Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, a website devoted to maximizing credit card, airline and hotel loyalty points, was 12 in 1996 when he booked his first free ride, using his father’s points to earn arranged for a family of six vacations in the Cayman Islands. Then, while working as a recruiter for an investment bank, he began accumulating his own points for business travel, spending those points on annual vacations that impressed his friends so much that he was known as The Points Guy. In 2010 he started blogging with this name and a year later he quit his day job to devote full time to score hack.
His website now covers travel news with an editorial team of about 40 years old, and last fall the brand created a mobile app that allows users to track their loyalty points in one place, see their monetary value and get tips on how to spend them.
The process is not entirely smooth. American Airlines, for security reasons, recently sent The Points Guy a cease-and-desist letter. Last month, Red Venturesacquired The Points Guy in 2017 and also owns the travel publisher Lonely Planet, before to sue airlines, asking the court to rule that consumers can manage their frequent flyer accounts on a third-party website. The Americans protested.
Mr. Kelly said in a recent interview. The following are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What is The Points Guy app designed for?
Points and miles have become a lot more complicated since the old days when you got them from your flight and redeemed them for a free ticket. The game has become a lot more complicated, but consumers can still win if they play it right. The average consumer simply can’t afford to use any credit cards, and people are hoarding points because they don’t know what’s a good use of them.
The Points Guy app has three main principles: learn, earn and score. Learning is content. If you have an American Express Platinum card, we want to let you know when there’s a big bonus you need to tap into. The second piece is making money. We aggregate the numbers and say, hey, you’re spending a lot of groceries on this card. This card only gives you one point per dollar. Did you know that if you use a gold card, you get four points per dollar on groceries? As for the app’s write-up, that’s where we want to help empower consumers. Most consumers don’t know they can redeem miles to the US on Qatar Airways.
We want to be able to show people their full net worth in points at one location because people are worth more than they realize. The purpose of the app is to get people to engage more in loyalty so they can use their points and travel again. We’ll also let you know if your mileage is about to expire. A lot of programs haven’t run out of mileage during the pandemic, but starting April 1, 2022, Americans will expire anyone’s mileage if they don’t have any activity within the past 18 months.
Your platform has evolved a lot. What’s next?
The Points Guy’s key plan in 2022 is to continue investing in content. We want to reconnect with our readers in deeper ways in an online community where people can learn about different loyalty programs with the goal of helping people think more than just travel. calendar, but actually plan and execute it and become the guide to them with the resources they need to explore the world.
Like a travel agency?
I don’t think we want to be a travel agency, but we do want to help people not only choose which spots to use to fly, but also how when you go to Osaka, explore. So we partner with Lonely Planet, but also leverage our community. We believe now is the time. A lot of people have left to travel, but they are ready to come back. At The Points Guy, we are happy that tourists will return there again with confidence.
What’s a great free ride you’ve taken using miles?
Oh, there are a lot of them. During the pandemic, my favorite trip is to Tahiti. It is one of the few countries that is open and has a fairly progressive stance on testing. It was September 2020 and I used my US miles to fly Air Tahiti Nui business class from Los Angeles. I used Amex points and transferred them to stay Conrad Bora Bora Nui free. It’s still peak pandemic and it’s helped me reconnect. I swam with humpback whales off the coast of Moorea Island, which has completely changed my life. It was my reincarnation trip.
Many people will read this and say, “I don’t travel a lot, so his advice doesn’t apply.” What is your feedback?
You don’t have to travel to get points. Do you shop? Do you buy groceries? Do you eat out? Most people do those things. The game of accumulating points is not for people who often travel. It’s for people who spend money. The sign-up bonus for the credit card is huge. A single bonus a year can get you a free ride. And I think that’s when people realize, “I don’t need to be a business traveler to fly for free.”
How many credit cards do you have?
I have 25 credit cards, which I wouldn’t recommend the average person take. However, that is my business. Even if you don’t want to travel, there are cashback cards that you should get. If you’re paying with cash, to put it simply, you’re throwing money at every transaction. Because, for the most part, in the United States, points are incorporated into the cost of goods. When you go to Target, you don’t get a discount on cash payments. So you can earn super value points or cash back.
Do you bring cash?
I bring cash because I like tips. I used to be a waiter, and frontline workers in particular have been hit hard these days. But I won’t pay anything in cash. When you make purchases with a credit card, there’s an extra layer of protection you don’t get when using cash. And when someone steals your cash, good luck. But if someone steals your credit card, you get it all back. For so many reasons beyond the score, having a good credit card these days is like having an extra line of defense, especially since so many airlines have had operational crises. If your flight is delayed and you use a travel credit card, with many of them, you get up to $500 in free travel protection to pay for a car rental or hotel. So using the right cards makes sense for points and protection.
Elaine Glusac writes a column for budget travelers. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.
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