Time travel with the points whisperer, Steve Hui

“Some people call it time travel – you’re on the same plane (in first class) but experiencing time completely differently”

Buckle in. It’s time to level up to expert frequent flyer status with Steve Hui from IFly Flat.

Like The Champagne Mile, Steve Hui knows a thing or two about collecting points for business and first class redemptions.

Long coined ‘the points whisperer’, Steve’s business, IFly Flat, is a leading Australian rewards travel agency that aims to help travellers fly at the pointy end for about half the cost.

steve hui IFly Flat profile image

We sat down with Steve to get his expert tips on how to succeed in the points world.

Ground zero – Steve’s story

Steve’s points journey began about 15 years ago when he worked for Macquarie Bank and was regularly flying business class to India as part of the company’s outsourcing efforts.

“Slowly the points added up and I figured out that actually, I could use these points to book myself a personal trip,” Steve said.

And that’s just what he did. After booking a business class flight to Singapore (worth about $4,000 AUD) with points, Steve really knew he was onto something. 

And the rest, as they say, was history.

Points vs status: Which should you focus on?

Steve’s reason for making the effort to collect points is refreshingly simple: Redemptions that are so cheap, people don’t even believe it’s possible.

When it comes to status on the other hand, Steve challenged the notion of whether chasing elite privileges is actually worth it.

“If you’re flying business class anyway on points then there’s no point having status because you’re enjoying all the benefits that were designed originally for business class, where status really gives you something that you didn’t pay for,” Steve says.

From an expert standpoint, it all boils down to what you want from your travel. For example, if you’re someone who values lounge access above inflight spoils, elite status will likely deliver with an economy ticket.

Steve’s take? Let your pointy end fare do the talking.

“If you’re able to collect a lot of points and then use those points to fly business or first class anyway, then you’re really getting all the bells and whistles that status gives you,” he says.

Weathering the award seat scarcity storm – Put in the hard yards

While pandemic-related travel halts are hopefully behind us, points collectors are now facing another barrier to success: Award seat scarcity.

Steve says award seats are not as easy to come by as people hope for, but the key lies in the tenacity it takes to find a seat.

“Finding a points flight takes time, but working takes time, so you’re ultimately still trading hours for a reward,” he says.

“I think you get much more reward than taking time to find points flights than taking time to earn a salary, pay a tax, then use that money to book the same ticket.”

I asked Steve if he believes it will get too hard to find award seats, and his take was reassuring.

“Our business is so unique in the sense that if it was really easy to find flights, we wouldn’t have customers,” he says.

Essentially, Steve urges frequent flyers not to worry. Whether by experts or savvy frequent flyers, there’s always flights to be found – even when it appears too hard.

They just may not be on the routes you expect.

Steve’s seven tips for a better point collecting strategy

The points world can quickly become complex and overwhelming, so we picked Steve’s points brain for the best way to secure your ultimate redemption.

1. Understand how many points you need

Steve says that when getting started with points, you first need to work out how many you need.

“Like going into a supermarket or department store, you can’t buy something unless you know how much it’s going to be,” he says.

Cathay Business Class

In this case, it’s a matter of finding somewhere to go – whether that’s Melbourne, London or anywhere in between – and working out how many points it’s going to be.

Once you know that figure, you can multiply it by the number of seats you’ll need and then you know exactly what you’re working towards.

2. Know what you’ve got

After working out the number of points you’ll need, Steve says you’ll want to know what you’ve already got.

“If you don’t know these two parts, then you’re blind,” he says. This can look like doing a quick tally across loyalty programs to better grasp where you stand. 

After doing so, you may find you’re actually close to reaching your goal, or rather, you’ll be able to formulate a plan to earn what you need.

3. Find points in your everyday

The next step is to find every opportunity to earn those points. Steve says it’s important to know where you can earn your points just for living as you do, not necessarily doing anything different.

This is where program partners come in handy. Whether you’re team Qantas or Velocity, Everyday Rewards or Flybuys, you want to be across the program partners that offer points for shopping or bookings you’re making anyway.

“Many people don’t know about other airline partners and what they can do, but that’s what gives our business a chance to do something that customers don’t know about,” he says.

As well as that, Steve says credit cards a generally a very good way to accumulate points, because choosing the right card will mean you’re earning points for every dollar you’re spending.

Check out The Champagne Mile’s reviews of some of the top frequent flyer credit cards here.

4. Go flexible

Steve has noticed an undeniable shift towards flexible points programs, which give you the ability to transfer points to multiple airline partners.

Essentially, a flexible points program allows you to book on whichever airline has a seat at the time you want to go.

“Otherwise, you just rely on one airline to be issuing points seats, which doesn’t work if that airline is making seats scarce,” Steve says.

In terms of his go to flexible points programs, Steve says American Express Membership Rewards has always come out on top.

“You earn more points per dollar, so you’re earning more points faster,” he says.

5. Avoid points plus pay at all costs

Steve admits he thinks people are missing basic understanding in the difference between points redemptions and points plus pay.

“People are unaware that it shouldn’t be a million points and that’s because they don’t understand how many points it should cost to fly,” he says.

Simply put, beware of the tactics used to push points plus pay. Familiarise yourself with your frequent flyer program and understand that a true points redemption will always cost considerably less than the points plus pay option, which simply converts the cash price to points.

6. Call a points friend – Ask for advice

Steve has a point when he says most people know someone who has booked a flight on points before.

Don’t shy away from asking them for advice. Pick points brains when and where you can (we’ve got that covered).

7. Start small

When it comes to making your first booking, Steve says that while it all boils down to how fast your earning rates are, he generally likes to get people to book a domestic business class flight to get a feel for the process.

Booking a Sydney to Melbourne flight in business class is a good bet according to Steve.

“Most people will say ‘what’s the big deal’, but even for a short domestic one-hour flight, you might decide you really enjoy the experience,” he says.

“I’s not just a theory, it’s practical and real –nothing beats real life experience to realise it’s worth it.”

Safe to say it’s all a lot easier when you know flight redemptions are possible and you’re on the right path.

The future of your points – Aim high

Demand for Steve’s service has skyrocketed since travel opened back up.

During the pandemic, IFly Flat made a point of talking about travel and getting people excited, but now the focus is now very much on helping new customers actually lock in those redemptions.

In terms of his own redemptions, Steve says he can’t beat the achievement and rarity of a first class seat.

“First class is aspirational because it’s special, but business class is good for sleeping. If flying overnight I’d choose business class, but I’d fly first class during the day whenever the opportunity is presented,” he says.

When comparing redemptions across the different cabins, Steve almost guarantees the difference is that you’ll likely enjoy the flight in first class so much that you won’t want it to end.

“When you fly first class, the flight seems too short, whether its eight hours or 20 hours, you want to keep it going,” he says.

“When you fly business class you feel like’ this is just about right, I’m ready to get to my destination

“Then, when you fly economy, you’re ready to get off even before the plane has taken off.”

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Steve enjoying life in the Etihad First Apartment on the A380

When I asked Steve to recall a favourite redemption, he couldn’t quite pick one, with his experiences in the Etihad first apartment and Singapore first class suite – both on the Airbus A380 – coming in as equal firsts.

Points inspo: Steve’s ideal redemption

When reflecting on where you’ve been, it’s only natural to dream about where you’re going.

Steve wants his next lofty redemption to look a lot like a nice long flight in Singapore Airlines’ first class suite on the A380 all the way to London.

“This gives you a good eight hours and then another 14 to really get into it and try everything: Food, sleep, movies, music and read,” he says.

“That way you can experience the whole thing and feel like you’ve had this good trip.”

This route is a particular favourite of Steve’s because even though there are only six seats available, there are usually plenty of dates bookable.

According to the points whisperer, this is the kind of flight to aspire to. “It will be a story in someone’s life for the rest of their life”, he closes.

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1 thought on “Time travel with the points whisperer, Steve Hui”

  1. Avatar for Velice

    I’m in the Qantas frequent flyer program and have more than 500k in points.
    I would like to be able to pay for around the world business class for two people with points from Sydney return, how many points would I need?

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