First things first: our gathering, celebration, awards ceremony, conference, and party in Charlotte this weekend was incredible.
Now go read these takes on the event from around the blogosphere:
- The Miles Professor reveals how she won our March manufactured spending competition (I react here);
- PF Digest (a pretty good blog!) had some very kind words about your humble blogger and my talk on so-called "black hat" and "white hat" travel hacking (unfortunately I'm not able to share the slides from my talk). This great roundup is just one more reason I love PFD;
- And Travel Blogger Buzz shares his personal reactions to the event as a whole.
Smaller is better
I shared my frank disillusionment with the organization and presentations at the Seattle Frequent Traveler University two weeks ago. That event had over 400 attendees, while I believe the Charlotte DO had just a touch over 100, including presenters.
And even though I felt like I was constantly meeting readers, both long-time and first-time, I still didn't get a chance to meet everyone in attendance!
The smaller event and more relaxed atmosphere really contributed to making this a terrific relationship-building event for the attendees.
Travel hacking is alive and well
My overwhelming takeaway from the Charlotte event was that among the attendees, there was absolutely none of the sense of despair you sometimes see when reading reactions to, for example, the loss of Vanilla Reload Network reload cards at CVS.
These were not people who were lamenting the end of manufactured spend, these were people who were incredibly excited about the constantly expanding opportunities to see the world, visit friends and family, and make money using the techniques described here and elsewhere.
But discretion is important
I've tried to have a pretty consistent philosophy regarding the kinds of things I'll write about explicitly here on the blog, versus things that are better shared privately or through my subscribers-only newsletter. Basically, if a technique involves a publicly available, commercially offered service, I'm willing to write about it publicly.
For example, Walmart bill payments are available at, as far as I know, every Walmart in the country and there's a big sign behind the Customer Service or Money Center counter advertising the service. So I didn't have any compunctions about sharing the "missing link," the payees you have to designate in order to pay credit card bills at Walmart store locations.
Likewise, Evolve Money is trying hard to increase their market share in the bill payment space. So I wasn't burning any tricks by sharing my experiences and ideas for using their commercially-available service to pay bills online using debit cards.
On the other hand, when an airline has a long-standing and reproducible glitch that allows tickets to be priced differently than they should be (and from my understanding these glitches are legion across many, many airlines), I won't write about it publicly since writing about it instantly starts the clock ticking on the technique's demise.
There is no room for envy in this game
You are not playing against any other member of the community when you manufacture spend, book tickets, or sign up for credit cards. You are only playing against yourself (and the referees).
When people hear about the levels of manufactured spend being reached by others, their first, natural reaction is envy: why aren't I earning as much as they are?
And the answer is simple: they have a different credit history, different credit limits, different risk tolerance, different geographical restrictions, different ethical boundaries, and different knowledge.
And that's totally fine. It would be deeply weird (and not a little suspicious) if we all had exactly the same spend patterns, at the same merchants, all year every year. Instead, we're all different, and that's one of the things that makes it hard to pin any one of us down (our relatively small numbers help, too).
Ignore exhortations to more, more, more
Which brings me to one unpleasant reaction I had to some of the things people said in Charlotte, almost identical to my reaction to the FTU Seattle presentations: it is a sad but true fact that among certain participants in our hobby, there really is a palpable feeling of condescension or disbelief at members of the community who do less. Whether it's travel less, manufacture less, earn less, sign up for cards less, or whatever.
And it's wrong.
I have a vivid memory of one of the Seattle FTU presentations when a speaker (whose identity I'll protect since he really was out of line) asked:
"Who has signed up for an Citi Executive / AAdvantage 100,000 mile card? Who has signed up for two? Three? Why not?"
And that's the kind of attitude we, as responsible, mutually-dependent members of a community, should be shunning. Some people in Charlotte were uncomfortable that they were manufacturing just $25,000 per month. In other words, earning just one free round-trip domestic flight per month. What if you manufactured half that, just $150,000 per year, a mere two roundtrips to Europe? That is an amount of travel that is out of reach of huge swaths of the American population, not to mention the global population.
One of the great things about this game is that we aren't playing against each other, and I think it would benefit a lot of people to keep that in mind whenever possible.
I'll conclude with one note that came up repeatedly in Charlotte and comes up consistently in the comments to this blog.
There are two kinds of discretion: there's discretion aimed at keeping deals alive, and there's discretion aimed at keeping people out.
To the best of my ability, I'll try to exercise the former kind of discretion, but I started this blog in order to share with readers the incredible opportunities that exist out there, and I'll continue to do so until I can't afford to pay both my rent and my website hosting fees. In other words...