Video: Chatting Miles And Points On Nightline

As I mentioned over the weekend, this past week has been absolutely crazy. This is due in part to some rather sensationalist (and inaccurate) treatment I’ve been getting on social media.

Fortunately, I also had the chance to speak with several other media outlets last week in the hopes of setting the record straight. I’m a bit shy about sharing video of myself, but David Wright and the team at Nightline did a really fantastic job on this segment, and I thought you guys might enjoy watching it:


ABC US News | World News

I’m still not sure how I feel about all of this, but a few notes on the video:

Tip #1: Using the right credit cards

One of the keys to traveling the world for pennies on the dollar is credit cards. Virtually all airlines and hotel chains have co-branded credit cards that allow you to accrue points in your preferred program. Not only do credit card companies offer huge sign-up bonuses just for being approved for a card, but they also offer bonus points for spending in certain categories.

At the most basic level, using the right credit cards can help increase the rate at which you earn miles. If your family spends $6,000 per year on groceries for example, would you rather earn 6,000 points or 12,000 points? How about 18,000 points? You’re going to be buying groceries anyway, so you should be getting the most for every dollar you spend.

We didn’t plan it this way, but the journalist covering the story, David Wright, actually provided a great example. He’s using a card that only earns one point per dollar. And he’s redeeming at a rate of 1¢ per mile. So he can easily double or triple the points he earns in a given year by mixing up his credit card portfolio, and then can look at finding more valuable redemptions.

#2 No such thing as a free mile

We’ll have more posts on this in the coming days, including how to set a value on your miles, but I think it’s worth repeating that nothing is “free.” Even if you travel exclusively on points, there’s an opportunity cost to every point you earn, and there are taxes, fees, etc., on the redemption side.

Beyond that, there’s a huge time investment in learning the intricacies of miles, points, loyalty programs, and so forth. So you want to make sure the investment pays off when you go to redeem your miles.

#3 Book really early, or really late

While this doesn’t necessarily hold true for purchasing tickets, if you’re redeeming miles this is the best strategy. Many airlines will release award seats far in advance (around 10-11 months prior to departure), but the very best award availability comes from the unsold inventory in the days prior to departure.

These seats would otherwise go out empty, so many carriers will actively release these seats for awards and upgrades in hopes of bringing in the marginal revenue. If you aren’t able to find a great itinerary 3-9 months out, it can make sense to lock in a reasonable option, and then change the award ticket when additional space is released.

Credit scores and AARP

I’ve written extensively about how actively managing my credit cards has led to a better overall credit score. The key is to be responsible with your credit, and to always pay your bill on time (or early), and in full.

For those wondering about AARP, yes, anyone can join. The membership is $16 per year, and can save you hundreds on travel — particularly for business class travel on British Airways.

Everyone can travel better

I’m particularly grateful that Keri of Heels First Travel and Stefan of Rapid Travel Chai were able to join me. The segment was put together on very short notice, so it was hardly convenient, but they were both gracious about the entire situation.

Both are also, I think, great examples of how you don’t need to be a full-time addict to find great value in miles and points. Stefan regularly travels in economy, and to countries that barely have airports. Keri takes a handful of luxury vacations every year. But both also have “normal” jobs, and wouldn’t be able to travel the way they do without leveraging miles and points.

Bottom line

The main goal with what I write here on the blog everyday is that you guys will be able to find the tips and deals that make the most sense for your travel aspirations.

It’s the same reason I try to review so many diverse flights and hotels: I’m incredibly fortunate to have the flexibility to not be limited in the amount of time I can spend traveling, so my hope is that by sampling as many different products as possible, I can help those of you with limited vacation time make the most of your trips.

The possibilities really are endless!

Comments

  1. How did you feel at the moment he asked you where you’ve been the past ten days?

    I mean, I know you’re a smart guy and could easily re-create a list, so I’m not doubting that. But seeing the actual moment was a bit jarring to me.

    This isn’t a new phenomenon (think of political campaigns, etc), but it startled me to see your reaction.

  2. @lopere – agreed.

    @ Ben – congrats. Happy for your success but it’s pretty obvious this hobby is dying an increasingly faster death. MSers have abused the banks like crazy. Lots of newbs getting into it every day. Churning getting much harder. Award availability getting progressively worse.

    The ROI for a new entrant to the game is lower than it’s been since this game started. For those of us who’ve been in it for a while, it’s losing its excitement.

  3. I’d like to apologize to everyone for not awarding Lopere’s last comment — the one full of faux “confusion” — my new Worst Comment of the Day prize. So I’ll try to make up for my oversight by giving him the award this time.

    If you’re going to be troll, Lopere, you’re really better off doing it with some wit, some style, some real panache. Mark the “faithful reader” often comes up with a good line or two, for example. Why can’t you? What does he have that you lack?

    Really, you need to do better.

    But the video? Wonderful job! Little to no hyperbole, and a great (if painful) example of someone who uses a Platinum card for actual day-to-day spending. That hurt even me, and I’m not even a credit card or real points-and-miles guy.

  4. @lopere – Amen. I cringe every time I read about more publicity. It’s now just a matter of time before these “loopholes” will ALL be closed and points/loyalty programs find ways to be used what they were designed for. Ben your the best but PLEASE stop with all the attention!!! Your imploding what you built!

  5. I watched the segment earlier and thought it was quite good! Keep it up! I’m happy for you for all the new attention you are getting!

  6. You’re still not sure how you feel about hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity for your blog and business? I find that hard to believe 🙂

  7. I have to disagree with some of the comments here. The inevitable whining about how a story like this negatively affects “us” is just idiotic IMO.

    My wife and I just flew LH F again on points, SEA to FRA upper deck of a B747, at the last minute when our previously booked flight went mechanical. If I didn’t know about this hobby, that would never have happened. Blogs like this have helped many travel smarter and in better comfort than they would otherwise have been able to. It is all about travelling smarter. That is all.

    Yes, the ROI has decreased dramatically in the last three to five years especially, but there is still value out there. And, to be sure, the heady days of “dirt cheap” luxury travel on points are disappearing fast. But let’s be honest, most people are not going to go to the extremes that Lucky does, nor are the opportunities going to suddenly disappear for the rest of us, because of a Nightline piece. Those of us who are invested in this “hobby” will always see the opportunities.

    I would suggest that most people would probably view Lucky’s life and commitment to traveling as very strange or even extreme. And what does he really reveal in this piece that is so grossly damaging? That you can extract more value from credit cards if you use them efficiently? That you should pay your debts off? Wow, now those are some earth shattering hints!

    So someone sees this segment about Lucky and does some investigation that ultimately makes them a smarter traveler like you. Is that a bad thing?

  8. @jon – I couldn’t agree more. All this faux “ZOMG I can’t believe all this is happening to me!” is starting to wear a little thin.

  9. I strongly agree with lopere. The more publicity to all this, the more the airlines and hotels will tighten up. Ben: I don’t think you’ve fully appreciated that while the publicity will bring you short-term gain and readers, in the long run the closure of the loopholes and revamping of the system will make your blog less interesting and hurt your business in the long-run. We’re already seeing this in action with the Chase five credit inquiries rule. And of course after this video hits enough viewers, the BA $400 AARP trick will disappear.
    This post is also a continuation of the painful beginner content / TPG-style self-promotion of the last week which is making it harder and harder to read your content. Please get back to the normal posting that has kept me coming to your blog every day for the last 6 years. You really are the best blogger out there, but I don’t think recent developments are good for not only your readers’ interest, but also, surprisingly, not in your long-term interest either.

  10. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. You didn’t agree to do interviews with other media outlets to “set the record straight”. You did it to drive more traffic to your blog where you can trick unsuspecting newbies into signing up for credit cards through your links. That’s fine… seems a bit shortsighted, but I’m sure you justified it.

  11. You exploit banks to your advantage.
    Bloggers exploit your hobby to their advantage.
    The rule of “people take advantage of opportunities” applies universally.
    Perhaps bloggers are exploited by the press (I do think exposure is bad for bloggers’ revenue long term [banks/airlines will tighten]).

    Banks win in the end!

  12. @Al

    In fairness Al, Ben would get crucified if he said he deliberately set out to generate media heat and raise his and the OMAAT prolife, to generate traffic (to reap related ad revenue, and increased credit card referrals), greater client numbers for PointsPros, and potentially other opportunities like commentator roles for mainstream media etc. He’d be shamed for not displaying humility and humbleness etc etc. Hence RS profile was “just for fun”, and “I never expected this” etc etc. It’s understandable bowing to social conformity norms, which admittedly are stupid, but nonetheless exist. Damned if you tell it straight, less damned for making out it’s all some accident lol. I’m not going to crucify Ben for seeking to advance his business, and understand the genuflecting for the large part.

    I think a reality check is needed to over claims that the heat being generated is somehow the death knell for leveraging earn/redemption opportunities. Nobody needed anything more than an idle Google search to “uncover these secrets” (pftt) of travel (“the Hobby” if you want to be OTT and melodramatic) for over a decade now, and this is hardly the first time mass media have had a flash of coverage here. Yes, things may change (as they always have), but there is no chance of a wholesale shake-up across the whole industry.

    As long as everyone keeps a little perspective, everything is OK. 🙂

  13. Loved the video-you are so well spoken 🙂 And I love that you stay ethical in a field that borders on the unethical.

  14. I wouldn’t overestimate the power “new entrants” to dilute to market. As someone relatively new to this myself I’ve realized that it’s absolutely true that it takes a lot of TIME to play the game optimally. That will ultimately be a limiting factor for most.

  15. I’d say Ben is also getting better at doing media-opps, looking at this latest entry in comparison with his earlier ones. I think his story and passion are interesting enough though, so he shouldn’t feel the need to inflate or upscale anything (which are areas it can sometimes skate into). It doesn’t require any hard-sell.

    One thing I was surprised at was this media report stating that OMAAT had “1,000,000 readers”. Is that only regular unique readers, because that seems less than I expected for where OMAAT is right now. Given the worldwide access, it’s not unusual for popular blogs/YouTube channels/etc to pull in the tens of millions and more for unique hits per year.

    I really like that Ben’s mom, Barbara, was in the report. She was great.

    Reckon Ben will be a media pro by the end of this, given he seems to constantly improving his skills here with each appearance.

  16. Can you only get on American Express sign up bonus in a lifetime? Just got approved for a SPG Am Ex card. I currently have a Costco Am Ex. Am I going to get the Starwood signup reward. If I don’t any advise.

    Thanks
    Linda

  17. Excellent interview, brings clarity and context to an otherwise obscure art in which you are one of the masters.

  18. Well AARP is either going to limit membership to actual age appropriate people or BA is going to drop AARP as a partner. Seriously do you really think this exposure is not going to result in serious fallout.

  19. The segment was a lot more educational and less sensationalized then RS article. Lucky’s mom was also great!

    Referring to other bloggers as Lucky’s “apprentices” was amusing 🙂

  20. @Stephan

    Stephan I sure do hope that you are correct in your thoughts here. However, I’m convinced your dead wrong; when you add the reality component of all this attention there are two certainties that will follow. First, a flood of newbies will begin to take up this “hobby'”- it’s a big world out there and these articles/videos are reaching a ton of people. Simple supply and demand will make redemptions significantly more difficult. For instance, your LH F from SEA–>FRA for yourself and the wife most likely would not have happened and if it did the cost would have been dramatically higher, cash and/or points. This is just a function of simple supply and demand at work here that’s all. Second, the airlines are getting keen to these sort of things and make no mistake about it Stephan, they hate it! This is not what these loyalty programs were put in place for. Actually, loyalty programs are very profitable for the airlines when they are used as the main stream public uses them. I’m sure you can recall year over year when AA reported earnings on their SEC 10K filing the only profitable revenue stream was their Advantage program which generated millions of cash flow positive dollars for them. Well, the way we all use them the airlines lose a money from them and in some cases a lot of money. As a result, they will close out these windows which allow us to use these milage programs. I’m not sure how long you have been playing in this “hobby” but this has been happening for some time . Now, these articles/videos will no doubt accelerate this process several fold. My advice to you Stephan is to use your miles now because the depreciation that is about to come will be unprecedented. I have seen this sort of thing happen several times before in the line of business. Nonetheless, I sure do hope I’m dead wrong on this one, but I don’t think so 🙁

  21. I was glad to see that you use over-the ear Bose headphones – my favorite too!

    Well-done, Ben.

  22. Regarding AARP–no, AARP welcomes more membership and younger demographic. The travel discount won’t go away. I know because I work on AARP.

  23. @Lucky — This Nightline piece was a great and much needed “redirect” following that absolutely sensationalistic piece which I first read in French in Le Figaro, the comments section of which was almost universally negative. If I had not read your blog because before I read the piece, I probably would have reacted just as negatively. However, having “locked horns” with you over the past several months on various issues, I know you to be more grounded in reality than the piece or pieces that were based on it made you seem. I think that you did a really great job putting things into proper perspective in the Nightline video, so congrats for that and for the attention!

  24. I give you a hard time when I have a contrary opinion of content/attitudes/Travis etc posted here, but I give you props for doing some grade A damage control. Nightline was very well done and I thought you came across well.

  25. Having watched the report, I have just one thing to say: “Get a life!” And maybe a partner since a dog and a house doesn’t make for any more of a fulfilling life than hopping airplanes every other day. And that scene with mother cries out for an intervention…25 and still living at home!! Call me a troll if you wish, but I do 200K+ normal flying each year, holding top tier elite in both STAR and OW, for the past 30+ years, earning miles without the advantage of multiple credit card churn bonuses, and have been an Evangelist on FT for a decade. Believe me there’s a helluva lot more to life than jumping on airplanes and forgetting where you’ve just flown! Please grow up, leave your parents’ home, and find a nice lady — or gent — to make your life complete.

  26. I’m surprised at all the comments from people scared that the secret club has been infiltrated; do you people think that airlines and banks ‘give away’ these points out of the goodness of their hearts? You can guarantee they have both crunched the numbers and for every Ben who games the system, there will be a dozen more who don’t pay their credit card bill every month, become loyal to an airline rather than finding the best deals, become bored with the whole thing and give up, etc. As is constantly pointed out, airlines want to create the illusion of travelling for free by enticing people with frequent flyer programmes. Dangling the carrot makes them lots of money.

    @DavidB – Who are you to judge how someone lives their life? Plane hopping and living out of hotels might not be for everyone but respect where respect is due; how many people to you know who have made a living out of something they enjoy?

  27. @DavidB — How old are you? If you have been elite with STAR and OW for some 30 years, I assume you are 50+. Ben is about half your age and he has covered more distance in 5 years than you have in 30. That must be what is eating you up, ain’t it.

    Don’t worry. At just 25, Ben still has plenty of time to “grow up”. But with all the dough and skills that he is acquiring doing all this “childish” stuff, he will have plenty of options if or when he should decide to “grow up” and do something else. But for now, this is what he wants to do and that’s completely up to him, just as it was up to you to pursue elite status with STAR and OW, despite your family, friends and neighbors thinking that you were weird for doing it… 🙂

    G’day!

  28. Agree with the others about the “ZOMG” – what did you really think would happen? So much drama.

    You should take some public speaking courses – your gestures are very awkward and unnatural.

  29. It’s also sad that you don’t address what happened with United Airlines and why you are banned. You act as though your trying to be “honest” and “upfront”, but you don’t even address any of those issues.

  30. Love it! I’ve been doing internet travel deals since Ben was a youngster so travel deals won’t disappear. I’ve never been in 1st, but I am taking my family of 5 to Europe this weekend on miles for a month. Of course it isn’t free though, it took strategy, dedication and $$$ to get my discounts. Ben, you look more mature than I expected.

  31. @DavidB Why do so many people throw rocks at others that pursue things that they themselves would not do. Ben does not live at home. If you had been reading his blogs you would know he decided about a year and a half ago to leave his apartment in Seattle to travel exclusively in hotels. He simply visits his folks in Tampa and sure his old room is still there. He is only 25 so he is doing what he likes and has found a way to make money at it. He has always said that this part of his life will evolve someday when he tires of this style and wants to settle down. And yes he will find someone to share his future with along with a house and dog. But don’t be so literal. When someone says I want a house with a white picket fence it does not mean the house has to have a white picket fence. End result is read the blog to learn things to apply to your travels. Many many folks who do not have vast amounts of miles or the ability to acquire dozens of credit cards have still learned things from the blog such as booking ideas, how to transfer miles, which partner has no fuel surcharge and so much more. Just enjoy the blog and use what helps you in gaining knowledge for your travel lifestyle.

  32. I tell you what. This is the best site for finding deals on points. It’s miles ahead of Ben’s competition and they don’t even come close. If you’re looking for a destination guide, this site isn’t it. Go elsewhere for that. Having said that, if I have one word of advice for Ben, watch out for your health. Without it, you can’t do what you’re enjoying now. NO AMOUNT OF FCL or 5 star hotel stays can compensate for bad health.

  33. @DavidB – “I do 200K+ normal flying each year, holding top tier elite in both STAR and OW, for the past 30+ years, earning miles without the advantage of multiple credit card churn bonuses”

    So you’re earning miles without the “advantage” of multiple credit card churn bonuses. Well, that’s great – glad to hear it. The thing is, that advantage is something that everyone (who has a decent credit score) can obtain without a whole lot of effort.

    However, not everyone can get in 200K+ miles of “normal flying” each year. I’m assuming your normal flying is paid by your employer or is otherwise work related, is it not? Very few people are in a position to fly that much unless they have a job that requires them to travel and finances that travel. So, while you call credit card sign up bonuses an “advantage”, I would argue that your situation better represents an advantage that is not obtainable to the vast majority of readers of this blog or viewers of the Nightline segment. On top of that, I don’t see how your work travel is any different than what Ben is doing – this is his job, after all.

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