Brian “The Points Guy” Kelly shares useful tips and advice about the new travel landscape with host Michael Liersch to help you avoid financial mistakes.
|Investment and Insurance Products are:
Michael: Hey humans, I’m Michael Liersch, and this is the About Money podcast presented by Wells Fargo. I’m a behavioral scientist with a PhD in cognitive psychology who loves openly discussing money to help humans better understand their money behaviors. By understanding our money behaviors, we all have the opportunity to make better money decisions.
This season, we’re going to talk about jobs money can do for us. Jobs, you might ask. Yes, money does many jobs for us, such as helping us with our family, lifestyle, the community, aging, travel, investing, and more. We have a great lineup of guests for you. So let’s get into it.
In this episode, we’re going to speak with Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy, otherwise known as TPG. Brian launched TPG in 2010 when he was working at a Wall Street firm, and at that time he was traveling for business all the time. While traveling, he figured out how to make the most of his travel experiences, while at the same time minimizing spending. To that end, it’s not surprising that Brian is known around the world for his perspectives on travel and lifestyle.
I’m so excited to speak with him, because Brian can help us answer the question we’re asking in this episode. How do I make the most of my money as I engage, or in many of our cases, reengage in travel? To answer this question, we’re not only going to focus on how to make the most of what we’ve got to maximize our travel and leisure — so think money points, credit cards, and the like — but we’re also going to focus on how things may be different now that COVID is in our lives, and how we might navigate it from a travel point of view in the most empowering way.
Brian, welcome to the Wells Fargo About Money podcast.
Brian: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me, Michael. It’s certainly been a turbulent year or so in the travel industry. But you know, there are a lot of silver linings, and a lot of people are traveling again. So I’m happy to, you know, be here and share some of my tips and also to hopefully ease some people’s nerves.
You know, travel is different these days. That being said, I’ve also taken some of my most incredible trips over the past 15 months. So not all is lost in travel. And I firmly believe people should get back out there, see their families and friends, and do it all safely.
Michael: So Brian, let’s get right into it. You know, when it comes to travel, what should our listeners be thinking about right now, as they get back on — you know, I’m going to make the make the cheesy joke — planes, trains and automobiles?
Brian: Well, the thing you need to know is travel does not look the same. I know, you know, people are excited to get back out there, they want their trip to look the same as it did before. But it’s simply just not the case. You know, what happened was, you know, especially with the vaccines rolling out, tons of people started traveling again. In fact, we’re seeing about 85% of people flying versus pre-pandemic, which is kind of incredible, when you think about just over a year ago, we were at like 10%. You know, we were at 80,000 people a day flying.
We’re now over 2.2 million on certain days. And unfortunately, what’s happened is the travel industry hasn’t been able to keep up with that. You know, there’s a lot of different reasons, whether it’s staffing issues. And when I say don’t expect pre-pandemic everywhere you go, you may not have housekeeping daily in your hotel. You may not have a lot of the facilities open. Even restaurants — we’re hearing, you know, restaurants don’t have enough wait staff to be open on certain days.
So certainly things are scaled back. And really what this means is in the travel space and flying, airports are crowded, restaurants aren’t open, security lines are long. And you know, planes are full. So what I would say is pack a little bit of grace when you leave your house. Get to the airport a little bit early, don’t scream at the gate agent if your flight’s delayed. You know, just have a better attitude about it. Be thankful that we’re able to travel again. Many places in the world are still locked down, families separated. So I would just encourage people to, you know, bring a good attitude and have a little bit of grace.
Michael: So Brian, when it comes to reorganizing ourselves around travel, how do we start pulling things back together so it doesn’t feel so fragmented and disconnected and we start creating a bit more order so we can start our travel lives and really think about what we want to do next?
Brian: Yeah, everyone listening today, you should check to make sure any unused airline voucher, understand the expiration date. We’re now at the point over a year into this pandemic where billions of dollars’ worth of consumer funds are on the verge of getting — you know, expiring, and that kills me, you know, to watch people’s money just evaporate.
So even if you don’t have any travel plans and you’ve got a voucher that’s expiring, what you can do is just use it. Book a flight in the future and then down the line, you can re-extend it or ask for extensions. But once you let it expire, it’s hard to bring that back from the dead, so to speak.
And in terms of points and miles, you know, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that most airlines now allow you to cancel any frequent flyer trip and get all of your miles and points back, as well as cash and fees. Now this differs. A lot of people will say, “Well, airlines let you do that with paid tickets too, right?” Well, they did. You know, throughout the depths of the pandemic, every airline globally was like, “Okay, you can make unlimited changes, you know, we’re very flexible.” And in April and May of this year, they started putting the caveats back, saying basic economy tickets, you know, those cheapest tickets that most of us buy when you go on, and you find the cheapest ticket, those are now excluded on many airlines.
Plus, whenever you want to cancel a paid ticket, you’re going to get a voucher. Sometimes they won’t let you use those vouchers for other people or for flights that are cheaper. You’re going to lose the difference in value. So the voucher game is tricky, and the devil’s in the details.
But what I encourage everyone to do is use those frequent flyer miles and points. In general, they don’t gain value over time. And they give you maximum flexibility. So even though air fares may not be as high as they used to be, I know some people say, “Well, it’s not really worth it.” It’s worth it because it’ll give you peace of mind that in an instant, for whatever reason you want, you don’t need a doctor’s note, you can say, “I’m canceling. Give me everything back into my account.” And that is where the value is with using your frequent flyer miles and points.
Michael: So Brian, one of the things that you had mentioned is this idea of when you’re thinking about the place you’re traveling, it sounds like there may not be services available that you were used to. And I’m thinking of some of the things you highlighted — food availability, you know, in terms of the safety of the places that you’re actually exploring or traveling to.
Last time we spoke, I told you my family and I were going to go to Egypt, I believe. And Brian, we never made that trip, although we have rescheduled for this spring. Would you give any recommendations in terms of the level of investigation people should be doing in terms of the domestic or international travel, how they might really understand what services are available? Any quick tips there for travelers?
Brian: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, so over the pandemic, you know, number one is you have to do research. I highly recommend, especially — we’re in a global pandemic. And as much as, you know, over half of Americans are vaccinated, there are certainly international places you can go that are unbelievable, they’re safe. And it’s a great time to go because there aren’t a lot of tourists.
So you know, but if you are going to go to Hawaii, Miami, the hotspots where everyone is going on vacation, you know, those hotel rates are higher than they’ve ever been. And, you know, we are seeing like an unprecedented car rental shortage as well. That adds an extra stress level.
Michael: So what does that mean? That means that I’ve reserved a car, I go to the location that I’m at, I’m at the airport, the bus takes me to the rental car. And now my reservation is not honored? Is that what you’re saying?
Brian: You can wait an hour or two in line, you get to the desk and they say, “Well, unfortunately, the people that were supposed to return cars today” — because what’s happening is now that people can work from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, et cetera, people are just extending their car rentals.
Michael: Oh, I see.
Brian: On top of that, the car rental companies sold off a lot of their fleets in the beginning of the pandemic. On top of that, there’s now a microchip shortage. So in general, new cars are delayed, and that’s why we’re seeing increased prices. So what I’m saying is that most popular destinations, while you may think that that’s the safest bet, let me stay in the country, go to Hawaii, you actually may have other obstacles to jump through.
So sometimes going abroad, you know, and knowing the rules, you know — everyone still has to get tested before coming back to the US. But leaving the country on certain trips can be an unbelievable experience. In your case, Cairo I’m sure will be empty. I went to Cairo a couple years ago in the summer when it was empty, and come on, being at the pyramids essentially by yourself, not having to wait in line, there is a lot of joy to that.
Michael: And that was that was similar to all the images I think a lot of us saw in Venice, when you had sea life swimming into the canals and unusual events like that. So it is something interesting to consider. And I like this idea of doing research and not necessarily relying on others to do that research, but doing a lot of it yourself. So you can set expectations — what’s open, what’s not? Should I really have at least backup accommodations for travel once I get there?
So when it comes to let’s say maximizing then the fun of travel while we’re minimizing the costs at the same time in this new type of environment, what would you say that we should really be thinking about? Let’s say I’ve always wanted to go a certain place, but I have some flexibility. Are there any kind of new things that you would highlight for listeners or your fans?
Brian: Well, the points. The amazing thing is internationally now there are so many award tickets available because, you know, business travel still is not back to where it was. So those business travelers that would, you know, fill up the first-class cabin on, you know, those New York to London flights, they don’t exist anymore. So that’s created an amazing opportunity to use your airline miles and points.
And like I said, always have a second backup plan. And if you have points or miles, if you’re going to Egypt and you’re nervous about, you know, maybe your flight getting canceled, you can always make a secondary reservation that’s a backup plan. And the same goes for car rentals. You know, if you are going to Hawaii, not every reservation is going to be canceled. So I don’t want to scare everyone listening. But you can make a refundable backup reservation at a different car rental agency.
And I think to your point, it’s about rethinking the way we travel, putting ourselves first in terms of how can I protect myself in every situation. And the other thing is the US will never close its borders to its own citizens. I know people still have this fear of being stuck abroad forever. The US will always let you back in the country.
You know, that being said, you know, going to far-flung destinations today, the key thing you want to look for is like healthcare. Am I going to go to somewhere like Peru that the hospitals are overloaded and say I just break my leg, you don’t want to be a burden on a society, especially in developing countries. So those are some of the things that I take into account.
But in general, there are really amazing opportunities to travel, amazing deals. You know, going to Iceland, and you know, being the only person at the glacier. You know, that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. And those do exist. But you just need to be able to pivot if rules change. Have a second, you know, plan ready to go. If for some reason Egypt were to shut its borders, talk with your family and say, “Hey, if that happens, where haven’t we been? Are we going to go to Portugal instead and have an amazing surf vacation?” You know.
Michael: So you’d love this. My wife’s brother planned two vacations at the same time on purpose for this very reason. And he was afraid one of the destinations would be closed off. So they planned an alternate that they actually were disappointed they couldn’t go to once they could actually get to the other one.
Michael: So I love this idea. And I think a lot of our listeners will too. You talked about these opportunities. What are some mistakes that you’re seeing travelers make across the board when it comes to traveling these days, or trying to access different ways in which to, you know, maximize their travel opportunities?
Brian: I would say the first mistake is booking fares that are not flexible. You know, we’re always used to just booking the cheapest fare, we’ll figure it out. These days, losing that flexibility can be a huge hit to your pocket.
Same thing with like vacation rentals. You know, if you’re booking six months in advance internationally, and you’re going to book something that has a zero refund policy, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And I know that message is hard, because people are being told to book in advance because things are booking up in certain destinations, but you want to give yourself as much flexibility as possible.
And then the third I would say is just, you know, you never want to book a trip using cash or, you know, sending a check. You want to put it on a credit card or use a credit card company that’s got your back. If things go wrong, you’ve got that, you know, your credit card company can back you up. And this has happened over the pandemic, you know, having that extra layer of help. And I’d also recommend, I’ve been using a travel advisor. You know, I used to think I could do it all myself. I’m planning a family trip, you know, soon to Germany with my mom and her sisters. It’s a really special family trip. And you know, the logistics can be really confusing. And having that travel advisor who gets me the same rates and extra perks, but can also advocate for me if I need a little bit more flexibility if things do end up changing.
Michael: That trip to Egypt I mentioned, we did use a travel advisor for the first time in our family history, Brian — inspired, by the way, by you and the last time we spoke. And I will tell you, it’s one of the best things we ever did. Because when it came time to make that decision, which is right when the pandemic was starting, we were able to speak with him and he had boots on the ground that could tell us the situation and the circumstance. And his ultimate recommendation was to defer the trip at that time because there was so much uncertainty.
Brian: And to your point, a good travel advisor or with a good travel agency, they have people on the ground everywhere. And even during the height of the pandemic when it was 12 hours to get through to a phone agent at an airline to get a refund, you can just email your travel advisor and say, “You know, we want to cancel these tickets and get a voucher,” and they have direct lines to the airlines and hotels through their contacts that are senior level.
Michael: Wow, okay.
Brian: So you know, during these unprecedented times I would definitely — especially if you’re planning a big ticket trip, cruising or you know a big family trip, to use an advisor could pay for itself many times over.
Michael: And so your recommendation would be flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. Put it on a card.
Michael: And then also make sure, to extent that it’s possible or affordable, you know — because Brian, we have a lot of listeners with a lot of different abilities.
Michael: If you could have someone who can be your boots on the ground or give you that inside information.
Brian: Absolutely. And even if you don’t want to use an advisor, you don’t have a big budget, call the hotel you’re going to and say, “Hey, what facilities are open?”
Michael: Well, that’s a great tip. With that in mind, I have one more question for you before we close out, Brian, and it’s on travel insurance. And this is one that I wasn’t planning to ask you. But I’ve got to now that you’ve taken us in this direction. What are your perspectives on travel insurance? And how would you guide travelers? Because we get this a lot from clients.
Michael: Especially these days, and listeners, you know — what should I do when it comes to, you know, that contingency planning?
Brian: Yeah, so the first thing is, if you want insurance that covers COVID or COVID-related issues, the devil’s in the details. Most policies do not include pandemics, they just strip it out. And if you want a cancel for any reason policy, you’re going to pay a huge premium. We’re talking 25% of the cost of the trip, plus coverage maximum so you’re not going to get everything back. So there are policies that cover COVID, you know, God forbid you get COVID abroad and need to quarantine for two weeks or, you know, go to the hospital.
Some destinations like the Bahamas will mandate you to buy it. For the destinations that don’t, I highly recommend you must look into what they cover. There are some policies that will cover COVID and hospitalizations. There are some credit cards that will actually medically evacuate you if you need to leave, not just for COVID.
But I just read a story about a traveler in Bali who got in a scooter crash and her family can’t go to Indonesia, so they need to medically evacuate her to the US. It’s a quarter of a million dollars to do that. Her travel insurance policy wouldn’t cover it, but there are certain credit card coverages that would do that. So it really just depends, but the devil’s in the details, so look at the policy, pick up the phone and talk to the underwriter before you commit. It’s cheaper to pay a little bit extra for a refundable hotel then to book the nonrefundable and then buy an expensive insurance policy to cover it.
Michael: And that goes back to your flexibility comment. To the extent that you can make flexible travel arrangements that are refundable, it always behooves you to do so these days.
Which gets me, Brian, to my last question for you about, why are you so passionate about this topic? What makes you so into travel and maximizing your opportunity for experiences while also minimizing the cost of it? What’s in that for you?
Brian: I think for me, I mean I truly do like helping people. I get great joy — I mean, people come up to me on the street or in the airports and they’ll high five me and be like, “You helped save thousands of dollars. You know, I was laid off and we couldn’t take a trip. But instead, I used all my points and we took the best trip ever to Hawaii.”
You know, those stories make me want to keep doing this. And we’ve got millions and millions of readers, and people are saving billions of dollars by just doing the things that they’re doing every day. So whether you’re shopping for groceries or doing back to school, you can be racking up so many points that can actually make your life better.
And at a fundamental level, I do believe travel makes us better humans. The more people travel, the more you realize this world — we’re one human race. And it’s a fascinating world, and I just encourage people to travel more. And on the note about being a compassionate traveler, I would also just say travel’s 10% of global GDP. And so many communities depend on our travel dollars. In fact, travel lifts people out of poverty. Travel helps animal conservation in Africa. So there are so many ways to travel responsibly.
And, you know, using local vendors, supporting local businesses, you can make a positive impact on people. And every destination I’ve been, from Rwanda to Tahiti to Croatia, this past year, every taxi driver I’ve talked to, hotel aide has said, “Brian, spread the word. We’re open for business and it’s amazing.” So of course, everyone’s got to make their own best decisions on their own personal risk levels, but the world, you know, will reopen and there’s so many amazing places to explore. So go at your own comfort but, you know, there are much brighter days ahead.
Michael: Well, thank you so much, Brian. I do want all of our listeners to know how they can access all your great information, all your great content. You know, my wife is completely obsessed with you and the information you offer. So how can our listeners get obsessed too?
Michael: Well, go to ThePointsGuy.com. That’s our main hub for — we share breaking news every day, flight reviews. The Points Guy on all social media. And then if you want to see my personal travels, I’m Brian Kelly on Instagram, B-r-i-a-n K-e-l-l-y. And I usually pin all of my stories from my trip so you can see the airlines I fly, the hotels I stay in. I tag the tour guides that I use, and I try to answer DMs as much as possible.
Michael: Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for being with us here today. And I’m sure everyone’s going to benefit from what you’ve shared with us. And I hope to see you again soon. So thank you.
Brian: Absolutely. Safe travels, everyone. And enjoy the pyramids and the people of Egypt, Michael. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.
Michael: I can’t wait.
That’s it for this episode of the About Money Podcast. Please email us with the topics that you would like us to address at AboutMoney@WellsFargo.com. And if you really liked the episode, share it with family, friends, and anyone who listens to podcasts. About Money is produced by Wells Fargo. You can learn more about ways to work with us at WellsFargo.com/AboutMoney. I’m Michael Liersch asking you to talk about money today.
The views expressed by Brian Kelly are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Wells Fargo and Company or its affiliates.
This information is provided for educational and illustrative purposes only.
|Investment and Insurance Products are:
Wells Fargo Private Bank provides products and services through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and its various affiliates and subsidiaries. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.
Wealth & Investment Management offers financial products and services through bank and brokerage affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.
Bank products and services are available through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Member FDIC.
Brokerage products and services are offered through Wells Fargo Advisors, a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, separate registered broker-dealers and non-bank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. offers various advisory and fiduciary products and services including discretionary portfolio management. Wells Fargo affiliates, including Financial Advisors of Wells Fargo Advisors, a separate non-bank affiliate, may be paid an ongoing or one-time referral fee in relation to clients referred to the bank. The bank is responsible for the day-to-day management of the account and for providing investment advice, investment management services and wealth management services to clients. The role of the Financial Advisor with respect to Bank products and services is limited to referral and relationship management services.
© 2021 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. NMLSR ID 399801 Equal Housing Lender.
The views expressed by Brian Kelly are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Wells Fargo and Company or its affiliates.