June 2009

Frugal Travel Guy

Author:  Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: photography by anne

Finding good travel deals today has become sort of a game, and if you know how to play, you might be surprised at how far you can go. Rick Ingersoll knows how to play the game and, as a hobby, he teaches others how to play the game, work the angles and find the deals to travel practically anywhere for practically nothing.
Ingersoll is a retired mortgage banker who splits his time between Traverse City, Michigan and Hilton Head. To enjoy retirement, Rick travels the world with his wife, rarely paying full price for anything and often paying nothing at all. That’s because he knows how to root out the best deals that are not immediately available or widely publicized to the general public and find creative ways to accumulate airline miles and hotel points. He shares this knowledge with the world through his Web site, FrugalTravelGuy.com, and blog, FrugalTravelGuy.blogspot.com.
Ingersoll explains one of his creative methods for accumulating frequent flier miles:
“The United States Mint wants to circulate these dollar coins commemorating all of the U.S. presidents, and they do so many presidents per year. I think they’ve done eight so far. If you go to the Web site for the United States Mint, you can buy up to two boxes of one-dollar coins, 250 coins per box. So if I go and buy 500 George Washington one-dollar coins, I put them on my miles-producing credit card and have them shipped to me. The Mint (read: the taxpayers) pays the shipping. I take the 500 coins down to my bank and deposit them. They’re legal tender so the bank will take them. When the credit card comes due, I pay it off by writing a check against the $500 that I just deposited in my account.”
Get it? There’s 500 frequent flier miles earned basically for the cost of a trip to the bank. “This is just one of many crazy things that I’ve done. Want more examples of crazy?”
Of course we do.
“I took a weekend last summer to go to a Cubs game in Chicago. First I used a free ticket to get to Chicago. While there, I went to a Bosley Hair Treatment Center, got a free consultation for my receding hairline—no charge—for which I was given 21,000 Delta Airlines miles. I also bought American Express Travelers Cheques for spending money with my miles-producing Starwood card.
“What I try to do is find opportunities to combine different promotions. This one was not necessarily profitable, but it justified the trip to Chicago. I mean, I went to Chicago basically for nothing and collected over 20,000 points and miles.”
Ingersoll uses his Web site and blog to help others join in on the craziness. “I use FrugalTravelGuy.com to list all the Web sites that I think are important for frugal travel people and give links to all the different airlines. I update FrugalTravelGuy.blogspot.com daily with the deals that are happening right now, the trips that I’m going on, and how I earned this particular deal or bonus. That’s the much more popular of the two.”
According to Ingersoll, becoming a frugal travel person is a slow, educational process but, over time, you learn what to look for and it becomes routine. “You take advantage of the ones you want to and don’t take advantage of the ones that make you uncomfortable. It took me six or seven years to get to a point where I had a body of knowledge broad enough that people were constantly asking me questions.”
Three of Ingersoll’s keys to frugal travel are mistake fares, fare wars, and credit card churning.
“The first mistake fare I ever went on was to Iceland,” said Ingersoll. “CheapTickets.com priced tickets from Baltimore or Minneapolis to Reykjavík and they forgot to put in the fare. All they put in was the taxes, which were $64. So I flew to Baltimore on a free ticket, then flew to Iceland for $64, all because of a simple human error.”
If you know which Web sites to look at, you can take advantage of fare wars between the airlines by knowing what’s going to happen to an air fare four to six hours before it actually goes out to the public.
“I’ve been to Costa Rica and Hawaii for $200 round-trip,” Ingersoll said. “It’s almost like watching a bunch of kindergarten kids fighting with one another. Somebody decides that they’re going to up their capacity on a given route. So the other airline says, ‘Okay. We’ll fix you. We’ll go steal a bunch of business from one of your hubs!’”
Credit card churning is a little different and needs to be approached with caution. Here’s how it works: “If you apply for an airlines credit card or a hotel credit card, they give you a bonus. Some of them will allow you to get the bonus more than once. Apply for a credit card, fulfill the minimum spend requirements, and then put it in a sock drawer. Six months later, apply for the same type of credit card, fulfill the minimum spend requirements and get the bonus again.”
Now, he is not advocating running up huge balances on these cards, and you have to be careful to take care of your credit rating. If you regularly carry credit card balances, credit card churning is not for you.
Is it all worth the effort? You be the judge. As you read this, Rick and his wife are circling the globe with stops in Lima and Machu Picchu, Peru; Iguazu Falls, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro; Zurich; Munich; Salzburg; Innsbruck, Austria; Bangkok, Phuket, and Phi Phi Island, Thailand; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Sydney, Australia; and Hawaii. They are paying only the taxes on airfares and 58 of their 61 hotel stays are free. “I couldn’t find a Hilton or a Sheraton at Machu Picchu so I had to pay for it,” said Rick.
Want in on the frugal travel? Check out www.FrugalTravelGuy.com and www.FrugalTravelGuy.blogspot.com.

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