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The Points & Miles Backpacker: Why Being a Points Expert Pays Off

July 30, 2018
7 min read
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The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman had a specific method for learning, which has since been referred to as the "Feynman Technique." The technique can be summarized in four steps: 1) Select and study a topic. 2) Teach or pretend to teach the topic to a new student. 3) Look back to reference material when you are stuck. 4) Simplify the concept and use analogies.

Do I expect you to remember these steps? Or even Feynman's name? Not really. But I sure will, and that's exactly my point. By breaking down the Feynman Technique and explaining it, I'm best able to learn it. You can use the same approach for points and miles. It was by reading The Points Guy, explaining points and miles to family and friends, and referencing TPG to fill in knowledge gaps, that I was able to become the Points & Miles Backpacker.

Points and miles don't have to be this complicated. Image courtesy of
Points and miles don't have to be this complicated. Image courtesy of Roman Mager on Unsplash.

Where to Learn

I'm slightly biased, but I believe The Points Guy has the most clear and comprehensive coverage of points and miles. From this Beginner's Guide to more advanced topics like Richard Kerr's detailed breakdown of United's Excursionist Perk for award travel, most questions you have or didn't even know you had may already be answered on our site. Otherwise, you can likely find the answer in a Google search or buried in a FlyerTalk Miles & Points forum.

When you have established yourself as an authority, perhaps by featuring your free travel on social media or in Thanksgiving conversation, the messages and questions will inevitably trickle in. As you teach others and fill in the gaps of your own knowledge, you'll be on your way to becoming a master. You may not get a Nobel Prize out of it, but at least you'll know how to fly to the award ceremony in Stockholm for free.

Unfortunately there is no Nobel Prize for points and miles. Yet. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Unfortunately there is no Nobel Prize for points and miles. Yet. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In addition to achieving points enlightenment, there are plenty of other reasons to become a points and miles guru.

A Big Upside: You'll Find Travel Buddies

I'm a big advocate for solo travel, but I'm almost as big of an advocate for travel with a friend, partner or family. (Really, as long as you're moving, I'm happy). Being a points and miles expert will help you do just that. On several occasions, I've taken inventory of a friend's points accounts, then put together an awesome adventure for the both of us. This can also sometimes save you both money with shared travel costs such as rental cars and lodging. I've also helped friends put together their own trips only to solicit an invitation partway through. Sometimes it works, with one notable exception being my sister's honeymoon, which, in retrospect, was probably better for everyone.

Matt had to get to his sister's wedding in Chile. I decided to come along, planned our trip and even tacked on a Torres Del Paine trek afterwards.
Matt had to get to his sister's wedding in Chile. I decided to come along, planned our trip and even tacked on a Torres Del Paine trek afterwards.

Another perk to traveling with a partner is the ability to combine some credit card perks. Most hotel programs have a credit card that offers a free night per cardmember year, which you could book as two consecutive nights when both you and a travel partner have the card. The higher category hotels are excluded from the free nights, but you can still find some great options abroad, like this one. Some credit cards also offer a points bonus when you refer a friend to the same card. Most airline credit cards benefits, such as a free checked bag, extend to passengers traveling on the same reservation. There is no shortage of ways to share and combine credit card perks.

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A Never-Ending Southwest Companion Pass

Probably the best example of a stackable frequent flyer perk is the Southwest Companion Pass. Bringing a travel companion for free on every flight is a unique and incomparable elite benefit unique to Southwest Airlines. The 125,000 points needed to achieve it is a tall task for the casual flyer, but with the help of the Southwest credit cards — including the new Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card — the pass is much more attainable. We've detailed how to get the Companion Pass using credit cards here. Some strategies call for getting a business credit card, but this may be easier to get than you think. If you are able to unlock the pass in the early part of a year, you'll get almost two years of benefit. Then when your status expires, have your companion use the same method to get Companion Pass and designate you as their companion. Two years later, it's your turn again. Rinse and repeat.

The good news is only you have to understand the ins and outs of the Companion Pass and how to attain it. You can just tell your companion which credit card to sign up for and when, and which credit card to use and when. I used this strategy to get my parents the Companion Pass. They only know which credit card they are supposed to use for which categories, and I tell them when that changes. They know nothing further about points and miles, and with me as their son they don't have to.

My parents flew for free on our trip to Williamsburg, VA - my dad on points and my mom as his companion.
My parents flew for free on our trip to Williamsburg, VA — my dad on Southwest points and my mom as his companion.

Promoting World Peace

I'm taking some liberties, but bear with me. More points leads to more travel. More travel leads to more global understanding and compassion. And more compassion leads to more peace. I'm not alone here — Anthony Bourdain was a huge advocate of movement. And there's a good chance that your friend who thinks the world is a scary and dangerous place could use some global compassion even more than you. So get people moving, and a great way to do so is to show them how to travel for free. Your friends, family and even the world will thank you.

Now let's all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." Image courtesy of
Now let's all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." Image courtesy of Dương Hữu on Unsplash.

Are you looking to back that pack up and could use some guidance? Send your questions to !

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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