Ep. 152: How this flight hacker has saved over 105K in travel costs with Jet Set Lisette
In this episode, I speak with Lisette Austin, also known as Jet Set Lisette, who is an award-winning travel expert who has currently saved over $105K in travel costs.
She teaches others how to earn and maximize travel rewards through her online course, Jet Set 101: Becoming a Travel Hacker.
She is also the host of the award-winning Globetrotter Lounge podcast, interviewing women who have found creative ways to travel more.
Listen on to find out how Lisette is able to travel the world on a budget!
Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to be speaking with Lisette. Hey Lisette, how are you?
Im great. How are you doing?
I am wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
Yes, I’d be happy to. So, yeah, I’m also known as Jet Set Lisette because I love to travel and I basically have become a bit of an award travel expert and it was almost by accident. But anyway, I do this whole thing where I figure out how to help people rack up miles and points and therefore travel for free and my whole offbeat life story actually started way before that.
I’ve always had a side hustle probably for the last 18 to 20 years. I’ve never enjoyed working a full-on 9 to 5, 40-hour a week job. So, pretty much out of college or after grad school, I tried that and was like, “No, I’m not doing this.” And so, I would work part-time as a researcher at the University here in Seattle – University of Washington.
And I also then would freelance. I was a freelance writer and editor for a long time and then I became a freelance web designer for a long time. And all this allowed me to travel more because I had the flexibility and my own schedule but I would get the benefits that came along with working at a University job.
so, I’ve always kind of set up this life for myself which doesn’t fit your standard; what people think a career looks like. People often are very confused when they say, “What do you do,” I’m like, “Well, how much time do we have at? Do we have a little while ’cause I’ve got like 7 threads that we can talk about.”
And that allows me to be flexible and more recently, I’ve done more and more location independent work that allows me to really work while I’m on the go.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re currently doing right now that’s allowing you to be more location independent and give you some more free time to travel since you have all of these free miles that you backed up?
It’s been interesting. Right now, I’ve been in a new period. I had been with like I mentioned, the University of Washington working on a grant with indigenous communities, actually. Its been really great for about 12 years and that was part-time. That grant ended the beginning of 2018 and I’ve been on a journey ever since.
It’s been almost two years of trying different things. I went full entrepreneur for a while and that also coincided with the start of my podcast. So, I was podcasting quite a bit about women who found creative ways to travel more ’cause I wanted to pick their brains about how they’re finding ways to “travel hack” and save money or just have more time to travel or live abroad and all the things I still feel like I’d love to do.
That turned into kind of a thing in my life. I love podcasting and it led me to be involved with great organizations like Wanderful and the Women in Travel Summit. So, I started traveling more and working on podcast projects. And that’s been really fun because you have helped a couple of organizations like Navit – another great women-run organization about finances and travel and lifestyle. I help them launch a podcast.
I’ve been doing smaller projects wonderful; my own podcast. So, during this year, there’s been a lot of that going on and I do travel to do a lot of these things. I’ve gone to, actually most recently, Latvia. I was just in Riga, Latvia doing some podcasting over there at their first Women in Travel Summit Europe.
And then, the other thing I’ve been doing is web design. I continue to do that; that’s a beautiful thing ‘cause you can do it anywhere. One of my highlights there was somehow convincing this really fabulous small boutique hotel in Zihuatanejo, Mexico that, “I would work so much better on-site ‘cause I’d be inspired by the landscape around me and, really, I could do it anywhere.” But they were like, “Okay. Yeah, come on down. We’ll get you in a room.
So, I was building a website beachside. I was loving that but typically I can build a website from anywhere and I work with clients who are in different countries and all over the States. Building up that business has been great.
And then the other thing I’m doing right now is, because I am taking care of my dad who’s quite elderly, I have decided for the moment to be a little bit more grounded in Seattle so I can be around him. I did take another part-time position at the University of Washington, but this time it’s web design-based and what’s great about that is I can even remote for that job.
So, even though I have the benefit of a job with those perks at 3 days a week, I’m headed to Brazil right now and I’m going to be remote working for my University job while I’m in Brazil next week. So, that’s where things are at the moment and I still freelance.
That’s a lot of different things, a lot of different aspects of what you’re doing right now. Its really creating different streams of income as they say because when you’re an entrepreneur and a freelancer, it does help out a lot when you have all of those different things coming in.
When you started and transitioned from your job at the university to creating income as a web designer. Did you have any background in that or was it something that you just learned on your own?
I actually have been doing web design for about 10 years now and before that, I had been making my own websites. Pretty much self-taught back when things were way more HTML coding – quite a long time ago. So, I have been freelancing as a web designer all along while working at the University.
When I made a run of 100% entrepreneur in 2018 and 2019, I actually was doing a combination of web design and my Jet Set Lisette kind of consultation, helping people earn miles and points, and podcasting. So, you’re right, multiple income streams. But I did have that skill and I did grow that skill and, honestly, a lot of my income streams come for my passions. It’s not like I intended to become a web designer.
I don’t know what it is with me but I definitely have a very tech geek side of me, which is, I think, why I also like podcasting. And I would just make my own website and make websites for my dance company. I’m a dancer, kind of, on the side. I have been in a dance company for a long time.
So, I make their website, I make my husband’s website – he’s a professional photographer. And people were noticing and they’re like, “Can you make my website?” And I’m like, “Well, I can try.” And so, over time, I built up a skill set, and then I saw the possibilities like, “Okay, let me do this.”
And it was the same thing with the Miles and Points. That started because I love to travel and I really wanted to figure out how I could travel more and afford it ’cause I couldn’t always afford it at all. And I figured out about miles and points and started traveling like an insane person. Like going randomly to Tokyo for an art exhibit at the drop of a hat and people were like, “Did you win the lottery? Are you wealthy? What happened? What’s going on?” And I would be like, “Okay, let me tell you what I did.” And I tell them and then another person would ask me.
Then, finally, I just said, “For the sake of convenience, let’s get everyone in one room at once.” And then it became a workshop and then people were like, “Can you do another one.” Next thing you know, I’ve got an online course, I’m starting a podcast to build the audience.
So, these various income streams really came from independent passions that I, myself, was just trying to figure out for myself like, “How do I do this? How do I build a website? How do I make a podcast so I can build an audience? And the next thing you know people are like, “Can we hire you to do that for us?”
So, I say, it always pays to dabble. If you have something you’re interested in, try it, go for it ’cause you don’t know what it might bring into your life.
Well, you have definitely dabbled as you say in so, many different things. And, as you said, one of the ways that people really know you is because you have been able to do some great travel hacks. How did you figure that out? And now you’re able to travel to so many different places for pretty much free, right?
Yep. That’s right. Yeah. Well, I figured that out ’cause, as I said, I was living my interesting life that wasn’t your common 9 to 5 and I could see this potential. So, I was a freelance writer, I think more back then, I may be transitioning to being, also a freelance web designer and working my day job. But I could see like “Wow, I have this spare time.”
And I do travel, I road trip it, and maybe go down to Mexico when I can. But I really wanted to get back to international travel ’cause I had lived abroad when I was 19 in Italy and I occasionally was able to go for a honeymoon; we went to Europe.
And I would save up like most of us do for these bigger ticket trips, but I saw this potential like “I could travel more often.”
So, I started looking into the miles and points. I always had an Alaska Airlines card and back. In 2009 my husband transitioned from being a carpenter, a full-time contractor, to being a photographer and we lost the overhead. We used to put all his client purchases. So, like remodeled kitchens, bathrooms, there’s a lot of money running through our Alaska Airlines card that is his business card that would then get paid back by the client.
And there went the like 30,000 miles a year that we used to at least have to get down to Mexico or something. So, I just got online and said, “What is going on?” Like I just need to figure out maybe some more cards. I didn’t even know but I just was frustrated ’cause I did think about becoming a flight attendant but somehow That wasn’t happening.
So, I came across Million Mile Secrets and that blog changed my life, I think now they are owned by The Points Guy. I’ve read the crazy story of this guy, Darius, who said he’d gotten a million miles over the last year and I was like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “I just opened all these cards.” I’m like, “You’re crazy. This man is crazy. He’s ruining his credit score. He’s insane. He’s opening like 10 cards at once or whatever it was.” But I was intrigued and I thought well, “I’ll just try it on a small scale.”
And in three months, I had four hundred thousand miles and I was like, “What?! Wait a minute.” And I have not done any more spending – the normal. I just did my regular spending and at that point, I was like, “Are you kidding me? I can just do my regular household spending and in 3 months get enough miles like way more than we used to have. Enough miles to go multiple times to Europe.”
So, I just kept doing it and pretty soon I crossed over the million-mile mark that first year. That was in 2012, and ever since then I rarely go below a million. I have about 1.2 million hotel points and airline miles right now. My flight to Brazil for my son and I tonight was probably about $60 for both of us. Latvia was equally cheap, I just pay taxes and fees.
That’s how I learned and I learned it online. But I, along the way, taught myself how to stay organized ’cause there are definitely some pitfalls to opening a lot of cards and I’ve learned how to not only not go into debt, not pay interest. I do sometimes pay annual fees, you kind of have to do that these days.
Things have changed since when I first started doing it, but I have a credit score. I used to have a credit score in the low 700s and now it’s in the 800s after opening like I don’t know how many cards in the last 8 years. Who knows? 80, 90 – I don’t know.
So, Lisette, for somebody who wants to do this and tap into what you’re doing, what would be your best advice for them if they want to start doing it?
I think the first thing is to understand your finances: understanding how much you spend a month, understanding what your potential is for opening a card, and meeting a minimum spend ’cause you always have to spend a certain amount. You don’t want to end up in debt, right? So, you don’t want to just open a bunch of cards and start throwing random purchases on it that you can’t pay back at the end of the month.
So, my number one tip really is to check your finances; see what’s reasonable. If you have a lot of issues with debt maybe clean that up first. Look at what your credit score is. If it’s in the 700, that’s good that will help you with this. But if not, work on getting a better credit score.
And then after that, there’s a lot of resources out there. The Points Guy is a big one, there’s a lot of other ones and my own site. I have an online course and all that but I think really it starts with understanding your finances so you don’t get into any trouble with it.
So, now, let’s go back to what you’ve been doing because you are doing a lot of different things, right? And you’re definitely an entrepreneur who has multiple streams of income. What has been the biggest setback that you have encountered or are encountering right now?
There’s always a pro and a con, right? So, having flexibility, having multiple streams – that’s great. and I love it. At the same time, there are those days that you wake up and you think, “What am I working on today? I don’t even remember.” It’s like the chaos that can come with multiple streams sometimes. There are those moments where you’re like, “Can I just have one job? Can I just have one thing coming into my brain? I don’t know why I have all this going on.”
So, just to be realistic or honest about that but sometimes the biggest challenge is to balance and knowing when to say no. I’m really good at saying no to people, I’m not worried about what people are going to think of me or something. It’s not about that, it’s not like. “Oh gosh! I wish I could say no, but she may not like me.” I can say, “Nope, I’m totally busy.”
I like a lot of things and it’s saying no to me – that’s the hardest part, right? So, it’s someone saying, “Hey you want to come to Latvia and do some podcasting over here?” I’m going to be like, “Yeah, I want to go to Latvia.” But the challenge is saying, “Okay. Lets really look at the calendar here. What’s realistic? Where is the balance? I need downtime. Where is the rest? Where is the time to exercise?” Those kinds of things.
So, I think the danger of entrepreneurship is always: you have this freedom, but that means freedom to do too much too, right?
Absolutely. I think a lot of us have that shiny object syndrome and it’s very easy to get distracted with so many new shiny things and lose focus on what’s really important.
Absolutely. And that’s what I found for me this year. I often would say on my podcast and in talking with friends, like “Of course, my next big travel dream is to live abroad.” It still is but I had to come down to what really matters; what really matters to me right now is spending time with my family, elderly parents.
Those kinds of things are real and it’s not limiting, it’s just a choice right? It’s saying, “This is what is important.” So, I have to remember that and that’s when I decided while I’m here, why don’t I maximize getting money into a retirement plan? That kind of little benefited position kind of grounds me in many ways too because I have that one thing that I know I need to do and then I can’t completely runoff.
But yeah. So, the setbacks or the challenges are sometimes just not knowing which way is up. But what comes from that is really learning how to take really good care of oneself. And, for me, that includes self-care, rest, exercise, eating well, and against scheduling downtime.
You’re really good with finances so, you’re one of the best people to talk to you about this. How do you often save your money and how do you make it last? Especially since you have so many different streams of income and you don’t know which one is going to be there for one month and not going to be there the next.
Good question. Even though right now, I did choose to take this one benefited position, it still is only at 60% time position. I cannot sip slowly off of that. So, I still do have that entrepreneur. challenge where you’re like, “Do I have a project this month? Is it going to be enough?”
My husband and I have an emergency savings fund that we put money into every month. That really helps to know that that’s growing. That is a hugely important piece of our plan because he’s a freelancer as well, he’s an entrepreneur. So,100%, he also is in the same boat. So, as a unit, we definitely have to think about that.
And I also I’m not going to give up travel – that’s important to me. So, again, for me, the miles and points are necessary because I cannot be funneling all of my money into travel. I can’t be using up my emergency savings for travel. So, I have to keep things kind of manageable there.
Also, I have a retirement plan that I’m maxing out right now. And that’s really important and then I also have a cushion. So, I took the time and energy some years back to purposefully be at least a “full paycheck” ahead like we have a cushion of whatever our monthly amount that we need is – we’re ahead. So, when money comes in this month, I’m budgeting it for next month and it actually exists.
In the past, I would have money coming in and it’s like, “Oh good. The money is coming in for this month.” Well, that’s a disaster, right? ‘Cause you don’t know if the money will come in really for this month. So, this way anything that’s coming in November, I know what now what I have for December. So, that helps us be realistic.
Oh, and have you caught on a budgeter? So, I’m a budgeter, I literally track everything. As if I’m not busy enough, I track the money but that to me is freedom. The time it takes to track my money equals the amount of freedom I have in my life because I know what I can spend and then that way I do not get myself into trouble. I can tell my family, “We are not going out to eat next month,” or whatever. And then that means I don’t have to hustle harder to try to make more money because I’m short,
So, I hope that answers the question but those are the strategies I use to keep things going.
Yeah. I love the strategies that you have because it is a lot of work to do in the beginning. But then you create a system that really works for you. And that’s how you’ve been able to do it and keep going and be able to still have the money that you have and not be on the street somewhere – we don’t want to do that.
So, let’s fast-forward to 40 to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave? And what do you want to be remembered for?
That’s a great question or interesting question I haven’t really thought about. My legacy… Well, I have a son so there’s that. I immediately think of my son like I hope he’s doing well. He’s eighteen so he’s launching off into adulthood and we have our family and all of that.
I do think though that I’ve done a lot of writing and things like that. I’ve done not only freelance writing but I write poetry. I have some writing and I feel like those things can kind of be left behind, right? So, I guess there’s that but I also love being of service in my community.
For example, we didn’t talk about quite all the threads but I’d mentioned briefly about working with the indigenous people in my area, here in Seattle. And I work with the tribes, a couple of tribes. There are many tribes here, 29 tribes in Washington State alone. Two of the tribes I work with, one of them is the tribe for which Seattle was named – the Suquamish tribe. The Suquamish tribe was where Chief Sealth lived. He was a part of that tribe and the city is named after him.
Serving those people, serving that community, I’ve been able to do that through my work, and in general, being of service to the people who were here first has always been really important to me. And it’s something I’ve often had a hard time even putting into words. I’m not Native American, I would never try to say that I know everything that should be known about Native people, but I have had the great honor and privilege of working with Native communities ever since I got a grad degree in American Indian Studies many years ago.
And for me, that feels like part of what I’m leaving or part of what I would like to look back on and say, “You know what? We did these people wrong coming here.” Let’s not even start talking about the African-American community there’s that too. I am part of that community so, it’s not that I’m ignoring that one, but the Native people were here, we came in and pretty much destroyed a lot of what they had – not all of it.
They’re still here and they’re thriving and there’s a huge cultural resurgence in many tribes but I just feel like we owe them – the United States. So, without getting too political here, I’ll just say that is one of the things I’m most proud of; that I have spent a lot of time and energy seeing how I could be of service to those communities.
Well, that’s the type of Legacy I think you can definitely be proud of and it will affect a lot of people’s lives and I don’t think it’s talked about enough. And I’m so glad that you’re able to do that, Lisette, and continue to do that as you keep going on.
Now. What are you working on currently that is really exciting to you?
Well, right now I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I haven’t really talked publicly that much about but I will be in the upcoming year. I’m also adopted and that is something that has never really come up. I was adopted at 3 days old by my adoptive Mom and my adoptive Dad who are wonderful people. I’m multiracial; I’m black and white. My adoptive Mom is white and my adoptive father is black.
And so, no one even thought about it. They didn’t even believe me when I said, “Well, I’m adopted.” They’ll say, “No, you’re not. Look at your parents.” Like okay, whatever. So, anyway, fast forward, I’m at this point in my life. It’s too long of a story to go into right now, but let’s just say that I have some contact with some of my biological family now as well.
And because I’m such a traveler even before this DNA travel trend which is now like the rage, I guess. I heard it’s the top travel trend of 2019. Before that, of course, when I started getting my ancestry DNA stuff done many years ago. Of course, the first thing I thought was, “Well, I’m going to have to go to that country.” Like that’s totally how I operate.
So, I’m kind of coming up on a milestone birthday. And so, I feel like this is the time where I want to really focus on going to the places from which my ancestors sprang. I don’t know; keep saying that funny. I want to go to my ancestral countries and especially as someone of African-American descent, yes, I’m adopted, so I had that.
It was a closed adoption so, I didn’t know everything I could know but I feel like, as a people, African-American people also kind of have that same feeling that adoptees do which is like, “We don’t know where we’re from. If we came here through slavery, we don’t know which country.” I’m really excited as I’m finding out more through DN. To find out, yes, I’m 20% Nigerian – these kinds of things.
So, that is going to be my journey in 2020 – going to some of these places. Im taking one trip to Ireland. I’m amazed, I’m like 35% Irish. So, I’m going to Ireland with my two biological brothers on that side of the family, of the Caucasian side. We’re going to go to Ireland and explore and go to where we’re from County – Cork. But I also want to go to Nigeria, I want to go to other countries, Albania etcetera.
I plan to do some audio journaling and probably release that like a series in my travel podcast. Playing around with that but really interested in exploring the journey of adoptees with DNA travel.
That is really exciting and very interesting especially to find out where your family comes from and then going there and actually seeing where they were living. It’s such an interesting way to find out about history.
Yes, exactly. And to get that sense of identity and roots and go to amazing new places that I have never been to which is, of course, one of my favorite things to do.
Well, you have enough miles to do it for sure.
That’s right. See? There you go.
Now, Lisette, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
I can be found at JetSetLisette.com and Lisette is with an S. I always say that ’cause it does sound like a Z. I’m on Instagram: @jetsetliestte, Facebook @jetsetliestte. If you want to find out about my web design business, you can check that out at AustinCreative.design. Austin, like Austin, Texas.
Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Lisette, for sharing with us your incredible story, really appreciate it.
Absolutely! It’s been a real pleasure.
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Audio Engineer: Ben Smith