Out of Office: A Q&A with Susan Novak | Points Guru

Susan Novak, Regency Centers' Litigation Counsel, has flown business class for free from Hong Kong to Croatia and seemingly everywhere in between. The savvy Novak has been maximizing credit card points for years by diligently maintaining a spreadsheet to keep track of all of her credit cards, frequent flyer and reward accounts — including account numbers, payment due dates, card anniversary dates, points conversion benefits and the earning and benefits for each account. Read on to discover more about Novak's cost-saving hobby.

Susan Novak with Kangaroos while in AustraliaSusan Novak — Sydney, Australia

RC: How long have you been doing this, and how did you get into it?
SN: I started in 2011 but I didn’t have a specific plan or goal in mind. I just wanted a return on my regular spending and so I began to accumulate points kind of passively. It wasn’t until 2014 that I took my first “points” trip; I was able to book all of the flights needed for a two month trip to China, Southeast Asia, and Australia in business class using points and about $200. After that, I was hooked.

RC: Explain a bit about the hobby itself and what it entails — is it the spreadsheet or also researching and utilizing cards in the best ways? How much time would you say you spend on it — is it more maintaining at this point or active time ‘doing’?
SN: All of the above! I maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of the earning and benefits for each award account and credit card. The most difficult part is having to stop and think before you make any purchase to ensure that you’re using a card or account that will get you the most return (i.e. points back). How much time I spend depends on the situation; on a regular basis I spend a few hours per week monitoring the trends, new flight routes, etc. But once I have a trip in mind, all bets are off and I’m spending however much time it takes to figure out the best way to make my trip happen.

Nolan Clark and Susan Novak in CroatiaNolan Clark and Susan Novak in Dubrovnik, Croatia

RC: How would you best describe what exactly you do to someone who’s never done or utilized points, credit cards in this way before?
SN: Some people do “extreme couponing” and buy 20 jars of pasta sauce for $1. I do “extreme miles,” where I figure out ways to earn as many points and miles as possible on my regular spending, and then find ways to use those miles to travel as far as possible for as little as possible.

RC: Your husband, and now son, travel with you. Does your husband also do the points optimization?
SN: My husband, Nolan, begrudgingly participates, although he is more hooked on the upper class tickets than I am, provided that I do all of the “research” and tracking. So he has his own cards, frequent flyer accounts, etc., but I handle the leg work and the planning of each trip. I have four “main" credit cards that I focus on.  

RC: Where should someone start who wants to get into earning points and traveling on points?
SN: The first step is to pick a trip! It’s all downhill from there.

RC: Where are you off to next — presumably on points?
SN: Romania and Budapest in December.

FUN FACT: “Points” trips to date include flying business class for free to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Australia, Scotland, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, France, Japan, Taiwan and Peru (plus Romania and Budapest in December).

Susan Novak in ScotlandSusan Novak — Isle of Skye, Scotland