Travel like the Points Guy

Whether you’re looking for tips on where to travel on a budget or what credit card to sign up for to maximize your airline miles, Brian has got you covered.

Katie Couric: Let’s say there are certain dates you have available to travelIs there a way to search for flights by number of miles or price rather than by the destination?
Brian Kelly: Google Flights has a map version where you can put in your home airport and then look up flights by price or area. We are actually coming up with a points platform for my website. There’s no platform out there right now that will let you say, oh I have X amount of points, and I want to go to a beach. We’re actually building that, and it’ll launch this year. So stay tuned! But for now, Google Flights is really what the experts use. It’s free, and you don’t actually book your flight through them — it basically just figures out the fares and then it’ll send you to an airline’s website to book. So, if you’re just looking for inspiration, the Google Flights ‘map view’ is the best to find different destinations for the price you want.

Katie: So many countries and regions are listed as moderate to high risk but are not on the ‘Do Not Travel’ list. Should we avoid those areas?
Brian: Absolutely not. It’s really just about knowing where to avoid within a country. Most of those places with warnings just have pockets that you should avoid. I mean to be honest, there are a lot of places in the United States that are probably quite dangerous to go to. So I think it’s kind of crazy to have blanket warnings about whole countries, because countries are huge! And by heeding those warnings you might really limit the cultural experiences you could have.  Even the Dominican Republic, everyone is asking if it’s safe to go there. My brother and his five kids are there now! I mean I’m not sure if I would drink from a minibar —  from what I’ve heard a lot of hotels are actually taking out the bottles from minibars —  I might stick to beer and wine, since it sounds like it might be a problem with the liquor. But you have to remember that millions of people travel there, and the stories on the news have only happened to about ten people. I think you just need to take a look at the numbers. Because most of the death tolls you see in countries aren’t tourist deaths, they’re from gang violence, or violence that’s very targeted. I wouldn’t recommend going to North Korea or anywhere where there are major geopolitical concerns, but in general if you do a little bit of research on which parts to avoid in most countries, you’ll be totally fine.

Katie: What if you earn points for an airline you rarely use? What are other ways to use them?
Brian: If you have some point balances that are going to expire, there are a couple of things I would recommend. Some airlines will let you donate miles to charity, so that’s one easy way to make sure they don’t go to waste. But in other cases, airlines will let you transfer hotel or credit card points to top up your balance. Credit cards like Chase Sapphire or Amex Gold have programs that let you transfer points. So if you have 7,000 United miles, which isn’t enough to go anywhere, you can actually transfer 6,000 from Chase into your United account so you have enough to buy a one-way ticket.

Another great tip that people miss — you can earn tons of miles by shopping online. So for example if you wanted to buy something from Saks, instead of going directly to the retailer’s website, you want to go through an airline shopping portal. For example, is American Airlines’ shopping portal. You put in your frequent flyer number, and then you automatically earn American Airlines miles. I think at Saks you get five American Airlines points per dollar spent. There are hundreds of retailers on there. And when you earn miles through online shopping, you can then hopefully add enough miles to redeem them for a one way flight. You will also earn the points you get from using your credit card anyway, plus the miles. There’s always a way to get your account balance up, so don’t give up on those accounts! You can check out our beginners guide to see where you can find these shopping portals.

Katie: What is your favorite beach destination this year, and where do you recommend for a fun beach vacation?
Brian: Malta is really becoming a hot spot — it has a fascinating culture, they speak two different languages… it’s very cool. Bora Bora has always been a great destination and United just started flying there. There’s also a low cost carrier called French Bee that just started flying there direct from San Francisco. There’s been a big upswing in travel to French Polynesia because of that airline, and all of their planes are brand new, and it’s only about an eight hour flight from the West Coast. If you’re leaving from the East Coast, Delta just started flying to The Azores, which are Portugese islands, and they’re really cool.

I know there are obviously protests that have been happening right now, but I also really like recommending Puerto Rico. As devastating as Hurricane Maria was, most of the resorts have been totally renovated as a result. So the hotels in Puerto Rico are sparkling new and ready for business, and the island still really needs tourist dollars. It’s in the U.S., so you don’t have to deal with customs, flights are pretty cheap, and there are casinos, and it’s cultural, so it checks a lot of boxes. I’d highly recommend putting it on your list.

Katie: If I want to go on a big trip for Labor Day Weekend, how can I book something last minute without spending a fortune?
Internationally, you always want to book six weeks out or more, so unfortunately we’ve kind of missed that. But what I would recommend you do is take an “off peak” trip. In the southern hemisphere you can go skiing in Chile, which would be a fun Labor Day! And flights to South America are so much less expensive during the summer than they are in the winter. So think about going against the grain. If you do want to go to Europe, I would look at flights on Norwegian air. They’re a low cost carrier and they don’t gouge you for one way flights. Also, their Premium Economy class is basically like First Class on a domestic flight. La Compagnie is another airline that you can buy a cheaper one way ticket with, if you’re able to use miles on the other leg.

Katie: What’s the deal with Basic Economy? Is it worth it?
Brian: A lot of airlines have rolled out Basic Economy for international flights, and sometimes it can be hundreds of dollars less internationally. If you just bite the bullet, and think about all of the delicious food you could buy or the experiences you could have, it might be worth the less comfortable travel experience. If you don’t care about the miles you need to earn to get to elite status, Basic Economy can be worth it because every dollar counts. That being said if saving fifty bucks on a domestic flight isn’t really going to move the needle for you, it could be more aggravating especially if you don’t play by the rules with carry ons or checked bags, or if you don’t want to be in a middle seat, or you’re going to be mad if you end up in the worst seat on the plane, because that’s what’s going to happen. So you have to know what you’re getting into. But for a shorter flight that might usually be pretty expensive, I think it’s worth it. I mean flights to London from the East Coast are under six hours. Just watch a couple movies, and you’re there before you know it. So especially for budget conscious people, I would go for it. Why give your money to an airline when you could spend it at an amazing restaurant in Europe!