Interview with a Travel Savings Expert – Andy Shuman

Andy Shuman has been traveling the world for free for nearly a decade. He’s perfected the art of utilizing frequent flyer miles and credit card rewards to travel to destinations like Paris and the Caribbean. With his book, "Travel Free" Shuman lets others in on his secrets. Get a sneak preview to how he is able to travel on a budget by reading this week’s Interview with an Travel Savings Expert.

Your book, Travel Free, has helped so many people learn how to rack up frequent flyer miles and then use them to travel around the world for free! Why did you decide to share your travel tips in a book?

Well, at some point, you just have to let it out. I have been traveling for free for over a decade. I know how easy it is. Thousands of people do it all the time. The potential is there for more people not only to enjoy more go time, but higher quality travel, as well.

Like your book, your website, Lazy Travelers, helps to break down the mystique behind frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. How did you first discover you could earn enough points to travel for free?

I’d have to say, I found out about that on Flyertalk as far back as in 1990s. But, since I’m just like most people, it was so new and unorthodox to me that I simply dismissed it at first. It really took me a few years to get serious and seize this amazing opportunity.

Both your book and your website focus on ways to save on all kinds of trips, and you’ve certainly discovered some super inexpensive ways to travel over the years. What are some of your favorite destinations to go to while on a budget?

I personally love traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean. But, in all honesty, if you are taking advantage of the frequent mile and loyalty programs coupled with reward credit cards, all your trips will be inexpensive. In the last two years, I’ve had budget trips to Machu Picchu and Easter Island. This summer, I had two budget trips to Europe including Paris. In November, I’m going on a super-cheap trip to an all-inclusive in Dominican Republic. Next January, I’m flying to Cambodia and Thailand. Many of my flights have been in business and first class, and many a time I’ve stayed at 4 and 5-star hotels and resorts. For free.

I realize it sounds like bragging, but my point is that a lot more people could do this, or they could do even better than me, if they put just a little effort into this.

You’ve been writing for the blog, Frugal Travel Guy, for quite some time. You’ve covered a huge variety of topics, including the differences between credit card rewards programs and reviews of hotels you’ve stayed at. Have you written any pieces that ended up influencing how you personally save money?

Certainly! As a matter of fact, I often discover things when I do the research for an article. At one point I was sitting at a Paris hotel working on an article, and it just occured to me, that I was about to spend my last night in Paris at a hotel very close to the airport, yet all the reports I had read suggested quite a complex way of getting there. Since I was determined not to use a taxi, I just had to find a better way.

I started digging and then found an obscure French website that pointed me in the right direction – thank god for Google Translate! I was happy to discover an easy and faster metro + bus route to get me to Charles de Gaulle, and the best part was it cost just a little over 3 Euro! I’m proud to say you’re not likely to find this route in travel guides, although I haven’t read all of them, of course :).

The funny part was, there was this French guy who kept arguing in comments that the bus route I used didn’t exist. I had to paste a link to the bus to make him stop. Oh well...

Your pieces about credit cards are extremely useful, considering how confusing some of the fine print can be. What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make when applying for or using their credit cards?

That they apply at the spur of the moment. You go to a department store and see a credit card application that gives you $30 off today’s purchase. And then you think, oh, what a great deal, I really like this thing, so with $30 off I can splurge a little. Or, you walk to your airport gates and see a desk advertising a credit card with a 30,000-mile bonus, so you start thinking, wow, I should get this card, it’ll give me a free domestic ticket.

The truth is, with very few exceptions, public offers are never the best. They don’t shove their best offers into your face, so you have to find them. Lucky for you, if you can navigate to my website, your search is over. I maintain and update the list of the best reward credit card offers, and none of them is an affiliate link, meaning I do not get paid when you apply for it. Consider it public service.

To me, the most important thing about a credit card is the sign up bonus. I won’t waste my time or a hard credit inquiry on an inferior card. I’m picky. A credit card must give me at least $400 in sign up benefits to deserve its space in my wallet :). 

Besides providing great tips on how to save while on vacation, you’ve also written lists of advice for first-time visitors to specific countries. What are some good resources people should check out before flying to a destination they’ve never been to?

Three things: free walking tours, hop-on, hop-off buses, and TripAdvisor reviews. Don’t get put off by free walking tours, they are excellent, and you’re getting a great deal for the cost of a tip. Hop-on, hop-off buses can serve not only as tour buses, but also as a cheap means of city transportation. Finally, TripAdvisor reviews will tell you what to expect from certain travel providers. Remember, that a review can be manipulated; I usually take every 1- and 5-star review with a grain of salt.

Don’t be afraid to eat on the cheap. Food is the biggest expense for me, since my flights and hotels are usually free. So, I’ll do anything within reason to keep the food cost low. Among my Paris tips, I recommended using bakeries for lunch, and even supermarkets for late suppers, and I caught a lot of heat for that. But I don’t care, I stand by my advice.

However, heavy penny-pinching is not what I do on vacation. Wherever you can get a tremendous value during your travel, I’ll say, go for it. If you are a foodie, go to Lima, Peru and indulge yourself. Lima has fantastic restaurants, and unlike Paris, they are incredibly cheap. On the same token, when in Asia, splurge for massages. Have a few massages a day, who cares! At $5-10 an hour, they are not going to break your back (pun intended).  

Many people believe they have to travel constantly in order to receive points that will actually amount to anything. What do you think is the other biggest misconception people have about using these loyalty programs?

That’s the same misconception that held me back at first. What many people don’t realize, is that credit card sign up bonuses give you a huge boost and a shortcut to your next free trip. In order to receive 50,000 free miles that can take you to Europe or even as far as Japan, you normally have to fly 50,000 miles butt-in-seat. Or you could simply apply for the right credit card. What would you choose?  

You’ve also written “Fly Me to Atlantis: Almost Free Travel to Paradise Island, Bahamas.” If you could write another book in this series, what destination would you choose and why?

In terms of selling a book, it would be prudent for me to write a book how to travel for free to Disney World or Vegas, because it’s so incredibly easy, and so many people want that. And, maybe I will. But, right now, I’m working on several projects that are somewhat challenging and more interesting to me.

I’m writing a free travel guide to Machu Picchu, Iguassu Falls, and Easter Island. These three places can be done in one trip, and each of these destinations is a miracle of the world. I have been privileged to visit all of them, so I’m eager to share my thoughts on how to get there as cheaply as possible.  

There are three other projects in my queue. I’m writing a book on free luxury travel, another one on free budget travel and one more on how to get out of credit card debt quickly and easily. Credit card debt is incompatible with using credit cards for profit, so becoming debt-free is the first thing anyone must do in order to reap these benefits.  

Over the past ten years, you’ve gone on many vacations with your family to places like Peru, Brazil, and the Caribbean at little or no expense to you. What would you say has been the best deal you’ve received in all of your traveling career?

That’s a good question. In purely monetary terms, my trip to Paris would qualify. Both, my business-class flights and hotel stay were completely free. I only paid for taxes, food, getting to and from the airports, and, oh, of course, for those stupid souvenirs, as well.

I would like to clarify that I don’t always have everything for free. Sometimes, I pay for my flights and stays--and gladly so. I flew to Rio once for $300 during one of their famous fare wars. I also flew to Peru and Costa Rica on the same trip--cost me another $300.

In Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica) my cousin and I once rented a fabulous ocean-view pool villa for $100 a day. And we only paid slightly more for a gorgeous million-dollar view villa in Buzios, Brazil. Like I said before, when you find an extremely good value in your travel – just go for it. Free is not the goal. It’s the means.  

Thanks for doing this CouponPal interview! Readers everywhere can now afford to go on vacations because of your superb advice! Any last words of wisdom?

Think outside of the box. Don’t dismiss a good thing because it’s unconventional. By all means, do your due diligence to make sure it’s not a scam. The adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” still stands, but the keyword is usually:). The premier online resource on using frequent flyer miles and credit cards for free travel is Flyertalk. It has about a dozen thousand members. Go there and read. Spend some time learning. Ask a few questions. Then ask yourself, if all these people can do this, why not me? Then come back and I’ll tell you how.

And thank you very much for having me. We should do this more often:).

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

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