Almost a year ago I started coding on my side project, Points Pattern. I originally wanted to create Points Pattern to let anyone understand the hobby of credit card churning. Essentially taking advantage of the bonuses credit card companies provide you for getting a new credit card so that you travel for almost free (usually $5 or $10 in fees after your points). I’ve been doing this hobby for years and gone on trips to Amsterdam, San Francisco, Austin and many other places for almost nothing! The best part is not only is it free to travel to these places but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to stay in 5 star hotels like the W Amsterdam using this hobby.
The hobby works really well because you have to spend money, so it’s all about just picking and choosing the right credit cards to spend this money on. Also the only way this hobby works is if you treat your credit cards like a debit card, never spend more money that you can have, or you’ll just be losing money through interest payments.
There’s a lot of complexity to the hobby because every hotel brand, airline and credit card company has their own points with different rules, values and transferability to other points. You’re always trying to find a way to optimize your spending so that you can get the most value for your specific wants. I’ve spent hours and hours going over different forums to choose the right cards.
How I Started
When I first started, I wanted to go all out and create a full on search engine for flights. There is no API or easy way to access all of this data like there is for regular flight searches when you’re buying it with cold hard cash. So I decided I would create a web scraper for each airline I wanted to do this on. I started out working on a scraper for United Airlines.
I spend months working on this one scraper, constantly being blocked by United’s rate limiting policy. I spent a lot of time creating accounts and automating the use of hundreds of proxies so that I could try to get around this. The scraper would work for a few hundred combinations and then it would just start being blocked on every request again!
The combinations of route and dates I wanted data for was slightly under a million unique items, so this was just not a sustainable strategy. In addition, I was spending months of my free time just working on one airline, where I wanted to have this data for dozens of airlines in the future so that you can truly search everything.
Eventually I gave up and decided to stop working on my side project for some time.
Going Back to Basics
A few weeks later, I had an itch to keep going on this project but I was beaten down by the inability to make this scraper work and the looming doom of having to do this over and over again for other airlines. At first I contemplated maybe I should just try it with another airline…
Then I decided I needed to stop and write down why was I doing this. I came back to this main point I wrote when I started working on this project.
Help everyday people understand the value of credit card and airline points and how to get them easily.
Having a full on search engine was cool and as a programmer I was interested in the challenge but that wasn’t the thing that was going to help every day people understand how to do this hobby. It all came down to the relationship between points, credit cards and the ability to transfer them for the best value.
Realizing the Vision
So I decided to take a step back and instead of creating a search engine where you can see real time prices and availability I would just give people estimates on the prices of flights and focus on the relationship between credit cards and these points. Almost every airline has static points pricing for their award flights so I decided to codify these points into the program.
Now Points Pattern has dozen of credit cards, supports 6 airlines (and counting) and it fulfilled my original vision of making a tool anyone can use to understand this hobby and go travel the world for free.
The project blows me away even more now because I wrote algorithms to optimize what someone should use their points on and what credit cards they should get to go on these flights and it’s having me consider cards and airlines I never would have thought could use.
Going forward I’m going to keep doubling down on this strategy by adding more airlines with more options and showing the underlying data in a way that is simple and understandable.
So if you’ve ever wanted to fly somewhere and thought you couldn’t afford it go check out Points Pattern and see what cards can take you to that place you’ve always wanted to go.