Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of MileLion.
Financial Horse sat down with Aaron Wong from MileLion, the master of travel hacking, to learn more about Miles, Money, and the Meaning of Life.
He’s an amazing guy, bubbly, and very unique brand of humour that shines through even on our Zoom call.
From his time at SMU (Accountancy and Business), to management consultant in India raking in the miles, to quitting to blog full time in 2018.
No one can accuse MileLion of being plane.
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Where it all started…
Starting as a corporate drone…
MileLion: I did my time in the corporate world, five years in management consulting.
It was my first job straight out of university. I graduated from SMU in 2013, double degree in accountancy and business. At the time, there was a management consultancy firm that was hiring, and they didn’t have a Singapore office. The closest office they had was in Mumbai, of all places.
So I thought how many people get the opportunity to work overseas immediately out of university, it’s a really rare opportunity.
And it was pretty amazing. We focused a lot on the education sector. During the time, I was traveling all over the world, I went to every continent except Antarctica. I also did some work in Brazil, Middle East, China, and a lot in Africa as well.
So for someone fresh out of university, that’s really exciting. And it also lets you earn a whole lot of miles. That’s kind of how I got started on the miles game as well.
The perks of being a corporate slave… Don’t give up undergrads!
MileLion: Travelling is one of the perks of the job. Management consulting will work you like a dog. But on the plus side, you’ll probably never pay for vacation again, because you’re earning so much miles.
And there’s nothing better than spending someone else’s money. You’re basically spending the clients’ money getting reimbursed for your your dinners, your hotels and everything. So it’s a tough job but it’s got its perks as well.
Getting his first credit card…
MileLion: The blogging itself only started in April 2015. Back in university, I was interested in the whole miles thing, but it’s just very hard to do if you don’t have credit cards.
So the most significant moment to me was when I got my first credit card, because everything just fell into place after that. As I was flying a lot, I accumulated a lot of points and earned airline and hotel loyalty program status.
I got really interested in the hobby because I’m the kind of person who really enjoys the nicer things in life but hates to pay for them.
I will happily have a five-star meal if the client is paying, but if you asked me to pay, I’ll probably just get something cheap.
You don’t need to be rich to fly in first class or business class, you just need the right strategies.
Miles is the instrument that allows you to experience these nice things without paying for them, by altering your everyday spending into an experience that would otherwise have been unaffordable.
In 2015, I took a month sabbatical from work.
And since I was already the go to office person for miles, I thought why not I start a place where people can find all the information, so I don’t have to answer the same question 10 times.
When I first started it I thought it’d be kind of like one of those blogs you start in university in JC that you write for three months and it just vanishes into the abyss, but I think that I’ve managed to tap into an unfilled niche.
People started reading the different guides available, like what’s the best thing to do if you’re Krisflyer frequent flyer miles, How can I turn big ticket expenses like a wedding or a honeymoon or renovation in miles. Little by little readership grew.
I decided to do it full time in October 2018 and it’s been fantastic ever since.
Vacations… as a day job…
Can MileLion enjoy vacations like a regular person?
MileLion: Because of my job, I think it is kind of inevitable that I see vacations and hotel rooms in a different light.
Every time I step on a plane or step into a hotel room, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, have I looked at this and that, does the bedside table have USB charging ports, what angle does the seat recline, is it an automatic or manual flip, what is the response time for room service.
It’s kind of become an occupational hazard for me. I mean, I still enjoy it, but I kind of see every trip now through the prism of, will this make good content for the site?
It’s not all smooth sailing in the MileLion world…
MileLion: There are some days that are better than others.
There are some days when the ideas really flow and I can write four or five articles. And on the other days, you know it feels a bit more stressful, maybe the ideas aren’t flowing, maybe the research is not coming together, and a lot of the stress also comes from the MileLion communities.
MileLion: I’d say, 95% plus of the time, I pay with my own funds.
A Milelion disguise?
If they notice me the treatment I get may be different from what someone else gets – but unless I wear disguise or book under a different name, there really not much I can do.
There’s a guy called Pete Wells from the New York Times, and he’s got a very good system of maintaining anonymity.
He changes his look, he always makes reservations under a fake name, and you know it’s very easy to book a restaurant reservation under a fake name, it’s harder to put an airline ticket or hotel reservation because it’s obviously ID verification.
At the end of the day, I’d like to believe that most people who read the site would know by now that I don’t shy away of saying things as they are. And, in fact, some of the harshest reviews I have written have been from media stays.
I didn’t get invited back *laughs*.
How to bring your spouse to the “Miles” side…
MileLion: Trust me. Once you fly someone in business class or first class with miles, their perspectives will change completely.
They will never again complain that you are holding up the line to break up your transaction to various cards, or that you are visiting different NTUCs to buy vouchers, and all sorts of crazy stuff, they will never complain about it again.
Personal Finance as a Miles man…
Joint finances as a couple…
MileLion: Any decisions on investment, or how we allocate the money that we have, I tend to take the lead on that.
My wife is very supportive of that as well. It does involve a high degree of trust but it’s always been our perspective that when we’re married, our finances are basically one.
Marriages that start 50-50, tend to end 50-50 as well.
I think it’s helpful to see that her expenses as my expenses, and my expenses as her expenses as well.
It was difficult for us at first as well. But I think that that is the perspective that is very helpful for marriage, especially if you’re the sort who believes that marriage is for life.
I think I’m a good investor, but terrible trader…
MileLion: So all the stuff that I have bought like three or four years ago is doing very well, like I was one of those people who bought into Netflix, Amazon four or five years ago.
Those shares I bought four or five years ago was when I was doing my old job and I didn’t really have time to do to do day trading. And now that I’ve had more time I started getting excited by seeing all these stocks are up 100% 200%, so I made a couple of decisions that are probably not the best. So these are learning experiences.
Growth… or Value…
MileLion: Mostly growth. I believe that my current life stage now should be more on growth. To the extent that you’re able to take losses right now. Because there’s still more time to make it back.
Obviously when I’m 50 or 60, I’ll be more cautious and look at more reliable dividends stocks, but I think at this stage in life right now, for those of us, born in the 1980s or 1990s, we’re still able to stomach short term losses.
So it’s totally fine to buy something that could grow 500% over your lifetime, or to come down 50% in the short term. I’m willing to stomach stuff like that while taking a long term perspective.
Tech Stocks all the way…
MileLion: I would hazard a guess that the majority of it will be in tech, simply because that has grown quite a bit since five years ago.
Also I just want to say that while I trust myself for miles and points, I wouldn’t trust myself so much for investing because there are people out there who know a lot more than I do, and I read what they write and I take their advice down. So this is just my own two cents.
What about property? Do you invest in property?
MileLion: The closest I’ve had is buying REITs, and my REITs have done pretty badly in Singapore, so I’m not sure about that.
For property, I know it’s quite a traditional mindset, during our parents generation, I think that was the best time to go into property. But the nice thing about Singapore is that land is a constraint factor. You have very limited real estate in certain areas, so there’s still a supply constraint even if demand is soft.
So, I do see myself doing that in the future at some point in time. This is one of the reason why we bought the house under my wife’s name, but kept my name free for other things.
On having perspective… and earning a million by 30?
MileLion: I will be the first to admit that once you fly Business Class using your points, it’s very hard to go back to economy.
It’s very easy in this line, to convince myself that all these nice things are needs, rather than wants.
But you need to keep things in perspective. That these are nice to haves but not essentials.
Back when I was 18 I just thought, okay, I should have a goal to have $1 million by 30.
The problem with numbers, is that there’s always 1 million plus one, 1 billion plus two, there’s always have a bigger number and there is no end to it.
I have friends who tell themselves that they’ll just work themselves into the ground for 10 years and after that I’ll go and enjoy life. I promise you in 99% of cases that never happens because as you earn more, you will start to develop habits, you get used to a certain lifestyle and you start wanting more.
Very few people are actually able to tear themselves away from that, because they always tell myself just one more year just one more year, and that very rarely happens.
So yeah don’t have your heart set on a certain figure because that figure is always going to be a moving target.
Take a more long term perspective on things, think about what you’re really trying to do with your with the funds that you have. For some people, it’s about comfortable retirement, for others, it’s providing for their families. I mean it’s ultimately up to you.
Rapid Fire Questions!
Morning person or Night owl?
Magikarp. Who doesn’t love magikarp?
Biggest travel pet peeve?
People who take off their socks on an airplane.
Worst person to sit next to in an airplane?
Someone who was clipping their nails.
Best airplane meal?
ANA’s Japanese meals, amazing every single time.
Best airline service?
Singapore Airlines followed very closely by ANA or Japan Airlines.
Where do you hope to travel in 2021?
Where I hope… probably Australia and New Zealand.
Realistically, maybe Japan if they open up for the Olympics, or maybe Hong Kong if the travel bubble actually happens.
Anywhere you have not travelled to, but you really want to?
My parents claimed they took me to Canada and Scotland as a baby, but I don’t remember any of it. So I would like to travel there too.
The best travel hack?
Best travel hack is buying airline miles and redeeming them for flights as opposed to earning them. This is something you can do with programs like Alaska Airlines, or with LifeMiles.
Best Netflix show of 2020
Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul is an amazing show, even if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad.
Underrated or Overrated
For some people, it can be a mental break because it’s a change of scenery.
When I’m on staycation I can use as many towels as I want, I can fill up the bathtub without worrying about the water bill. I can turn down the air con to 16 degrees. I can have a pillow fight or eat room service in bed.
Hotel club lounges
In Singapore…. Slightly overrated.
The offerings here aren’t as good as some I’ve had overseas.
Very few hotel lounges in Singapore serve champagne for example, I can only think of five of them.
The best hotel lounge I’ve ever gone to is the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo, amazing, amazing stuff.
Business Class Singapore Airlines? Right now, overrated.
For sure, Singapore Airlines is amazing in the sky, but on the ground, it’s quite average.
Travel Neck Pillows
Underrated if you’re in economy class.
Overrated because business class has improved so much
The main difference between business and first class is just the type of food and type of champagne.
So if you just want a lie-flat seat, then business class is probably good enough and first class is overkill.
Singapore Airline Suites
It’s really life changing, especially the new ones which are just six of them.
All-time Favourites (Hall of Fame)
Hotel Loyalty Programs
World of Hyatt.
Airline Miles Program
Alaska Airlines, or Life Miles.
Credit card rewards program
Citibank because they’ve got the most Transfer Partners.
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