Interview with The Points Guy
We sat down with Brian Kelly, CEO and Founder of The Points Guy, to discuss his approach to travel planning, #Unitedgate and the upcoming Digital Travel 2017 Summit.
You’re up first thing in the morning as our keynote speaker, what can our audience expect to hear from you?
Brian: Well I’m a morning person, so the audience can expect to hear a lot of energy and most importantly a consumer perspective. I’m a hyper consumer when it comes to booking online travel but I also have a unique perspective where everything is based around loyalty, whether earning or redeeming points and trying to maximize that as well as value. So that’s what I’ll be focusing in on my talk.
It’s no secret that you’re a savvy traveler. When planning a trip, do you have a specific destination in mind, or do you rely on online travel deals to help sway your decision?
Brian: I do a mixture of both. I’ll hop in on a good deal like this past year when the St. Regis Maldives opened for online booking in August 2016. They mispriced the rooms at only 32,500 per night for overwater bungalows. And I instantly booked a 5-night stay over Christmas when room rates were over 2,500 dollars. I got huge value so I built a trip around that. Then I also hopped to the Park Hyatt Maldives to review that hotel and then also to do Nihiwatu, which is the number one hotel in the world in Travel & Leisure’s best-of list from 2016. So if I see a deal, I’ll create a trip around it.
"if I see a deal, I’ll create a trip around it"
The travel industry continues to spend billions on upping their mobile game. At the end of the day, do you book on your personal computer, mobile device, or are you old school and prefer to pick up a phone?
Brian: It’s kind of funny because we book so much using our American Express points, I actually book through American Express Travel. So even though it’s 2017, and it’s all about mobile, I actually book travel like they did in the ‘90s, via phone. But I do most of my research online. I love Google Flights for sniffing out airfares, but the fact of the matter is there is no one perfect platform for finding the very best deal.
How much do online customer reviews impact your trip (Hotel? Flight?)
Brian: I don’t listen to them at all. I review credible blog posts from the community that I trust. I still put value in curated reviews fromConde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure. And I just listen in on social media. I have bumped into really cool properties just looking around on Instagram. I don’t do Trip Advisor or Yelp to help sway my decisions at all.
We noticed you’ve been on top of #Unitedgate over the past few weeks – as a customer, what’s the number one message you want the airlines to hear?
Brian: In hospitality and travel, outside of airlines, hotels, these companies really compete for business and the airlines are not. The airlines I think, post 9/11 have used safety as a shield to really not invest in customer service. Now, this isn’t all airlines, but I think what we saw with #Unitedgate was the complete breakdown of consumer/customer care and putting the company’s needs before consumers. So I think they learned a very valuable lesson that doing right by the consumer is in their very best business interest and I think that we’ll be seeing a lot of changes after that across the board, not just only at United.
"Where are you off to next?"
You’ve built your brand on navigating the credit card landscape and being able to rack up points to book with some of the largest brands out there. But do you have a personal preference for any particular hotel brand, airline, website?
Brian: For hotels, I’ve been Starwood 100 Night Ambassador Platinum status. Although, more and more I have been looking at more unique boutique hotels. I do like authentic experiences so sometimes it is hard booking at chain hotels because you just don’t get the same vibe, although Starwood has been very good with adding in more hotels, especially their partnership with design hotels. Regarding airlines, I actually just wrote a post about how I am hopping off the elite status hamster wheel with American Airlines. I’ve been Executive Platinum for the last 5 years and they’ve cut away so much that I’m now just focusing on the best way to get where I’m going and gets me there the quickest. I’m a big fan of JetBlue Mint; their business class, which is expanding rapidly, is definitely one of my favorites.
What brand, would you say, is the best at establishing loyal customers? Why?
Brian: I think consolidation in the industry is less consumer choice when it comes to airlines. However there are a lot of airlines that are upping their game, so I like to reward the airlines that actually provide a really rich customer experience and sadly most of them are foreign, like the Middle Eastern carriers offer an incredible experience.
We’re big fans of your Frenchies Miles and Hootie! They’re quite the travelers. If they could talk, what do you think they’d say was their all-time favorite destination?
Brian: Miles loves Miami. He loves the heat actually, which is funny for a frenchie because a lot of the times they overheat. But Miles gets depressed when he has to be in New York City. Just like me, he hates the car and loves being on an airplane.
Where are you off to next?
Brian: Actually, right after this summit I’m going to Normandy, France. A friend has a chateau in Normandy so I’ll actually be going there next week. And then this summer, we’re working with Nobel Peace Prize winners and doing Youth Conferences in Guatemala in in the beginning June and Ghana at the end of June. I’m really excited for those.
Brian Kelly is the founder and CEO of The Points Guy, a leader and influencer in the industry of points, miles and travel in general. As a passionate traveler since childhood, Brian used his knowledge and insight to start ThePointsGuy.com during his time as a Wall Street road warrior while traveling the globe for up to six months a year. Brian was able to book exciting and extravagant trips for next to nothing through his hard-earned points and miles, flying first class and staying at luxury hotels all for less than the cost of a coach ticket and a hostel bed. Due to the immense interest in his tips and advice, Brian left his Wall Street job in June 2011 to grow his site and travel the world full-time.