It's harder to know what's public and what's private these days

Since I started blogging, I've tried to maintain a pretty consistent ethic here with respect to specific opportunities, whether on the manufactured spend and earning side of the loyalty equation or the redemption side. My basic views can be summarized as:

  • widely available and publicly advertised opportunities can and should be shared widely, even if it causes them to be ended prematurely;
  • obvious mistakes and coding errors that give outsized value should be shared narrowly since they're guaranteed to end as soon as they become public.

The logic behind the first point is that the more people who are able to take advantage of a deal, the more overall savings people achieve, even if the deal ends earlier than it otherwise would. This is why I refer to my readers as "force multipliers:" one thousand people taking advantage of a deal for one day get more value than one hundred people taking advantage of it for a week.

The logic behind the second point is that if an obvious mistake or coding error is made public then it will be fixed before anyone at all is able to take advantage of it, reducing the total savings people receive.

One of the strongest feelings of revulsion I've felt towards affiliate bloggers came out of the only Frequent Traveler University I attended, when one of the speakers answered, in response to a question about esoteric Lifemiles redemptions, that "Most of us are trying not to talk too openly about it." He said this to an audience of paying attendees! That moment really clarified for me how affiliate bloggers feel about their readers — even their readers willing to pay to spend a weekend in Seattle just to hear them speak.

It's harder to know what's public and what's private than it used to be

When this blog started one of the functions I think people valued was scrolling through tons of pages on FlyerTalk, spotting potential opportunities, and then checking out whether they actually worked or not. Today, I find FlyerTalk almost useless and spend more time networking with other travel hackers, on Twitter, and flipping through blog headlines to see if there are underreported opportunities. This hasn't changed my overall ethic (don't kill vulnerable deals, but share resilient deals widely), but has given me a slightly different perspective on some issues.

For example, I've been publicly linking to this grocery store opportunity almost since it came out, but have shared the results of my own experiments only through my subscribers-only newsletter. For me, that's a way of splitting the difference between sharing a lucrative, publicly available and publicly advertised deal, and potentially ending opportunities to scale it.

On the other hand, when people mention an opportunity on Twitter, it's difficult to know just how "public" that makes the deal. Is a deal public when it's widely known, or just when it has breached some unknown barrier between the secret and the non-secret?

Is this a golden age of manufactured spend, or the twilight years?

I've made no secret of my view that much of the changing attitude of veteran travel hackers towards the landscape today can be explained by what I call "lifecycle" effects. What was nearly effortless for a single person at age 30 becomes almost unbearably difficult for a married mother of two at age 50. That's not because travel hacking has gotten harder, but because your increased responsibilities have made everything harder!

Countless deals have died in just the 3 or 4 years since I started travel hacking intensively. If you treat the set of opportunities that existed when you first got involved as the "perfect storm" of opportunities, then you'll only notice the deals that die and not the new deals that have emerged since then. And, of course, over the course of those years you'll have gotten older, busier, and crankier. That's a recipe for believing the best days are behind us.

But I've said it before and I'm sure to say it again: all the travel hackers I know are manufacturing more spend and getting more value than they have at any time since I got started! Meanwhile the travel hackers who are complaining about the lack of opportunities are those who are either located in unfortunately restrictive geographic areas or who are simply unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities available today.

Those opportunities may or may not be more time and resource intensive than the opportunities that existed in the past. But at least we don't have to haul dollar coins around all day.