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How robot soccer got me into points and miles

June 06, 2022
8 min read
A robot soccer game in China.
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Before I was a points and miles writer, I programmed robots to play soccer. While getting a Ph.D. degree at the University of Texas at Austin, my thesis project created algorithms for robot birds that could help end bird strikes on airplanes. But my secondary project was robot soccer.

Each year, my lab's robot soccer team would travel to compete in the international RoboCup competition. Traveling to a new destination each year for this competition let me discover my love of travel and sparked my interest in points and miles. Here's my points and miles origin story.

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Finding a love of travel through robot soccer

In 2011, I traveled to Istanbul for my first international RoboCup competition. My husband joined me, and we traveled around Turkey for a few weeks afterward. This trip, especially the sights we saw and the people we met, sparked my love of travel. But it wasn't the start of my points and miles journey.

Istanbul. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

The next year I went to Mexico City, where my team won our league's competition. After the competition, I enjoyed staying in the historic Centro area and visiting Teotihuacan. Then we went to the Netherlands in 2013 and Brazil in 2014, which were memorable trips to new-to-us destinations.

I earned a lot of online travel agency rewards by booking hotels for my entire team on these trips. But I still didn't know much about hotel points and airline miles. I was happy to stay at hostels and inexpensive hotels, so I didn't think there'd be value for me in hotel points or elite status. And I didn't think I flew enough to benefit from airline miles or status.

Related: Is hotel elite status worth it anymore?

The open-jaw redemption to Asia

At the end of the 2014 competition in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, the organizers announced that the next year's competition would be in Hefei, China. My husband and I had never heard of Hefei before, but there was no question whether we'd go. After all, I held a leadership position in my team's league. And we enjoyed taking an international trip each year to participate in RoboCup and then sightsee.

A RoboCup robot soccer game in Brazil. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

2015 was before cheap fares were common from the U.S. to China. My university would reimburse my flights, but my husband faced round-trip fares of more than $1,500. And with limited vacation time, he wanted to maximize his time by flying into Hefei and then out of Beijing or Shanghai.

He'd started reading about points and miles on various websites. So, faced with high prices for open-jaw flights, he decided to sign up for a new credit card and earn a bonus that he could use for flights to and from China.

He decided to open a Chase Ink Business card that offered an elevated sign-up bonus. After meeting the minimum spending requirements, he transferred the bonus's Ultimate Rewards points to United. Then, he used United miles to book two one-way awards that included economy on Air China's 747-8 and economy on Lufthansa's A380.

Related: How to book your 1st award flight using airline miles

Understanding the value of points and miles

Although I didn't play a role in his award redemption, this redemption made me realize there's real value in credit cards and their rewards. I'd signed up for a few cards in early 2015, including two Southwest credit cards, a United credit card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. But it wasn't until his award redemption that the value of points, miles and award travel became real to me.

Near the end of our trip to China in 2015, I redeemed online travel agency rewards to book a train from Shanghai to Guilin, China. And my husband transferred some of his points to British Airways to book me a short business-class flight from Guilin to Hong Kong. This business-class flight — one of my first premium-cabin flights — further sold me on the value of points and miles.

Dragonair business class in 2015. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

So, once I returned from China, I started learning about points, miles and credit cards. I read articles on various websites and attended Chicago Seminars, but most of my initial learning was via the now-defunct Abroaders podcast.

I quickly became hooked, listening to podcasts and learning about points and miles daily. My inspiration was to learn how to maximize the points, miles and credit card rewards we were earning to fund a gap-year trip once I finished my Ph.D.

I soon became fascinated with award chart sweet spots, spending my weekends studying award charts, reading loyalty program fine print and playing with award searches.

Related: 10 tips for making award travel a multiplayer game

Turning a passion into a lifestyle and job

My first flight review for TPG was of a British Airways 787-8 from London to Austin. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In 2015, my husband and I both started writing for The Points Guy. We began writing economy flight reviews but eventually added hotel reviews, news and guides to our bylines.

By the time I graduated in 2017, we no longer planned to take a gap year. Instead, we found we could continue writing about points, miles and credit cards while traveling full time as digital nomads.

And that's the life we've lived for almost five years now. Of course, digital nomad life looked a bit different during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when we bought an RV and traveled full time by RV for almost a year. But after splitting time between our RV and international travel, we're getting back to full-time international travel this summer.

Although points and miles fuel some of our travel, we also book many paid flights and stays. After all, we aim to get at least TPG's valuations when redeeming points and miles.

Related: How (and why) to calculate award redemption values

And some perks, such as American Airlines systemwide upgrades, require you to book paid fares. Plus, to requalify for American Airlines Executive Platinum elite status, we need to fly some high-earning paid premium-cabin fares with partners.

British Airways premium economy fare classes often earn well when credited to the AAdvantage program. (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

I'll attend my ninth RoboCup competition in Bangkok this July. We redeemed 70,000 American Airlines miles each for a one-way business-class award from the U.S. to Bangkok. And I'd initially redeemed 55,000 IHG points for an 11-night stay using IHG's fourth-night reward. But, when IHG announced a new status match and challenge, I decided to cancel my award stay and instead book a paid rate to get 11 of the 15 nights I'll need in 120 days to snag Diamond Elite status through the end of 2023.

Check out the RoboCup Standard Platform League's website and YouTube page if you want to follow this summer's RoboCup competition. And if you're just getting started with points and miles, keep reading articles and exploring redemptions. You'll likely find that your knowledge grows quickly.

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

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases