Brian Kelly Reveals How to Choose the Right Credit Card and Redeem Ultimate Rewards

Aug 21, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Talking Points took a trip over to Chase’s flagship branch in NYC for this week’s episode, and had a chat with JPMorgan’s Head of Branch Banking and Wealth Management, Pam Codispoti. For this live chat, Codispoti led the conversation with Talking Points host, and The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly. Brian talked about how he earns and utilizes his Ultimate Rewards, and provided advice for people looking to maximize their points — plus tips on how to choose the right credit cards. TPG also answered a few questions from the audience at the end, including one on why TPG pulled a published opinion column on Marriott Bonvoy.

Key Takeaways

  • Identifying your biggest spend categories
  • Separating personal and business spend
  • Choosing between cobranded cards and a premium rewards card

“The first thing you want to do is just take a look at what are you spending your money on…The goal is to try and earn more than one point per dollar.”

TPG also touched on the brand’s origins and how partnerships with companies like Chase have allowed it to grow and give back. For example, we partnered with Chase to offer up one million Ultimate Rewards as the grand prize for donating to our summer Prizeo campaign for Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit organization that assists LGBTQI individuals in escaping persecution.

This Chase Chat was webcast to many branches around the the country, and you can check out your local branch for other Chats.

Featured Photo by Lucy Kennedy

Full Transcript:

Brian Kelly: Welcome to Talking Points. I’m your host, Brian Kelly. And today you’re in for a treat with this episode because we are going to go live in front of a studio audience, but, not actually in a studio per se. Think ATMs. That’s right — we taped this episode in a bank. And not just any bank. Talking Points visited Chase’s first flagship branch in the heart of New York City. It’s a brand-new space at 390 Madison Avenue, and this is one of the most innovative bank branches I’ve ever been in. In fact, it almost seems more like an airport first class lounge. It’s got amazing amenities and design elements for creating a super unique and modern environment for anyone who walks through their doors. So if you’re in New York City, check out this cool branch at 390 Madison Ave. Today I’m sitting down with the Head of Branch Banking and Wealth Management at JP Morgan Chase, Pam Codispoti. We’re going to talk about everything from…

Brian Kelly: (excerpt plays) It’s smart, too, to have a small business credit card. They don’t affect your utilization, which is an important factor of your personal score.

Brian Kelly:  And of course TPG’s origin. And my spirit animal.

Brian Kelly: (excerpt plays) Celine Dion is telling me to pursue a full time career as The Points Guy.

Brian Kelly: I also tackle some audience Q&As. So sit back, tune in, and safe travels.

Pam Codispoti: Hi everybody, and welcome. We are broadcasting live from our flagship branch at 390 Madison Avenue in New York, but we are delighted to welcome our colleagues and clients in dozens of branches around the US. And we are delighted to welcome you today to one of our Chase Chats. And a Chase Chat is simply an opportunity for us to bring in our customers to talk about topics that are really important to them. It could be about retirement, or saving for children’s education, or a really hot topic like how to use rewards points from your credit card to live your life’s dreams. And that’s the topic for today. So we have a terrific crowd here, and we are so honored and delighted to have Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, the preeminent expert in how to use your points to have wonderful experiences. So welcome, Brian, to the stage.

Brian Kelly: All right. Thank you.

Pam Codispoti: So have a seat. So Brian, this is a terrific moment for me because last time …

Brian Kelly: It’s full circle.

Pam Codispoti: … we were together, things are coming full circle, you were interviewing me when I was in the card business, and we were launching Sapphire Reserve. So now I get to turn the tables a little bit and interview you.

Brian Kelly:  I’m nervous. So first of all, this is so beautiful. I’ve never …

Pam Codispoti: I know. It’s a gorgeous branch.

Brian Kelly: I don’t even think you can call this a branch. I mean it’s like a …

Pam Codispoti: It’s an experience. It’s an advice center.

Brian Kelly: It’s an experience.

Pam Codispoti: It’s so much more. So we are so excited to have you. And before we get into the meat of the conversation around points and perks, and how to take the best advantage of those, we wanted to get to know you a little bit better. So, a little bird told me that although you’re known for points and travel, you actually started off in finance. Fact or fiction?

Brian Kelly: Sort of fact. Well, I mean, I worked at Morgan Stanley, but I was in HR. So some people in finance say you can’t say you worked on Wall Street because I was a lowly HR person. But I was doing all of our recruiting for technology, and for our campus recruiting. So I was running the intern programs and stuff. But that’s where I started traveling like crazy, banking tons of points by being smart about my business travel and my credit cards. And that’s what led me …

Pam Codispoti: That’s where you got the bug for travel.

Brian Kelly: Yes, basically. And it was, during ’07 to 2011. So it was a tough time. But, so I was traveling a ton and getting …

Pam Codispoti: Making the most…

Brian Kelly: … millions of points.

Pam Codispoti: … out of your points.

Brian Kelly: Not dollars, but points.

Pam Codispoti: So the other thing we thought maybe just to get to know you, would you mind if we just did a little bit of a speed round with you?

Brian Kelly: Anything is fair game, Pam.

Pam Codispoti: A lightning round. Okay, you ready guys? So bucket list travel experience.

Brian Kelly: I highly recommend the Maldives. They’re really far away, but there’s just something to be said about being in the middle of the Indian Ocean on a speck of sand. No cars. The stars, the sea. It’s like a totally unbelievable beach getaway.

Pam Codispoti: Oh my gosh. It’s on my list too.

Brian Kelly: And you can use points to get there and stay at some of the nicest hotels.

Pam Codispoti: All right. Window seat or aisle seat?

Brian Kelly: Definitely window seat. You get the best view. I’m also a little paranoid on planes that the overhead bins are going to open up and come and kill me.

Pam Codispoti: I was going to say with those long legs, you might be an aisle guy, but you’re window.

Brian Kelly: I’m 6’7. So being on planes, I think using the airplane lavatory standing up, if there’s ever turbulence, that’s my time to go.

Pam Codispoti: So what’s your packing essential other than, of course, your credit card?

Brian Kelly: I never leave home without Bose QC 35 headphones. So, you know, I love kids. Kids on planes can be bothersome at times, but if you’ve got your trusty noise canceling headphones …

Pam Codispoti: It doesn’t matter.

Brian Kelly: And I actually, a lot of time, I don’t even listen to music on them. I kind of meditate, put them on, put the noise canceling on, and either read a book or just sit and admire the view from the window.

Pam Codispoti: You can be zen no matter what’s going on around you. Number one travel time saver?

Brian Kelly: So I highly recommend, so Global Entry is $100 every five years. There are certain credit cards that will offer it, like the Sapphire Reserve. And with that you also get TSA PreCheck. But, I also recommend if you’re a frequent traveler, especially on Delta, United now has a partnership with CLEAR, it’s $179 a year, less if you have status. And it actually bumps you to the front of the TSA PreCheck line. If you can handle the daggers that people stare at you when you’re cutting, you know, the PreCheck line is the fast one, and then when you bump up to the fast one, you’ve got to have a thick skin.

Pam Codispoti: Okay, last question. What’s your go-to road trip song?

Brian Kelly: Well, I have a fondness for Celine Dion. She sort of my spirit animal. She had a song called “Taking Chances,” and when I was deciding whether to leave my job at Morgan Stanley, everyone in my life was like, “You’re insane. There’s no such thing as an ok blogger, you can’t be a travel blogger, it’s not a real job.” And she had this song called Taking Chances. And I was walking through midtown as I was going to 750 7th Avenue. And I was listening to it, and I had this like out-of-body experience about taking chances, jumping off a ledge, not knowing what’s below. And I was like, “This song speaks to me. Celine Dion is telling me to pursue a full-time career as The Points Guy.” So Celine is like my spirit animal. I actually told her that story when I met her four years ago. And then I met her recently, and she said, “Well do you need me to make another song for you?”

Pam Codispoti: It’s for the next chapter.

Brian Kelly: And I was panicking. She’s the one person that really makes me starstruck. And she just came out with a new song called “Flying On My Own,” and it’s all about flying, you know, on the runway. I was like,  “She made that song for me.”

Pam Codispoti: She was thinking of you.

Brian Kelly: So, Celine Dion …

Pam Codispoti: She was thinking of you.

Brian Kelly: … helped me launch The Points Guy.

Pam Codispoti: That’s awesome. That’s great. So listen, we did want to talk a little bit about credit cards, and many of us have one or more credit cards in our wallet. But you study this all the time. Help us think through how to select the card that’s best for us, for each person.

Brian Kelly: The first thing you want to do is just take a look at: what are you spending your money on? I know a lot of people, if you live in New York City, and you’re taking public transit, or you’re paying for parking, look at the categories, and on cards like the Sapphire Reserve, like travel. What people don’t realize, travel includes MTA, it includes parking, tolls, a whole bunch of other categories, and that’s 3X points.

Brian Kelly: You know, the goal is to try to earn more than one point per dollar as a consumer. The more points the better. But with Freedom there’s rotating, really rich 5X categories. So it can be dizzying to kind of think about. But you guys make it fun for consumers where we can mix and match… you know, have a credit card, if you have a small business, that is really rich. So the number one credit card that I earned my points on is my Ink Preferred because we spend so much on online advertising at The Points Guy. And even though I’ve sold the company, part of the deal when I sold was that I would still get to run all of our millions of dollars of expenses on my personal credit cards.

Pam Codispoti: That was part of the fine print of the agreement.

Brian Kelly: Which my accountant at times will call me, and be like, “Did you just spend $1 million on Facebook?” And I’m like, “It’s fine. We’ll get paid. It’s all about the points.”

Pam Codispoti: It’s all about the points.

Brian Kelly: “You’re giving me a heart attack.” But so, yeah. I mean, so look at what you spend your money on. And then choose cards. And if you don’t want to deal with it, the Freedom Unlimited is a no-brainer. No fee, one and a half points on everything.

Pam Codispoti: You don’t have to think.

Brian Kelly: You don’t have to think about it.

Pam Codispoti: You just know you’re always going to get that. And he could use it for travel or anything. So when we last spoke, and we were talking about the launch of Sapphire Reserve, we had a conversation about the fact that a lot of credit cards have obviously really rich points offerings, but they also have other perks. When you think about that balance of points and perks, what are some of the perks that you look for, or the benefits or insurances?

Brian Kelly: So recently, WOW Air, which was a great, cheap airline that flew to Iceland, all of a sudden went under. And the wacky thing about airlines is when the funding dries up, there’s no more flights. So we had so many TPG readers stuck in Reykjavik, which is a crazy expensive city to begin with. And they’re like, “What do we do? My airline’s no longer.” And anyone who booked on the Sapphire cards had $10,000 in trip interruption coverage.

Brian Kelly: And every single one of our readers we talked to … Instead of waiting for … because your airline, they’re not going to rebook you because they don’t exist anymore. So they were able to book expensive last-minute flights, and Chase fully reimbursed them. It’s up to $10,000. Other issuers, we have a blog post outlining most other big issuers that you think might have protection actually don’t. Some of them have recently rolled it back, whereas Chase has held strong with that trip interruption. So that peace of mind is a huge perk.

Brian Kelly: And then the other stuff, the fun stuff. The lounges, Priority Pass with the Chase card, makes going to the airport that much better. And then also I love going to events and experiences. Sundance, if you’ve never done it, if you have Chase products, Chase does Sundance really, really well. Normally at film festivals you’re waiting in the freezing cold. And Chase with your partnership, and the house on Main.

Pam Codispoti: It’s pretty cool, right?

Brian Kelly: It’s the VIP way to do Sundance. I haven’t done it in the last year or two, but I think, I think I’ve got to go back this year.

Pam Codispoti: And we just find that so many of our customers, they have a lot of points, they want the travel for air, hotel, but some of these experiences that they couldn’t curate on their own, and are kind of once-in-a-life, whether it’s Sundance or going to a sports event.

Brian Kelly: What are some of the other ones? Because you guys now have…

Pam Codispoti: … going to a sports events, there’s golfing.

Brian Kelly: … the stadiums.

Pam Codispoti: Yes. Yes.

Brian Kelly: And I know at MSG, when I go to concerts, I get my VIP entry.

Pam Codispoti: It’s pretty cool. Right? Because you just feel like it’s a special experience. A behind-the-ropes experience.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Pam Codispoti: So that’s awesome. So tell us, or maybe just give us one example, of just an incredible experience that you’ve had using almost virtually all points.

Brian Kelly: All points. Well, every year I take my parents on a trip, they’re recently retired.

Pam Codispoti: You’re a good son.

Brian Kelly: They’re super fun. My mom hates being on Instagram. And now she’s such a diva. She’ll actually demand that I pay for a blowout for her before she comes. So I’ve created a monster. I think deep down she actually loves being on Instagram. She has fans now. When we go to our TPG events, she’ll have more people waiting to talk to her than me.

Pam Codispoti: That’s awesome.

Brian Kelly: But I think my favorite trip was I took them to Ghana. So, I do a lot of work, we do a lot of charity work at The Points Guy — I’m the global ambassador for an organization called PeaceJam, and we’re basically the organization to take 14 of the world’s best Nobel Peace Prize winners from the Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu. And we actually take them around the world, and do these conferences for kids to kind of create…

Pam Codispoti: Oh my gosh.

Brian Kelly: … that next generation of nonviolent leader.

Pam Codispoti: That’s awesome.

Brian Kelly: And we have a curriculum based on all these different laureates, and basically how kids in tough communities, especially, can take the learnings of these Nobel Peace Prize winners, these people who have been through hell and back, but yet accomplished amazing things like ending civil wars using peaceful methods.

Brian Kelly: So, my parents had always heard about my work with them. And it was kind of funny, they had never been to Africa. And every time I went they were like, “Be careful.” And in the media people have misconceptions about a lot of places on this earth. And so we redeemed all of our points and flew on Delta. We used our United miles transferred from Chase to go to Tanzania on Ethiopian Air. But they got to see (it) first-hand, and my parents fell in love with Ghana. They actually ended up connecting with one of our PeaceJam kids, and ended up sponsoring him to go to college.

Pam Codispoti: Oh my gosh.

Brian Kelly: And now he’s basically an unofficial son of my parents. He actually writes these beautifully flowerful language. Like, for Mother’s Day, I’m like, he’s totally one upping me now, because he sends handwritten scrolls to my parents like, “Dearest Suzanne and Brian.” So taking my parents on that trip, and then also going on safari. That’s another bucket list trip. If you’ve never been on safari, it is …

Pam Codispoti: It’s a must-do.

Brian Kelly: I’ve been on four or five now. So to wake up in the middle of the Serengeti with my parents. Safari, at the time, I think if I would’ve had my Sapphire Reserve then, this was right before the Reserve launched. But so yeah, taking my parents to Africa, and giving back while doing it, I think is the best way to use it.

Pam Codispoti: That’s incredible. What an incredible story. And I always talk to you about my seven year old …

Brian Kelly: You’ve done safari, right?

Pam Codispoti: I have seven year old twin boys, and that is, maybe one or two more years, but that’s on our bucket list for sure.

Brian Kelly: Because I think they, like nine is a good age for them. But so your husband’s Australian. How do you … Do you use your points to go down under?

Pam Codispoti: We do, actually. So my husband’s Australian, and he was actually born in Tasmania. People sometimes get confused with Tanzania, but it’s a very different place…

Brian Kelly: Yes, much different.

Pam Codispoti: … in Australia. But every year we have to save up lots of points. Because with two small children, we don’t want to disrupt people all around us. So we try to get seats that are … they’re good and far away from others.

Brian Kelly: You know.. Wait. So wait, hold on, wait a minute.

Pam Codispoti: Try to protect them a little bit.

Brian Kelly: You book your kids away from you?

Pam Codispoti: No.

Brian Kelly: I was like, wait a minute.

Pam Codispoti: Try to get as close together in a bit of a corner of the plane.

Brian Kelly: I got it. Okay.

Pam Codispoti: I worry more about the other passengers.

Brian Kelly: But do you know who’s a huge fan of Tasmania? I just had her on my podcast. Martha Stewart.

Pam Codispoti: Yes, she was just there. Martha Stewart was just there.

Brian Kelly: She could not say enough …

Pam Codispoti: It’s beautiful. So maybe it should be on your bucket list. Put it on.

Brian Kelly: Let’s go. Let’s go right now.

Pam Codispoti: But I love your passion for giving back. And I know that we partnered with you on something called the Rainbow Railroad Donation Program. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, and why it’s so important to you?

Brian Kelly: So about three years ago, I was reading the New York Times, and there was this article about gay concentration camps in Chechnya. And I get chills even thinking about it now. And I remember reading and thinking, so in Chechnya, the government leadership basically doesn’t believe that being LGBT is a thing. And they want to rid their region of the scourge …

Pam Codispoti: Oh my god.

Brian Kelly: … of being gay. And they actually have these camps, and people are being tortured and killed and being disappeared. And I remember thinking, “This is 2017. It’s not true. This can’t be true.” But then, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times are not gossip rags. And I ended up learning more about it. How can we help these people? So there’s an organization called Rainbow Railroad, very similar to the Underground Railroad that during slavery helped get people to safety. It’s a network of volunteers and activists around the world. And in places like — Jamaica is actually a really bad place for LGBT people — so we actually get the most at-risk people, and we get them to safety. So we fly them. So we use frequent flyer miles. Since then, we’ve saved a ton of people. I’ve actually …

Pam Codispoti: That’s amazing.

Brian Kelly: … gotten to meet with the group of the Chechens who are now in Toronto, and (have) slashes on their faces. This is a reality in our world. And I’m gay, and out, and able to live an incredible life being authentically me. And I think it’s just important to note, not everyone has that. So Rainbow Railroad’s amazing. Thank you guys. So we have a Prizeo campaign now where we’re giving away a trip of a lifetime with using up to a million Chase points, planned by yours truly. So if you win, we’ll fly you to New York. I’ll teach you all the tricks. We’re gonna … you can plan the most unbelievable trip, and all of the proceeds go to Rainbow Railroad. So prizeo.com/savelives.

Pam Codispoti: So on behalf of everybody at Chase, I mean, what you’re doing is so amazing and we’re just happy to be part of that, and helping to make a difference.

Brian Kelly: Appreciate it.

Pam Codispoti: Thank you for that. I have one or two more for you, and then I know that the folks in the audience are dying to jump in. So you are kind of known as a maximizer of points. The ultimate maximizer of points. When you think about using your points, are there a couple of things on your checklist that you’d want to share with the audience on how to make the most of their points?

Brian Kelly: Absolutely. So if you’ve got Ultimate Rewards points with the Sapphire card, there’s a couple of key ways you can use your points. The easiest is just going in and you can redeem for statement credit or for gift cards. You can book through Ultimate Rewards Travel. So if you’ve got Preferred, you’re going to get 1.25 cents per point.

Brian Kelly: If you’ve got a Reserve card, which — I know a lot of people will say the Reserve, it’s $450. But my dad taught me something when I was a kid, like, cheap is expensive. So if you travel, the Reserve comes with a $300 travel credit off the bat. So you’re really paying 150 bucks a year for a card that gives you lounge access, that gives you 3X on all travel and dining. So even though the Sapphire Preferred’s $95 and 2X … I won’t get too into the weeds. But the Reserve is generally… it won our readers … 50,000 of our readers voted last year. And the Reserve won the best kind of premium card out there. There’s actually a, I wore it on stage at our award ceremony, it was a custom blazer adorned in Sapphire Reserve cards. So to say I’m a fan would be an understatement.

Brian Kelly: So Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel, it’s super easy to book flights, any flight pretty much, any airline, cruise. But if you want to up it to the next level, Chase allows you to transfer to partners like United and Hyatt. I know my assistant who has been working for me for six months now … at The Points Guy, one of our unique perks is we actually reimburse for credit card fees for our employees.

Pam Codispoti: Nice.

Brian Kelly: Because it’s part of our culture. So she’s now a Chase point experts. She just went to Majorca. It’s a $1,300-a night-hotel that she was able to use 30,000 Hyatt points.

Pam Codispoti: That’s amazing.

Brian Kelly: So when you think, she’s getting, like, 4 cents per point in value, which is really, if you redeem at the Park Hyatt Paris, or if you go to the Maldives — the Park Hyatt Maldives is only 25,000 points a night for a $1,000 hotel. So when you’re doing the math, that’s 4 cents per point in value. So as much as one and a half is good, for flexibility …

Pam Codispoti: Four percent’s better.

Brian Kelly: Four percent can be better. And then when you’re earning three points per dollar on your travel and dining, and if you were to redeem at 4 cents a point, you’re getting 12 and a half percent back. So that’s what I get excited about as The Points Guy. So for everyday people, consumers who want just cash back, that one and a half percent is definitely a solid, no annual fee, simple, it’s a no-brainer. If you want to play the points game, you can get unbelievable rewards. But it does take a little bit of time and effort.

Pam Codispoti: And it’s a bit of a treasure hunt element to it. Because even some of the point transfer airlines, you have to think more broadly than some of the majors, right? You talked about Ethiopian Airlines and others, right?

Brian Kelly: Yeah. And redeeming on partner airlines can can sometimes be …

Pam Codispoti: Very lucrative.

Brian Kelly: … an amazing value. British Airways has really high fees when you go to Europe, but it’s only 25,000 Chase points to go coach from the West Coast to Hawaii. That’s economy, but it’s on a flight that could be $800. So it’s not just first class to the Maldives. And that’s why, at The Points Guy, we last year acquired a site called Mommy Points, and we now have a whole family travel vertical.

Brian Kelly: We have 100 employees at The Points Guy now. Our editorial staff is from all walks of life. We’ve just hired a military points expert, because companies like Chase will actually, due to the Card Act, help pay for the annual fees of active duty military, which is awesome. Thank you guys for supporting our troops.

Brian Kelly: But the points transfer game is where there’s a lot of a value. And at The Points Guy we have how to maximize Chase points, Google it. And we’ve got a whole team of experts constantly digging in. So that’s what I love about points. I mean they are currency that the more you mine your knowledge in, the more valuable they become. How cool is that?

Pam Codispoti: Anything we should watch out for? Any pitfalls?

Brian Kelly: Any pitfalls? No, I mean I think it still boggles my mind how often people still use cash … when I’m at Starbucks, and I’m just like, “Noooooooo!”

Pam Codispoti: That’s true because…

Brian Kelly: I understand…

Pam Codispoti: … every single …

Brian Kelly: Every dollar counts.

Pam Codispoti: Every dollar counts towards your points.

Brian Kelly: And I know people will… So even if you get the Reserve card, and you forget to update, Uber’s 3X using Reserves. So I know a lot of people it’s, yes it’s a little bit of a pain when you get a new card to update. But streaming this quarter is 5X on Freedom. So if you’ve got that card, like, pay attention to the rotating categories. I think a lot of people get complacent. And yes, it’s not fun to change your account. But when you start realizing the value of these points, and the money you’re leaving on the table by not maximizing …

Brian Kelly: And then I will say just, as a consumer expert, if you’re carrying big balances, and you’re paying interest, you’re likely going negate the value of all those points.

Pam Codispoti: That’s right.

Brian Kelly: So the goal is to pay your bills off in full every month, or as much as you can, so that you reap the value of the points without getting hit with fees.

Pam Codispoti: That is such a good point because credit cards are such a wonderful way to pay. They’re a safe way to pay. You can get …

Brian Kelly: Protections.

Pam Codispoti: Protections, and you get points and other perks. But it never masks the need to always be responsible …

Brian Kelly: Financially.

Pam Codispoti: … spend wisely, and make sure your credit score is always …

Brian Kelly: Absolutely.

Pam Codispoti: … on the rise. Right?

Brian Kelly: And you guys give free FICO scores.

Pam Codispoti: We do. We have something called Credit Journey. So all of our customers, and anybody who isn’t a customer, can get a free access to a credit score with alerts and tips on how to improve it. So it’s really important because that credit card is a really important piece of your overall financial strategy.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. And we actually are about to embark this fall on a college tour. I spoke at a couple of college campuses. A lot of people just are not educated.

Pam Codispoti: That’s right.

Brian Kelly: And I think in the branch you guys do an amazing job at helping educate people. In fact, I always joke, we’re across the street from a Chase branch, and whenever my ego’s down, I’ll walk into a Chase branch, because so many of your bankers actually have printouts of The Points Guy, stuff to help inform consumers.

Brian Kelly: For anyone out there, I know a lot of people were told “Credit’s bad, bad. Don’t do it.” And certainly for a certain population of people who are in debt, or can’t pay, then absolutely not. But for average consumers who are smart about their finances — and FICO says on their website what goes into a credit score, it’s not a secret. It’s paying your bills on time, and keeping your debt-to-credit ratio low.

Brian Kelly: So actually, our readers may have a couple of credit cards. The more available credit you have, as long as you pay it on time, that’s 35% of your score. And then you pay it down. So if you actually get one credit card or two credit cards over time, you have more available credit, and you’re using less. So your score actually goes up.

Pam Codispoti: It’s a great way to build your credit …

Brian Kelly: To build your credit …

Pam Codispoti: … over time, which then helps you as you think about buying a home, or other things.

Brian Kelly: Starting with the Freedom card, maybe that doesn’t have an annual fee, that makes it very easy to pay and gives transparency. And then you graduate to the Sapphire. And then on the business side, the business cards are…

Pam Codispoti: The Ink card is a really …

Brian Kelly: Ink Preferred is, if you’ve got a small business, (an) 80,000 point sign-up bonus. That is really rich. And it’s smart, too, to have a small business credit card, not only to separate your finances, but small business credit cards sit on your small business, or your business credit reports. So it’s still guaranteed by your personal credit, but they don’t affect your utilization, which is an important factor of your personal score.

Pam Codispoti: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for those tips. So guys, does anybody in the audience have anything that they want to ask Brian?

Speaker 3: Hi, thanks so much for coming out. Big follower of The Points Guy, especially the AvGeek stuff with the reviews. Really awesome. My question has to do with the Starwood/Marriott merger. I think it’s no secret that it really could be going better. I think Richard Kerr, one of your contributors, posted an article about Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson being out to lunch, and then it got taken down. So you caught some flack from that in the points community. So my question is, how do you navigate that line between being the champion of your readers versus the people who you’re reviewing?

Brian Kelly: And let me be clear, so we took that post down because it was perceived as a personal attack against Arne. And that’s just not how we do business at The Points Guy. And before that, we had tons of articles talking about the program. But I made the decision because it was perceived by a lot of people at Marriott, and we want to have good relationships in the industry. That’s how I do business.

Brian Kelly: So we took it down because it was damaging to our relationship. And actually how we benefit our readers is by having those contacts with all of our partners. So yes, it is a tough line to draw. And by the way, Richard is who I was alluding to as our military hire. He’s now our loyalty and engagement editor full time. He just joined two weeks ago. He’s since written a ton of constructively critical posts of Marriott.

Brian Kelly: The brands we work with, Chase included, want to know when they’re messing up. We have a powerful platform. In the last 12 months, 80 million unique visitors have come to The Points Guy. Every CEO — CEOs read our stuff. So it’s important for me for us to be a classy brand. So it was a tough decision. Because I also support our writers, and we do need to hold these loyalty brands accountable. So, I think, we are not paid by Marriott, with these changes. Yes, the CMO of Marriott is a friend of mine, and invited me to an event. And so I will do events with our partners. I’m close with our partners. It’s a tough balance. But at the end of the day, our readers know our readers are our boss, right? And we won’t keep growing if we’re not serving them. So we’re advocating for our readers, but we also do want to be classy in the way we do it. So it’s a tough balance. But I do think our coverage of Marriott’s been accurate. I still think there’s huge value to have in the program. I’m booked at the St. Regis Venice this year, $1,500 a night, 80,000 points a night. So, I mean, I still get value from the program. It’s not all horrible. But for sure there have been a lot of blunders, which they’ve admitted and they’re working on.

Speaker 3: Thanks so much. And tell him to get rid of resort fees.

Brian Kelly: Get rid of the… Oh yeah. I mean, we’re totally anti-resort fees, and obviously the government’s now stepping in, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. But we’re fully supportive. By the way, what’s your favorite kind of flight review of ours?

Speaker 3: I loved the 747 El Al because you panned them.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Speaker 3: It was just… no, but …

Brian Kelly: That actually made the Israeli …

Speaker 3: … that any one’s like a first flight, initial flight, or last flight, those are just so cool.

Brian Kelly: That actually made the Israeli news. So we use points, actually, to pay for all of our flights. We don’t take freebies from airlines and hotels, so our reviews …

Pam Codispoti: So they can be independent.

Brian Kelly: Be independent.

Pam Codispoti: Absolutely.

Brian Kelly: I actually liked my experience. They served us rancid food. It was just … There’s no way around it. I was a frat boy in Pittsburgh. I’ve eaten some nasty things in my life. The food on board was truly just — it was bad.

Pam Codispoti: Not edible.

Brian Kelly: So we were honest about that.

Pam Codispoti: You have to be unbiased, right?

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Pam Codispoti: In your assessment. Great questions. Thank you so much. Anybody else?

Speaker 4: So I have a question about airline cards, so co-branded airline cards. Do airlines give you better status? So I’ve great status on an airline, but do they give customers that have that co-brand card better status, more perks because of that?

Brian Kelly: It depends on the co-branded card. Generally the premium cards do. United being the exception, and this is something maybe I can put… Well, you’re not in cards anymore, necessarily, but you …

Pam Codispoti: I have friends in cards.

Brian Kelly: You’ve got friends.

Pam Codispoti: I’ll pass on the message.

Brian Kelly: 27:04 So United actually has a continental card that’s gives EQM’s, but they don’t currently have a premium card that gives elite qualifying miles. Delta does. American has several. You’ve got to spend a ton. But co-branded cards can make a lot of sense in the perks that they give as well. A lot of airlines will have lounge access or specifically boarding and free checked bags. So if you’re paying for checked bags on an airline, getting the co-branded card of the airline that you fly can easily pay for that annual fee many times over.

Brian Kelly: If you have an airline card you can spend on that airline, you might get some perks. But my strategy, and an advanced strategy, wouldn’t be putting all of your spend on that card. Because you’re also then putting all of your eggs in a single currency. Whereas you could have a card, like a Sapphire card that lets you transfer to 13 partners.

Pam Codispoti: Yeah, at least.

Brian Kelly: Something like that.

Pam Codispoti: So all in total, it’s …

Brian Kelly: And redeem for other airlines, and hotels, and trains and cruises.

Pam Codispoti: … more flexibility.

Brian Kelly: There’s more flexibility on transferable points cards like Sapphire Preferred and Reserve.

Pam Codispoti: Great question. Anybody else? I think we have time for maybe one or two more.

Speaker 5: What’s the best way to get to the Maldives on points if you planning that once-in-a-lifetime trip?

Brian Kelly: So with Chase points, you probably — the best and cheapest way would be to redeem on Turkish Airlines. Turkish is coming out with, this September, their new 787 which has a great business class. Even their the older one, Turkish … their beautiful new airport, they have in Istanbul, and it’s probably one of the best business class lounges in the world. You could also redeem on … I mean, I like flying Emirates, flying through Dubai is amazing. Qatar Airlines also is pretty good for one stop to the Maldives. So yeah, those would be my favorite airlines to get to the Maldives.

Pam Codispoti: Great. Well I think we all now need to go to the Maldives. You’ve got our wheels turning on how to get there, and how many points to save. I think we have time for just maybe one more question, right? Go ahead.

Orville Davis: Yeah. So my name is Orville Davis and thank you for coming here today. My question is more about your startup journey. When you started with The Points Guy blog, was it you by yourself? Did you have to use an Ink Preferred business card to kind of pay for office space, or even for the employees and editors?

Brian Kelly: Yep. Yeah, so it started as me. So I actually bought The Points Guy domain in 2009. A friend of mine, he was like, “You’re so good at points. Why don’t you monetize that?” Because I was looking for a side hustle. I was in my 20’s, living in New York. But then, people say no, no, no. So I sat on it for a year. And then when I started The Points Guy, it wasn’t even a blog.

Brian Kelly: So in April of 2010, I loaded the site. It was a form. And you could put in your name, what airline miles you had, what hotel points and where you wanted to go. And it would email me, and it would be $50 a ticket. So I was basically like a fake travel agent. So I put it up on the internet, and then I annoyed all of my family and friends, and on Facebook, “Hey, I’ve got this new points booking service, it’s $50 a ticket.” Because I love doing it.

Brian Kelly: And to this day I still love the puzzle pieces of using points to go on a trip. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle, but at the end of the day you get a free trip. That’s why when people are like, “Oh I don’t like points.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” So anyway, it started off as that. And then my dad once astutely said, “Brian, what are you going to do? Clone yourself? How do you scale this business?” Because you can’t …

Brian Kelly: And then, dealing with individual customers. I had one once, I’d spent five hours working on this amazing trip to Italy with his daughter. And at the time American Airlines had angled lie flat business seats. And he goes, “No, she hates the angled lie flat on American.” And I just remember being like, I spent five hours to build this amazing $10,000 trip. And he was like, “No, I don’t feel like doing that because (of) my daughter.”

Brian Kelly: So the business model then changed. I focused on content, and instead of helping individual people, I was like, let me figure out how to teach. But I had no idea how to monetize. But it was about nine months in, a friend of mine from college was like, “You’re writing about credit card companies. Oh by the way, through affiliate marketing, the credit card companies will pay you for any new approvals that you send them.” And I was like, The Points Guy blog (has) 8,000 monthly (readers), no one at Chase, or any other company is going to approve it. And they’re like, “Au contraire. You’ve actually shown up on the radar.”

Brian Kelly: And meanwhile, I had no idea (about) SEO, or the fact that I was writing about credit cards, and clearly people in the marketing departments were reading the site because a lot of … yeah, so I had business credit cards from the beginning. Once it started to take off, I started hiring … you realize running a website, I’m not a writer. I studied Spanish. My first job out of college, I was a buyer for Lord & Taylor, ended up working in HR at a bank in technology. So I really had no skills to be running (this). As we’ve got bigger and bigger, but…

Brian Kelly: So yeah. It was hiring the first managing editor, and then hiring writers to write under my brand, which was really scary. Relinquishing that control, as you know you have to build. So it was a really fun … it was a quick journey though, too. In May of 2012, a company called Bankrate had approached me to buy. A publicly-traded company. Basically a year after I started monetizing. It was kind of, “What the heck? Is this real?”

Brian Kelly: And our publicly-traded company got sold to another company about 18 months ago, and they’ve invested a ton. So I know we didn’t get to talk much about the future of The Points Guy, but we are coming out with an app that’s going to totally revolutionize how you maximize your points, track your points and most importantly use your points. So we’re building a tool …

Orville Davis: That’s great.

Brian Kelly: … that will help break down all those transfer partners. Where we’re going to be working with the airlines. At the end of the day people say, “Do airlines and credit card companies hate you?” Well clearly not, because I’m here at Chase today with Pam.

Pam Codispoti: No, I would not say we hate you.

Brian Kelly: But we help their best customers get more value. I mean, these loyalty programs and credit cards, they exist for a reason. Right? And in an ideal world, smart consumers who spend …

Pam Codispoti: That’s right.

Brian Kelly: … Chase wins, the airlines win, because Chase is paying the airlines for the points. A lot of the airlines make more money selling frequent flyer miles than they do by operating airplanes. And consumers can win, too. I mean I love the fact that we have … last night I was at an event, we had a college kid who flew Singapore Airlines first class to his study abroad. That’s — I love that. The democratization of travel. You don’t have to be a multimillionaire to travel well. The next evolution of our company will be, yes today we’re content, but we’re moving into technology and tools to make people’s lives better. So I think I have the best job, helping people travel more and save money.

Pam Codispoti: Well it just shows in the smile on your face. You’re living your passion, you’re helping the community and the world in various ways, and you’re a great partner to Chase. We thank you so much for your partnership, and for what you’re doing for our customers to help them realize their dreams. It means the world to us. So thank you …

Brian Kelly: Thank you so much.

Pam Codispoti: … so much for being with us today. Thank you everybody for joining us.

Brian Kelly: Thank you.

Brian Kelly: That’s it for this special episode of Talking Points. Thanks again to JP Morgan Chase for inviting me to be a guest on Chase Chats. This chat was broadcast via live webcast to many branches around the country. So thanks to everyone who watched. And check out your local branch for another Chase Chat in your area.

Brian Kelly: A huge thanks to Pam Codispoti, Head of Branch Banking and Wealth Management at JP Morgan Chase. You were an absolute delight to be on stage with. And thanks to Ashley Dodd, Victoria Buckner, Lori Colbert at JPMC, and JP Morgan’s AV team, Emerson Williams and David Warren. And as always a huge thanks to Becca Denenberg, Christie Matsui, Nat Roe, and Wyatt Smith at TPG for pulling this all together. And thanks to The Points Guy podcast team Caroline Schagrin and Margaret Kelley. I’m Brian Kelly. Safe travels.

The All-New United Quest℠ Card

WELCOME OFFER: Up to 100,000 bonus miles

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,040

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X miles on United® purchases

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Earn 3X miles on United® purchases, 2X miles at restaurants, on select streaming services & all other travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Earn 3X miles on United Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and on select streaming services
  • Earn 2X miles on all other travel
  • Earn 1X mile on all other purchases
  • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.
Regular APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.