We all want to travel for free or with enhanced perks at no-cost, but we may not have the time or energy to put into the endeavor as David Phillips, the Pudding Man, did in 2013, earning him an almost cult-following in the Loyalty Points community. Famously, Davis collected over 1,000,000 points when he bought a truckload of Healthy Choice puddings for its reward points. As a result, he now has a lifetime lifelong access to “American Airlines AAdvantage Gold club.” It also took him a small army to reach his goal and a $3,000 investment. In an exclusive interview, The Scope Weekly asked Michael Trager, CEO, and co-founder of TravelZork, a source for all things Vegas, casino, and travel loyalty programs what he believes is the best strategy to take to benefit the most from loyalty cards and programs.
But what if you don’t have the initial cash or a small army to peel off stickers for days on end? How do you proceed? We turned to Trager for any quickstart tips and clarifications.
Trager told us, “You need to start to understand the programs and your objectives. Everyone’s situation is different. For example, if you live in a Delta focus city and fly on Delta, it might make sense to focus on Delta SkyMiles, Delta credit cards, and American Express card products (such as the Platinum Card) that provide Delta benefits like SkyClub access, which are especially good for business travelers.” Trager adds,” If you do not fly for business but leisure, and want to redeem an aspirational award for a honeymoon you might want to focus on credit card award programs and transferable award programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.”
And on the topic of the “Pudding Man,” Trager added, “Great story. Great guy. Not applicable to the things we are teaching. His case is an extreme optimization of the miles+points programs, it borders on what some would call “gaming the system, and we don’t recommend his tactics. Not to mention that who among us has that kind of time!” To hear more about Trager’s experience with extreme optimizations, listen to his podcast.
Trager understands that the loyalty programs can seem confusing and overwhelming for the consumers.
To address the confusion that many consumers have around those programs, he is offering a one-day boot camp, Award Travel Bootcamp at ZorkFest on May 26, in Las Vegas. He believes that this “program alone could save someone 15-25 hours of research and discovery. The program is priced aggressively and includes a subscription to Award Wallet.”
ZorkFest is a ” without a doubt, the quintessential event for smart travelers. Whether it’s maximizing your loyalty points or your gambling dollar, the presentations offer insight for newbies and pros, alike! I walked out of Zorkfest 2017 with a blueprint for discounted travel and a strategy to get the most freebies from the casinos,” said Tony S. from Vice Lounge Online.
Inquiring whether a financial investment is required to get going, Trager said,”It most instances, no. But, it does require that you form an understanding of these programs. Even the “expensive” credit cards often yield for more than the membership fee (in transferrable travel award points) than the actual cost.”
We asked him what kind of time investment should the consumer expect. He told us, “Once again, we are teaching the application of real-world understanding and real-world offers that almost anyone can take benefit from applying. It’s not a “game-theory” or “extreme travel hacking” solution.”
He also believes that whether you are a business traveler or a family of four, savings of a few thousand dollars are possible, if you “integrate credit card optimization at the sign-ups.” And in his opinion, this figure is conservative and could add up to more.
When asked who he hopes to reach and who should attend, he said, “We focus on beginners, and also those who have dabbled in these programs but do not think they are getting the most for their efforts. We don’t teach “magic quick tricks,” but instead focus on an understanding of how to use these programs effectively. Unbelievably, only a small percentage of people understand this. But, that’s good, since you’ll become one of the “select group” who understands how these programs work and how to get the most out of them.
According to Trager, the future of loyalty cards and reward programs is bright even though; the companies aren’t making it easy for the consumers to redeem. He believes that “there are still many “sweet spots.” Also, don’t forget, learning also to focus and gain elite status in both travel (airline and hotel) and casino loyalty programs is also something important. The travel experience today is tough, but there are so many things you can do to make that experience better. Not just when redeeming travel awards but for all your flights, hotel and casino visits.”
With the smart technology used by the industry, the consumer doesn’t have to worry about unaccounted for points and missing out on rewards. Some of the technology solutions used by the industry to track your points include Award Wallet, ExpertFlyer, Pex+. “I’m particularly partial to ExpertFlyer and helping people use those tools,” advised Trager.
According to Trager, loyalty programs will continue the trend of transitioning to more robust revenue-based systems. In other words, the more money the consumer spends, the more points he will earn. This is great for business travelers who use “Other People’s Money” or OPM, such as executives whose travel expenses are paid by their companies. This system is not as advantageous for the consumers who buy their travel and are traveling only for holidays. Trager said, “This means that now more than ever you have to start to understand the programs and the “sweet spots” for redemptions. You also have to learn how to leverage non-travel items (such as credit cards, shopping portal bonuses) that add a large number of points to your account. The programs will continue to become more complicated and restricted. But, this can be an advantage to the few who understand where the best opportunities are.”
Trager emphasized that “, Yes, betweenZorkFest and the Award Travel Bootcamp (optional Sunday), you will walk away with all the tools (a blueprint) you need for some pretty epic free or inexpensive future travel. You’ll also learn where you should focus your efforts concerning travel loyalty programs and casino loyalty programs.” See you in Vegas!
If you’re interested in attending ZorkFest, Trager has extended an invitation to The Scope Weekly readers, by entering “zorkscopeweekly,” ticket buyers will obtain $10 discount on the ticket price. There is no limit on the number of tickets. Good for the regular $200 ticket and also the High Roller VIP ticket.