Daraius Dubash has visited over 30 countries on six continents. He has flown in $US15,000 first-class jet suites and stayed in luxury hotels where rooms go for over $US3,000 a night.
And he has paid only a fraction of the cost.
Dubash has spent the last decade learning to manage and manipulate credit card rewards and points in order to experience what he calls, “Big Travel with Small Money.”
“I financed my first car, an old Ford Escort, using 0% APR offers from credit cards while I was still in school,” he remembers, “and I realised it would be easy to earn money for travel.” As he started racking up the miles, and people started asking him for advice, Dubash realised that there wasn’t a reliable, basic online resource to which he could refer beginners.
So he created one. On his website, Million Mile Secrets, Dubash profiles his travel and explains the strategy behind it for those of us who want to follow — or fly — in his footsteps.
“I wish I had known about managing miles and points sooner, because it’s been very lucrative,” says Dubash. “And I wish other people knew that you don’t have to wait until you hit the jackpot or retire to travel.” We spoke with him about his strategies, his recommendations, and the mistakes he’s made along the way. Below, check out six things you can learn from the experience of a credit rewards pro.
1. Focus on the big wins.
While it’s possible to earn credit card miles taking a commuter shuttle back and forth from New York City to Washington, D.C., that’s not Dubash’s preferred method. “A lot of folks fly around on cheap airfare, going from point A to point B to rack up miles, but that’s something I’ve never done because it takes more time to pay off,” Dubash explains.
Instead, he gets his miles and points from home, by taking advantage of introductory credit card offers. “I focus on the big credit card signup bonuses and don’t get too much into smaller opportunities,” he says. “I could earn 100,000 miles for applying for a credit card from my computer, so it’s much more worth it to me to save the time and do it from home.”
2. Know what you’re getting.
Dubash, who currently has about 18 credit cards open, explains that different cards are handy for different things. “Some cards have a great signup bonus, some give you a bonus for keeping the card, others get you into first-class lounges,” he explains. “Sometimes, it’s not worth keeping the cards after the first year.” On his site, he provides resources to learn more about airline cards, bank points cards, hotel cards, and rewards cards in general.
3. Keep on top of your balances.
Hand in hand with keeping track of what each of your cards can do for you is keeping track of your balances: both credit card and points. “It’s not all glamorous,” Dubash says of facilitating travel. “You have to be detail-oriented enough to always pay your credit card balances in full — you’re never going to get ahead paying interest. And you have to be diligent about booking your rewards, because sometimes airlines don’t make it easy for you to redeem.”
To track his points balances, he uses a program called Award Wallet, which syncs up with airline miles, hotel points, and even car rental points to keep track of your balances and alert you when they’re about to expire. While you can use the program for free, a more elaborate version, called Award Wallet Plus, costs $US5 every six months (although you can get six months of free Plus service using the Million Mile Secrets code).
4. Don’t get carried away.
On that note, there is such thing as being too diligent. “Saving money with miles and points can be addicting,” Dubash warns. “It has the potential to take over every minute of your life, so you have to be able to set clear boundaries. I check my account balances every day and my credit statements every few days — it takes a lot of time to manage, but the payoff is huge.”
5. It’s never going to be perfect.
It can be tempting to hold out for the perfect price, or the perfect offer, but Dubash says that waiting for perfection won’t necessarily score you the best deal. For instance, there’s the time he rented a car for a trip to Key West, diligently checking back with the site for better offers, then cancelling and re-booking to get those lower prices.
He knocked the price down from $US300 to $US163, then down to $US90 … only to realise when going to drop off the car at the airport on the way home that he had re-booked a round-trip rental instead of his original one-way and couldn’t return the car at the airport. To return the car at a different location, he had to pay a $US250 fee, which brought his total cost to $US340 — more than the original price.
But from this experience, Dubash says, he learned that when you find an acceptable price, you should stick to it. “It’s never going to be perfect,” he advises. “Sometimes you just have to let it be good enough.”
6. It’s not for everyone.
If you don’t have a credit score over 690, this probably isn’t the game for you, cautions Dubash. “You don’t have to go out and apply for five credit cards just because you read that someone did it online. Start slow — apply for one card at a time and monitor its impact on your credit score. See if you’re comfortable paying the balance in full.”
He adds that there’s no rush to get started with credit card miles, and that beginners should never open more than one or two cards at a time: “The offers aren’t going to disappear, but they have the potential to wreak havoc if you aren’t careful.” If you’re considering opening credit cards to gain more miles and points, be sure to read his warnings before getting started.
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