If you've been following me on Twitter this weekend, you know I've been attending the Frequent Traveler University event in Seattle, Washington. To paint in broad strokes, these are periodic events where people associated with Randy Peterson's points-and-miles empire give presentations to a paying audience of frequent flyers. Many, but not all, of the speakers are Boarding Area bloggers, along with miscellaneous folk like Scott from Hack my Trip and Daraius of bow-tie fame.
To get to Seattle, I redeemed 20,000 US Bank Flexpoints for a non-stop Alaska Airlines flight from Boston Friday morning. The flight cost about $380, making it pretty close to the ideal Flexperks redemption.
Whenever you make a Flexperks flight redemption, you also receive a $25 credit that can be used for incidentals on the ticketing airline during your trip. Since Alaska sells online gift certificates starting at $25, my original plan was to buy one of those, and then call in to have a statement credit applied to my account.
Then I got on my flight at 8 am Friday morning and realized I hadn't had breakfast, so I bought one of the Alaska Airlines breakfast sandwiches, instead. It was a good plan, though.
I'll be flying back on the red eye tonight, and ordering enough junk from the flight attendant to max out my $25 credit!
I booked the event's group rate at the Seattle Airport Marriott with my Barclaycard Arrival. Thanks to my having booked a stay for my mom a month or so ago, I actually have an odd number of stays with Marriott during the current MegaBonus promotion, which means this paid stay will trigger the payout of another free night certificate. Lucky me.
Let's start with the good: travel hacking can obviously be a pretty lonesome hobby. Sure, we have online communities like FlyerTalk, and there are lots of discussions that take place in the comments section of this blog and others, but most travel hackers don't know more than one or two other people in real life who have the slightest interest in this game.
The genius of Frequent Traveler University is letting people pay to be a part of a real world community. Just like a trade conference, everyone is walking around with name tags, talking, asking each other questions, and so on. And the fact that people pay to do it may make them more comfortable striking up conversations with strangers. There are free or semi-free alternatives, like the DO's which are regularly organized on FlyerTalk, but some people may be more comfortable in a more structured environment, and it's great that this option exists.
Now the bad.
The fundamental problem with FTU, for me, is that it's a conference of bloggers. Bloggers, for good and for ill, are great at writing blog posts. And every presentation I went to gave me the extremely vivid impression of hearing someone read a blog post out loud.
I'm trying to keep this post focused on FTU and save my comments on affiliate blogging and affiliate bloggers for a later post, but here is the crux of the issue: affiliate bloggers are businessmen and women – but their business is not giving good advice to their readers. Giving advice to readers is a modality by which they conduct their business: selling credit card products.
And that was painfully obvious in (almost) every FTU presentation I went to. If you could insert an affiliate link into a PowerPoint presentation, these guys would have done it.
I do want to highlight one amazing exception to that: Sam Weiler did a dynamite presentation on dialing in Priceline "Name Your Own Price" bids. It was information I suppose I already new, but his presentation was an incredible summary of literally dozens of tips and tricks for paying the absolute minimum price possible for hotel stays, and there was time for a live demo at the end which was very fun to watch.
Then on the other side, Gary and Lucky spent two sessions of "Advanced Q&A" doing...well, I'm not sure what they were doing. I called it "banter" on Twitter. My favorite line came from Lucky about halfway through the first session, regarding the numerous, well-known vulnerabilities in the AvianaTaca Lifemiles program:
"Most of us are trying not to talk too openly about it."
I can totally appreciate that sentiment. I don't talk too openly about it either. But I also don't charge people a hundred bucks to hear me tell them I don't talk too openly about it. So that struck me as weird and offensive as a thing to say to an audience that in principle came to hear you share your unique insight and knowledge. Or whatever.
Alright, enough of that. The presentations weren't very dense with new information, but people did mention a number of things I either didn't know, had forgotten, or was just pleasantly surprised to be reminded of. I may or may not turn some of these into full blog posts later, depending on reader interest:
- Make Evolve Money bill payments to the same payee from multiple accounts;
- You can buy gift cards with gift cards at Staples (I used to do this to turn un-resellable gift cards into resellable gift cards – some sites won't allow you to resell cards you originally bought through their site);
- The Fare Deal Alert and Skyscanner are competitors of The Flight Deal, and offer slightly different services, but both seem fun and useful at first glance;
- Use http://matrix.itasoftware.com/?showPricePerMile=true to view CPM on revenue flights (I don't use this often since it doesn't compute 500-mile minimums);
- Wideroe still apparently allows flights to be booked without fuel surcharges – sometimes;
- Lufthansa, Delta, and AviancaTaca all process their own mileage sale transactions, meaning they trigger airline category bonuses and are eligible for Barclaycard Arrival redemptions (be careful of foreign transaction fees though);
- Speaking of which, Barclaycard allows Arrival redemptions against purchases that are later refunded (tread lightly here);
- American Airlines will give original routing credit for "trips in vain;"
- Amex for Target: still a thing;
- Kiva: still a thing;
- If a Starwood Preferred Guest upgrade certificate doesn't clear 5 days out, it'll still put you at the front of the upgrade queue (maybe);
- Earn Ultimate Rewards points for reservations made at hotels.com (if you want);
- Companions on Alaska companion tickets can credit their miles to a different program (kind of obvious, but good to know);
- Are you an IBM partner (Starwood corporate rate code: 18000; Hyatt corporate rate code: 13717)?
One of the things Matt really stressed when he was putting together the idea for our get together in Charlotte in two weeks was keeping the event small. Well, the word he used was "intimate," but you get the idea.
I don't dare predict that the Charlotte DO is going to be some kind of fantastical success – I'm still nervous about presenting there! But now that I've made it through one of these sprawling FTU events, I think the general idea – that an event should be small enough that bloggers and readers can learn from each other – is a good one.
And I hope that Charlotte is an amazing success! If it is, I'll start hounding Matt to hold another event or two for folks who aren't able to make it out in May.