Interview with Grant Thomas from TravelwithGrant.com

Today's interview features Grant Thomas from TravelwithGrant.com.

How, why and when did you get started to blog your thoughts on travel?

I started Travel with Grant in May 2013. I was between jobs and thought a blog would be a good way to impress potential employers and give me something to work on while I applied for various jobs. I had been an active commenter on other big travel-related blogs and thought I had good ideas worth sharing. My blog is the first and only blog I have ever had or worked on, it has been a fun journey learning how to use WordPress, search engine optimization, and share my creativity.

What is your blog all about?

Great question, I do not really know. I blog about whatever interests me and I try to publish travel related topics but I do share a fair amount of money saving deals. I think my blog has some of the best step-by-step how-to guides on the internet, specifically about Bluebird and Vanilla Reload Cards.

Are you a full-time blogger? If so, do you live a rich lifestyle? 🙂

That was the dream. I was a full time blogger for the first few months before I was hired by Panasonic Avionics (maker of in-flight entertainment and broadband internet for domestic and international airlines – if you fly premium classes on international carriers, you are using Panasonic Avionics' technology). With my job, I only spend a few hours per week blogging, but I also spend a few hours a week experimenting with new debit cards, American Express Offers, and cash back portals.

What has been your most popular post so far?

If you google anything related to Bluebird or Vanilla Reload Cards (like "vanilla reload bluebird"), you will see my post at the top. My most popular post by far is "Load Bluebird with Vanilla Reload Cards". I have 18,000+ views on that page since early July and get around 125 views per day, mostly from Google and other blogs.

What's your favorite country/place you have traveled to and why?

I went to Amsterdam in January 2013 and have plans to go back next month. It is a great city and I like the vibe I get from the people and the culture. I am part Dutch, but do not speak a word of Dutch. I stayed at the Andaz Hotel in Amsterdam on my last trip to Amsterdam and fell in love with the Andaz hotel chain. It is definitely a unique experience. Here is the upgraded room we got for our "honeymoon" with complimentary champagne:

Where would you want to live if you'd have to settle on one place?

That is really a tough question because there are so many great places out there. I could name a few places where US dollars go a long ways, but then I would be ignoring a few amazing places. I think if I say "Europe", that is the most I can narrow down my answer.

If I would be looking for beaches, mountains, city life, nightlife – where would you send me?

I'm a sucker for beaches. I can't get enough of them. Being from Southern California, it is hard to imagine life with a beach close by. I've been to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu this year and Tortuga Bay in the Galapagos Islands. I think the second one is a little less crowded (unless you count huge iguanas).

How many countries have you been to?

Not enough! I finally visited South America in October this year but I have never been to Australia, Asia, or Africa. I need to visit more countries! I've been to many countries in Europe, but there are still some that are missing from my passport.

What's currently in your TOP 5 list to go to?

1.Easter Island (booked my flight for March 2014, got a sweet deal from The Flight Deal).
2.New Zealand and Australia combo (maybe spend 3-4 weeks exploring both countries).
3.Costa Rica (specifically Liberia on the Pacific coast).
4.Dubai & Abu Dhabi (so many "cool" things to do there).
5.Amazon Jungle (so maybe Brazil or some other South American country).

What was the most embarrassing travel situation you ever faced?

I think I do a pretty good job of planning and not getting "screwed" by airlines/hotels/taxis/museums/etc. The one thing I wish I could do over is when I exchanged Euros into US Dollars on my way back home. I had heard it was a bad idea and wanted to see what the currency exchange place at the airport was offering. I believe, after the exchange rate and fees, I was give 1.1 US Dollars per Euro when the exchange rate was about 1.40 at the time. That was a few years ago and before I found out about the travel blogosphere. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to do it, but it's in the past.

What was the most rewarding travel situation you encountered?

Last summer, Online Travel Review published a sweet deal where you could buy IcelandAir miles very cheaply. Since the Icelandic Krona was so devalued compared to the US Dollar, their miles were so cheap. At the time, 30,000 IcelandAir miles could be used for a roundtrip flight on Alaska Airlines, so I flew round trip from San Diego to Honolulu for about $320. While I was in Hawaii, I used Hilton HHonors Points for an AXON award and scored a sweet 4 night stay at the Prince Kuhio Hilton Hotel.

What's the most recent food discovery from your travels?

I ate lobster for the first time in the Galapagos Islands. It was only $18 for a full baked lobster and it tasted great. I have always wanted to eat lobster and not at Red Lobster. Dream come true! Trust me, it tasted much better than it looked:

What was the most complicated flight itinerary you have ever booked?

Last time I flew to Europe, I was flying from SNA (Orange County, CA) to SFO, spent the night, flew from SFO to PHL to AMS (Amsterdam, Netherlands), got on the wrong train, then got on the right train, took the train half way to Dusseldorf, Germany, got on a bus with complete strangers, got off the bus, took another train to Dusseldorf, spent the night at a Sheraton Dusseldorf Airport Hotel, then flew to CDG (Paris, France) and spent 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. Ahhhh. Worth it! Walk out balcony view from the Park Hyatt:

What was the longest time you had no sleep/ hotel bed in a row? Tell us the story behind it!

This is the most recent longest travel day – Guayaquil, Ecuador to Miami to Tampa on American Airlines, then transferred to Southwest Airlines on my way to Phoenix and back home to Orange County, CA. That was 16 hours on non-stop travel and running between gates. Barely made my flight twice!

What is your favorite airline product you experienced and why?

I've only flown in first class twice in my life (Delta and Alaska Airlines) so I am not the person to ask about first class. If I were to say what my favorite economy class airline would be, I would say my LAN Airlines flight from Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands. They served some good dried plantain cookies and Nabisco cookies. Not sure why that was so great, but it just tasted great. Obviously I have very low expectations…

What is your favorite hotel you stayed at?

That is really tough to decide between the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome and the Andaz in Amsterdam. Both were incredible. I guess the Park Hyatt was more once in a lifetime. I looked like white trash compared to all the other rich people that probably paid thousands of dollars for their hotel stay. The hotel gave us both free continental breakfast both days. I couldn't believe how much they charged for breakfast. Luckily at checkout, my bill was only 10 Euros (all from 2 tips).

Do you have a travel product that nobody has ever heard of that is a real gem?

WestJet is a good Canadian airline (much smaller than Air Canada) that has pretty good service. Has anyone else flown on WestJet besides me? Good snacks on-board (I love snacks):

What airline/hotel are you craving to try?

I told myself that I would try to stay at every Andaz in the world and then stay at every Park Hyatt in the world. I think I have 15-20 hotels left to check out.

What are your favorite travel websites and why?

ITA Matrix is the greatest tool ever for finding great travel deals. I wrote a 3 part series covering basic to advanced use of the service here: http://travelwithgrant.com/how-to-guides/ita-matrix-begginer/
Award Wallet is another service I cannot live without. It will make your life so much easier and product. Read about it here: http://travelwithgrant.com/how-to-guides/award-wallet/
The Flight Deal is another great service for finding short-lived travel deals from an airport near you. I took advantage of their Miami to the Galapagos Island deal for $380 round trip and their deal from Mexico City to Easter Island for $550 round trip: www.theflightdeal.com
Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are a great way to keep track of your credit score and credit report. Both are free and very helpful: http://travelwithgrant.com/how-to-guides/credit-karma-credit-sesame/

What gadgets help you out on your travels?

The only gadget that I really every need is my iPhone. I could live with my iPhone anywhere in the world. I use it at my primary camera and have taken some amazing pics with my iPhone.

Where do you earn the majority of your miles? Credit Cards, Online Shopping Malls?

I currently have 19 open credit cards , so I am a big fan of credit card sign up bonuses. If I could only keep one credit card, I would chose my Chase Ink Bold in a heartbeat. I generate 10,000+ Chase Ultimate Reward Points per month with that bad boy. I like shopping online, but not through the stores offered through shopping portals.

Do you have a simple advice for a beginner – how to collect and use miles easiest?

Start small. Get one credit card from each bank. I would recommend that Chase Freedom, Discover It, Citi Forward, and American Express Blue Cash Everyday credit card. Use those cards for 6 months and apply for a slightly better (more rewarding) travel credit card. We all have to start somewhere. My first credit cards were a Citi Forward card and a Chase Amazon credit card. From there, I slowly added to my credit card collection.

What is your biggest learning from earning so many miles and points?

Get into a system so you are not juggling credit cards, gift card, credit card statements, etc. Try to be as careful, diligent, and organized as possible. Create excel spreadsheets for everything. I also recommend going to FTU events, you meet some cool people at those events (Greg aka the Frequent Miler on the left)…