Ben Schlappig is a travel consultant and writer, and an avid points collector living in Florida. He travels over 300,000 miles per year and spends around 100 nights in hotels, having visited 40 countries on six continents. Ben loves sharing tricks about how others can use miles and points to do the same. In 2010 Ben founded PointsPros.com, a travel consulting service to help people utilize their miles for dream vacations. He has been cited as a travel expert in various publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many more.
Cheapflights: You fly 300,000 miles per year and stay 100 nights in hotels – all while attending college. How do you do it?
Ben Schlappig: I actually graduated from college back in May, though even before that I was averaging about 300,000 miles per year. Perhaps my priorities were sometimes in the wrong place, though I always made sure I scheduled my classes such that I’d have long weekends. I managed to get through most of school with just Tuesday and Thursday classes, meaning I had Friday to Monday to travel. While Tuesdays and Thursdays were hectic with about eight hours of class each, it was well worth it to me thanks to the flexibility it allowed me.
For the most part I worked hard during the week and took any unfinished work on my trips. Planes are a great place to get work done given the lack of distractions (at least on airlines that still don’t have Wi-Fi).
CF: How did you become such an expert at navigating flight and hotels – and upgrades?
BS: I’ve held top tier elite status with at least one airline since I was 14, and every year I’ve learned more and more tricks. I’ve been traveling extensively since long before that since my family is from Germany and we’ve been traveling back and forth between the US and Germany to visit relatives since I was young.
I’ve always loved “beating the system,” and the airlines certainly facilitate that given how complicated their mileage programs are. While most people don’t get huge benefits from them, those that truly understand the programs can benefit immensely.
CF: As an expert user of benefit and rewards programs, what advice would you give a novice?
BS: Understand frequent flier program partnerships. Nowadays you can earn miles for flying, staying at hotels, renting cars, shopping online, dining at restaurants, etc. Understanding airlines’ partners will help you earn miles for purchases you would make anyway, or if you’re as obsessed as me, base your purchase decisions around airline partnerships.
CF: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
BS: Noise canceling headphones. They’re one of the few things that keep me (somewhat) sane.
CF: What’s your routine before you fly?
BS: This is an area in which I probably set a bad example. No matter how long of a trip I’m taking or at what time my flight is, I never start packing before the morning of my trip, even if it’s a 6am flight. Furthermore, living in Tampa and flying out of there 50-plus times per year, I have my timing down to a science. I aim to get to the airport 45 minutes before departure and have yet to miss a flight.
But don’t do what I do – pack early and get to the airport early so you’re not rushed.
CF: Any tips on researching a new destination before taking off?
BS: I love blogs and online travel forums. I’ll trust firsthand information from an unbiased “stranger” before just about anyone else.
CF: How do you recommend anxious travelers stretch their comfort zone?
BS: Start slow. Over the past several years I’ve become very interested in Asia. The first place I visited in Asia was Hong Kong, which was certainly different than what I’m used to, but still westernized enough so that it wasn’t a total culture shock. Then I visited Singapore which was also not too much of a culture shock, but then went to more adventurous places like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and most recently India. So if you’re anxious about visiting a new destination, ease into it slowly.
CF: Of the airports you’ve passed through – Stateside and abroad – which is the most convenient and where have you found the best lounges?
BS: It’s tough for US airports to compete with those abroad, though I’d say my favorite in the US have to be Detroit Airport and also San Francisco’s brand new Terminal 2. Both are practically designed with great shopping and dining, and plenty of areas to sit.
Abroad I love Singapore Changi Airport, Hong Kong Airport, and Seoul Incheon Airport.
As far as lounges go, my two favorite lounges have to be the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt and Thai Airways First Class Lounge and Spa in Bangkok. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa has a separate terminal for first-class passengers that’s disconnected from the rest of the terminal. It features a restaurant, day rooms, office suites, an incredible bar, etc. Furthermore, since the terminal is disconnected from the rest of the airport, the only way to get to your plane is to be driven there in either a Mercedes S500 or Porsche Cayenne. For better or worse, you’ll forget you’re at an airport.
Thai Airways’ first class lounge and spa in Bangkok is amazing as well. It’s tough to compete with the level of service provided by Thai, so as a first class passenger you get a private living room of sorts with almost overly attentive service. Furthermore you get a complimentary hour-long, full-body massage before your flight in their spa. Nothing is quite as nice as hopping on a 10-hour redeye after an hour-long massage and going right to sleep.
CF: Who’s the most memorable seatmate (or what’s the most memorable conversation) you’ve had on a plane?
BS: I’ve sat next to celebrities, politicians, and lots of other “interesting” people, though the most memorable for me had to be sitting next to United’s former chief training captain of the 747 on a flight last year. I’m an airplane nerd, so being able to speak to someone like that for a couple of hours was awesome.
CF: You’re specifically interested in the Asia–Pacific region of the world; what about this area intrigues you so much?
BS: My family is from Europe and I grew up in the US, so while I traveled extensively to Europe as a kid, I didn’t get to see that many other parts of the world. Asia had always fascinated me given that it’s the “other” side of the world, so since my first trip to Hong Kong when I was 15, I’ve been back several times a year to explore different countries. Living in the US, it’s easy to group all of Asia into one, but there are so many different cultures in Asia that I doubt I’ll ever run out of places to see there.
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