Allen Walton is the founder of SpyGuy, a seller of surveillance cameras from his base in Texas. He’s also a world traveler and a seasoned acquirer of airline travel points. Ecommerce merchants who pay with a rewards credit card for advertising, shipping, and other expenses can “rack-up crazy points,” he told me.
In our recent interview, his third for this podcast, he elaborated on his methods for obtaining cheap airline tickets and hotel accommodations.
The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: You are the points guy.
Allen Walton: I’m pretty well-versed. For almost 10 years now, I have been paying attention to points and miles and figuring out how to save money, especially on international travel. Many folks come to me for tips, and I am happy to help because I know how meaningful it is to lay flat on a business seat when you’re on your way to meet suppliers in Asia.
If you desire to travel, whether for business or personal, and you’re willing to learn some rules to redeem those points, you could fly business class from the U.S. to Asia or get just under $400 in cash. There are some tricks. Ideally, you must be flexible about when you fly out or your final destination.
Say you’re trying to get to Barcelona in the summer. There might not be something available that gets you the whole way there, but if you’re happy with ending up in Madrid or Paris, there might be something there that’s just a fraction of the price of trying to get to Barcelona. Flexibility opens up the possibilities.
Bandholz: What’s the process?
Walton: Airlines have loyalty programs. American has the AAdvantage program, United has MileagePlus, and Air France has Flying Blue. You can rack-up airline miles from standard fares and redeem those miles for tickets. You can also get airline miles just by making regular credit card purchases. You don’t have to fly on those airlines to rack up their miles.
“Anytime awards” or “everyday awards” are where you pick the exact flight you want on the same date you want, and the airlines will quote you a price that will typically be expensive in terms of points. On United, it might be 200,000 points from New York to Japan or New York to Hong Kong. But there are what’s called “saver awards.” On many flights, the airlines will designate a small number of seats at a saver rate, which might be much less. So, instead of 200,000 points, it might be 80,000. If you know the game’s rules, you can look for these saver seats, which aren’t on every flight, but you can book these awards at a fraction of the average points.
Bandholz: Do you have to switch credit cards to get the maximum points?
Walton: No. Getting a big signup offer, canceling it, and switch cards to max out the number of points is what somebody with a nine-to-five job might do because they don’t spend the amount of money necessary to facilitate redeeming points for miles. You do not need to do that as an ecommerce entrepreneur. When you factor in ad spend, shipping, SaaS, and paying suppliers, your monthly spend on a credit card is so much that you don’t need to do that game. You could stick with one, two, or maybe even three cards and rack up many points from your regular business expenses.
Bandholz: What are the best cards for entrepreneurs?
Walton: There are a few for ecommerce entrepreneurs, particularly the American Express Business Gold Card. For the last decade, it was four points for every dollar of online advertising and shipping. That was big for anyone who advertised online or shipped physical products. You could rack up crazy points. AmEx recently tweaked that card. This year, instead of 4-times on shipping, they added 4-times on software and cloud computing. Klaviyo and ClickUp will be on that, for example. The card has a $400 annual fee but pays itself when you get four points for every dollar you spend. You can start redeeming that for business-class international travel or hotel stays.
The Chase Ink Business Preferred is the next option, but getting multiples of this card is much more challenging. Generally, you need a relationship with the small business banker at Chase, such as your local regional banker. This card gives you 3-times points on online ads and 3-times on shipping. It has a $95 annual fee and a 100,000 signup bonus. You could do a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Europe in business class just from the signup bonus. And so it’s a card worth picking up if you’ve tapped out on AmEx cards.
You might want to consider looking at a hotel card for loyalty reasons. I have platinum status with Marriott Bonvoy because there are a lot of Marriotts. They give you a 4:00 p.m. checkout, an upgrade to suites, and a free breakfast. Sometimes you have to ask. They won’t do it automatically. It makes it a lot easier to get status for when you’re traveling and want a better hotel experience, specifically the late checkout.
Consider getting another card for any spending that doesn’t have a multiplier.
Bandholz: Where do you search plane tickets by point costs?
Walton: There’s a tool now that I love called Seats.aero. It scans the most popular routes every hour or so. It will tell you when the flight takes off, how many seats are available, and booking options. There’s a free version, but the paid version costs $10 a month and is worth it. They have a bot that crawls all the airlines’ websites. It will find what’s available at that saver level, what date it is on, how much the fees are, and how you book. It’ll explain all that right there, but it’s imperfect and doesn’t include every airline. It misses a lot of stuff.
Bandholz: How can folks connect with you?
Walton: My website is SpyGuy.com. My Twitter handle is @allenthird.