Brian Kelly got straight to the points.
“Loyalty is important, and consumers want points,” said the Points Guy, the guru of airline and hotel rewards programs. “Miles and points made my life better.”
Kelly, a former Wall Street dervish, founded ThePointsGuy.com in June 2010. (Early proof of his talents: As a teen, he organized a family trip to Grand Cayman paid with miles.) The website, which receives 2.6 million unique viewers per month, demystifies frequent-flier and hotel loyalty programs. His team’s analytics and advice has helped countless travelers explore the world for “free.”
During a recent visit to Washington, a room packed with faithfuls, and at least one agnostic, gathered in Georgetown to hear the Gospel According to TPG.
“I want today to become your ‘aha’ moment,” Kelly said, his 6-foot-7 frame towering over the audience.
He started by dispelling a misperception. Miles and points aren’t for cheapskates or scammers, he said. They are for “maximizing travel.”
Want to expand your wanderlusting opportunities? Here are some ways:
■ Sign up for several credit cards and hit up those sign-up bonuses, which can range from 30,000 miles to more than 50,000 miles. His advice for one scrooge: “Diversify.”
■ Take advantage of the strong U.S. dollar. For example, on Norwegian Air, a budget airline, book in krones to save even more on airfare. Use the Norwegian version of the site, www.norwegian.no,, which lists the fare in the local currency. A TPG employee, he said, recently snagged a $388 round-trip fare from New York to Oslo, including seat assignments. The South African rand also trembles before the mighty buck.
■ Don’t pay in cash. TPG mantra: “If you’re using cash, you’re losing cash.” Pay with credit cards, so that you earn miles per dollars spent. “Credit cards are the biggest way to get points.” But, he admonishes, “pay your balance down.” If you are behind on payments, settle your account before signing up for more cards.
■ When shopping for everyday goods, “never, ever, ever go directly” through the retailer. Use an airline’s shopping portal to earn miles. For example, at American Airlines’s AAdvantage eShopping mall, you can shop at more than 850 online stores, such as Kohl’s (earn two miles per dollar spent), Ace Hardware (four miles per dollar) and Sendflowers.com (15 miles per dollar).
■ Sign up for dining programs. Some cards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred and Amex Premier Rewards Gold cards, offer double points on dining, but you can bank even more by signing up for airlines’ dining programs and eating at their partner restaurants. Delta’s Skymiles Dining, for instance, features such Washington establishments as Johnny’s Half Shell, Lost Society, and Occidental Grill and Seafood.
■ Book a trip with American Airlines miles before March 22, when the carrier plans to devalue its mileage program.
■ Don’t fret over your status in loyalty programs. Even low-level members receive preferential treatment over non-participants. For example, if your flight is canceled, Kelly said, “elite members are accommodated first.”
■ If you have points that don’t add up to a full ticket, don’t transfer them to another program. Instead, redeem them for a one-way ticket or an upgrade.
■ Of the three airline alliances, Star Alliance and Oneworld edge out SkyTeam.
In addition to the tips, Kelly handed out a worksheet — he was at Georgetown University, after all — ranking four transferable points programs. At No 1., Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express, which buddies up with more than 30 partners, such as United, Delta, Alaska Airlines, Amtrak, British Airways and LAN. In second place, Chase Ultimate Rewards, which includes Chase Sapphire Preferred card (his recommendation for a millennial who is new to the points game) and the Chase Freedom card. Rounding out the list are American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
At the end of the talk, an audience member who had taken her mom to Paris with miles gushed her gratitude to Kelly.
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