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Joining point plans can be rewarding

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Squirreling away credit card points has one major difference from “extreme couponing,” says the card expert who has earned himself the moniker The Points Guy.
www.thepointsguy.com
Brian Kelly

Squirreling away credit-card points has one major difference from “extreme couponing,” says the card expert who has earned himself the moniker “The Points Guy.”

“You get to fly first class instead of loading your basement full of paper towels,” Brian Kelly says.

Kelly, a 2005 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, left a career as a Wall Street recruiter in 2010 to become a full-time blogger and travel consultant. Besides being the master of a website — www.thepointsguy.com — he shows up on broadcast news and in print media as a vacation source and expert on the use of credit-card points.

He is on the road these days for Barclaycard, the London-based financial-payment firm, advocating credit-card use.

“When I'm in a Starbucks and see someone paying in cash, I say, ‘You're throwing money down the drain,' ” he says.

He gets irked at that manner of spending, he says, because by using cards, a Starbucks customer — or any other spender — can build up points that will give him hotel rooms, flights, upgrades in both of those areas, or car rentals and meals.

“When you have to travel for a living, point use can take some of the sting off being away from home,” he says.

Of course, wisdom on such use and steady payment of credit-card balances are the keys to such spending, he warns. He says he has 19 credit cards, five of which he uses steadily, but he makes sure they all are paid each month. He says there are any number of software programs that can help direct such payments, but it can be just as easy to set up a spread sheet.

Like any other financial system, points-gathering from credit cards requires strategy, he says. The best ways to go about getting maximum rewards are:

• Build up as many points/airline miles by using your cards as much as you can, but always remember to put away the money to pay for that credit spending.

• Decide what is the most effective points/miles program. If hotel bills come into play more that air tickets, focus on a hotel-loyalty card.

• Don't worry about annual fees for cards — the benefit from steady use pays for them in the long run.

• Credit-card use and monthly payment of balances actually bolster a credit rating, so such spending does not weaken a financial reputation.

• Diversify card use and “don't put all your points in one basket” because increases can weaken the value of points. If a hotel chain raises the price for a stay from 50,000 to 95,000 points, it can derail the point-gathering process.

“Make sure loyalty goes both ways,” he says about the loyalty-card programs.

Because of his advocacy for diversification, he promotes the use of fixed-value cards, such as those gathered in Barclay's new Arrival card or the Capital One Venture card.

With those, he explains, points can be used to pay for any travel-related expense. Rather than having to book a flight with a certain airline or in a certain hotel chain, he says, a consumer can arrange a flight or stay any way possible and then use the points to pay off the credit-card bill.

Whatever direction a consumer heads, he urges a thorough check on the amount of points/miles that are awarded and the blackout dates or restrictions on use.

“There are an awful lot of bad cards out there,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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