This week our celebrity travel addict is Brian Kelly, creator of The Points Guy. In this interview he shares how his love of travel got started, tips on what to do in his favorite city, and valuable advice on how all of us can use reward travel to our advantage.
To see the full interview play the video below:
My passion for travel started as a kid. I was always an entrepreneurial teenager. I began an eBay business when eBay first started. I turned my tech-savvy into a business by booking travel for family members. When Travelocity started in the 1990s I figured out how to work it. I started charging my dad to make his flight reservations. When we realized how many points he had accumulated, that’s when I started to get involved with frequent flyer miles and maximizing those systems.
I like to diversity where I go. I love the beach, Scuba diving, but I also love cities. I like to mix it up and go new places. I usually go somewhere once a month – about one international trip per quarter and one domestic trip per month, but I have no rules really. Whatever comes up comes up and I like to go with the flow…
I love hearing from my readers. Basically I want others to learn how to maximize their life. It’s the simple things: to be smarter about your credit cards, smarter about the airlines you fly, and avoiding fees. I have the best job in the world because I teach people how to save money and also travel more. For me there’s nothing more rewarding than hearing from people saying the tips they learned from my site have helped them take amazing trips. I love teaching my readers how to overcome what others don’t really understand and empowering them to harness their everyday spend.
I like using my points to go to far flung destinations because those are usually the longest flights. I am six-foot seven so frankly going in coach to somewhere like Asia is not an option. My top 3 destinations using points include Japan, which I have traveled to twice on Japan Airlines first class. I also love South Africa, which I think is my favorite all-around destination for wine, outdoors, and safari. Cape Town is like a European capital on the water and to get there is a very long flight, so you’ve go to do it in business class. And the Maldives because I’m a Scuba diver and the diving is incredible! Those are my favorite destinations using points on business or first class.
Tokyo is on my mind since I was there recently.
I don’t watch movies but I love to Scuba so I take documentaries with me to watch. I like National Geographic shark documentaries. They get me inspired to travel. I am a shark geek and proud of it!
I am a loyal American Airline Executive Platinum member, which is their top tier. In general American Airlines is pretty top notch. They’re not perfect but I think American has the best frequent flyer program and they treat passengers pretty well. Delta is a quick second. The reason they’re not in the top spot is because their frequent flyer program is very unfriendly in comparison to American.
Cathay Pacific is phenomenal. In awards, Singapore Airways is better in terms of service, but Cathay Pacific is a wonderful airline: great food, service.
I really like Madrid [Barajas] Airport because I love Spain and the design is really cool. I also like how easy it is to get to the heart of the city from there from either the train or taxi. I hate when airports are far from the city like the one in Seoul.
My new favorite lounges are the American Express Centurion Lounges, which came about when American Express Platinum holders lost the ability to enter American Airline lounges. American Express then created their own high-end lounges. There are four in the U.S. with one in Miami opening up in 2015. The one in Dallas has great cocktails, craft beer, and you can even get a massage there. These lounges are top notch and free if you have an Amex Platinum card or a Centurion card, or $50 if you are an American Express cardholder. Most other lounges will charge you the same and offer you far less.
There are very easy programs to use like Southwest Rewards, but you can’t leverage them for first class flights to places like South Africa. One of my favorite programs is U.S. Airways Dividend Miles. The website is terrible so you have to call to book with rewards, but their frequent flyer miles are probably the most valuable out there if you know how to use them. There are a lot of ways that mileage experts like myself can really use that program. Unfortunately it’s going away in the second quarter of 2015 so if you have U.S. Airways miles use them now before they automatically become American Advantage miles.
My least favorite is Spirit Airlines: the miles expire quickly. Delta is very user-unfriendly because they make several changes to their program every year.
Since I have my dog Miles (named after air miles, not Miles David), I don’t like to leave for too long. I usually like to travel for 2 to 3 weeks at a time. I just did an around-the-world trip to Tokyo, Bali and London. It was 20 days and that’s pretty much my limit.
I may be biased, but Madrid is one of my favorite cities. I studied Spanish in college and so I am able to communicate. I feel like every night I go out and meet new people, make new friends. Most cities around the world are friendly, but Madrid takes the cake.
My partner is a fashion photographer. Traveling with him is a blast because he’s my best friend and he’s also an amazing photographer. It is really awesome to come back after exploring a place and come back to experience it all again through pictures. It is really fun traveling with him.
None. I am an i-Phone 6 Plus power user and I also take my Macbook Air, which goes with me everywhere.
I am on my i-Phone 6 Plus far too much than I should be. I love to use it to check my social medias. I use Instagram a lot so I’m always refreshing to see photos or uploading a picture of the first-class seat I’m sitting in or the macadamia nuts (God forbid in a bag)! Social media is an easy way to kill time.
The easiest way to rack up points now instead of flying is to make sure you have good credit to get approved for cards that offer the best deals. American Express recently launched targeted offers of 100,000 points for getting the Platinum card. Though it has a $450 annual fee, you’ll receive a ton of perks like access to the Centurion lounges and free global entry. [The important thing] is to always do the math. Even if there is no annual fee, those cards come with terrible signup bonuses. People often get overwhelmed with options, which is why The Points Guy website has the ‘Hot Deals’ Tab where we go through all of the top credit card offers and which make sense for all types of travelers. Know your benefits because they can save you thousands of dollars in travel costs if you know how to use them.
I felt the most “transported” in the Seychelles. It’s a beautiful granite outcrop in the Indian Ocean. Unlike the Maldives, the Seychelles doesn’t feel so confined, especially the main island of Mahé. It’s stunning and so far the most spectacular places I’ve been. I love places where I can immerse and not have to be stuck in a resort each day paying $20 for a cocktail.
First step would be to acknowledge your failures. A lot of people get overwhelmed and think they are too late to the game. You definitely are not late to the game. There are so many ways to earn miles these days such as shopping online. This helps you can get up to 10 miles per dollar you spend. There are also many dining programs you could join. You can earn extra miles by simply eating at certain restaurants. It’s really just a matter of signing up to these programs. For those who are feeling overwhelmed, my website has a great beginner’s guide section where people can get simple instructions to get started. We have over 5,000 blog posts with detailed analyses of every frequent flyer program and credit cards. Google also has a lot of content, you just have to look and do the work.
-Bose noise cancelling headphones
-Passport (even when I fly domestic just in case)
-At least $150 Cash, because there is no worse feeling than when your credit cards don’t work
I’m into Scuba so the South Pacific, maybe somewhere like Bora Bora and some the surrounding atolls.
“For me, traveling and living are the same. How you travel is a symbol of your life.”
-Diane von Furstenberg
When I travel it’s not a vacation. It is my life. It’s always business and pleasure.
My next destination is Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. I was able to use my points to book five nights at the St. Regis, which is normally $200 per night.
“The most important thing to know about rewards travel is that is can be used for every kind of trip, whether it’s a family vacation or a trip around the world. You can make them work for you. You just have to be smart. It definitely pays off in the end.”
This interview was taped in January 2015 at the Thompson Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Some of Brian’s answeres were paraphrased for this post.