#348: The Points Guy Highlights Customer's Loyalty Expectations and Needs

This episode features an industry legend – Brian Kelly, who is well-known to millions of people as the “Points Guy” – the original travel influencer.

Brian dramatically changed our industry when he took his lifelong passion of creating an extraordinary lifestyle for himself using his loyalty points, and created an entire empire around helping other people to do the same.

Brian joins us on “Let’s Talk Loyalty” as an industry voice who is truly passionate about helping consumers “learn, earn, and burn” their loyalty points – particularly in the US and UK markets where the Points Guy businesses operate.

Listen to learn Brian’s insights on the importance of CONTENT as a lever that I believe many loyalty program owners haven’t yet used as a brilliant way to differentiate themselves from competitors and engage their members.

Show Notes:

1) Brian Kelly

2) The Points Guy

Audio Transcript

Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

This show is sponsored by Comarch, a global provider of innovative software products and business services. Comarch’s platform is used by leading brands across all industries to drive their customer loyalty. Powered by AI and machine learning, Comarch Technologies allow you to build, run, and manage personalized loyalty programs and product offers with ease.

For more information, please visit comarch.com.

Hello and welcome to episode 348 of Let’s Talk Loyalty. This episode takes a different approach from our usual interviews with leading brands and loyalty industry practitioners. We’re talking with Brian Kelly, who will be well known to many of you as the Points Guy, the original travel influencer. Brian dramatically changed our industry when he took his lifelong passion of creating an extraordinary lifestyle, using his loyalty points, and then created an entire empire around helping other people to do the same.

I invited Brian on the show as someone who is truly passionate about helping customers learn, earn, and burn their loyalty points, particularly in the US and UK markets where the Point Sky websites operate to ensure you as loyalty program owners can learn from his perspective. In today’s conversation, I loved discussing the importance of content as the lever that I believe most loyalty program owners haven’t yet realized as a brilliant way to differentiate themselves and engage members.

Also at the end of the conversation, Brian also shares his incredible open rates for his own email newsletters, which I think you will all find super inspiring and something you can compare with your own. Please enjoy my conversation with Brian Kelly, the Points Guy.

Paula: So Brian Kelly, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty.

Brian: Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.

Paula: I’m so excited. As I just said to you, I have been following your work actually now for a couple of years as a, a fellow content creator, and you really have built an extraordinary business, which I’m a huge fan of, so congratulations on that.

And we are going to get straight into it as usual with our favorite opening question. And for people who don’t know you, I will say of course, uh, you are coming at this at a totally different perspective, very much from the consumer perspective. So from your experience, Brian, talking vlogging, videoing about, uh, loyalty as an industry, tell us what is your favorite loyalty program?

Brian: Ooh, that’s a tough one. You know, cuz I, I dabble in all of the loyalty programs. It’s my job to do that. Um, so it’s a little bit of a Sophie’s choice question, you know, which child do I like the best? But, you know, when I think about loyalty programs today, consumers want options. Uh, we want not just alliance partners.

We want other airline partners. We want low fees when it comes time to redeem, and also flexibility and changing, uh, also flexibility and routing. I like a, a loyalty program that gives you the opportunity to really maximize value. So, I will have to give this, you know, my, my favorite of the moment is, uh, Aeroplan.

So Air Ca.. Air Canada, Aeroplan is a really robust program. I think they’ve got 50 airline partners and they just keep adding, you know, one after another. So not only do they have Emirates, but they’ve got Etihad. Yeah. Uh, as a partner, you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and you know, I’d crunch the numbers my, and part of my weekly newsletter.

Every month I spotlight a different loyalty program, uh, that I think US consumers should really pay attention to, you know, foreign require programs, and Air Canada was the first one that came to mind. And if you live in the US and want to go to India, it’s about half the price to redeem on Etihad through Aeroplan as it is through Etihad itself.

Wow. Aeroplan is cheaper than Singapore Airlines. If you wanna fly Newark –  Singapore, Air Canada offers better value, and not only that, you can transfer all the major credit card points to Air Canada instantly. So, all of those things I think, you know, Scott O’Leary, I know who runs Aeroplan, he’s a visionary and loyalty.

Yeah. Um, and he’s very pro-consumer. So, I think, you know, overall, you know, for, for people running airline loyalty programs, specifically Air Canada is a, a shining star in my opinion.

Paula: Oh, wonderful. Well, you know, the interview I did yesterday, my guests did exactly the same, Brian, so It’s absolutely, totally, totally.

So, and as I said to you all fair, they have been a guest on this show as well, so we are huge fans of that program. And again, I suppose the purpose of this conversation, like all of our conversations, is very much around education and inspiration. And I do feel that’s exactly what I sense coming through in terms of the Points Guy as well, Brian.

So I, I hope that’s a fair, uh, summary in terms of what I’ve seen from your work. And maybe you just give the backstory for people listening around the world because the Points Guy only came on my radar when I started podcasting. Before that, I was running a loyalty program in Ireland, so I wasn’t really following global trends.

So tell us the backstory of the Points Guy. 

Brian: Well, so I mean, for me it started in the nineties, so I was 12 years old, uh, in 1995. And my dad had just gotten a job for a startup and we lived outside of Philadelphia. And so he was commuting back and forth, uh, Philly to LA almost every other week. And he came to me one day and said, I have all these frequent flyer programs and I have no idea how to use them.

If you can figure this out, we’ll go on a, on a trip. And I’m one of four kids. So our family of six, you know, we did not grow up wealthy. We were not going to Europe and the Maldives on vacation. It was very much Orlando Road trips, and I figured out a way to use at the time he had US Airways and American Miles and we, I routed my mom and I through Miami, my dad and three siblings through Philly to Grant Cayman.

So we went to the Cayman Islands essentially for free, and my dad was stunned, like, how did you do this? And, you know, we laugh about it to this day that I was 12 years old when I first used points and uh, I had a little panic attack being like, we had never really been out of the country. And yeah, but it ended up the most amazing trip and it really made up for, you know, my dad traveling so much as a business traveler would miss basketball games.

And, but using his points became a bonding experience. And it was like once a year, our family took amazing trip to the Caribbean all on his points. Wow. So fast forward, you know, when I went to university, I was became student body president, so I started traveling myself around the US to conferences. I studied abroad and Madrid, and I am of Irish American descent.

I went to spring break in Dublin one year and all of a sudden I got elite status on US Airways because I had taken a bunch of trips. I think there was a promotion at the time. This is 2004. Mm-hmm. . So all of a sudden I’m in college, I have no income, but I’m getting upgraded left and right because I was an elite member and I just remember talking to myself, how cool is this?

Like I have a negative income and I’m flying first class pretty much every time I fly. And it was at that moment, I really dug in and realized there was a whole community of people globally that were doing this. Yeah. So, I had been doing it for almost 10 years just as a hobby. And then I found FlyerTalk, which was this deep community of really engaged people who knew how to maximize loyalty programs.

And it took a long time to break into that community, but they accepted me. You know, once you figured out how to use the lingo and spend hours and hours on the forums.. It was my, my life was changed forever because I realized there’s so many things I wasn’t doing. Wow. Um, and then, you know, without going too much into it, I graduated university.

I ended up working for Morgan Stanley in 2007 as a tech recruiter. So my job was to go all around the US. I was recruiting all the college grads for computer science and engineering. Okay. So I would do, uh, career fairs. And you know, the, in 2007, that was when tech was booming. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo. Every computer science major in the world wanted to work for them, not these boring banks in New York.

So my bosses gave me the full, I didn’t have a budget. They said, do whatever it takes to get people interested in Morgan Stanley. So I was doing, you know, 50 person dinners at the fanciest restaurants. I was, you know, so I, all of a sudden I’m spending a hundred thousand dollars a month on my corporate Amex and all of a sudden, I realized I could get the points so you could pay $95 a year.

And I became a points millionaire in my own right. So, wow. And then of course, in oh eight, the global, uh, you know, the Great Recession hit and luckily I never lost my job. But, you know, there were no bonuses and raises for years. But for me, my compensation, I was points rich and cash poor. I would say I had millions of Amex points.

I, you know, I was still making a very small salary being in HR. Yeah. But I was gonna, all these Seychelles. I mean, I flew with Madonna in first class once. My friends were all like, you know, are you a trust fund baby or are you a fraud? Right? Yeah. Cause it does set up how you can live this millionaire lifestyle.

Paula: Yeah. 

Brian: And so I started in 2010. The, The Points Guy, my, my friends were like, you’re such an expert. Uh, why don’t you share this with the world? Because it was still very much FlyerTalk, which was a really closed off community that was not welcoming the others. And so I started the Points Guy in 2010 as a way to just translate everything that I knew in my head.

Because it was amazing to me how many people had points. You know, I met neurosurgeons who had millions of Amex points. They were like, it’s too complicated. And I remember just thinking, do you do brain surgery? And you think points are complicated? And you know, that was kinda like the, I was like, there’s a business here, right?

Because everyone has credit cards and points and… yeah. So, and then I started the Points Guy just as a fun, it was not even to make money, it was, let me just share my tips. And, um, you know, short, it was about six months in, it really started to, to boom. And then the, the credit card companies approached me and said, hey, you’re talking about our credit cards.

We’ll pay you an affiliate commission for every new card. And overnight my life changed. I went, I think my first, my second month as being a credit card affiliate. I made what my salary was for the year at Morgan Stanley. Nine months into blogging, I quit my job and it just boomed from there and it’s just been skyrocketing ever since.

Paula: Oh my God, it’s so inspirational Brian. Thank you for, for sharing the story. Starting at 12 years old definitely gives you, I think, the ultimate status in terms of like, the baby in points. I mean, my God, that’s, that’s unbelievable. I, I don’t even know what I was doing at 12 years old. I was playing with my mother’s makeup, I think.

So yeah, to, to first of all, figure out, as you said, the really emotional benefit and compensation for not having your dad around all of the time. I think that’s something that as loyalty program owners, we need to keep that focus on that connection. Because we talk all the time about the difference between transactional loyalty and emotional loyalty.

But actually, the ultimate proof point is when the member gets to enjoy the reward they’ve been promised. And the fact that we make it so complicated for good reasons. I know all of the reasons and excuses and explanations. But what I’m hearing from you, Brian, is first of all, it needs to be simplified and secondly, there’s just so much opportunity out there that people just want to be inspired and educated.

And for me, certainly blogging was not something that I ever really believed could be a business actually. Same with a podcast, when I started. Because I feel like there was a lot of, maybe perhaps, you know, influencers would now be the term that would be used and most of those people don’t get to make a living out of creating content.

So would you say, was it because you were one of the first, or would you say it’s because of the unique perspective that you brought that really made the Points Guy so successful? 

Brian: Yeah, there were a bunch of other blogs that I had read, uh, that were started in the mid 2000s. They’re still around today.

Um, so I wasn’t the first points blogger. I do think I was the first points blogger that leveraged social media, so, okay. And personality. Right. So for me, travel is um, something to be shared. And I’ve been very open, you know, in the aviation blogging space, there are a lot of people who approach aviation clinically.

Like, here is the seat, the amenity kit, a picture of the food. Whereas, you know, I was probably the first influence who actually took a picture of myself in the seat. And, you know, I’m six foot seven and when I do my hotel reviews, I do the TPG shower test where I’m gonna take you through the room, but I’m also gonna show you if my head can fit underneath the shower, shower. 

Especially in Europe often is not the case. So, I don’t know. I’ve always added a little bit of fun and personality. Um, and then I realized early on in the media there were a lot of misconceptions about loyalty. And in 2010, 2011, the whole, all the travel experts in media were saying frequent flyer programs are useless.

There’s blackout dates, they’re terrible, they’re boring. And here I am. I came in and said, you’re all wrong. Right? Yes. You gotta learn how to use them. So, I became a voice in media, and I remember my first CNN segment in 2011. I was mortified to go on TV. Yeah. But it was really the first time someone was pro loyalty.

Right. It’s so easy to, to slam on loyalty programs and take the easy way out. Yeah. And, and when I met Seth Kugel of the New York Times, he was the frugal travel columnist. So he was all about budget travel, and he, he said to me, I always tell my millions of you know, co… column readers that loyalty’s useless just by the cheapest airfare.

And that’s what he had been preaching for years. And I said, you’re so, so, so wrong. I met him for three hours at a bar in New York and I, within that time I told him how to book a free trip to Brazil and he’s, you know, working at the New York Times as a reporter, making very small amount of money. Yes, he had a girlfriend in Brazil and I, I unlocked with the points he had sitting in his account.

He was able to go visit his girlfriend and he was blown away. And that he wrote the first article saying The Points Guy is the website everyone needs to follow. And because all of a sudden now in 2011 when you got a New York Times link back to your blog. Bam! So all these other bloggers had been blogging for eight years, but they were very just focused clinically on like the topic of loyalty in a dry way.

Yeah. And I came in and learned very quickly, like, oh, you know, leveraging global media to drive to my site is brilliant and I actually enjoy doing it. And to this day, yeah, going on TV and speaking to consumers and doing speaking events, like that’s what I love. I’ve actually, you know, I was CEO of the Points Guy.

We grew to 120 employees and the pandemic hit. I actually took a moment to say, okay, I’m proud of what I’ve built, but my joy in life is not managing teams of people and performance reviews. All that goes into running a global media business. I’m proud of what I built, but for my mental health, I can want to get back to the basics.

I wanna get back to content and really being an advocate for consumers. So, uh, yeah, so I now, I have no direct reports at The Points Guy. I’m still and I sold it actually in 2012. So, it’s been a wild ride where the blog took off and, uh, I’ve still been on and running the site. Yeah. Um, now I’m taking a different approach, kind of, uh, just being our key media spokesperson and really helping advise the future of the company.

Like where, meeting consumers where they are. Yeah. Helping, you know, uh, continue to evolve our business. So it’s been a really, really fun. You know, 13 years since starting a little blog with the $10 domain that so many people said, oh, The Points Guy, you’re never gonna be able to grow that cause it’s just one guy.

And now we have more women that work at the points sky than men. And yeah, we’ve got tons of, uh, experts from all around the world. 

Paula: It’s almost like you hit the jackpot, Brian. You know, like the perfect meeting of insight, consumer insight with the neurosurgeons, the complexity and your own passion. I mean, everybody says if you work on something that you’re passionate about, you’ll never work a day in your life.

So I think you’re living proof of that. 

Brian: It’s so true and, and uh, similar to what you said about loyalty programs, needing to just reconnect with that human element. I still love, I have the joy and I get immense joy. You know, when people come up to me in the airport, almost every time I fly, and I mean, I’ll be waiting in a security line.

People come up and literally shake my hand and just say, thank you. You saved me thousands of dollars. You know, I readers who are residents in med school who say, Brian, the only way that I am married today, the only way I could have done that long distance relationship as a broke medical student was due to points and reading your blog.

And it’s ever, I mean, I, to me, that’s what drives me. I really. And I do believe travel makes us all better people. I think as a society, when you start traveling the world and realizing, hey, you know, in the media we may have this really crazy view of this country, but it’s a lot more complex than that and people are really, people are genuinely uh, universally the same. 

We all want a good meal. We… we’re all good people. We don’t wanna be judged by our governments, right? We all have crazy people representing us on that level. And then once you meet real people globally, it changes your mind. So yeah, I do have this deep-down passion and, and pride for what we’ve done and that we’ve helped unlock that for millions and millions of people.

Paula: Yeah. Yeah, it’s incredible to hear you tell the story and yeah, I mean, I have to say I just admire it as somebody who I feel like in many ways, you know, loyalty gave me something to feel like I was being of service. And that’s exactly what you are saying. And, and I think as you said, as human beings, we’re all good people, and actually we all wanna be of service in some way.

You’ve done it at incredible scale, but I really believe that everybody who’s listening to this show as a loyalty professional, what they want to do is give back to the customers. They want to reward them, they want to take care of them.  And I guess the reason I wanted you to come on the show again with that pro-consumer perspective was exactly to give us your advice in terms of what should we be doing.

To your point earlier, the media often and, and this is actually also I would say a corporate perspective at the C-Suite in a lot of loyalty programs. There’s a huge amount of criticism and concern about the costs that go into running loyalty programs, particularly I would say outside of the US, where we don’t have the amazing interchange rates and the credit card fees to fund exactly the level of rewards that you are after.

So, I really want to hear any tips, insights, or I suppose just perspective for loyalty marketing professionals. We’re here in early 2023. We’re, I’m gonna say almost back to normal from a, you know, post pandemic perspective. So, what do you think loyalty professionals, particularly in travel, let’s say, what should we be thinking about from your perspective?

Brian: I think what loyalty program managers need to know in 2023 is, you know, while travel demand is up, we need to help with the friction of travel these days. So, you know, the consumers are, uh, facing a lot of challenges, crowded airports, canceled flights. Uh, you know, the staffing shortages of 2022 were real missing bags for weeks and months at a time.

So, I think loyalty programs can step in and help ease the travel experience and also, allowing members to redeem not just for flights, but for all the extra experiences along the way that can make travel better. And, you know, I do wanna log, United Airlines and Delta are doing a great job for their loyalty members to sit together, especially for families.

Um, so I think adding in humanity to your program. Yeah. Um, you know, Delta was very ahead of the curve with allowing cancellations and refunds, where technically they weren’t, you know, they didn’t have to do that. And I do think that those loyalty programs that went above and beyond during that deep crisis. Yeah, they stand to gain, you know, Delta’s one best loyalty program at the Point Guy for years now.

Even though they charge a higher amount for awards than most other programs, they are generally the most humane when it comes to changes and empowering their agents to bend the rules when it’s the right thing to do. Okay. So, I would urge loyalty programs to, you know, understand that there’s PnL in the bottom line.

But you know, adding a little humanity and understanding the complexities of travel for, for travelers, especially family travelers these days. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a great point actually, Brian. And I often use the word integrity on this show, and I know it’s not something that’s probably used very commonly, for example, in the C-Suite in those boardroom conversations around loyalty programs, but genuinely as a consumer, every single one of us knows the intention of that loyalty program.

Like we can feel it and to your point about Delta, for example, the, the, the conversation and interview I mentioned I did yesterday was about the valuations of the loyalty programs around the world. And Delta, particularly in the last three years, their valuation just on Sky Miles has gone up two billion dollars in the last three years.

Mm-hmm… so it proves actually that if you’re good to people, it’s actually good for business. So, to me, that’s why I find this love of loyalty and the people who listen to this show, because it is commercially rewarding. It’s just hard to measure and hard to prove. I think. 

Brian: Absolutely. And sometimes you just need to, yeah, invest in empowering your employees at the loyalty program to do the right thing because one small, uh, hiccup or one misinterpretation of a phone agent can really sour someone’s experience or the years of goodwill that you’ve built up.

And I think, you know, I’m not blaming phone agents for that, that a lot of times they feel constricted. But giving a little bit of flexibility where it’s just the right judgment call, yes, I think there can be a bigger investment than dumping millions of dollars into an ad campaign. And I, I do think Delta has done that right, where their members feel taken care of. 

They’re not, it’s not the cheapest, you know, and I do understand in the, in the world of aviation especially, where there’s just a focus on price and the cheapest. But, you know, I think the premium brands out there… uh, that have invested in the product, um, consumers are willing to pay more.

Um, and the same goes for points. Um… you know, Delta has, you know, arguably the most valuable co-branded, you know, portfolio. Mm-hmm, it’s in, you look at eight billion in just pure bottom line to Delta’s operations. You know, some airlines are now making more selling freedom flyer miles than they are flying airplanes.

And you know, Delta now has something where in order to, you know, waive the elite status tiers, you have to spend a quarter of a million dollars on their co-branded card. And people are doing it, right. So another thing I’d say to loyalty program managers who are so focused on the people who are gaming, you know, that small fringe who will always game, that’s sort of the part of the program.

Don’t focus as much energy on them as incentivizing the behavior that you want, the spending on your card, the upgrade. And I still think loyalty members, you know, the technology needs to improve. You know, in terms of some airlines, you know, are really good. Air Canada’s actually really good with their app and being able, giving the consumer the ability to search flights.

But so many airlines now, you still have to call to cancel awards. You know, it’s such a waste of time on money on their end with agents. Yeah, so. Okay. I think technology is another big area where empower consumers using chatbots. Actually, I think hotels.com does a really good job. You don’t have to call, they have AI chatbots to help cancel reservations or modify them.

So, I think AI does, can play a really big role. Yeah. But, um, but yeah, in general, there’s, there’s still a lot of friction in travel and loyalty and technology Yeah. Can be a really big way to, to reduce that for the consumer. 

Paula: For sure. And I think as an industry, perhaps what we have suffered from is the legacy technology.

So, the very fact that airlines essentially invented the loyalty industry means we built the technology super early and then neglected to upgrade it. I think in many cases. So, you know, for example, Air Canada, you know, because it’s a more recent program, they have upgraded everything. So that is obviously coming through and the experience, uh, in terms of making sure people feel that beautiful simplicity that we talked about.

So huge amount of insight there. The other big area I wanted to ask you, Brian, and this is a topic which is probably less, um, talked about, I would say for loyalty professionals, but it’s coming through in some quite mature programs and it’s the role of content to drive loyalty. 

And for example, I interviewed Boots in the UK. I’m sure you know one of the biggest pharmacy retailers, uh, with a very famous program goes back I think about 30 years. Um, and Boots have literally said that one of the core, um, areas of focus for their loyalty program, The Advantage program is creating content for their members. So this is something obviously you are doing independently, externally of the industry, but we do have people listening, uh, not just in the US and UK.

For example, our third biggest audience would be in Australia, which doesn’t have, I don’t believe The Points Guy. So would you, I suppose, be in favor or advocate that, again, these busy loyalty program managers who have a lot to do already, do you think that content is a way that can help them differentiate themselves and drive more loyalty?

Brian: Absolutely. Content is the way people ideate and plan travel. And you know, I just, yesterday I went to go see the five foreign films, uh, nominated for Oscar Best Schwartz, and one was Norwegian. One was filmed in Greenland and one was filmed uh, In Italy and Ireland and each short film had beautiful landscape shots.

And I was watching each and I’m like, wow, I want to go visit Greenland tomorrow and these cliffs and inspiration. And it’s stuck in my head. And you know, we see it with TV shows and White Lotus, right? The power of visually seeing, uh, a destination and having your brain just con wrap its mind around it, you know?

Internet search and you know, online travel search is not great and there’s almost too much information on TripAdvisor to even understand and ascertain what hotel, what airline, what’s the experience. And I do think the, the airlines that have teamed up with influencers, United Airlines does it a lot with all their new routes.

You’re gonna see top influencers experiencing Jordan and experiencing Brisbane. I see it across. And how brilliant is that, that you can get earned media for free across people’s devices just by giving free flights. And you know, I, I love the medias. Oh, influencers just want free trips. And all these, you know, you always see a viral news story of Irish hotelier kicks out influencer, and it’s such a dumb, dumb mentality.

You need to understand the way the media’s moving to is devices, right? And a paid ad from your brand. Yeah, that might work. But if you get in front of an influencer that has respect from their audience, I mean, when I travel on certain area, when I flirt first flew the Q Suites on Qatar, I was blown away, and then created content on how to use Advantage Miles to fly it.

Thousands and thousands of people have done that. So, for any loyalty program manager today, if you are still of the mindset that influencers just want a freebie, you are in the stone age. You need to wake up, you need to leverage. There’s so much powerful marketing you can do for your brand, and you have to be in content marketing.

If your loyalty program is not explaining how, it works is not highlighting its members’ experiences. Yeah. You are missing out and you, you know, it’s, it’s just the way it is. Right. I, I don’t know how, how else to say it., there’s a lot of different ways to work with influencer. A lot of times you don’t even need to pay them.

Um, yeah. So, yeah. Content. That’s how our minds work. We wanna see YouTube, you know, YouTube is huge, right? And, um, yeah, so many, you know, it’s really interesting. I know a lot of influencers, I know all the top travel influencers and a lot of time, you know, we deserve to get compensated for work, but there’s still a lot of influencers and a lot of celebrities.

We, we can give free hotels to celebrities and don’t do advertising. Uh, and be, because there’s something about getting travel for free. If they did a brand deal, they’d want a hundred thousand minimum. But you can give someone a free $4,000 hotel and that’s totally, that’s almost more valuable to them. So, for all the loyalty program managers out there, test around, you know, with, with your program, with inviting influential people.

And it doesn’t have to be the biggest mega influencers. You know, ask your kids like, who are you following? Right? And how cool would it be if you could engage with your kids’ top influencers and, and do fun things where you can do a… a hundred-thousand-point giveaway to their audience, right? So, you invite them to your hotel or airline. Like… Yeah, have fun.

And I think so I helped another loyalty program that I probably should have mentioned as my favorite is Bilt. So, I don’t know if you’ve, um, talked to Dave Canty, Bilt Rewards?

Paula: He’s been on the show. Absolutely. Brian. My god, it’s genius. 

Brian: One of my favorite, you know, in addition to doing the Points Guy, I advise a lot of startups and Bilt, has been my, one of my career highlights of getting in with them early in 2020 and helping them envision this new program to earn points on rent.

Yeah. And we brought together, you know, the most incredible, it is the most valuable, loyal, you know, credit card loyalty program and the fact that you can transfer built points to American and United. That’s unheard of. 

Paula: Um, it’s incredible. Yeah. 

Brian: But what built does too, they have fun, uh, you know, because rent is our brand and everyone pays rent and we hate doing it.

Paula: Totally. 

Brian: On the first of every month, we have our rent day rewards where you get double points on your travel and dining. We give free rent to our users. We had a promotion with Hawaiian Airlines double, you know, transfer bonus. So, creating, and that content is brilliant, where we have influencers every month, be our host.

Yeah. And they get tons of followers. They’re friends of the brand. I think just injecting fun and thinking outside the box, and it’s not just running a bonus point special or a hundred extra points a night. Like think about what’s core to your brand if you know where you’re based geographically, the, you know, and create fun content around that and on social.

Um, yeah. So, yeah, I know it’s a long answer, but you’ve gotta be having fun and engaging in social and creating content. And if you don’t have a content strategy for your loyalty program, put that on your to-do. 

Paula: Totally. Thank you for, I suppose, you know, reassuring me because I have been advocating exactly this because I think what happens, Brian, and I’m sure you see this, is the airline might have a really good social media strategy and an influencer strategy.

But they neglect to think about the specific members who have very specific needs around content and understanding, particularly the program. So, I think that’s what I’m, I’m, I’m really wanting everyone listening to the show to think about. Do we have a content strategy purely within loyalty within our own department that we control?

And to your point about the influencers, for example, Skywards has done a brilliant job of watching it recently using staff. So again, I mean that’s going to be something that builds an incredible profile. And I’ve seen some of their pilots, I think it was a female pilot, as it happens, put people from across the Emirates business creating travel videos in Emirate’s destinations and that is being broadcast on board. 

And I just thought that that is an unbelievably brilliant strategy. And another one I saw as well, Brian recently, which I think you’ll appreciate. I saw Paris Hilton doing a 10-minute TikTok, which was literally branded as, I bet you’re not gonna watch this 10-minute TikTok, but if you do, you get Hilton honors points.

Brian: Yeah. Brilliant. And what’s her honeymoon? I mean, talk about a perfect brand partnership. 

Paula: Oh my God, it was incredible. So, so I am fully, um, aligned with your perspective. Um, you know, content has a role to play. It’s not something we talk very much about on this show. So definitely wanted to get your perspective on that.

I guess the final piece I wanted to just ask you was, you know, where are you at now in terms of numbers for the business? So, I know it’s grown exponentially, and then I guess, where’s it gonna go to, what’s next for the Points Guy? 

Brian: Well, so, you know, as we think about our business today, so the website is still our core, you know, metrics.

So, at thepointsguy.com, we’ve got about 12 million monthly unique visitors. Uh, I would say 85% of those are in the US you know, very high-end audience. Business travelers, luxury travelers. Um, and you know, on YouTube, we’ve our, especially our UK team, we do our three and four cabin reviews where we have multiple reviewers and coach economy, I mean coach, premium business and first class.

And we do a simultaneous video review, which go viral. Cool. Um, social media, we’ve got around 2 million followers and our newsletters are really huge. So I write a weekly newsletter every Saturday, if you just Google the Points Guy weekly newsletter, sign up for that. We have our daily newsletter where we recap everything that’s happening in travel and loyalty.

Um, that’s got about 800,000 followers. Um, and I think the next big thing for us that I’m working on in my new role is kind of our core media spokesperson and brand evangelist is working on a TV show. So, we’ve teamed up with a production company in LA and I would love to create the first travel TV show that actually teaches you how to get there.

You know, there have been millions of travel shows. Great. You’re in Tuscany at this beautiful vineyard. But how do I do that? Right. You know, I think and loyalty and points can unlock unbelievable experiences. So, what I’ve pitched, and hopefully I think, you know, hopefully a network will pick it up. We’re, we’re gonna go out to market very soon, is the show that teaches everyday people how to leverage their loyalty to have amazing experiences.

So you are getting the destination, but you’re also getting.. oh, I didn’t know if I paid for my wedding and my caterer on a credit card that gives me points for dining. And you know, online shopping’s a huge way to earn points that so many people don’t know about. So each episode you’re getting kind of an earn and burn tip on loyalty and then paired up with, oh, here’s the best way to go to Bali on points.

Here’s the best way to go to Iceland. And um, you know, the more you save using points, the more cool experiences you can invest in when you’re traveling. So, wow. That’s what I’m excited about. So… 

Paula: Oh, my goodness. Wow. Well, I feel like we need to already schedule a follow up call maybe next year, Brian, and just kind of, oh my God.

Just to hear about that show. That sounds incredible. And just before I forget, um, in terms of your numbers you quoted before we came on air, an incredible open rate as well, which I really believe has to be the highest I’ve ever heard in the industry, Brian. So would you share that as well? Because what I think again is there are so many airline loyalty people listening to this show, hotel loyalty people, so just to give them a sense of what’s possible in, in engagement.

Tell us about your open rate for that 1 million people. Yeah. Subscriber newsletter.

Brian: So the there, our daily newsletters about 900,000 subscribers and that newsletter gets about 75% open rate. And granted, our newsletter team is constantly cleaning. Yeah. So we don’t have, you know, this is not an inflated list with a tiny open rate.

This is a clean up-to-date list. Yeah. Uh, and my weekly, we have about 750,000, uh, and that’s at about 70, 65 to 70%. I’d like to say it’s because throughout the week people are reading our daily, so sometimes people feel like we’ve gotten the news. So I don’t take it as a as a hit that it’s slightly lower because 65, 70% is still incredible for such a big list.

So yeah, you know, we’ve got a really, uh, engaged audience. People know that they need to stay up to date on everything going on. And I do think at The Points Guy, we’ve got a very, even though we’re pro consumer, we’re also very pro travel and we love working with this. Some people will say, sometimes, do the airlines hate you?

No, the airlines should love us because we explain their programs in ways that they can’t, you know, to their, you know, we do the nitty gritty. This is actually how you redeem for premium economy. And this is what the seat looks like and this is what the meal is. And yeah, so. And the more people get, get into loyalty, the better for travel industry.

That’s, that’s our take. So, and we’re independent. So, there are times where airlines may not like our reviews or, but at the end of the day we tell it how it is. And I think, you know, whenever there’s certain brands not living up to ex.. expectation, I know a lot of people in the industry say, hey, I hate that you called out our airline for not having great food, but now I can at least show it to our senior management and say, this is an issue. Listen, so. 

Paula: Totally. Yeah. The Points Guy said it’s gotta be true, huh.

Brian: We’re positive overall. Yeah. We’re all on the same page. And promoting travel. And they travel course for good in the world.

Paula: Absolutely. And, and holding us accountable as an industry, Brian. So, I do think that level of transparency is something that, while I know it can be mildly terrifying, I did work for a, you know, a couple of programs that I remember being nervous, um, if something was gonna be covered by you guys. So, I totally get it, but I also think that that’s a good thing.

So, um, really admire the work that you do. Um, I don’t have any other more questions for you, Brian. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention for our audience before we wrap up?

Brian: I’d just like to, yeah, I mean thepointsguy.com is our site and @thepointsguy on all social media. But then my personal Instagram where I detail my travels in depth, uh, traveling with a four-month-old child and also just a little bit of my life.

I love horses and spends a lot of time on a horse farm. So, I’m @briankelly on Instagram and that’s where I like to interact a lot with my followers. So, follow along. DM me if you ever have a question, and uh, safe travels to everyone.

Paula: Thank you so much, Brian. Congrats on becoming a dad. I know that’s a big highlight for you in the last few months, so wonderfully exciting for you.

Your next adventure, dare I say so I will say Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty.

Brian: Thanks for having me.

Paula: This show is sponsored by the Wise Marketer. The world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing, news, insights, and research. The Wise Marketeer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which is already certified over 500 executives in 38 countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals.

For more information, check out thewisemarketer.com at loyaltyacademy.org.

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