Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Summer Hull, known online as Mommy Points
Hometown: Suburb of Houston, Texas
Residence: Same, moved back to the hometown there is nothing like living close to family
College: University of Texas, undergrad; New York University, grad
College major: Bachelors and Masters of Social Work
Pinterest: Mommy Points
Google+: Summer Hull
Short bio: Summer Hull is one of America’s foremost experts when it comes to planning affordable family vacations with frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Her motto is “giving my family the world (almost for free), one point at a time” and she wants to help other families do the same thing. She launched the popular Mommy Points blog in spring of 2011 and most recently Frequent Flyer Toolkits, a series of ebooks about getting to a specific destination without breaking the bank. She has successfully helped her readers earn nearly free flights and hotel stays of their own. While her site was born out of her family’s desire to find a better way to travel for less, anyone can benefit from Summer’s sage advice, which ranges from selecting the best frequent flyer program for your needs, to making the most out of elite benefits, to maximizing your frequent flyer miles to get you to your destination for almost free—and often in first class. Summer is a regular speaker at events like Frequent Flyer University and is a contributor to TravelChannel.com and MoneyTalksNews.
JohnnyJet.com readers can sign up for the Frequent Flyer Toolkits email list to receive four free resources to help you earn and redeem your next nearly free flight or hotel stay. You’ll receive The Mommy Points Beginner’s Guide to Earning Nearly Free Travel, a podcast about the best flight redemption values available today, a miles-and-points tracker, and an award flight-planning calendar. Sign up now!
How often do you fly? Several times a month—Flown over 150,000 miles this year.
How many countries have you been to? I’m not sure, I’d have to go and count. More than most and less than many I would guess. I’m not really a country counter as I think even one country can provide lots of different experiences.
How many continents have you been to? Three with a couple more on the radar for the next year or so! So far we have done a poor job of exploring the southern half of the world, but we have plans to change that.
Earliest travel memory: My earliest travel memory is also my first flight. I was five-years-old and my cousins and I took turns flying Houston – Austin – Houston that summer to visit each other’s families and get the chance to fly. I was an unaccompanied minor and loved every minute of it.
Favorite American city: I love so many American cities for different reasons. It’s hard to beat the rugged beauty of the Southwest or the urban excitement of New York City. I’ve only had a brief visit to Boston, but it quickly shot up my list of favorites for having a nice balance of lots of different things and great people.
Favorite international city: I can’t pick a favorite, but we very much loved Dublin and the surrounding areas in Ireland.
Least favorite country: There are countries I wouldn’t be keen on visiting, but I have enjoyed something about every country we visited thus far.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: The United States by far—some can be great, but when you hit a grouch, you hit a big grouch. What a “welcome back” that can be!
Favorite World Heritage Site: I really enjoyed the Tower of London, but you can’t argue with places like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and other natural wonders that simply take your breath away. I can’t wait for a visit to the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.
Favorite airline(s): I’m a United girl, not because they are amazing but because we live in Houston (one of United’s hubs). Getting extra legroom seats with our elite status is very helpful and their mileage program is still decent…though not as amazing as it once was. In terms of in-flight service, we have had very good flights on Singapore Airlines and EVA. I also really like Lufthansa and have had good luck on British Airways and Aer Lingus. I guess I love whatever airline has the best award space to where I want to go!
Favorite aircraft type: I love lots of them, especially the big birds when they have upper decks. However, I really love the quiet and fuel-efficient nature of the 787 Dreamliner. The flexed wings are pretty sexy on takeoff, too!
Aisle or window: Middle actually. I know, crazy. Usually my daughter has the window, my tall husband has the aisle, and mom is in the middle. If it is just me though I’ll take the window for sure.
Favorite airport lounge: I am a huge fan of the Amex Centurion Lounges, domestically they are hard to beat. Not only is the food actually good, but many of them have family rooms and the one at DFW even has complimentary spa services. Internationally, the Turkish lounge in Istanbul was insane simply due to the size and type of amenities—a driving range in an airport lounge?!
Favorite U.S. airport: I love Austin’s airport because it is a good size, not too small but not overwhelming large. The rental car facility is right outside so no need for a shuttle, there are a couple small lounges, and the food court selection is decent. However, my favorite airport for scenery has to be Aspen. It feels like you are landing on a mountain as you descend into that airport!
Favorite international airport: I really enjoy Frankfurt. It has a good variety of stores and some good lounges—the Lufthansa First Class Terminal was certainly memorable! My daughter still talks about the small play area in the airport in the Bahamas!
Favorite hotel: The Grand Hyatt Kauai is an amazing destination resort for families. The St. Regis Princeville had the most insane views and was a more manageable size. The Park Hyatt Maldives was quite the experience with your own villa and private pool and you can’t argue with the “princess for the day” feeling that comes from the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris. I also love the nearby Hyatt Lost Pines outside Austin and the Andaz Fifth Avenue in New York City has never disappointed.
Favorite travel credit card: Overall favorite travel card is probably the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but the Ink Plus is very, very useful as well. Also a big fan of the SPG Amex and the newer Amex EveryDay Preferred. We make good use of bonus categories and the perks that come with lots of those cards to earn 5x points on lots of our purchases.
Favorite island: Kauai. Kauai. Kauai. By a mile, Kauai.
Favorite beach: Trunk Bay on St. John was picture postcard perfect. We also enjoyed the smallness and friendly hippy vibe of Little Beach on Maui.
Favorite food: I love all types of food, including sushi, oysters, Cajun food, Tex-Mex, Thai, and lots more. My favorite meal might have been sushi breakfast one morning at the Tsukiji market in Japan.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Fresh squeezed juices—I wish they were more common in my neck of the woods, but I can’t get enough of them.
Favorite travel movie(s): National Lampoon’s Vacation is epic. Since we also visited Las Vegas as a family in the 90s, I also love Vegas Vacation!
Favorite travel show(s): Tie between Anthony Bourdain and the old Samantha Brown Travel Channel shows that I remember watching and re-watching with awe in college! Hotel Impossible is also a big winner in my book.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: Besides Mommy Points you mean? ;-) Totally kidding, there are tons of great travel sites out there. I tend to focus on ones related to earning and using miles and points. For that I love View From the Wing, One Mile at a Time, The Points Guy, and many of the Boarding Area blogs. Outside of miles and points I really also enjoy Nomadic Matt and the way he falls in love with the cities he travels to.
5 things you bring on a plane: iPad, charger, eye mask, crayons, Bose headphones.
What do you always seem to forget? My kid’s toothpaste…and boy do I pay for that one as she will scream bloody murder with the “stingy” adult toothpaste.
What do you like least about travel? How tired you can get. The reason I love using miles for lie-flat seats on long trips is simply for the sleep. I don’t care about the drinks or “fancy airplane food” or any of that. I just care about sleep. That insanely dead to the world tired feeling you can get when traveling is the worst part. As a mom, I don’t have the luxury of coming home and crashing for a day or so after a trip. I have to hit the ground running, so the exhaustion factor is absolutely the worst part of travel.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Not much into booze, no cigarettes, no candy. I guess I’m not really a good Duty Free candidate, but I do like some of the beauty products in there! Oh, and they are a good way to pick up a last-minute gift for your kiddo if you didn’t have a chance on your trip.
Favorite travel app(s): I love the local apps that help you navigate public transit systems. Really simplifies that part of travel…oh, and Uber when you want to really simplify getting around even more.
Worst travel moment: I’m sure the worst must be still to come because thus far it hasn’t been that bad. I’ve had the normal delays, dirty hotel rooms, cancellations, getting lost sort of things, but nothing over-the-top terrible, thankfully. Miles have allowed me to avoid some moments that would have been the worst by changing to a different flight, or even splurging on lie-flat Lufthansa first class seat coming back to the US after 36 hours in Europe one time. I just could not muster the thought of flying back in coach from Zurich to California after only one night on the ground in Europe, so I spent 67,500 United miles to fly back in Lufthansa first and I slept darn near the entire way. I could never ever have afforded that kind of splurge with cash, but it was worth every mile I spent!
What’s your dream destination? I’m lucky that airline miles and hotel points make dream destinations a reality for my family. However, our next big travel dream we have booked is a cottage for a week next summer in Ireland and the one we don’t yet have booked is time in New Zealand and Australia…hopefully won’t be long though!
Favorite travel charity: Even though I like my travel to be global, I really love doing most of our charitable stuff locally. However, I do have a special spot for mission behind the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Best travel tip: Earn and use miles and points religiously. You can earn them even without travel by using certain credit cards, shopping online, buying groceries, etc. It is not that hard and you can then turn those points into dream trips you never thought possible.