Small Business Week with The Points Guy

A few weeks ago I received notice that Brian Kelly – also known as The Points Guy (or TPG for short) – was hosting a small gathering at the WeWork facility in the Financial District in order to share points and miles tips and answer questions by local business people. Since I have recently started consulting with friends/acquaintances on how to maximize their use of points (or gather some on their own) I signed up to attend. Boy, was it fun!

When I entered I was greeted by a sign informing me of consent to be filmed and photographed as well as by some small appetizers to satiate me for a small while. The WeWork common space was fairly large and their kitchen had lots of snacks for sale (and beer on tap!).

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TPG got started with a 20-minute presentation covering topics I pretty much already knew – how to maximize credit card bonuses; which cards to hold onto and which to get rid of; what options there are for earning miles outside of flying or simple swiping of the card; etc. The new piece of information I learned was EVRewards, a website devoted to sharing with you how to maximize your points-earning based on what store you are buying from. It’s a cool site that I will add to the list I go through before making a purchase.

After that he started taking numerous questions. He probably did this for about 45 minutes. I was lucky enough to be called on and made a quip about being a math teacher so I appreciated when he said “do the math” as he often does for his monthly valuations of points. I became known as “the teacher” and even had a brief conversation with his Chief Operations Officer. There may be some relationship brewing there that becomes fruitful and interesting in the future.

Finally, before I left I got a chance to get a photo with someone I’ve been trying to meet for almost a year now. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get more involved!

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Oh, and we got an awesome swag bag, too!

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Using Virgin Atlantic miles to book a Delta award flight

My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco in October for a wedding of some good friends but had an issue where our miles seemed not to work as well as we would have liked them to. Originally I tried to book United flights but all the saver availability (25,000 miles roundtrip) seemed to be out for the flights that we wanted. Since I have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card (contact me for a referral) we are still able to purchase the standard award level (50,000 miles roundtrip) for these flights, however. That would have been our best option.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.07.38 PM

With this reservation, our cost/mile usage would be 1.05 cents/miles. The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents/mile so this would not be the best use of our miles.

Then I remembered a critical component of travel with miles and points: booking awards with partner airlines. I’ve written previously about using British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights because it’s so easy to do – simply use their website tool to find availability. There is something to be said, however, for simply “phoning it in.” Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.14.25 PM

I remembered that Virgin Atlantic has partner airlines in Virgin American and Delta and that roundtrip flights within the Continental US are only 25,000 miles roundtrip (plus the $5.60 September 11th fee). I called them up and found that while there was no availability for Virgin America, the Delta option was wide open. I put a hold on the flights that we wanted that will stay in place for 48 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.22.32 PMIn the meantime I transferred 50,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account into my Virgin Atlantic account and just waited. In theory it should be instantaneous and in reality it took about three minutes for the miles to show up. So, in the end I am able to book the following Delta flight with only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for my wife and me:

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In this new scenario, our points/mile ratio is 1.87 cents/mile. The Points Guy values these miles at between 1.5-2.3 cents/mile so we are right on the money.

All in all, not bad for a day’s work of savings.

 

How I keep up with all this

Many people ask me how much time it takes me to keep track of all my credit cards, my miles/points activity, and just to know about deals that are currently out there. The unfortunate answer is that I don’t quantify it but that it takes take a significant amount of time to do what I do. That being said, the adage “time flies when you’re having fun” is accurate: I enjoy what I do so it seemingly takes less time.

In order to learn more about what’s out there, I read a lot of blogs to see what the experts are saying and what I could be doing. I will list a few of them here:

View From the Wing – Gary Leff writes about his experience using and analyzing frequent flyer issues. He is the Chief Financial Officer for the Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. Due to his amazing amounts of travel experience, he is viewed as one of the best experts in the field. He writes daily on credit card deals, answers readings questions about how to maximize what they can get out of their cards, how to leverage points and miles, etc. This is a great site with a lot of newbie tips as well as expert information.

The Points Guy – Founded by Brian Kelly, the original “Points Guy,” this site now has many contributors who write about their experience earning and using miles/points to get the best flights and hotels out there. It has a lot of detail and specific pieces of advice for anyone to use.

The Flight Deal – This site focuses on what are the best deals out there on flights you can pay for outright (not with points). It can really be useful since you would not want to book a flight with 25,000 points when it could be had for $100. Sometimes there are some amazing deals in there (like right now, there are some between NYC and Chicago, for $80 roundtrip!).

Those are my Big Three that I read daily but other people read One Mile at a Time, Mommy Points, and more. Keep up with whatever blogs you want – just make sure to read regularly so you can learn.

The Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard

The Points Guy has a very detailed post about if you should apply for the Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard – one that requires a good few minutes really understand and analyze to see if it is right for you. Instead of going in depth on that I’ll share my own experience with my Amtrak needs along the East Coast since most readers right now are in that region.

Many know that by traveling on Amtrak you earn “Guest Reward points” which are redeemable for travel on these trains. Within the Northeast Corridor (Washington, DC to Boston) it costs 4,000 points one-way for a free trip in coach, or 5,500 in business class (read: Acela). It usually takes a while to build up that number of points since $1 = 1 point.

This credit card comes with 12,000 points once you spend $500, meaning three free tickets along that same line and a free companion pass, meaning when you buy a ticket at full price you get a second for $0. The annual fee is $0.

For those reasons, I applied for and was accepted for the card. I will keep it over the long haul and it will increase my credit history over time since I never have to get rid of it. I can’t imagine buying anything but Amtrak tickets with it, but when I do I will get 2 points per $1 spent and a 5% reduction in redemption costs. I would recommend this card for anyone who travels along the Northeast corridor at least once every two months.