Brian Kelly: A guide in the world of points and miles


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Kelly is the founder and CEO of “The Points Guy,” a credit score and mileage journalism website that aims to educate travelers on earning flight miles and rewards.

By Andrew Thompson, Staff Writer

Credit card points can be useful when traveling, but are often difficult to understand. But, like most problems nowadays, there’s a website to help — in this case, Brian Kelly’s site.

Kelly graduated from Pitt in 2005 with a Spanish major and an economics minor. He is now the founder and CEO of The Points Guy, a credit score and mileage journalism website that educates travelers on how to earn the most miles and best rewards from their flights. This website, run by 27 employees, also includes advice on which credit card companies provide optimal deals for different types of airline travelers. 

Points and miles are like currency — users earn them when they take a trip or use their credit card for a purchase. People can also earn free miles for their next trip when using a certain airline rewards system

Kelly’s website all started with his Pitt student experience.  

“My experience at Pitt was largely defined by being involved with student government,” said Kelly. “And there I learned more than in any class.” 

This now viral website all started with Kelly’s experience at Pitt as president of the student government board for two consecutive terms. As SGB president, he traveled around the United States for conferences. He also traveled to Madrid, Spain, on a study abroad trip. After so much traveling, Kelly earned U.S. Airways Gold status — meaning he received rewards such as a 25% mileage bonus, no need to check in at the airport and Admirals Club Membership. 

“And from that point on,” Kelly said, “I discovered that there was a whole community of people on the internet that were obsessed with frequent flyer miles.”

He also obtained leadership experience at Pitt as president of the Resident Student Association, the vice president of recruitment for the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, a member in the Blue and Gold Society and a Pitt Pathfinder

“It was really those experiences that defined my time at Pitt,” Kelly said.

After graduation, he worked with Morgan Stanley — an American multinational investment bank and financial services company — in New York City. Here, he “[travelled] a ton as a corporate road warrior.” After earning millions of points from traveling, he started a blog that became the starting point for The Points Guy website. As it went viral, Kelly decided to leave Wall Street in 2011 to make the blog his full-time job.

Kelly said while he became a CEO after converting his blog into a journalism site, he made the mistake of not innovating his business model in order to hire the most competent people for certain positions. 

“And, you know, I made a lot of mistakes along the way,” Kelly said. “Like not hiring enough people, or not hiring people smarter than me in certain areas.” 

He said early on in his career he stayed in his comfort zone, which prevented him from making bolder decisions. He made a bold decision when he eventually sold his company twice, in 2012 and 2017, to Red Ventures.

Kelly said his company gave the audience good advice on how to safely travel during the pandemic and post-quarantine. The website kept track of country reopening guides, the best types of COVID-19 tests and what travelers needed to do in order to avoid getting sick on an airplane.

“I think our commitment to just giving levelheaded, real-time information about what is needed to travel safely was the best advice we gave,” Kelly said. 

For post-quarantine travel, Kelly advised credit card users who hoarded their points and airline vouchers during the pandemic to start using them.

One of the new upcoming projects from The Points Guy is an app where people can learn more about credit card points, such as how to earn more points and redeem them for maximum value. Kelly wants the company to be more focused on technological advances so the app can gather more accurate information on points. Even if people haven’t used their points yet, they are still valuable since most loyalty programs will allow travelers to cancel flights without repercussions. Therefore, the app will encourage people to use their points more wisely as it will show live events that will aid customers in saving money.

“In general, we see points becoming more and more of a part of people’s lives,” Kelly said, “You can earn points now in more ways than ever.”

Similar to Kelly, Mary Kate Heaney, the senior marketing and communications manager of The Points Guy, also shares a passion for learning and traveling. Heaney manages all press opportunities for TPG spokespeople, especially Kelly, as she leads various charity initiatives and fundraisers for nonprofit organizations.

“I believe TPG offers information that any person who travels (whether moderately or heavily) and who uses a credit card can tremendously benefit from,” Kelly said.

Heaney said Kelly is a great leader due to his creative ideas for charity and other events. 

“He truly cares about the brand and his employees,” Heaney said. “And he is incredibly knowledgeable about the industry.”

She also highly anticipates the upcoming software, The Points Guy App, since it will put the consumer first. Heaney said Kelly has been very diligent about every step leading up to the public launch.

Melanie Lieberman, the senior travel editor, also said she admires Kelly’s passion for running the company.

“He is always imagining the next step,” Liberman said. “Whether it’s opening a TPG UK in London or dreaming up a game-changing app.” 

TPG currently has offices in New York and the United Kingdom with employees worldwide. Kelly said he would love to “dust off that old Spanish major” and provide content in other languages such as Spanish. He said expanding the company globally would allow even more people to understand how points are part of their lives.

Points are a currency that the more you mind your own knowledge in them, the more valuable they come,” Kelly said. “And that’s why I’m excited that The Points Guy with our ever-growing staff will be the key resource for people as they use their points, whether that’s for travel or to convert them to cash or even crypto points are here to stay.”

The article previously stated incorrectly that Red Ventures owns a stake in Kelly’s company but grants him the freedom to run the company. The article also previously stated incorrectly that Kelly plans on opening an office in Spain. He plans on offering content on his site in Spanish. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Pitt News regrets these errors.