economy class award redemption, thus obviating my service.
  • Dealing with hold times and poorly trained agents.

How you can become a Frequent Flyer Mile & Points Redemption Specialist

Each frequent flyer mile program has different redemption and routing rules. Needless to say, the learning curve is fairly steep. The good thing is that there’s an overwhelming amount of information on the internet for anyone to start.

Studying the rules and terminology is not necessarily the best way to start, though. Instead, start by helping friends/family members make award redemptions so that one can become familiar with how the process works and the airline hubs/etc. The more and more you do it, the more familiar you’ll become with the terminology and booking codes.

The best analogy I can make is: if you’re trying to learn Photoshop, you’re certainly not going to start by reading an instruction manual from page one. Instead, you’re going to use the book as a reference guide and refer to it when you’re trying to figure something out.

The key to success is to deliver results so that your service spreads via word of mouth.

Helpful resources

  • Mile Point – More user friendly and a lot more friendly towards newbies
  • Flyer Talk – More mature; larger network value, thus trivial questions may not be answered as courteous as the previous site.

One of My Success Stories

A recent redemption was from a woman who was redeeming miles for an 8-week long trip to Bangkok from North America with her daughter and husband. The plan was for her and her daughter to fly to Bangkok together, and then have her husband meet up at a later date. All three of them would then fly back together to North America. The problem they were having was that the airline agent couldn’t book them on the same flight back because she couldn’t find the three seats available. It was important for them to be flying together, so that’s when she contacted me and relayed over her situation.

I noticed that the agent didn’t take advantage of routing rules that this airline permitted, which allowed a stopover en route or returning from her destination. I explained the possibilities of what she could do with a stopover. She consulted her family and expressed a desire to stop in Istanbul on the return flight home if it was possible.

The end result: I found flights that had availability for her entire family with a stopover in Istanbul, thus breaking up a long journey home and visiting a historic city.

It’s rewarding to receive e-mails like this from her:
client email
————–
Mike Choi is an avid traveler and blogs about his travels at thefitworldtraveler.com. With his knowledge of traveling and frequent flyer miles, he runs a frequent mile redemption shop at iflywithmiles.com helping travelers redeem their miles.

[Photo by Vox Efx]


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank January 31, 2013 at 6:27 am

I am a really timid flyer and so I don’t really go in for the whole frequent flyer deals. I think I have watched too many air crash investigations on Discovery.

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2 Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle January 31, 2013 at 7:24 am

I am with you Glen. If I can’t drive there I’m not going.

Cruising is a crazy idea too. What if something happens and the boat is too far away from shore for you to swim? I can only swim a few laps in a pool so I won’t cruise either. Plus, I am in Canada so you have to fly everywhere to get on these boats. I bet gangs of sharks just follow the boats around waiting for their next meal to fall off the Lido deck.

I use a cash back Visa.

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3 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:42 am

Haha…. I’d LOVE to get on a cruise myself – haven’t ever been and it just looks like so much dang fun! Especially with all your friends or family? In all that warmth? Man…. I can’t wait for it to be Spring.

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4 Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies January 31, 2013 at 6:31 am

Great way to turn something you learned into something to help others and make a little cash on the side.

Random question – with AAdvantage miles booking internationally, is there a way to tell what the taxes and fees will be before you book? Right now the range I’m looking at says $2-$700 in taxes and fees (on top of 30K miles), and that’s a pretty big range!

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5 Mike January 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm

It sounds like you’re trying to go to Europe or S. America, but Europe is the more likely choice.

The best way to determine the out of pocket expenses, is the put the itinerary on hold. AA allows a generous 5 day hold period giving you time to think about an itinerary before committing to it. If you are indeed going to Europe, avoid flying on British Airways when you’re redeeming miles because BA levies a fuel surcharge on mileage redemptions while other carriers do not. These fuel surcharges can be quite hefty, hence the reason why you see that range of $2-$700 as a fore warning. To avoid the hefty fuel surcharges, fly AA, Iberia, or Air Berlin to Europe.

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6 Lance @ Money Life and More January 31, 2013 at 7:15 am

This is a great niche I think! The rewards programs and miles redemption rules can be very very complicated so it makes sense for someone to help people out. I imagine if it saves some people a couple hours of time and frustration while making their vacation happen could be well worth it to some people.

I love credit card rewards so naturally this story is quite an awesome read. Congrats on your side hustle!

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7 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:44 am

I agree – I’d MUCH rather pay someone to do it all for me than try to mess with it myself – esp with the more complicated stuff.

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8 Thomas @ Finance Inspired January 31, 2013 at 8:39 am

Frequent Flyer points are something i’ve never really prioritized when choosing which card to use. You’re right it does seem all very complicated, but judging by some of the returns i#ve seen off my credit cards its the best way to go.

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9 Mike January 31, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I agree that travel rewards do beat out a 1% cash back credit card. Not everyone has a need or desire for hotels/flights. Some are just better with a cash back card. The most important thing about credit cards is to pay off your balances in full and on time.

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10 KK @ Student Debt Survivor January 31, 2013 at 9:26 am

Never knew there were people out there to help negotiate this. It makes a lot of sense because a lot of the frequent flyer programs and points/miles programs are pretty frustrating to navigate. Esp for a complicated flight, it makes sense to pay someone to get exactly what you want.

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11 Michelle January 31, 2013 at 9:38 am

Very interesting! This sounds like a good thing because the world of miles and points can be super confusing.

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12 Heather H January 31, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Great side hustle. And I bookmarked your site, Mike, for future reference.

I could definitely have used something like this when booking my miles travel to Korea last year. We got two seats, but now I wonder if we could have gotten more from our miles. N regrets, though, we had a great time. :)

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13 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

I love Korea!!! Where did you end up going?? I used to live there back in the day :)

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14 Heather H February 1, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Seoul for a week. My sister and her family live there. So it was a pretty inexpensive trip as far as international travel go. :)

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15 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Sweetness! That’s where I lived too… Miss it :(

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16 Mike February 1, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I love the Korean BBQ – sam-gyup-sal

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17 Financial Black Sheep January 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Mike,

I can see where your side hustle comes in handy. There are so many rules when it comes to which cards to use, how much to spend, when you can use frequent flyer miles, that I know I would be lost. I can see other people feel the same way too. This is interesting and I will have to check out your sites. I hope you get quite a few customers from this post :)

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18 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

Me too! I’ve already gotten an email from someone wanting to sign up too :) This is the beauty of guest posting and sharing your ideas around – it helps everyone!

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19 Jacob @ iheartbudgets January 31, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Nice work. Cool idea to help those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of finding all the best deals, how to put together and use miles and how to book travel on the cheap. I’ve been following Flyertalk for about 6 months now, and Rick’s blog over at frugaltravelguy.com. About to start my second CC churn, and the miles are piling up! Excited for inexpensive and luxurious on rewards points and miles :)

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20 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:47 am

I don’t even have the patience to swap cards out here and there – it now goes against my minimalist mind! Haha… or maybe that’s an itty bitty excuse? ;)

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21 Alexa @ travelmiamor January 31, 2013 at 2:48 pm

wow! as a fellow travel blogger I love what you offer and plan on using you in the future! thanks for the post!

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22 too funny January 31, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I was able to get enough points to score first class tickets to Tahiti for free. I think they cost like $8000 each, so using points is a great way to travel.

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23 J. Money February 1, 2013 at 9:47 am

Nice!! Btw we still need to get beers one day, eh? Maybe we could hit up Clyde’s one day? That place always makes me feel like I’m in the mountains of Europe or somewhere fun :)

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24 Grayson @ Debt Roundup January 31, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I don’t do a lot of flying, so I don’t worry about frequent flyer miles. I don’t even have any miles credit cards. I think this would be an interesting niche because people are always willing to pay for less headache.

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25 Mortgage Mutilator @ Mutilate The Mortgage January 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Hi Mike,
I’ve always wondered, regarding signing up to a lot of CC’s and getting “free miles” as well as all the other stuff, how much of a problem is spam from all the different 3rd parties etc?

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26 Mike February 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm

CC sign up bonuses are the single best way to accrue miles/points. Certain cards are offering anywhere from 40,000 points to 100,000 points just to sign up and hit a certain spend threshold.

The question you have to ask yourself, are you diligent in paying of your credit card balances in full and on-time? Do you currently have a high enough credit score to handle the credit inquiry?

As far as third party spam, sure you have to sign up for the loyalty program and you do get some e-mails and pamphlets, but it’s the trade off for highly subsidized trips.

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27 Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce January 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm

That is some serious stuff! I am going to look into this a little more…never thought of doing it!

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28 KC @ genxfinance February 1, 2013 at 3:46 am

I don’t travel a lot… Just like Grayson, I don’t have a frequent flyer mile either.

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29 Cat February 4, 2013 at 11:32 am

This is awesome. I give you a ton of credit for finding a niche like that and running with it. I would never be able to do it but there certainly is a market for it!

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