Brian Kelly is the gay founder and CEO of The Points Guy. He's turned a simple blog into the world's leading media site about loyalty programs, credit cards, and travel perks. In this exclusive interview with Out Traveler, he shares his tips on traveling safely while LGBTQ+, improving your credit, and picking the right loyalty program to build travel points you can use for airline tickets and more.
Can you tell us a little about how you became The Points Guy?
I became The Points Guy because in 2010 I started a blog to share my tips about how to leverage loyalty programs. I was a road warrior working at Morgan Stanley for college recruiting. I was traveling all the time to visit college campuses and viewed all the points I was accumulating while traveling as a form of compensation. The blog really took off in 2011 and it has been growing ever since. We have about 90 employees and are hiring close to 20 new employees this summer. We have over 10 million unique monthly views just on our site and we reach millions more across all of our additional platforms each year.
Indeed, to say the endeavor has grown in the last decade would be a huge understatement. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud that The Points Guy has been a stable source for information about travel during the pandemic. There has been a lot of misinformation and hysteria out there this year and I’m proud we have been able to deliver factual information. We don’t try to make decisions for people about whether or not they should travel, but we have continued to equip people with the latest information they need to know to make those decisions. Travel is a personal decision but we can give people as much information as possible about all of the nuances related to COVID-19 testing, vaccine passports, international travel, and more.
What’s your top points advice?
Diversify your points! Look at your frequent flyer miles and credit card points as an asset – don’t put all your points and miles with one credit card or one airline. Just make sure you can pay off your bill every single month!
As a trans guy who has struggled to build credit and get approved for even a single terrible credit card I have to admit that the whole notion of using points and credit card loyalty programs for travel seems almost elitist, a privilege out of reach for many LGBTQ+ and people of color. What am I getting wrong?
You need to have a solid credit score to get into the credit card game but it doesn’t happen overnight and is a step by step process. First, understand how credit scores work. Next, understand the debt to credit ratio. It may take some time and it may take getting a secure credit card and paying it off to show you have reliable pay off. Lastly, everyone should get a free credit score check to make sure nothing is incorrect!
Some travelers don’t even know what points are, let alone how to use them, or how to get a credit card that can help with their travel. Can you give us a quick 101?
Historically, you would get frequent flyer miles from flying. Then, airlines started to create their own credit cards so they could make money selling loyalty points to credit card companies. This has become a huge business and every major airline now has their own credit card – what we call a cobranded credit card – which includes travel-related perks. However, I recommend that you don’t get just one branded card. Chase Sapphire Preferred, Amex Gold, and Capital One Venture are a few of the great cards to get started with where you can transfer your points to various hotel and airline partners for maximum flexibility.
Can travelers who aren’t interested in points still find something useful at The Points Guy?
Absolutely! We have an incredibly diverse staff of writers that are sharing content not just about points but about travel in general. I’m also proud to share that we just launched our first ever TPG travel advisory board where we have ten members of the travel community – people of color, people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ+ community – to help us provide valuable, diverse information for our readers. We have more females than men at the company and a number of LGBTQ+ employees. We stand for helping people access travel who may not have before. Travel is not as complex as it may seem.
Do you have a #TravelFail story you can share with us — and how you handled it?
I have had many travel fails! Recently, I was supposed to go to Puerto Rico and since it’s a US territory I didn’t think I needed a COVID-19 test. Well, on the morning of my flight I realized I needed a test so I went ahead and cancelled my flight. But in hindsight, I could’ve still flown there and gotten my test upon arrival. So, this was a double fail. Make sure you know in advance the rules related to COVID-19 when traveling!
Can you tell us about your activism? Why do you feel it’s important to help organizations like Rainbow Railroad?
I am very blessed that I can be out, proud, and accepted in the business community. About five years ago, I heard about the gay concentration camps in Chechnya and refused to believe it was true, I was so sick to my stomach. I got introduced to Rainbow Railroad kind of by luck and learned how they help people who are in danger of losing their jobs and lives just for being gay. The risk to gay people exists all around the world. I visited Jamaica with 60 Minutes which is one of the worst countries for LGBTQ+ rights and got to meet a lot of the activists on the ground. It’s very important that we do not take our rights for granted in the United States, even with the work that still needs to be done here. We have a responsibility to help those who can’t live their everyday, authentic lives around the world.
The fact that Rainbow Railroad exists is an indication of just how dangerous some countries can be for LGBTQ+ people. As LGBTQ+ tourists this can impact whether we visit a place at all. But from a different perspective, do you think there’s a way that travel can change things for the better for an area’s local LGBTQ+ community?
I am open with what countries I do not feel safe traveling to and what countries I do not support. That said, I do fly Middle Eastern airlines and recently visited Dubai. I don’t believe in putting up walls and making assumptions for an entire country. The further countries get pushed into poverty, the more LGBTQ+ rights get pushed down the drain too and take the back burner. LGBTQ+ people work at resorts, for example the Marriott in Jamaica is a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people so I don’t believe in boycotting entire countries and not supporting their tourism. There are many awful laws and cultures against the LGBTQ+ community out there but I believe in cultural exchange. I respect everyone’s personal decisions with what they’re comfortable with. Even if you don’t feel comfortable traveling to certain places, listen and read about the people on the ground and you may end up changing your mind.
Editor's note: This index is a valuable resource when evaluating the safety of travel to various destinations.