Rob Burgess runs the UK’s biggest frequent flyer website, Head for Points (www.headforpoints.com). If you collect Avios points, Virgin Flying Club miles or any sort of hotel loyalty points, you will find Rob’s site to be full of useful news and reference articles on how to make the most of your miles and points.
He has over 8 million airline, hotel and credit card points in the bank and has redeemed a further 10 million over the past decade. The site generates almost 900,000 page views a month from 165,000 unique visitors, the majority of them from the UK.
Easyspace recently caught up with Rob for a chat:
Q1. Rob, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to setting up your own website
I worked in the City for 16 years until 2011. I travelled a lot and became fascinated with frequent flyer schemes – the City analyst part of my brain used to enjoy extracting the maximum benefit from the smallest number of points! I joined Flyertalk, the biggest frequent flyer forum, as long ago as 2004.
When I left my finance job I had a long non-compete period. There was no UK site for business travellers and high-end leisure travellers who wanted to maximise their miles and points. I had seen how similar sites in the US grown and I thought I had the knowledge and time to give it a go. By the time my gardening leave was up, I was making enough money to turn my back on the City.
Q2. Tell us about your website HeadforPoints.com – how does it help people?
Anyone who travels for business or leisure is likely to accumulate air miles or hotel loyalty points. Only a tiny percentage of people know how to use these points efficiently or know how to top up their miles for free or very cheaply.
Few people know, for example, that British Airways Avios points can be redeemed on Aer Lingus flights to the USA. Because you don’t pay fuel surcharges on Aer Lingus, the taxes you pay are £300 lower per person than booking a BA flight. However, because Aer Lingus flights are only bookable by telephone, few people know they exist.
There are also some amazing credit card sign-up deals out there which most people ignore. The free Hilton Visa gives you a free night in any of their properties, even their £1,000 a night Conrad Maldives resort, for getting their free credit card and spending just £750. The American Express Gold charge card offers 20,000 Amex points (worth 20,000 Avios) for getting the card and spending £2,000 within 3 months. These are hugely valuable perks.
Q3. How has the website grown since you started it?
I was well-known in frequent flyer circles so I got some traffic from Day One. I do remember, three months in on the Olympic ‘Super Saturday’ in 2012, getting under 500 page views and feeling a bit glum. I now average just under 30,000 page views per day.
Q4. Do you create all the content yourself or do your employ staff or outsource?
I do everything myself, but I am starting to feel the strain. For every hour I spend writing articles (I publish three per day, seven days a week) I spend 2-3 hours dealing with affiliates, arranging advertising or competitions or answering reader emails. I am looking at ways of spreading the load, but if I stopped writing the articles then the site would lose its personality.
Q5. How do you find the content e.g. Avios points offers, etc for your website?
I am lucky that the site has critical mass and I am on the PR radar of the major airlines and hotels. Readers are also very good at sending me offers they spot. It frees me up to spend time on more analytical articles, such as comparing different credit cards, researching the best ways to use miles to fly to specific countries etc.
Q6. Your website runs on WordPress – why did you choose this and did you set up the website/design yourself? When you first started, how easy was it getting it set up?
From the background research I did, WordPress seemed the obvious way to go over, say, Blogger. You genuinely can get your first post up within 10 minutes of creating an account.
I ran the site for free on WordPress.com for seven months and then moved to a self-hosted site which allowed me to incorporate advertising. I use the Genesis framework to add some extra WordPress features and a slightly modified version of one of their themes. This theme modification was the only IT work I have ever paid for.
Q7. With regards to domain names – what advice do you have for people who are considering setting up a website?
Don’t feel obliged to buy up every version of your domain name. I have the .com and .co.uk versions. I doubt many people type in headforpoints.eu by mistake. You could end up spending hundreds of pounds per year for little benefit.
Do snap up domains which sound good even if they are not relevant immediately. I owned milesovereurope.com for a few years because I thought it would make a good pan-European air miles site. I let it lapse this year as I have decided that I don’t have time for such a project. I do have other names registered which I may use for launches in future years.
Off topic, do try to buy up domain names for your kids! I own mollyburgess.com and co.uk, my little boy has max-burgess.co.uk and .com. They may thank me for it one day! Whether you should think of another name for your forthcoming kids if the domain name is taken is a different question …..
Q8. You encourage people to enter their email and subscribe to your website – how has this helped grow your website?
Since I switched to MailChimp in January 2015, I am pushing the email service harder as I can run advertising in it. Before this, I was using the free WordPress email service which did not allow advertising. This meant that any reader who switched from the site to the emails was costing me money.
I now have more people who read my articles via email (MailChimp tells me how many people open each one) than read them online. They go out by 6am and people tend to read them on their commute.
Q9. Where are most of your website visitors from?
Around 80% are from the UK. I am running a very focussed site which runs articles and offers of interest to people who live here. I am not interested in broadening it out at the expense of making a lot of the content irrelevant for a UK traveller.
Q10. How do you make money from your website HeadforPoints.com?
It is basically lots of tiny sums which adds up a decent sum. There is advertising, of course, plus affiliate deals and referral credits for introducing readers to certain companies. Even small things like a link to amazon.co.uk add up when you have a run-rate of 10 million page views per year.
I don’t do sponsored posts – a couple I trialled had bad reader feedback and for the sums involved it isn’t worth it. I do offer ‘soft editorial’, e.g. if an airline gives me some flights for a competition prize, they will get some editorial outlining their routes and services. People accept this trade off.
Q11. Apart from earning money from you website, what other benefits have you gotten from your website?
After spending 16 years in finance, it is great to do something totally different. I have gained a whole new set of skills and met a totally different group of people. I also have control of my time – I take my kids to school each day and I am almost always home for their bedtime. If the weather is good I can take a day off. I also got to appear on Radio 4, which is a small badge of honour in the UK!
The downside is that, as a 24/7 site, it never goes away. I find myself answering reader comments on Christmas Day. On holiday, I need to spend 1-2 hours per day replying to comments and emails and reworking what I have prepared for the following day.
Q12. How do you promote HeadforPoints and drive traffic to your website?
Google and word of mouth are the biggest generators. I produce over 1,000 articles per year so any Google search involving airline or hotel loyalty points tends to throw up a link.
Q13. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc, to promote your website? How successful has it been for you? Any advice on how people can use social media to promote their website?
I don’t do YouTube, although I have a friend who makes £1,000 per month from videos showing his trips in British Airways First Class etc, which he got via his miles. Instagram is something I have just started but is not a big thing – my typical reader is a 35 year old business professional. I do use LinkedIn for that reason and all my articles go on there.
I do a bit of Twitter advertising – I limit it to desktop users, not mobile, as I think it helps me target business people. Facebook has been surprisingly successful – I tried it for the first time recently and was blown away by how cheap my ‘cost per click through’ was.
Q14. What’s involved with managing your website? Describe your typical day.
The daily articles are live by 6am. I take the kids to school and head to Pret A Manger on Kings Road for coffee, breakfast and a catch up via my iPad of what is happening. This often shapes the articles for the following day. Around 10am I head to one of the many Regus business centres in London (I have a Regus Gold card which allows me to use them all) where I grab a chair and a desk and pull out my laptop. I try to finish by 5pm. In the evenings, I do a final re-read of the articles which will go live the next morning.
Q15. Which entrepreneur/person has inspired you the most & why?
There is a guy in my space in the US called Randy Peterson. He has managed to successfully ride the wave from frequent flyer print magazines to forums to blog aggregators to content platforms. To stay relevant for over 20 years is a big achievement.
Q16. What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business/website?
You need to have a passion for your content, because if your readers can’t feel it they won’t engage. You also need stamina – anyone can have ideas for 20 articles on a topic, but could you write 1,000 per year as I do? You also need to be prepared to make very little money for at least a year.
Q17. What are your plans/goals for the next 6 months?
I have just launched a sister site called Shopper Points which focuses on supermarket loyalty schemes, mainly Tesco Clubcard. I am using a freelance writer to help me spread the workload and it has got off to a very promising start. As for Head for Points, I don’t know where the limit is – could it grow to 250,000 unique visitors per month? 350,000? How nichey is my niche?!
Thanks Rob, from everyone at Easyspace.
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