Transcript: Brian Kelly, The Points Guy

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The transcript from this week’s MIB: Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, is below.
You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, Google, Bloomberg, and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.
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ANNOUNCER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
RITHOLTZ: My special guest today is Brian Kelly, better known as The Points Guy, the firm now gets 10 million unique visitors to the website each month, it was launched in 2010, sold to Bankrate in 2012. Bankrate was bought by Red Ventures in 2017, the firm now has over 60 employees, is that right?
KELLY: Well, The Points Guy itself has over a hundred employees…
RITHOLTZ: Over a hundred, wow.
Well, Brian Kelly, welcome to Bloomberg.
KELLY: Thanks for having me.
RITHOLTZ: So I’m kind of intrigued about The Points Guy site, when I got a AMEX platinum card in the office, I gave up my AMEX Gold card at home and ultimately wanted to replace it with something which became the Chase Sapphire reserve card.
And then I went to your site and said turned out that that was a really good decision, tell us a little bit about The Points Guy site, who is your audience, and who are you targeting?
KELLY: Absolutely, yes, so The Points Guy, I started this as a fun side thing in 2010, I used to work in Morgan Stanley, I was in HR traveling a ton and I was just — I’ve always been really, really good at points like even going back to the 90s, but it started as just a hobby site where I would you know blog about one post a day on how to use AMEX points or how to fly to Paris and you know, no one really read it for about six months.
RITHOLTZ: (LAUGHTER)
Six months is not a bad lead time.
KELLY: It’s not bad in the blogging work and then it just took off, somehow you know it started to catch and I wrote about one deal and you know, really started off with consultants.
I mean I you know the consultants were on the road four days a week, they started reading my site and sharing it like crazy.
RITHOLTZ: Didn’t it eventually make its way to a big “New York Times” article fairly early on?
KELLY: Yes, so it was April of 2011 that Seth Kugel, “The Frugal Traveler” columnist of “The New York Times” is a very cynical person, he said frequent flyer miles are pointless for budget travelers unless you can prove me otherwise. And it was actually sitting in my spam inbox for like two months, and I’m cleaning out one day and I’m like …
RITHOLTZ: “New York Times.”
KELLY: “New York Times” this is crazy, I met up with them and I said “Are you crazy? I’m like budget travelers are the number one people who should be maximizing points.” I met up with them at a bar New York for three hours, he booked a trip to Brazil that day in coach but he saved a thousand bucks, he was blown away…
RITHOLTZ: Wow.
KELLY: And a couple weeks later he wrote this crazy article that was like “The number one travel site everyone needs to know ..” and I just remember sitting in my cubicle at Morgan Stanley being like “Oh my God, my life is going to change.” You know, the New York and my site crashed with traffic, emails are coming in and I knew all along that been everyone has points and no one knows how to use them, but that was when it really got put on the map…
RITHOLTZ: When did you come to the conclusion that hey this is a business? Was it “The Times” article or before?
KELLY: Well, “The Times” article help propel it, it was actually before. So I started the blog in June of 2010, it was February 2011, a friend from college, he had kept emailing me saying “Brian, Brian, you are writing about credit cards all day. You’re a moron because you’re linking directly to American Express.com” and he had worked for a company called Linkshare which is now Rakuten and their affiliate marketing.
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: And he said if you get into my program, I can get you and you know you can get paid $200 per credit card approval.
And I remember at that time, I had like 50,000 monthly readers, and I was like 200 bucks and I only need like 1 percent of 1 percent to make this ….
RITHOLTZ: Covers all the cost of the website.
KELLY: Exactly, so he got me in February and it was amazing, I was just writing the same exact content but I was using his links instead of directly to – and it was …
RITHOLTZ: So it’s like an Amazon affiliate marketing. You send the link…
KELLY: Bumper credit cards …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: And unbeknownst to me credit cards are like the you know the ace in affiliate marketing because there was actually more than 200, some cards are paying $500 but it wasn’t per click like most …
RITHOLTZ: They had to open an account …
KELLY: And my readers, my readers were bankers, lawyers, and consultants who go to New York, L.A., and Chicago …
RITHOLTZ: Right, talk about tailor-made.
KELLY: So I was joking that I was blogging on a gold mine on you know, so I started putting those links in and you know because these credit cards are the best way to get points, it was so organic no one even said a word.
I mean I put my disclosures, hey guys, I’m an affiliate, and then the first, I got nervous of people would think I’m doing it just for money because that’s never how it started out, but my readers who are smart people in business were like sending me high-five emails like “Buddy, I sent your links to my whole family” like I want you to – I want you to be successful and that was a really cool moment when I was like wait a minute, I can provide the content for free to my readers, that use my link and …
RITHOLTZ: They are just clicking on it, AMEX lick here, Chase click here.
KELLY: And it’s the same or better offer than what they’re getting anyway, so …
RITHOLTZ: So I love the story where so now you have the affiliate marketing links running for a couple of weeks or months, and then one weekend, something happens, you link to something and suddenly, boom, $30,000 over the weekend.
KELLY: Oh it was crazy, so it was a perfect storm, that day “The New York Times” came out was actually the day that Chase had launched a British Airways 100,000 point offer and I knew that was going to be really popular with my readers because most the time you back in the late 2000, I mean what do you call them, the (oughts)? 2008?
RITHOLTZ: I don’t call them anything, 2000s.
KELLY: Yes, so credit card bonuses were 25,000 free flight, you know and then you know once the recession, out of the recession ,I think a lot of the credit card companies were like you know we really missed the boat on millennials and getting this new era of consumer so they started raising the bonuses, and if you know — benefitted my site because I was just writing you here’s how you get take — get the most out of British Airways miles and the trick was not flying British Airways because they have crazy high fees on their board tickets.
So I was writing this little post about enough you want to go to Machu Picchu or Easter Island, it was amazing deals using British Airways miles back then, because they were a One World partner.
So these things that I had known for years you know the average consumer didn’t realize that, wait a minute, I’ve got a boatload of miles and this is how I can go to Hawaii or Miami so and then the “New York Times” article came out which not just know that day traffic but I had no idea what SEO was.
I knew Google liked me because my site was growing month over month but the day that you get the New York Times inked in 2011…
RITHOLTZ: They still swing a lot a weight, don’t they?

KELLY: Yes, I mean so that’s why you know, we — getting -making sure using press to help you buoy the site, that’s what — there’s been a lot of other bloggers in this space and none have really cracked it like I have.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about how this went from a sort of side interest to a website to a business, we were speaking earlier about your first big affiliation branding, $30,000 over the weekend you had a look at that and go, hey this really is a business, what happened on Monday when you went into your day job.
KELLY: I remember being in the shower just crunching the numbers as my post were going viral across the Internet about this Chase deal, you know the clicks would update every hour, and I just, you know, on a normal dad have like 20 clicks on it you know it on a credit card link but then also was like 2000, and I’m like oh my God, if this is even the tiniest conversion rate…
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: I’m doing well.
And every other day, you know, sales would load into the system and so on paper, I remember when I hit the first 100,000, it was like roughly within a month of getting into affiliate sales because of that “New York Times” piece that made it go viral. And I remember just thinking on paper, I’m kind of rich, you know, like, that was more than my annual salary at that point and my parents were like “Brian” you know, I was 27, I was about to get VP in you know human resources at Morgan Stanley…
RITHOLTZ: Yes, but isn’t everybody a VP in Morgan Stanley, come on?
KELLY: (LAUGHTER)
RITHOLTZ: You shouldn’t be impressed by that.
KELLY: You know,, I was you know, that was, you know, in your late 20s about to get VP, it’s like you know …
RITHOLTZ: Then better to take the risk when you’re young and you could bounce back from it.
KELLY: Of course, of course. Knowing what I know now, but being a blog- a professional blogger just wasn’t really a thing in 2011 but my parents actually loaned me money, because even though in the affiliate portal that said I had all this money coming to me but it was on like a net 90 pay plus plus plus, so it was actually months before I saw any of that money, but …
RITHOLTZ: So you didn’t use venture capital money…
KELLY: I never used venture capital …
RITHOLTZ: Family money, friends and family, how much did you borrow…
KELLY: Well I borrowed 5,000 or 10,000 from my parents just to pay my rent but it was already profitable up to that point, so I mean it was from getting affiliate links, it was six months it was that August that I made my first million, it was crazy, it just kept growing and growing and I started hiring, so I never — I owned 100 percent of the company when I sold it to Bankrate in 2012.
RITHOLTZ: So that worked out well, is that a public figure, can we …
KELLY: It’s not a public figure, I don’t think it was ever really disclosed, but it was a you know life-changing amount of money for me at the time. Of course they gave me a 3 1/2 year earn out, because I was 28, they are like, we are not going to give you everything, but …
RITHOLTZ: But you stayed with them for almost a decade.
KELLY: Yes, even after that three and half years, I renegotiated my deal to get a — you know, I was a salaried employee, and I don’t own “The Points Guy” but they saw how passionate I was about it, and so …
RITHOLTZ: You are “The Points Guy.”
KELLY: And so I guess it helps you know people even when Red Ventures bought Bankrate, people like you know most founders, you know, when you sell, you get …
RITHOLTZ: They take the money and run.
KELLY: Take the money run, but I and I just you know sign on with Red Ventures and I’m going to be there for years to come ….
RITHOLTZ: That’s great.
KELLY: I passionately love doing what we do and yes, it’s the coolest job in the world, why would I give it up?
RITHOLTZ: So you started as a blogger, when did you hire your first employee?
KELLY: So my first employee was actually part time, it was my sister-in-law, she was a stay-at-home mom, she started doing email, got stuck — because the emails were coming in and I actually had a side business where I would charge people 50 bucks and I would book their reward tickets for them, so you would be able to email me and say hey I want to take my family to Italy four people in June and I would say “Pay me 200 bucks and I’ll tell you exactly how to do it.”
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: So I had that business, and then a blog, so my sister-in-law was my first part-time employee and then it was actually right after I sold to Bankrate, then I was like, I got to hire people, now people want to work for me, because before people were like I’m going to work for some guy blogging out of his living room, yes.
So once I sold, you know, Bankrate was a publicly-traded company, pretty – they had — Bankrate.com was a huge site and …
RITHOLTZ: Sure, it still is.
KELLY: Credit Cards.com. So you know, once I — and that was great because I could just focus on the content and you know, their HR and legal and all that stuff took away all that stuff that I really never enjoy doing.
RITHOLTZ: Right, and if you think about it, it makes perfect sense for a site that spend so much time and effort analyzing credit cards to bring in the ultimate credit card …
KELLY: And I didn’t realize it at the time, and when they – because I only have like roughly 15 months of revenue granted it was all profit for the most part because I didn’t really have that many expenses. But to me, it was astounding that Credit Cards.com, he behemoth site, you know on would want to the niche travel premium, you know, credit card site.
RITHOLTZ: Premium is a good niche.
KELLY: It is, and it’s been a wild ride since. You know, when I sold to Bankrate in May of 2012, we had 250,000 monthly uniques…
RITHOLTZ: Which is really nothing.
KELLY: Yes, but it was pretty profitable, but the real …
RITHOLTZ: But it’s a platform that you could build on, it was a good …
KELLY: Exactly, and the platform kept growing year-over-year, but 2016 was the year we actually launched the Sapphire Reserve Card with Chase.
RITHOLTZ: So tell us a little about that, they reached out to you guys to say “hey, we have an idea for a new credit card to challenge AMEX…”
KELLY: Well, they didn’t even in the beginning, we didn’t even know what it was, we had to you know come up and we had been working with Chase since the beginning so they knew we were good partners, we had the ability to create content that resonated with especially with millennials. And to this day, we have a huge audience, we now are in the UK, we service all types of you know, readers, we got a whole military section, we got our family vertical, today, were actually launching our TBG women vertical for women and travel small business.
But really “The Points Guy” we can speak to millennials, we put credit cards and financial products in a way that I think successful people in general, especially millennials can understand like I need to get this card because I will live a better life to travel and you know be able to get ahead.
So yes, they approached us in 2016 we were under strict NDA for months and months, so it was months until I knew what the Sapphire Reserve was and when I heard the product, I literally got like faint in the knees, I was like this is going to be huge, like monstrous…
RITHOLTZ: And it was.
KELLY: It was out of control.
RITHOLTZ: They literally sold out and they ran out of the meld used to make the cards.
KELLY: So we were their launch partner and you know, word was getting out and leaking and we — they — and we basically, they wanted to launch it right after Labor Day in 2016, the word started to get out, because you know, they got all these bank branches, so they, because we were partners with them, they actually announced that the Sapphire Reserve is coming, I still remember where I was in Italy, on summer vacation, and they actually said it’s coming and “The Points Guy” has all the information.
And on a Tweet, they announced the best credit card to ever hit the market, in a tweet with the link to The Points Guy.com and our inside scoop on, so which made all of our competitors had the link to us, I mean traffic was…
RITHOLTZ: Amazing, who needs SEO with that stuff.
So that raises really interesting question that in my wallet, I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and an AMEX Platinum Card, you do business with all these other credit card companies, did anyone say “Hey, you guys are partnering with Chase, we’re a little concerned about this.”
KELLY: You know, my mom was so worried about that, she goes …
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: You are going to be known as the Chase guy and you know you know for a split-second, you think, okay, are we doing too much with one partner but I think, Chase came to us and said “We believe in you to do..” we did a ton more than just blog post, we did events, we did a Facebook live on the day of the launch, with Pam Codispoti, who was their head of credit cards at the time, and we’re answering reader questions live on social media, which I have never done before, and I think that launch with them – and I know because since then, we’ve launched credit cards for Citi, their Prestige Card, you know, we worked really a lot with Capital One last year, they added all these transfer partners and I think our credibility comes from the fact that a, we never recommend products we don’t like, period, full stop.
I turn down offers all the time, we’re not doing you know, crappy little partnerships with brands just trying to get a buck from our readers.
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: And we’re mathematical, we got a team of really smart experts where people like you, you can read through the BS, like you we put it in terms of these points you know and how they will actually do it, you know, how you can actually get value from it.
So yes, the Sapphire reserve, it was very Chase centric but when that offer ended, it was actually one of her worst business months ever because the ad focused so much on that offer …
RITHOLTZ: Nothing else was happening.
KELLY: And then scraping our knees a month after it ended, we’re like oh my God we had a worse month in like eight years but it was a great wake-up call to hey wait a minute…
RITHOLTZ: You diversify.
KELLY: And then that’s when we really retrenched with AMEX and Citi and those partnerships, so …
RITHOLTZ: Worked out okay.
KELLY: Totally. I mean and everyone wins in the end.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you use various media to promote the business. We talked about the “New York Times”, we talked about the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, let’s talk about YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok, how does that impact your business, your traffic, and who your audience is?
KELLY: So you know we leaned heavily into social media, you know, Twitter was actually my first, and I thought Facebook was going to be a you know a one-time thing and it wasn’t going to really be a big business driver…
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: Which actually ended up being the opposite because you know, in 2013, 14, 15, we were investing heavily in Facebook, we wanted to build our likes up and even though you know, Facebook likes today don’t mean anything, you know we were the first real travel blog to get over a million likes and I was right before Chase engaged us to help with the launch of the Sapphire Reserve.
RITHOLTZ: Are you tracking traffic from sources?
KELLY: From those channels? Yes. So we still get about 20 percent of our traffic from social media, from all the different channels. It’s funny you mentioned TikTok because it’s one of our new platforms that were just testing around with, and their power is wild, we had one of our editors…
RITHOLTZ: It’s giant, but it’s very young.
KELLY: It’s interesting and just like Snapchat I’m a little wary because Snapchat, I used to love doing, but then there was no, there’s no follow-up, you know, there was no tracking, there was — you know, the campaigns are all very high funnel like oh awareness amongst a really young group about credit cards, I’m like, meanwhile, I can go on Facebook and target the exact people I want with the right content and serve them different experiences.
But yes, we, you know, Facebook you know social media marketing, yes, we actually — we spend a ton of money every month in getting our content in front of the right people and those people get credit cards but a large portion of it is also just building out our brand and we send people around the world, I did a vlog this year on YouTube…
RITHOLTZ: I never look at the dates when I look at your videos.
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So I really enjoy the Air Emirates experience you did, I was lucky enough to fly that some years ago, Air India is another one that I felt was spectacular, what vlog did you do this year that really stands out?
KELLY: So we – so being “The Points Guy” we — I went to Israel for the first time and it was amazing, so we flew United’s new 787.
RITHOLTZ: I like the 787.
KELLY: Yes, it was great, a great way to fly, they actually fly from New York to San Francisco which is awesome and I flew El Al back in our El Al has a sketchy history as an airline, it’s …
RITHOLTZ: Although the security process is…
KELLY: The security is amazing.
RITHOLTZ: Shocking, right? It is amazing.
KELLY: So their new plane, they have 787 as well which are really nice and get great reviews but I love you know, the 747 the Queen of the sky, so I flew one of their last 747 and this thing was like flying in the 80s, I mean there are ashtrays in the seats and so …
RITHOLTZ: No screens?
KELLY: No screens, it was — and the food for some reason I was in first class and I think the food — the food was rancid, I mean I don’t eat anything on a plane even on economy, this food was truly bad so we my friend who’s a comedian we filmed a vlog episode I know flying from a from Tel Aviv to JFK on the 747 and it actually – it went viral and it actually made the news in Israel, I kept getting all these Google alerts for like weeks later that a popular travel blogger flies you know, Israel’s flag carrier and it’s a hot mess, you know, like …
RITHOLTZ: What else stands out to you amongst airlines? So you — the other day you mentioned Norway, Norwegian Airlines which I have flown business class and it’s amazing for what you get…
KELLY: For the price …
RITHOLTZ: But the food is terrible …
KELLY: The food’s terrible, I mean Norwegian’s a 787, you get a big comfy recline …
RITHOLTZ: Not quite a flatbed…
KELLY: Technically premium economy, it’s one of the best premium economies out there …
RITHOLTZ: It’s much bigger than a premium economy.
KELLY: Yes, the pricing is fantastic too.
RITHOLTZ: Insane.
KELLY: Last minute, it’s 700 bucks one way to Europe…
RITHOLTZ: Yes, round trip under $1000 to Paris business class.
KELLY: And especially when you’re going to Europe, it’s like just under 6 hours these days, to spend…
RITHOLTZ: JFK to Paris is just about eight hours…
KELLY: Coming home ….
RITHOLTZ: If you include time on the ground in JFK…
KELLY: London, I’ve done under six hours…
RITHOLTZ: Yes.
KELLY: Yes. But anyway so but — yes, so Norwegian premium’s a great product but I’m actually about to Etihad, the Middle Eastern carriers are still — Qatar Airlines, their Q Suites business class is top-notch.
RITHOLTZ: Those are like literally private rooms, it’s crazy.
KELLY: Totally.
RITHOLTZ: And do they — are they the ones with this shower you can lay down in or was that Emirates?
KELLY: So there’s two airlines with showers commercially, it’s Emirates and then Etihad. And so Etihad not only has the showers, they have what’s called the residence and I flew it, it was my first vlog that in 2015, I was the first passenger to fly JFK to Abu Dhabi, it was $33,000….
RITHOLTZ: Right, how much did it cost you …
KELLY: Of course, zero because I expensed it to Bankrate at the time.
RITHOLTZ: But you paid actual cash, you didn’t use points.
KELLY: No, because with the Residence, it would be millions and millions of points, so we paid cash, I earned points, expensed it to the parent company.
RITHOLTZ: Right, they must have been thrilled.
KELLY: Yes, but you know what? The video got millions of views, people still come up to me today, so back to the whole point about how we use social media, yes we do for conversions but also the brand awareness that as we speak right now, people are viewing her videos being like “Wow I want to fly Emirates or this airline” they come to the site, they get hooked in and so we’re now you know are our parent company, Red Ventures is all about analytics and using data science to serve different experiences to people.
So yes, we get a bunch — millions of visitors to the website, but we are now using social media, podcasts to reach all different audiences that come back to the site and in 2020, the big thing will be the app.
RITHOLTZ: The app, you are going to launch a “Points Guy” app.
KELLY: So we have one…
RITHOLTZ: If you could make people’s life easier showing them what their points could do…
KELLY: Just you wait, the home screen of the app is going to be your net worth in points.
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: And then you are going to be able to set trip goals, we’re going to be able to get live award availability to tell you hey, you’ve got AMEX points and Delta miles, you should actually use these points on these days …
RITHOLTZ: I am your target audience, I have Delta — I have 125,000 Delta points, I have 600,000 Chase reserve points, I have the office AMEX points which we then recycle into office travel but it’s always — you know, when you travel for work, it’s always either economy or comfort plus, you try and be responsible when you are traveling for work, when traveling your own, all right, you could indulge a little bit.
That said, it’s all over the place, I don’t know how to best use that.
KELLY: This app’s going to track your point, it’s going to — we will be able to instantly — we’re building these algorithms into is a look at what you’re spending in the different categories and then will actually slap your wrists and say “Barry, you should have been using this card for that purchase because you actually would have gotten a ton more value back based on where you want to use your point.”
So it’s good to be – it’s going to be coming on early 2020 but it’s good to change the game because as of today, it’s too confusing …
RITHOLTZ: It is very confusing, it’s challenging and what ends up happening is you just end up accumulate — what you describe as point supporters, you — now I will use my Chase points for what I call marriage counseling purchases meaning when our Weber grill that was 12 years old caught fire and I decided I want the big four burner grill that was 1200 bucks, on sale at Amazon for 999 delivered and installed, my wife’s head exploded.
She is like just go replace the grill you bought for $500 12 years ago, well, 12 years ago, it’s $500 now it’s $700 and I want the bigger one. And she’s like I don’t want to spend $1,000…
KELLY: You are giving me a little bit of anxiety here though because using Chase points for like merchandise — like other all these different currencies, like if you want to buy grills and merchandising gift cards, there are cards for that you know, Citi double cash, that gives you 2 percent back, but to use those Chase points we’re getting less and a center less in value when you should be getting 3X that…
RITHOLTZ: I can tell you …
KELLY: I’m dying a little bit inside.
RITHOLTZ: It’s embarrassing. So whatever it costs, I wanted my damn grill but — but we’ll talk more about that in a bit. So you get to travel a lot for work and not just you know the Redeye to Houston, but really fun places on fun airlines. I have a whole bunch of questions, let’s start with what’s your favorite place you’ve been to this year?
KELLY: This year, I really enjoyed going to — well, does it have to be a new place because…
RITHOLTZ: No.
KELLY: Cape Town, South Africa.
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: I have been seven times …
RITHOLTZ: I saw the boxing grandma’s video.
KELLY: Yes, that was really cool, we did that a couple years ago, and those grannies…
RITHOLTZ: They don’t fool around.
KELLY: I was blown away but I love South Africa, we do a ton of charity work, a lot of my travel is for the organizations we support and but South Africa is just so beautiful, if you never been, wine country, beaches …
RITHOLTZ: It’s a long flight.
KELLY: It’s a long fight but starting in December of 2019, United Airlines is going to start flying Newark Cape Town nonstop.
RITHOLTZ: Really. You have to go from Newark and that kills me.
KELLY: You know what? I used to hate Newark, I live downtown, Newark I can get to in 20 minutes, JFK took me two hours the other day and Newark has now clear – the terminals are nicer…
RITHOLTZ: Did I tell you how…
KELLY: I would push you to give it a second thought.
RITHOLTZ: I have been giving away my clear…
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: And I have been giving it to people, and you get a no when someone signs up. I am shocked that everybody has been using that, although I was shocked that everybody wasn’t using TSA Precheck…
KELLY: And you still go to airports and the precheck lane, I mean…
RITHOLTZ: Is empty.
KELLY: Two minutes max most of the time…
RITHOLTZ: Yes.
KELLY: And I see people waiting hours in line ….
RITHOLTZ: I don’t understand it.
KELLY: How do people not value their time? Five years of precheck for $85.
RITHOLTZ: It’s the greatest deal in travel. So let’s talk a bit – so you like Cape Town this year, what’s one of the most memorable trips you’ve taken?
KELLY: Well, I love, my parents just retired, they – you know, my parents are like my best friends, I took them to Ghana, I do a good amount of charity work with (Peach) down there so we went to Ghana and then I took them to Tanzania on a Serengeti Safari and we …
RITHOLTZ: People come back and talk about it for months, safari…
KELLY: Safari, if you have — I mean I love animals and mother nature, safari is just spectacular, even only three days of safari, if you go off, you know, if you go on a real African safari, you are out for like 5 hours in the morning, 5 hours in the afternoon…
RITHOLTZ: That’s a lot.
KELLY: But in like two to three days, you have seen it all.
RITHOLTZ: You’re done, right.
KELLY: That’s why I like South Africa because you can do Cape Town and the stunning coast lines and the animals and wine country and safari, so that to me is like the ultimate trip.
RITHOLTZ: So you are effectively a professional traveler. Tell us about some of your packing secrets and what gadgets do you like to travel with?
KELLY: Yes, I really, so I do the stack and fold method which…
RITHOLTZ: So you don’t roll?
KELLY: Don’t roll.
No, so I will take – and I start with the heaviest item first, I will take a – I will do my two blazers and then I will do long sleeve shirts and then some t-shirts, fold the arms on and then fold them in half, smooth it out, I can tell you…
RITHOLTZ: No wrinkles.
KELLY: Never, I can’t tell you the last time I have used a hotel and same thing…
RITHOLTZ: A hotel line.
KELLY: Stack all the pants, fold it in half, fold it in half again, you know, and the more you have, the less wrinkled it will be, if you got two pants, they will wrinkle.
RITHOLTZ: And you have videos about this.
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about gadgets, what do you travel with, I see you also have the 11?
KELLY: Yes, I always have the best iPhone with the most storage, I actually have …
RITHOLTZ: Dual sim.
KELLY: I actually have the dual sim, so I have a Google Fi Sim Card…
RITHOLTZ: Swap it out.
KELLY: So if I’m some, because I have Verizon international but sometimes they will limit your data so I always have…
RITHOLTZ: I haven’t hit that yet.
KELLY: It depends in certain areas, and now they allow you to up it more for $10 or whatever…
RITHOLTZ: It’s very cheap.
KELLY: Really.
RITHOLTZ: So now in the United States, all the wireless services suck, Verizon Wireless is the least dirty shirt in the hamper is the way I describe it.
KELLY: In general I think.
You know, T Mobil is great with their – but it’s slow, I need some quick – I will pay you whatever it takes to have fast Wi-Fi.
RITHOLTZ: I’m a junkie, I must have my fast…
KELLY: But Google Fi is also really good too as the backup.
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: Google Fi works around the world, forget – it’s not very expensive.
RITHOLTZ: Yes, they are very inexpensive.
KELLY: Yes, so to have the iPhone that has dual sims, so and then you can also…
RITHOLTZ: Is that an option, I did not know you can…
KELLY: You can put two sim cards in that so you can flip back and forth, you land in a certain country…
RITHOLTZ: Now you tell me.
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: What else do you have? You travel with the dual sim iPhone 11.
KELLY: I always have – you know, I’ve got my Macbook, I’ve got my Macbook Air and I always bring my own TV shows and Movies on planes because …
RITHOLTZ: Can I tell you, I’m so glad you say that, I got the biggest, baddest iPad because how often are you stuck in a 6 hour flight when either you are halfway in a movie and it craps out or the whole…
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: We need to reset the system for everyone else on the plane.
RITHOLTZ: No.
KELLY: 30 minutes and like it’s a two hour flight.
RITHOLTZ: So basically between Netflix download and Dish Anywhere…
KELLY: Always …
RITHOLTZ: I have hours and hours….
KELLY: That is the big thing with travel, control your own destiny, the same thing with noise cancelling headphones…
RITHOLTZ: Always.
KELLY: There will always be babies, babies exist, they are not going anywhere people and guess what, we all were con babies once so get your own Bose headphones, get ones that — and of course, sometimes, you can still hear it through the Bose headphones.
RITHOLTZ: And I tell you, it’s really not bad. We had babies behind us to and from Chicago for thanksgiving, and you pop in the headphones.
KELLY: In everything in life, it’s just your mindset.
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: You know, if you walk into the airport aggrieved and mad, guess what, your travel experience is going to suck, like just — you had better…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: … aren’t you?
KELLY: I am.
RITHOLTZ: So aren’t you always angry and aggrieved, isn’t that part of our mindset?
KELLY: You know, I think in traveling and just being able to see the world and seeing how most people live, even a bad flight, only one percent of the world will ever be on a plane or some crazy statistic like that.
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: So…
RITHOLTZ: You got to learn to roll with it.
KELLY: Roll with it, even when the in flight Wi-Fi is out, I know I get all mad, but you know, sometimes, I will sit there, I just start doing meditations on — planes are great place to meditate, put your headphones on, I do these guided meditation.
RITHOLTZ: What app do you use for that?
KELLY: Insight Timer is the one that I really…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Okay, I have a friend who likes that one also, and another one who likes Calm.
KELLY: Plane is a great time to meditate because you are sitting upright usually.
RITHOLTZ: Right, there’s a lot of outside distractions, you can get – if that derails you, it’s a little bit of a – that’s really interesting.
So now let’s play “Tell me what’s wrong with my credit cards.” And…
KELLY: It’s what we call a wallet audit.
RITHOLTZ: That’s right, so I have my iPhone case which is my new wallet.
KELLY: It’s your iPhone Murse.
RITHOLTZ: That’s right, instead of a full-blown wallet, so I’m showing you, we will pretend this is my Chase Sapphire Reserve which I hold…
KELLY: Okay.
RITHOLTZ: Because I just — the only problem with the iPhone wallets is you have three slots and I have a lot more junk to carry…
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So these are my two main credit cards, memorize that number …
KELLY: So you have Sapphire Reserve and the Business Gold Card …
RITHOLTZ: Business Platinum…
KELLY: Oh this is Business Platinum, oh my god, I’m like…
RITHOLTZ: And I got the platinum specifically because if you travel domestically not first class that will get me into most lounges.
KELLY: Yes, yes so the platinum is the best card, and the Business Platinum actually last year, our TPG awards, won best business credit card.
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: This card is good to any purchase over 50 or $5,000 you get a 50 percent bonus.
RITHOLTZ: Really? I didn’t know that either.
KELLY: And the Business Platinum gives you 35 percent so if you want to buy $1000 flight, AMEX the most cards, it’s 100,000 points, the business platinum gives you 35 percent back so it’s only 65,000 points …
RITHOLTZ: So when you when book through a flight through AMEX, are you getting the same prices than if you…
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: Yes, you mostly get the same prices, once in a while, actually a lot of times AMEX has cheaper prices ….
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: And more flexible fares.
We book all of our travel at “The Points Guy” through AMEX travel.
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: They have seen in my office…
KELLY: Especially with American Airlines and some others, they’ve got…
RITHOLTZ: So mostly Delta and a little bit of JetBlue is the other airline.
KELLY: I love JetBlue, and even JetBlue, I am 6’7′ so you can fly JetBlue regular to Costa Rica…
RITHOLTZ: It’s not bad, it’s not terrible.
KELLY: I love JetBlue.
RITHOLTZ: And I have to tell you, Delta used to be 20 years ago Delta was no fun, they get my vote for the most improved airline…
KELLY: Delta One.
RITHOLTZ: They are consistently, I don’t normally blow kisses to airlines.
KELLY: So this is what I like about your strategies, so you got the Sapphire reserve which is great for points or 3X on travel and dining, so that’s where you put all your travel and dining on…
RITHOLTZ: On the credit…
KELLY: ON the Sapphire Reserve, yes because that’s 3X and that travels includes tolls parking subways, it’s a really broad travel…
RITHOLTZ: Plus no currency overseas.
KELLY: Plus no FX on either, no foreign transaction fee, so yes, you are good.
But one area where I might recommend is this, this is like an advance, you could get a Chase Freedom Unlimited card which is no annual fee and that card gets one and a half points on everything you spend, so both of these cards only give you one point per dollar so this is this is how you pair up to the power combos. So if you got the free Chase freedom unlimited…
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: You would use that for everyday spend, you’d be earning o1.5 point, you would be earning 50 percent more.
And then on travel and dining is what you put on your reserve and you can combine those points. So we call it…
RITHOLTZ: So just cherry picking where to spend…
KELLY: And this is where the TPG app is going to help people is put everyday spend like if you are going to go to a store and buy a sweater …
RITHOLTZ: Go to the supermarket, which card do you use?
KELLY: Supermarket there are some cards that give a pretty, pretty good spend but in general I think you got your AMEX for the perks, you got the Reserve for the points and then if you got like a Freedom Unlimited for every day expense, you are earning that one and a half points per dollar…
RITHOLTZ: That’s a pretty big difference.
KELLY: And it’s free no annual fee card…
RITHOLTZ: How do you argue with that?
KELLY: It’s a no-brainer.
RITHOLTZ: So I also noticed on your site you mentioned, I don’t remember which card it was, but they are really good for hotels.
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So I normally will use the Sapphire Reserve for a hotel especially if I’m going to — you mentioned the Grand Cayman trip, we’re in the Grand Cayman a couple time, really enjoyed that, anytime every February or March you have to get to the Caribbean get out of New York weather, what cards do you use to get…
KELLY: For all my hotels, I use, so it’s sad though because Capital One venture is an awesome all-around card because they team up with Hotels.com, so Hotels.com is a pretty cool program and that if you’re not loyal to any one chain, like getting low level hotel lead status isn’t really that bad…
RITHOLTZ: Right, it doesn’t do anything.
KELLY: Hotels.com is great and that it gives you one free night for every 10, so they take the price of the 10 nights that you stayed and they give you the average price…
RITHOLTZ: Nonconsecutive multiple trips.
KELLY: Any, yes, multiple trips, you are basically getting 10 percent back through the hotels.com program, it is a solid return with the Capital One Venture Card, they give you 10 points per dollar on all Hotels.com, so that is another 10 percent, you are basically getting 20 percent back on hotel stay.
RITHOLTZ: Not bad.
KELLY: And this is pretty much any hotel in the world. So the sad thing about that, that partnership ends in January 2020, so Capital One Venture and Hotels.com has been my go to — the partnership ends in January 2020.
RITHOLTZ: So wait, this is done.
KELLY: This is pretty much, and they may extend it, I haven’t heard yet but that has been the go to, the other card I will say is if you’re actually know what, Citi prestige used to be the card for they give you fourth night free, they just …
RITHOLTZ: Fourth night free, that’s 25 percent off.
KELLY: Any hotel in the world …
RITHOLTZ: That’s amazing.
KELLY: Over the years I’ve gotten thousand and thousand …
RITHOLTZ: Do they still do that?
KELLY: They, you know, Citi has been pulling back a lot of the perks and so now they limited to two a year and the rates are not as low as used to be …
RITHOLTZ: So who needs that?
KELLY: They watered it down.
RITHOLTZ: That is stupid.
Now that raises another question, people have been saying that people who I normally think of as astute travelers and points people, that it’s gotten much harder of late. Chase Sapphire Reserve changed the landscape for everybody and some people decided some companies decided to compete and other companies said, no we are going to make it more difficult.
KELLY: Well I think all of the company — I think is so up my contrarian view to that is that things are actually way better than they’ve ever been because there are more ways to earn credit cards today, even the AMEX Gold now offers 4X on dining, they one upped the Sapphire Reserve, so the AMEX Gold is 4X on dining and several other categories, there’s actually so many categories to earn, you just have to pick and choose and choose the ones that you know give you the most value back.
Now and the flip side because there are so many miles in the ecosystem, you know, the airlines have been raising amount of miles needed for a flight but considering you can still get 80,0000, 100,000 points for sign up bonuses then your earning 2, 3, 4, 5 10 X on spend, the smart points maximizers are still coming out ahead.
RITHOLTZ: You just have to put the work in.
KELLY: Exactly.
RITHOLTZ: Can you stick around a little bit? I have a ton of questions.
KELLY: Absolutely.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Brian Kelly, better known as “The Points Guy” if you enjoy this conversation, well be sure and come back for the podcast extras where we keep the tape rolling and continue discussing all things travel.
We love your comments, feedback, and suggestions, write to us at MIBPodcast@Bloomberg.net, check out my weekly column on Bloomberg.com, follow me on Twitter @Ritholtz.
I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’re listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
Welcome to the podcast.
Brian, thank you so much for doing this, I don’t — I don’t know what inspired me to reach out to you guys, but I’m a fan of the site, I really like what you’re doing. And we were talking earlier about the YouTube stuff. I love the passenger shaming videos, they are so good.
KELLY: She’s fun.
RITHOLTZ: If you fly regularly and I don’t fly nearly as much as you do but I fly enough, the behavior of people on airplanes …
KELLY: It’s getting worse.
RITHOLTZ: I mean it used to be bad on the commuter rail lines, people have kind of settled into a routine, but I don’t think people fly enough to understand we were reared by actual adult humans to understand that you don’t take off your shoes and socks and start clipping your toenails on the plane and you …
KELLY: And don’t wedge your foot in between a seat and kind of creep around …
RITHOLTZ: How do you not just pull out a machete and chop that guy’s foot off?
It’s imagine having a bare foot …
KELLY: I’m surprised there’s not more of that on planes you know like all out assaults.
RITHOLTZ: I get bent out of shape when people don’t think and are inefficient, so leaving the — leaving the plane week we got to we got to LaGuardia early there was a gate by some miracle ready for us in the new Delta D terminal, so it was all good, there is a couple, I don’t know why he is sitting in 10 D and she is in 12 B and they are having a conversation the whole…
KELLY: Oh my god.
RITHOLTZ: Like that was crazy, when it’s time to get off the plane, he decides he is to organize his Sunday New York Times, this guy was like an arterial plaque and the entire plane is blocked up behind him and I want to pull out the phone and videotape him, but I was like you got to row with it, you got to be…
KELLY: That’s true, you can get upset by it but I think in general, you just got to let it go.
RITHOLTZ: Some of the behavior is a little over-the-top, I love this little segment about the stewardess call button, the things people use that for.
KELLY: I feel a little bit bad because I’ve been in first class before and you know sometimes the flight attendants go MIA…
RITHOLTZ: Right. Well, that is fair.
KELLY: A lot of times, I do pay for my ticket I’m like okay, kind of want a cocktail, I have no idea and then the (inaudible) never use the overhead for cocktails and I’m like really?
RITHOLTZ: Well, if you pay full-boat, you could use it for cocktails, what you can’t do is push the button and ask the stewardess to have the plane flight a lower altitude so you can get a picture of the Grand Canyon and I’m assuming all the other example of your users are from real life.
KELLY: Yes, she has stories, especially people on a regional carriers, she has stories for days but it kind of reminds me, I flew with Madonna once and she ….
RITHOLTZ: In first class, I’m assuming.
KELLY: We were delayed leaving JFK and the pilot comes out, I’m so sorry, it’s raining, and she goes step on it while we’re in the air, I need to make up time, and the pilot was like okay. I was like…
RITHOLTZ: That — so really?
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: It looks like I think she was kind of joking …
RITHOLTZ: Oh okay.
KELLY: Also, here’s one tip you should never do, I took my sleeping pills, and this is my rookie days, this is like….
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Never take the pill…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: My partner did the same thing and a hilarious series of disasters followed.
KELLY: Oh my god, I took it, my pill, and of course I’m putting my overhead bag and m starting to get woozy and I turned around it’s freaking Madonna boarding the plane …
RITHOLTZ: Oh my god.
KELLY: And so then I’m trying to stay awake, were delayed on the tarmac she’s doing all these antics and I’m like, why did I take this pill and then I woke up the next morning like did that happen?
RITHOLTZ: I thought she’d fly in private.
KELLY: Well, because a lot of celebrities now – most celebrities are now flying commercial because of the you know environment and you can’t be a crusader for…
RITHOLTZ: There you go.
All right.
KELLY: You would be — I see tons of A-list celebrities, Royals, people you know, the people watching on planes.
RITHOLTZ: Wow, so I had had the greatest experience yesterday with a pilot, I can’t — I don’t ever recall seeing this so there’s all this weather going on Thanksgiving weekend, most of it to the West but these can be some potential issues on the flight back, he comes out and makes an announcement in the waiting area before people board, hey just want to let you know we are going to hit a bunch of weather, the first half hour will be fine but it will be bumpy and problematic for the second half, we will do our best to work away around the weather and get you there smoothly and safely.
And it was just like wow that’s such a great — and throughout the flight like they’re not great about communicating what really is going on, it always feels like they are reading a script, like this guy went, wow what a pro pilot.
KELLY: I have had pilots like that…
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: I love that preflight briefing.
RITHOLTZ: Love that, yes.
KELLY: It’s like, some of them – I mean I think most pilots enjoy their job, I know they are all over worked and whatever, but yes, I love when a pilot…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Please don’t tell me they are overworked, overtired you don’t want to hear that…
KELLY: I know, right?
RITHOLTZ: Although the planes can land themselves these days theoretically.
So let me get to some of the questions we missed during the broad past — broadcast portion.
You mentioned PeaceJam, so let’s talk a little bit out inclusivity and giving back…
KELLY: yes.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us what PeaceJam is.
KELLY: So PeaceJam is awesome, I — when the business really took off, I really wanted to you know there were tons of charities reaching out for write checks, write checks, and you know…
RITHOLTZ: That is never any…
KELLY: No, I wanted to get involved with an organization that was going to travel to help change the world so to speak even though it’s a pretty wide thing, and a friend of mine said you know, I love kids I was almost a Teach for America teacher out a college, and I think even being “The Points Guy” teach…
RITHOLTZ: Education is key.
KELLY: I get great joy from like watching people learn and you know, so PeaceJam is 15 of the world’s best Nobel Peace Prize winner, so the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Leymah Gbowee, so they are the board members and it’s their organization to take their learnings and their life story to kids around the world.
So PeaceJam itself is in a bunch of different countries, at “The Points Guy” we sponsor it in Guatemala, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, and East Timor.
RITHOLTZ: Do you sponsor with points or how do you do it?
KELLY: So we do it, so it started out we were giving points to the Nobel laureates because even the flight, Ghana is our biggest chapter now, to fly a Nobel laureate and their assistant it’s expensive.
RITHOLTZ: How do you transfer your points to a Nobel laureate?
KELLY: So you can transfer to my loyalty account my AMEX, let’s say I fly Delta, they fly JFK to Accra Ghana, so we would transfer my AMEX to my Delta and then I can you know once you have points, you can book a ticket for anyone you want.
RITHOLTZ: Buy a ticket for one, right.
KELLY: So that’s how it started, we called it Points for Peace, so basically we bring these Nobel laureates …
RITHOLTZ: Talk about perfect branding, really.
KELLY: So we — so we’ve been able to bring these Nobel Peace Prize winners, we’ve got 600 kids and in Ghana, high school kids. They study about the laureate all year long and then we bring the laureate, like the Nobel Peace Prize winner, they spend all weekend, we have this unbelievable they learn how to fix the problems in their community, start small, small actions then lead to bigger change, I mean by the end of the week I get chills even think about it, spending time with you know these Nobel Peace Prize winners who have helped end civil wars, who are — we work with Jody Williams who and you helped end landmines.
And so we bring her to kids around the world and it really empowers them to make their communities better. So that’s been a I get to travel around the world with you know these amazing Nobel Peace Prize winners and bringing that message to kids.
RITHOLTZ: And let’s talk a little about you are an out CEO and business founder, you also like to give back to the LGBT community, tell us a little bit about what you do with that.
KELLY: Yes, so I mean look, I’m so lucky, my parents love me, I got a great partner, I’m out in business even you know it’s nerve-racking when your business gets taken over, are the new owner the company to be in an — allow me to be?
RITHOLTZ: Even today.
KELLY: Even today.
RITHOLTZ: I mean listen, I’m a Jewish white guy working in finance so I know what it’s like, in New York…
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So I know what it’s like to be oppressed and I say that you know only half joking or fully joking but let me say that again, it’s hard to imagine in 2019 that that’s still an issue in my little New York bubble.
KELLY: Well, Red Venture is my parent company, they — you know all I heard was Red Ventures is buying Bankrate and they are Charlotte-based, and you know – in Charlotte, in North Carolina…
RITHOLTZ: Okay.
KELLY: There were some pretty nasty you know ….
RITHOLTZ: We have the whole.
KELLY: HB2, luckily I Googled and Ric Elias who’s our CEO, he’s a staunch you know and you know he’s born in Puerto Rico, we do all this crazy social giving back and everything is fine but there are a lot of friends who I know have sold businesses, they class personally …
RITHOLTZ: Sure.
KELLY: You know, you are not a part of that inner clique of boys or whatever. So anyways, I’ve been very fortunate and I remember reading the New York Times two years ago and it was about the gay concentration camps in Chechnya, and I remember reading on this is crazy in 2017 or ’18, there cannot be concentration camps, and in Chechnya the leader was rounding up gay people and they were taking their phones and it was this — they were actually in camps, many people been killed.
So the rainbow railroad, we started donating our miles, so we actually booked flights for people who are in places like Chechnya, Jamaica’s actually one of the worst places in the world for LGBT people.
RITHOLTZ: Jamaica in the Caribbean.
KELLY: They were in 60 Minutes this year, and we did a whole expose on if you are gay in Jamaica, there’s a huge chance you’ll get tossed in the street …
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: The trans people are killed almost weekly there, it’s a really…
RITHOLTZ: But that happens in the US also.
KELLY: They have, it happens everywhere, luckily in the US I think we’ve definitely made steps since the Matthew Shepard days in the 90s, but you know, a lot of countries, Egypt even you get kicked out …
RITHOLTZ: Middle East is not especially gay friendly.
KELLY: So we use frequent flyer miles, we donate our money and so we now bring — Rainbow Railroad gets people asylum in countries like Canada and Argentina, so it’s been really I’ve gotten a chance to meet last summer in Toronto, there are about 30 people from Chechnya that we actually have helped through our campaign, our readers donated millions of miles and they — they look me in the eyes and they are like the minute that that plane took off from Moscow and I knew that I was on my way to freedom, they just started bawling and it’s kind of cool.
So my hoping on giving back is like the power of travel can change lives and I know I’ve changed as a person, and I believe the more people travel in general you know barriers breakdown, so it’s really cool to be able to help others.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting.
So I have to ask you a couple more business questions because everything is going on these days with Google and Facebook, traditional web advertising as a business not so great these days. So how are you balancing that? Are you more driven by advertising? is it more affiliate? How do you deal with the declining CPMs and just essentially the web is infinite.
KELLY: Well, funny enough, you know, when I started, I thought oh my god, this affiliate things seem shady, and you know and it’s funny now all the major publications are going affiliate …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: “New York Times” has Wire Cutter and so affiliate is where it’s at because if you truly have good content that helps your reader get a product they want you know, it’s the perfect balance, so our revenue has been wildly growing over the last several years.
We also want to diversify so as we never sold CPMs really, we do some small packages but in general and the bulk of our sales are affiliate and the credit card markets are strong, my biggest concern is in as much Google and you know the privacy is a bigger concern, especially as we create this app were people are going to share where they want to go and airlines they want to fly in sharing you know so that to me – you know, we’re getting ready to — for the California privacy laws are about to go into effect in January, which changes the game, so that space is really challenging even how you target consumers in and look, I believe we should have more privacy on the Internet.
RITHOLTZ: Europe is not so far off with what they are doing over there.
KELLY: I mean California’s arguably more strict than GDPR, so it’s a challenging landscape but I think what we focused on is just continuing to build out content for people that they love, ad blockers don’t work when that the advertising is the content that people want to read.
RITHOLTZ: Right, that is right.
KELLY: So…
RITHOLTZ: Although ad blocker extensions for Chrome and things like that, they stop working now, it’s easy enough to detect them and blur the content and say if you want to access their content for free, you have to disable your ad blocker, so that arms race is ending.
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: I think you guys have the right balance, the idea that if you have the right audience and the right demographic and they’re consuming the content because they want to not because you trick them into a click…
KELLY: Exactly.
RITHOLTZ: That’s got to be better than ads.
KELLY: Exactly. And the thing we’ve double down into is community, so we’ve got this huge Facebook, so Facebook stopped showing publishers in the newsfeed, crap what you do so? So what we’ve been doing for years, we have a community, people come to our events, so on Facebook, We got a TPG lounge, it has I think over 80,000 members, we just launched a small business community, a family community, we just launched our women’s community, so now – I mean, and that’s what Facebook is all about.
So you just as a publisher, you got to just keep evolving with the time …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: That’s I think my job as CEO now, it’s – I don’t write posts as much anymore although I am very, very much involved in our total editorial process and pushing the team to be better and how we review flights and you know creating higher-quality content.
But now it’s shifting the landscape and I do — I mean our app is going to be the next generation of our company and how – we will be able to tart target content to people exactly for what they want. Today it is one-size-fits-all, it can be very confusing to go to “The Points Guy” and be like…
RITHOLTZ: It’s a lot, it’s overwhelming.
KELLY: Which car, and I just want to go here and these tools that we’re building are going to save people time and tons of money, so I’m really excited.
RITHOLTZ: I’m looking forward to the app because the things that you chastised me for before, I have to ask about, so I will occasionally spend some money with my Chase Reserve card not on travel, spend some points on stuff and often it’s Amazon, because…
KELLY: Right.
RITHOLTZ: They just drop it off on your front door.
You are telling me that is not the right way to do it, I’m much better off transferring those points to Delta or…
KELLY: Well, Chase points, you can’t transfer to Delta, but like Chase points are super valuable when you transfer to United or Hyatt or if you redeem for travel because you are getting 1.5 cents a point when you …
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: When you say redeem for travel.
KELLY: So Chase gives you two main options when it comes time to book travel, you can transfer United our Southwest or Hyatt, several other partners, or you can just use those points to buy tickets. Now with the Sapphire Reserve, what they’ll say is you get 1.5 cents a point, so 100,000 points is $1,500 in travel…
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: A hundred thousand points when used for gift cards is usually $1,000 or less rise and that’s why I say where I cringe, use your Chase point for travel and then if you truly want Amazon or merchandise, there are better cards that will give you more bang for your buck.
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: So like a Citi Double Cash card, no annual fee, 2 percent back when you paid off each month.
So if you spend $100,000 on that, you are going to get $2000 to buy whatever you want.
RITHOLTZ: So you strike me as a guys who’s got a dozen cards in his wallet.
KELLY: Probably double that.
RITHOLTZ: Really?
KELLY: Well, I mean this is my…
RITHOLTZ: Isn’t that kind of confusing to say I’m buying this so let me figure out which card…
KELLY: So in our new app, it will literally say, you know, pay with this feature, we will tell you where you are, you can say “I’m at Starbucks” We can actually say, this quarter, put your Starbucks not on the Sapphire but on your Freedom Card because Starbucks is the quarterly category.
It’s really…
RITHOLTZ: Really?
It changes that for me.
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: But that is the technology that we are building and then, will also, a lot of credit cards these days will give you bonuses, you know, especially the airline cards, if you are chasing elite status …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: You spend $40,000 on an American Airlines card, you’ll get a bump you know, an elite mile, so our app is going to track all of that. And to make sure that not only the points but that you’re getting the maximum perks as well. You know, there’s Master Cards now that will give you five dollars off every Lyft ride which most people don’t even realize.
RITHOLTZ: That’s a big – so if you spend (inaudible) 15 bucks, that’s a big chunk.
KELLY: Right, so this New World MasterCard gives you five dollars off every $25 ride, so it’s really confusing to keep track of …
RITHOLTZ: When will I be able to use your app to just swipe that and never have to think about it every time…
KELLY: It is coming out and I would say March 2020, we’re still — we’re in testing right now, we are breaking it, it’s going to be worth the wait though, so March 2020.
RITHOLTZ: I’m excited about it.
KELLY: (Martine) will kill me for saying that, but early 2020.
RITHOLTZ: Now they know when they have to…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: All of a sudden, you just gave them a deadline.
All right, so let’s do our speed round, we will blow through this pretty quickly, the idea is to kind of get to know little bit more about Brian Kelly than we know already. So tell us what you’re streaming, listening to, downloading, watching, what caught your attention these days?
KELLY: I am into “The Morning Show” on Apple Plus.
RITHOLTZ: Oh the news show, yes.
KELLY: I really, you know, going on morning shows quite a bit, it’s actually – you know, I always see, I’m only there for my segment and leave but you can always sense that there’s like these power struggles onset and so it’s a fascinating watching, it’s also microcosm of what what’s going on in our world today so I think they have done a good job with that.
RITHOLTZ: Anything else you’re downloading, any podcast, what are you listening to?
KELLY: Podcasts, you know my friend Heather McMahan, she’s this really hysterical comedian.
RITHOLTZ: Heather McMahan.
KELLY: Heather McMahan, her podcast is called “Absolutely Not” and she just rails on everything in travel and life, so I like a feel good laughing podcasts and also you know, I have to plug my podcast, “Talking Points” not that I listen to my own podcast because I get to experience it, but…
RITHOLTZ: So I sometimes just as an aside, I find that like on a shorter flight, sometimes, I’m not going to watch a movie…
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: And I could just pop in a Freakonomics or (Mehrens on ETF)…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Right, it’s a perfect hour, and I’m like, oh, I’m here already, that’s fantastic.
KELLY: Yes, it really does help pass the time.
I live a block away from work, so I don’t — luckily I walk to work, so I don’t, so yes on planes when I do listen to podcasts, I get…
RITHOLTZ: Sometimes, you are too tired to read …
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: You don’t even want to watch something, the energy to watch – to listen…
RITHOLTZ: Yes, but just to close your eyes…
KELLY: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: Just like take me away count on, absolutely.
So what’s the most important thing people don’t know about you?
KELLY: So interesting, I don’t think many people know that but I’m actually a development chief in a tribe in Ghana about an hour and a half outside of Accra, my name is Nene Kwesi Mateu Tsu the First and about four years ago through the charity work I do there, the guy who was my partner in crime there, we kind of elevated him as our head of peace movement in Africa …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: As a way saying of thank you to everything I’ve done for him, he made me, he bequeathed his title to me as a way of saying thank you for helping elevate his life with all these Nobel Peace Prize — he grew up in poverty analysis on the global stage with these Nobel Laureates.
So he made me a development chief and I go back at least once or twice a year and it’s really amazing, I’ve got all my robes, and they it’s a it’s a very unique — I took my parents there and they were just like, how did you have to go from does growing up in the Philly suburbs to now being a chief in Ghana, you know …
RITHOLTZ: You mentioned your parents, who are some of your early mentors and I suspect you your parents might be one them.
KELLY: Yes, my dad, I call him the Original Points Guy, he’s actually named Brian Kelly he’s the third boy of three boys and a girl and I always admired him, he was a business traveler in healthcare and he taught me — and that was in the 90s as he had points and he said Brian if you can — I was 12 years old he said if you can figure out how to use these, we will go on vacation, you know, a family of six, we are going to have a ton of money to just blow on fancy vacations and that was when I figured out how to go to the Cayman Islands.
And so and he also started — he gave me my first job, I started booking travel for him because he — so my dad for sure is one of my earliest mentors.
RITHOLTZ: Now did you tell him you are cheating using Travelocity or…
KELLY: I did and he’s been at speaking gigs with me now and he laughs at me because I make it seem like, he was computer illiterate, that’s why he paid me to do, he is like you make me sound so stupid not knowing how to use a computer. I’m like, well, you kind of were, dad.
RITHOLTZ: That was information arbitrage.
So who influenced your approach to travel to points to credit cards, obviously your father, who else?
KELLY: I mean Richard Branson in terms of travel and entrepreneurship and like he just taught me a lot and I got we got a chance to interview him on my podcast and just having fun in business, I think that was something I have lost along the way sometimes is and it’s not always fun but, to you do as a CEO of a business, you can set the tone you know and you can help hire people and motivate people to have fun and I do believe businesses are more successful when people are really invested.
But in terms of traveling, I didn’t go abroad until I was in college, really well besides the Cayman Islands, so I’ve learned to be a traveler on my own in a certain way but that’s the kind of fun.
RITHOLTZ: I can imagine. So let’s talk about everybody’s favorite question, tell us about some of the books you enjoy reading, what are some your favorites, what are you reading now?
KELLY: So I just finished Bob Iger’s book “The Ride of My Life” which I found really fascinating and also I’ve been running “The Points Guy” for going on 10 years now and he had a similar thing where he — no one wanted him to keep running Disney because he was the old guy…
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: You need fresh new leadership, of course that always goes you know, even though “The Points Guy” Frankly has a big businesses is only, for the last several years but I do worry about myself and staying in how to be creative, how do we push and innovate so I thought his book was really, really, I don’t know a lot of the behind the scene stuff.
I also read Travis — the book “Super Pumped” which is the …
RITHOLTZ: About Uber.
KELLY: About Uber I mean, have you read it.
RITHOLTZ: It’s on my winter reading list.
KELLY: It is insane. It’s a page turner and it’s also a of perfect model of how to not run a business, I mean their stories, I mean…
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: And they are well-sourced too, this is not just like a gossip even though they want you to think that, like what was going on in the that bro culture and so those two books I I’ve read recently and I really like. And then in terms of inspiration, Leymah Gbowee, she’s a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Liberia, she brought women together to help end the bloody civil war there and she wrote this book “Mighty Be Our Powers.”
And it’s just a story, she was on the floor of a refugee camp, had no degree, had three kids, an alcoholic husband and it was her whole story and rising up being a community leader now she’s you know on the floor the UN opening up sessions, and she is the world leader and it’s like really gives you that inspiration that you know, even our worst days, we got it pretty good.
RITHOLTZ: To say the least.
By the way, if you liked the Uber book, did you read “Bad Blood”?
KELLY: I did not.
RITHOLTZ: So I haven’t read the Uber book but it’s the top of my list, and it sounds very much like John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood” about Theranos.
KELLY: Oh yeah.
RITHOLTZ: So I’m going to make that…
KELLY: I saw the Theranos docs on Netflix which were…
RITHOLTZ: It’s insane, it’s insane.
The book goes into so much detail, it, I know I’m going to really like the Uber book.
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: And based on you really liking the Uber book, this is – you should for your next book, you will plow through it, it was really a fast read.
Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience?
KELLY: I want to say so in college in general, I failed, like I’m a smart guy but I just I think I do have a certain level of ADD and going to lecture I mean I just — I couldn’t care less and I failed astronomy, I was at the University of Pittsburgh and it wasn’t, but what I learned was I think I think I learned and – so I was student body president, I was the head of my fraternity recruitment, I was like I really put all my energy into people and what I really like doing and I think you know, I got rejected from NYU in high school and it’s always crushed me …
RITHOLTZ: Right.
KELLY: And now it’s kind of cool that you know, I …
RITHOLTZ: So the lesson kids is don’t worry about academics, it’s the …
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: To an extent, I mean you look at so many successful people in business, and I know many academics are very successful but I don’t know, just throw yourself into something that you love like that is going to get your further and what I learned being student body president was more than any, you know, intro to — you know …
RITHOLTZ: Economics 101…
KELLY: Yes, right.
RITHOLTZ: So I was going to can ask you what you do for fun but it seems travel, right?
KELLY: Well no, if I could teleport I would…
RITHOLTZ: (LAUGHTER).
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: I have a good time on plane.
RITHOLTZ: Well let me interrupt you, are you a Star Trek fan?
KELLY: I am not actually.
RITHOLTZ: All right, so you should be aware of the fact the problem with teleportation is hold the physics issues aside, essentially we take you apart molecule by molecule, make a map of exactly what you are, and transport you to send energy to another location where they rebuild molecule by molecule, so effectively we’ve killed you and rebuilt a new one of you, not the greatest thing in the world.
KELLY: Because — what is it like, is it like jetlag times 1000 whenever you teleport?
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Well the Star Trek version is you are fine, you can …
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: Yes, and you are limited in distance, but you can teleport from space to wherever, but when you actually think about the way it works, what was the recent Netflix show or maybe was the Amazon Prime show, I’m drawing a blank on it where effectively someone goes to get clones, and they kill the clone — kill the original to keep the clone, the clone is updated and healthier and — I’m drawing a blank on the name.
KELLY: But so okay maybe I won’t time travel but for fun, I do like exploring not other universes but the underwater world, I’m a huge scuba diver …
RITHOLTZ: Really, so where do you like to go? So you mentioned a Caymans which is great.
KELLY: Actually one of my best dives was Cayman, I do Maldives, I’m actually going there this holiday season…
RITHOLTZ: Turks and Caicos.
KELLY: I love Turks and Caicos.
I had a disappointing dive in the great barrier reef, it was bad conditions but one of my big trips I want to take that I haven’t really done is Palau, South Pacific, tiny little islands…
RITHOLTZ: Well, you better hurry because all those reefs are going away.
KELLY: I know right, it’s crazy what’s going on down there.
RITHOLTZ: The Barrier Reef is dying…
KELLY: It’s crazy.
RITHOLTZ: And it’s visible from space …
KELLY: And the bleaching that is going on.
RITHOLTZ: Yes, it is actually you could see the in the in the some of the satellite photos huge miles and miles have died off …
KELLY: It’s so sad.
RITHOLTZ: It’s crazy.
So what are you most optimistic about relative to travel today and what are you most pessimistic about?
KELLY: Well I think we just start touched on the most pessimistic is the climate, I live in Miami too, I split my time there and just seeing that you know reading the articles that in 30 years Miami could be underwater now that they may stop you know the whole state may go under soon because you know …
RITHOLTZ: Let’s be honest though, that wouldn’t be the worst, right? I mean…
(Crosstalk)
RITHOLTZ: No, no, you know, I’m a New Yorker and you look at Florida and it’s like, all right, if Florida goes underwater, there are worse environmental disasters.
KELLY: Oh my god, so yes, the climate change stuff, and you know frankly the guilt from your even though we carbon offset all of our employees’ travel you know it’s I’m in a business it’s encouraging millions of people to travel more, so the now I still believe, you know, travel is 10 percent of global GDP, lifts people up, it changes people so but it is it you know, seeing what’s happening on Earth is pretty…
RITHOLTZ: Pessimistic.
KELLY: Pessimistic.
RITHOLTZ: Isn’t airline travel much more efficient than getting a car and driving cross-country or wherever you want to go.
KELLY: I think there is a lot of ways to slice and dice it, I mean for frequent flyers, your carbon footprint is much more than anyone in a car.
RITHOLTZ: Okay that’s fair.
KELLY: But optimistically speaking, I mean t I think this is a golden age of travel in terms of you know these new planes that are more carbon efficient, safer, you can now travel, I just sent one of my employees on that Qantas flight from JFK to Sydney nonstop.
RITHOLTZ: Really? 19 hours…
(Crosstalk)
KELLY: Yes, I think it might’ve even crossed 20.
RITHOLTZ: Wow.
KELLY: But even, you know …
RITHOLTZ: That is insane.
KELLY: Newark to Singapore is 18 1/2 now so the fact that you can fly safer than ever it’s still cheap you can still go to Europe for under 500 bucks…
RITHOLTZ: That’s amazing.
KELLY: We have Asia deals that cost you know recently that were $300 to go to Asia round-trip.
RITHOLTZ: That is just crazy …
KELLY: You can’t really complain about…
RITHOLTZ: Still, 300 bucks..
KELLY: It’s crazy and even business class. So I’m optimistic in general travel is connecting the world more than ever, but we just got – we got to treat Mother Earth a little bit better.
RITHOLTZ: And what sort of advice would you give to a recent college grad just starting a career who was interested in either travel or points or even website?
KELLY: Biggest thing is you know, first of all, treat your credit score like an asset, I was dumb in college …
RITHOLTZ: You and me both.
KELLY: I didn’t pay a Verizon bill, I moved out of my frat house three years later, I’m living in New York and it’s $2000 or docking my pay, it was like the biggest pain I’ve ever dealt with to never stick your head in your sand with finances even if you can’t handle it, there so many ways, and even if you just pay the minimum to you but never mess up your credit score, takes years.
And then in terms of in general I see so you know college grads take the opportunities given to you at work, I’ve even in a most my employees are millennials, take the job that may not seem to you at the time to make a lot of sense but when people give you an opportunity, jump on it.
You know by the millennials are was a word about want to get stuck in doing this rest of my life like …
RITHOLTZ: Who does?
KELLY: Take this project, you’re not going to, you know, if you’re a good employee, if you bring a lot to the table and if you are a team player, that’s what’s going to propel you more so than staying on this oh I like this specific thing that I’m doing now and I want to make yourself uncomfortable, that’s how you grow.
RITHOLTZ: Become valuable to the company and they’ll find a place to put you.
KELLY: Totally.
RITHOLTZ: And our final question, what you know that the world of points and travel today that you wish you knew 10 or 20 years ago when you first started playing the points game?
KELLY: You know I learn every day you know actually, when I launched it, there were other – and there still are other travel bloggers who are way smarter than me in terms of the points and miles and I think in general, it’s not about being the smartest, I still learn stuff every single day from our community in emails, it’s you know, we always peg ourselves as this is going to be, am I the best at this?
I think in general points — I mean and anything you learn, it’s going to constantly evolve and change so I would just say this industry will keep changing, it’s not over and it’s been changing for time as well.
So instead of you know, just be optimistic in general about everything and go with the flow.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating. We have been speaking with Brian Kelly better known as “The Points Guy”. If you enjoyed this conversation, well, look up an inch or down an inch on Apple iTunes where you can see any of the 300 previous such conversations we’ve had over the past five years.
We love your comments, feedback, and suggestions, write to us at MIBPodcast@Bloomberg.net. Go to Apple iTunes, please give us a review, share your thoughts with us.
Check out my weekly column on Bloomberg.com, sign up for our daily reads at Ritholtz.com. I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
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