As some of you may know, I attended PointsUYYZ in Toronto last weekend and I just wanted to share with you what you missed out on if you weren’t in attendance.
The first thing you should know is that the creators of the conference, Jason Binstock, Borris Remes and Viola Ng, did a masterful job at setting up this first class conference. From the time we arrived at the reception on Friday night to the wrap up on Saturday, everything was truly first class. I have to say that even the most jaded travel hackers out there commented on how well run the conference was and how amazing it was to have some key sponsors lined up such as SPG, Marriott, Fairmont, Aeroplan, American Express, Expert Flyer, AwardMagic and Awarding Canada. With this being the second PointsU conference, it certainly feels like this will become the defacto Canadian Points Conference.
Reception at the Fairmont Royal York
The Welcome Reception as held at the Upper Canada Room at the Fairmont Royal York and I was blown away with the effort Fairmont made to make our delegates feel welcome. As sponsors of the conference, they hosted the delegation and provided some excellent appetizers including a “make your own poutine” station. Fairmont also hosted an open bar for the delegation and to top it all off, they provided a certificate for a free night in one of their suites! I found this to be extremely generous gesture and it certainly made the winner quite happy.
To top it all off, the Fairmont provided us access to the Royal Suite for the evening. This is the actual suite that the Queen stays in during her visits to Toronto. To say that the room was grandiose would be an understatement. The suite itself is 2,470 square feet, features 2 bedrooms, a living room with a wet bar and a full dining room with seating for 16. If you want to read more about the suite, click here.
The craziest thing about this evening was that it was not only open to delegates of the conference but was open to all interested parties at no cost. This is where Jason and Borris really shine when it comes to the strategy associated with this event. I think those that have been in the Travel Hacking game for a while realize how intimidating it can be to get started. This event gave people that were hesitant about the conference a chance to dip their toe in the water to see if Travel Hacking was for them.
I met quite a few people that were new into Travel Hacking and saw many of my friends and colleagues speaking to these so called “newbies”. From what I saw, everyone was made to feel welcome and you could almost see some light bulbs turn on in the minds of some of these newly minted travel hackers. It was an excellent way to start the conference.
We began the PointsU Conference on Saturday morning at the Toronto Region Board of Trade and I must say that I was surprised by how fantastic the venue was. I have personally been to a lot of conferences for my day job and this was as well put together as any other conference I have seen in recent memory.
The way the conference was structured was that things would start off from a beginner level and ramp up throughout the day so that newer Travel Hackers wouldn’t feel overloaded with information.
Before I get into the conference itself, I wanted to set the stage a bit here. My intention here is to give you an overview of the conference but not to go into the details of the talks for a couple of reasons, the first is that it’s a lot to read and the secondary and most important reason is that I want you to actually attend the conference. So while I will cover off the topics that were spoken about, I will not reveal any of the secrets that our speakers shared with the delegation … and trust me, there’s some really good stuff there.
For the Love of Travel – Dave and Deb
The first topic from Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD was a fascinating look into the lives that Dave and Deb live. As a Canadian couple that has blogged about travel for the past 6 years, I was absolutely enthralled with their topic. What I loved about their topic was that it grounded me as a Travel Hacker and brought me back to why we play this crazy game … travel. Sometime we get so wrapped up with finding the next way to earn points that we sometimes lose sight of what we are doing this for. As I mentioned in previous posts, one of the benefits that travel provides is a chance to see the world and understand that your views of the world are not necessarily the way the world truly is. Travel broadens your horizons and it gives you a certain insight that a book, video or second hand description never could.
I actually got to know Dave and Deb a little bit after the conference and they truly are salt of the earth people that share the same love of travel we all have … they have just managed to make a living out of it.
Points Programs for the Non Travel Hacker
Stephen Weyman of HowToSaveMoney.ca helped set us off in the right direction with a hilarious talk about how to get started into points and rewards collecting from the perspective of someone that is new into Travel Hacking. He shared some of his rules of thumb to get into the right mindset of how to value your points and understand the opportunity cost of collecting points. I feel that this is an important topic that isn’t talked about a lot and Stephen did an excellent job at helping everyone understand the right approach to collecting points and miles.
Credit Cards and Credit Scores – Everything You Need to Know
Shirley Huang from PointsHogger helped to explain the intricacies associated with credit score and the misnomers out there about what applying for credit does to your credit score. Shirley walked through all the different elements that are considered when agencies determine your credit score.
In a previous post, I covered off Understanding Credit Score and a few days later provided an Update to Understanding Credit Score to help you see that applying for credit cards actually improves your credit score (assuming you pay your balances in full).
MacGyvering Your Miles
In this topic, Matt McLean of A Whistle and A Light spoke about the tools that a travel hacker can equip themselves with in order to take the points you earn and turn them into travel. I met Matt at the last conference and have always found him to be an extremely helpful guy and this talk was a reflection of that. Many tools were shared with the delegation include tools that Matt developed himself.
Matt and I actually tag teamed this topic and I spoke about Close-In Availability, a topic I covered off in my most recent series. This is the one exception to the caveat I provided at the beginning of the post. I am providing the nitty gritty of my topic because it was research done with the expectation of sharing it with my readers.
Jeff Fredericks from RewardsCanada provided a fun lunch keynote about some of the heros in the Travel Hacking hobby, including David Phillips (aka Pudding Guy), who took advantage of an arbitrage opportunity with a Healthy Choice promotion that saw him convert $3,140 in pudding into 1,253,000 frequent flyer miles.
Piecing Together the Perfect Itinerary
Ari Charlestein of AwardMagic provided an interesting talk about how to piece together itineraries across multiple programs in order to put together your perfect itinerary. This is where we start getting into the “secret” part of the talks where you really need to be at the conference to get the information. I found this talk to be very interesting because it is likely a strategy that I will be employing for my next big trip.
US Credit Cards for Canadians
Avery Campbell of DCTA and Awarding Canada provided a very top secret talk about how to get US credit cards as a Canadian. This information was insanely valuable for those in attendance because it opens up a whole new world for those that want access to US programs which tend to be much more valuable. A step by step method was shared with delegates and unfortunately it’s going to stay that way.
Having already gone through the process, it may be a topic I cover sometime in the future but for the time being, my lips are sealed.
Supercharging Your Points Earning
International Criminal Allen Chao spoke about extreme points earning and redemptions. Allan’s topic covered many programs that folks new into the game may not consider including RBC Avion, AAdvantage and Asia Miles. Allan also spoke about a very very top secret topic, Manufactured Spend. This is again a topic that will not be talked about but Allan certain helped out a lot of people that had questions about it.
Extreme Travel Redemptions – Hotel and Air
The final topic of the day was by Jeffrey Kwok of Canadian Kilometers who spoke about how to turn your points into extreme redemptions. With Jeff being one of the most respected member of the community, his talk really helped people realize what you can do with your points. Again, I will not disclose what Jeff spoke about in detail but will say that his talk opened up a lot of eyes and gave many people a stretch goal for how to redeem points.
Closing Panel Discussion
This is where we start to get a lot of value out of the conference because audience members had a chance to ask the burning questions that had built up throughout the day. There were many topics covered here including questions around the best card to have as a new Travel Hacker, follow up question on US Credit Cards for Canadians and a plethora of other topics.
After Party Reception
The After Party was hosted at the Sheraton Centre Toronto and was in a word: incredible. I thought I had taken pictures of the food but it turns out I didn’t. It’s a shame because the food was out of this world. Beautifully presented and absolutely delicious. I could not believe the efforts that SPG went through to put on this event and I am sure that it help reiterate what most people already know – SPG is top notch in service, quality and performance. They just get it.
This is where much of the relationships are built in the Travel Hacking Community. I met a lot of new people and reconnected with old friends. There was a lot of sharing of information that happened at the reception, which is the most valuable part of this conference.
The view from the reception hall was also breathtaking and served as nice way to conclude the evening.
PointU continues to be the premier Travel Hacking Conference in Canada and this year, they have outdone themselves. Besides the fascinating topics that were covered and the fantastic receptions that were arranged, there were a multitude of prizes given out that were worth quite a bit of money including:
- 25,000 Starpoints Certificate
- 10,000 Starpoints Certificate
- 15,000 Aeroplan miles Certificate
- 2 x $150 CAD Air Canada Gift Cards
- One year Premium service ExpertFlyer subscription
- 15,000 Marriott Rewards points
- One ticket to AI’s 7th Mega Event in Toronto following the conference on Oct 25-26
I mean seriously, what else could you ask for from a conference. At a cost of $159, you had a chance to win some amazing prizes as well as beef up your Travel Hacking knowledge.
If you weren’t there, make sure to attend next time. If you were there, it was great to meet you and feel free to reach out to me with any questions about anything covered PointsU at [email protected]. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics, I will be cross referencing your name against the attendee list but if you have general questions and weren’t a part of the delegation, I would be happy to help.
Special thanks to Allan Yong of PEKFlyer for the use of his photos.