Category Archives: Neither Here Nor There

FYI, I’m Working on Upgrading the Website

I know I’ve been silent the last few days, but there’s good reason for that: I’m working on upgrading the website. The reason it’s taking a lot longer than it should? I’m really one of the more technologically-challenged people that you’ll meet. I’m working out all the kinks of the new website, and there probably are more than there should be since I’m the one working on it.

The sad part is, it’s not even that big of an upgrade! It’s just a face-lift at the moment. If I can’t figure it out enough on my own, I may end up having to shell out some cash and hire someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

I’m hoping to have a decent version of the new website running by January 1, but we’ll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I appreciate your patience!

The Personality of a Points Addict

I’m frugal, but I’m not cheap. And I’m betting that if you’re reading this, you’re probably very similar dealing with your money.

Here’s my deal: I HATE paying full price for anything. This is just built in to me, likely because of my parents who were extreme couponers when they first moved to this country (and yes, they do have the “only $15 in our pocket” cliche story). I was taught to save and save and save. I was taught to keep the lights off during the day, and turn them off when I left the room at night. I was taught to not bother with name brand items, because generic stuff was just as good.

That’s not to say my family was poor when I was growing up. My parents worked really hard so that we could all live a comfortable life, and we did/do. Which brings me to a different point: even when my parents became “successful,” they kept buying the generic stuff and kept saving money. It was built in to them.

I, however, am a bit more materialistic. I notice the difference between a dress shirt bought from Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers vs one bought at Sears or Kohl’s. The thing is, I’d much rather pay $20 for that dress shirt than $75. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say I wouldn’t buy that $75 dress shirt unless I could get it at half off. So I’ll wait for a sale, combine it with a coupon, stack it with a discounted gift card, and earn credit card points for the purchase. With everything stacked I get the product I wanted for a much more palatable price.

Before I lose you, let’s compare that to the travel and points game. We know how much a normal flight from LAX to JFK costs…about $350+ if you just randomly look a month in advance. But we, as savvy travelers, don’t like regular price – we want the $220 fare, because we know it will become available eventually and because it’s a great deal. It’s the reason The Flight Deal’s website exists, because there are better deals out there, and they use an objective measure of that value. It’s the reason we have CPM (cents per mile) measures, and even the new Miles per Minute measure that Mr Pickles created.

In terms of points, a round trip business class ticket from the US to Europe is usually $5K. But again, we don’t like regular price – we want a deal. We know that 100K points can be had for A LOT less than $5K. In fact, with the right credit card sign-ups you can end up paying just $5 out of pocket for that ticket (as long as you never carry a balance). I’m no mathematician, but $5 is better than $5K when you’re the one paying!

The Frequent Miler takes our obsession to a different level, because the gift card churning game can literally create points for free (plus time and effort), and that’s why everyone loves him. He showed us another avenue to feed in to our obsession to save more money, something other than credit card sign up bonuses. He helped change the game, and we all love playing the game.

Back to my original point: I’d bet that many of us that are part of the points community are the same way in our normal lives as we are in our points lives. We want a deal, and regular price is for the uninformed. But I’m sure we all know people that we shake our heads at because of their purchasing decisions. You know, the ones that we see paying cash (gasp!), paying MSRP at Banana Republic (omg!), or even combining the two (WTF!).

What we do is definitely not a bad thing. Our points obsession is time consuming – there’s no question about it. Whether it’s keeping up with FlyerTalk, taking the time to read all the blogs every day, or driving to several Office Depots or CVSs, there is a significant time commitment. The way I see it, we all value our time differently, and we all have different amounts of money. I, and I think many of us, would rather spend more of my time to figure out how to save more of my money to fuel my travel hobby. Of course there are many cases in which paying more to save time is worth it as well, but everyone has their own calculation.

By the way, this is where that Miles per Minute calculation comes in handy. We all dream of creating passive income for ourselves, so why not create a passive points income as well? It’s a different, intriguing way to think of the game!

So tell me – am I right or wrong? Are you different from what I described, and do you have different reasons for playing the points game?

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Business Class to Hong Kong, First Class Back

Right now, I’m on plane on my way to Hong Kong. It’s a destination that I’ve wanted to go to for quite some time (it’s on my bucket list), and I’m finally going to be able to get there for a few nights.

I’m lucky because I got a ticket on Asiana’s 777, which means that I get to try their hilariously named Quadra Smartium product. I also get to try the service of the airline that won all kinds of Skytrax awards recently. I booked my one-way ticket to Hong Kong for fairly cheap: I used miles I purchased from AviancaTaca Lifemiles program for a very cheap price, making my one-way ticket about $800. That’s an EXCELLENT price, especially considering a round trip ticket on this route usually costs about $4,500.

Hopefully I’m catching some z’s like this guy!

I’ll be spending 3 nights in Hong Kong and one night in Macau so I’ll be able to review a couple of hotels, including the brand new Sheraton Macau. I’ll make a detailed post later on how I booked my rooms, but I chose to pay instead of use points this time.

On my way back, I’ll be able to knock another item off my bucket list by taking Singapore Airlines’ first class (not the A380 suite), which I booked using points plus taxes. I’m VERY excited for this flight, and I’m almost looking forward to my flights as much as the destination! I’m only spending four nights in Hong Kong, so the first class flight back should be perfect for me to get some rest! Again, I’ll do a post on how/why I chose Singapore First when I do a full trip report.

Singapore Airlines First Class!

You likely won’t see many posts from my in the next few days unless I really do a lot of writing on my flights (which is very possible), but hopefully I’ll have some interesting posts when I return!

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

Are Points Blogs Changing Right Before Our Eyes?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the secretive nature of the points community. It became my most read post within one hour of me posting it thanks to many of my Twitter followers and to a few bloggers that found it interesting enough to mention (thanks again to those people). But while I noted how secretive things were, I also noted that there were still deals that many people could find out about through the points bloggers. That might be changing.

It sounds like there’s a “new normal” when it comes to our regular points bloggers. The rise and fall of Bluebird was so rapid that many bloggers likely realize they were instrumental in it’s quick collapse. It’s not fair to place all of the blame on bloggers, but they have thousands and thousands of followers and it was just a matter of time after each of them mentioned it. Even I wrote about it a couple of times, but didn’t bother with the basics since it was covered so heavily already.

What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is very interesting. Gary Leff, who writes View from the Wing, has become increasingly defensive in his posts. He says he hasn’t got any deals shut down, except one. I respectfully disagree, to a point, since he’s got more Twitter followers than any points blogger and likely has the most page views of any as well. When he posts, people read. It’s not entirely his fault, of course; not even close…but word spreads quickly now. Don’t get me wrong – I’m one of his avid readers and will continue to be. He writes a lot of great information, and he clearly does “protect” a lot of information.

Likewise, The Frequent Miler, who deserves so much credit for his original content on creating points for cheap, had a sudden and noticeable change of tone in a recent post. There were no more step-by-step instructions, but rather a note that it was up to you to figure it out. In short, he said he just won’t give away information anymore. He pointed you in the right direction, but left it up to you to do some of the leg work. I thought this was very interesting, and I personally appreciated that he didn’t just hand it away but still gave enough information so that someone that’s interested enough can easily figure it out.

Contrast that to Million Mile Secrets, who has continued to provide step-by-step advice on a number of points tricks and schemes. His blog is the perfect blog for beginners because he makes it easy for anyone to replicate any deal he writes about. That’s why people love him, and that’s why many of his followers are so loyal to him. But it’s also created a group of people that dislike him very much because of how detailed he is, even mocking his pictures and arrows. To his credit, he sticks to his guns and doesn’t really care what anyone else things. He has a different mission than most other bloggers. I respect that, and I read all his posts and will continue to do so.

Others have been mostly mum on the issue, not even mentioning that the whole 5x deal might be permanently dead. Some blogs, like The Wandering Aramean, Very Good Points, and Points to Point B, have barely said a word about Bluebird or Vanilla. They are throwbacks to the old school blogs. They post about their travels and teach readers how to make their travel better. I love these types of blogs.

WHICH ONE AM I?

Let me clarify my personal beliefs, which I’ve purposely left out of previous posts.

I’m not like View from the Wing or The Points Guy or the other big bloggers, and I never will be. They’re on a different level than I am. I’m also not Million Mile Secrets, because I won’t be writing about most deals with a step-by-step explanation (mostly because others have probably already done so). If I had to model my blog after anyone’s it would be The Frequent Miler, but I’m nowhere near that level yet.

What I intend to write about is supplemental to what everyone else writes about. I’m not trying to compete with the big bloggers. They know about more deals/tricks than me and can write about them way better than I ever can. I do believe, however, that I can add value by looking at things at a different angle. When I first made mention of Bluebird I wrote about the possibilities that it brings, but made it clear to not abuse the perks. I write about lounges and do analysis on why a mileage run or credit card is worth it. It’s similar to what’s out there, but different.

If you want to know how I value my posts, consider this: I care more about the clicks I get to other people’s blogs than the views I get to my own. I like to distribute information and point people in the direction toward useful articles. My blog’s title came from the fact that I used to summarize the most important posts of the day or week, sort of like Mileage Update does now.

I don’t write about getting 5x everywhere, ExpertFlyer, Skymiles, Hyatt, or Fuel Dumps. I don’t write about these things because it’s either already been done or I don’t know enough about them to justify writing about them. I usually don’t write when I’m not adding anything to the conversation, and I hope that makes EVERY post worth reading, as opposed to me auto-posting two articles at 8am every morning like some blogs.

OKAY, AND?

And nothing. This was kind of a rant. I don’t blame any of the bloggers for anything at all. I love all of them and read all of them regardless of what I think, because they write about a lot of great information. Whether or not I give them my business (using their affiliate links) is a different issue, and a topic I’ll cover later.

For a similar but better post on this type of stuff, see Points to Point B’s article, and his even more amazing video at the bottom of it (which will likely only make sense to more advanced points collectors). You can also read about all of this on a nearly daily basis by visiting the new Travel Blogger Buzz website, which already has a large following.

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

Would You Give Up Your First Class Seat for Free?

My mileage run yesterday had me on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, which is about a 5 hour flight. I have status on US Airways so I was upgraded to First Class, where I was seated next to an elderly man.

Half the flight passed without us saying a word to each other, but then we started to chat a little bit. He was a very sweet, old man of 85 years. He shared all kinds of stories with me, including how he got drafted in World War II and went to the Philippines and Japan, how he’d run several businesses, how he used to go on long road trips in his reliable Buick back when gas wasn’t expensive, and how he hadn’t flown in 18 years and was only flying to see his sister, who was dying of cancer. We chatted for a good two hours about so many topics I can’t even remember them all.

Near the end of our conversation he mentioned how great of a deal he got on his flight: just $328 round-trip from Los Angeles to Connecticut. He then mentioned that he would have been sitting all the way in the back of the plane if it weren’t for a nice, young lady who traded seats with him just before the flight, after she found out the airline had forgotten his wheelchair.

I was more than a little surprised to hear that someone gave up their First Class seat on a cross-country flight at 6:30am, but it absolutely warms my heart to hear that happen. The elderly already have a difficult time, and this man was likely not in the highest spirits considering the nature of his trip. It’s great to hear that people still care about others enough to sacrifice something for others’ benefit.

I mentioned this story to a close friend and she said she would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. It got me thinking…would I have given up my seat? I’m 60 years younger than this gentleman and clearly would not have benefited nearly as much as this man would have from the First Class flight. I honestly don’t know if I would have given up my seat, but I’d say it depends on the conversation that happened before the flight. If I knew as much about this man before the flight as I learned on the flight, I’d like to think I would. I’m just not sure, though, and that makes me want to reflect a little bit to put things back into perspective in my life.

What about you? Would you give up your First Class seat? Am I a monster for even wondering what I’d do?

Is There a “Code” Among Points Bloggers?

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?” – Morpheus, from The Matrix.

(Sorry for the lame analogy)

If you’ve followed the points world for even just a few months, you’ve probably noticed that although there is a lot of great information written about by all the points bloggers, there is also a noticeable absence of other information that could seemingly be extremely valuable.

You know this not because the bloggers have stated there are certain things they don’t write about, but because of veiled references and/or comments made on particular blog posts. You know because when you, as a beginner, tried to read FlyerTalk, you found everyone was seemingly speaking a different language – that they were talking in “code” in many posts. Well, you’re right.

There seems to be an unwritten code among most of the popular points bloggers to not “out” some of the most valuable tricks and loopholes in the game. The reason is pretty obvious: the points bloggers know they have a lot of readers, and writing about a particular trick would increase the number of people utilizing that trick, which would in turn make it worth it for a company (like United, Hyatt, etc.) to figure it out and end/correct the trick or loophole.

Essentially, writing about the deal would “kill” the deal, and that benefits no one, right?

Yes and no…maybe.

The first school of thought is that yes, the more people that make use of any trick or loophole, the more likely it will be to get noticed and the more likely the deal will get shut down (or alternatively, it will become worth it for the company to invest in closing the loophole). After all, companies are interested in making money. If there are tons of people taking advantage of a particular deal/trick, companies can probably charge more or adjust the deal in some way to make it favorable to them and less favorable to everyone else. But if there is only a select group that knows about it, the chances of the deal/trick remaining available increases since it may not be worth it for a company to make adjustments to their systems.

The second school of thought is that if there is a deal/trick that’s being taken advantage of, it’s likely to be short-lived anyway. Why not spread the word and let everyone take advantage of it? These are tricks that are likely already written about on FlyerTalk and MilePoint, so doing a blog post with a summary means that thousands of people no longer have to read every page of a FlyerTalk forum to decipher the code, and can just read it in plain English instead. The deal was already publicly available – the blogger just made it easy to read.

The third school of thought is that it doesn’t matter how many people can figure out about a particular deal/trick, as long as they put in effort to figure it out rather than having it laid out step-by-step (as a blog post would do). There is a sense that you have to “earn” the knowledge by putting in the time to read every page of FlyerTalk, or by trial and error on your own. This preserves the deal for a longer amount of time since fewer people know about it, but acknowledges that it is public knowledge available to those who work to figure it out.

So who’s right, who’s wrong, and how can you get in on the truly great tricks?

Once again, there’s no straight answer. Million Mile Secrets is famous, or infamous, for posting step-by-step instructions on how to maximize certain deals. These are deals that other bloggers most certainly know about, but don’t write about. Just take a look at the comments section of this post for a raging debate on whether it was appropriate or not to out a deal with such detail.

The debate isn’t limited to just the comments sections either. I love following the bloggers and other points gurus on Twitter. There was a lot of anger after MMS made that post, and one of the Twitter users I follow made the following tweet:

FlyerTalkerinA2: “@MilMileSecrets What’s the first rule of Fight Club? We don’t talk about it….Never mind.”

MilMileSecrets: “@FlyerTalkerinA2 – Who said I agreed to the rules of Fight Club?”

If you’ve seen Fight Club, you know that it’s a reference to the secretiveness of the whole thing. Scottrick from Hack My Trip made a fantastic post on his philosophy towards these types of deals and whether or not they should be preserved and, if so, how. He also makes a Fight Club reference.

So the answer to the title of this post is an unequivocal YES, there is a code among points bloggers and the experts/elite of the points community. This code exists for many reasons, and sometimes they’re selfish reasons.

CAN YOU GET IN ON THE GREAT TRICKS?

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Sadly, there’s isn’t anything specific you can do or one blog you can read to get all the good tricks. Because of the code, it’s very hard to figure out these tricks, and I’d say that figuring it out is the only way to actually get in on it. Million Mile Secrets writes about a lot of these deals, but not all of them and not all the time. Other ones come out slowly, and you’ll know it’s one of them if you read angry comments talking about the inappropriateness of the post. I can point to several examples in addition to the ones I noted above, but here’s one more.

If you’re really interested in becoming an expert and saving tons of money on travel, you’ll just have to put in the time. Read all the points blogs and the comments, and if you’re interested in a certain topic read every page of that particular FlyerTalk forum. It will take you forever, but just ask yourself how much money you want to save and how much time you have to devote towards saving money. It’s not worth it for many, but for others it absolutely is. Also, follow points bloggers and other gurus on Twitter. It’s a great forum to hear about the day-to-day problems they face and how they solve them. Yes 95% of tweets are useless, but the other 5% could be very valuable.

The Chicago Seminars and Frequent Traveler University are venues that the points bloggers and other frequent travelers attend to discuss a lot of deals, and have also been known as locations where certain “secret” items are discussed. It’s as much about the networking and relationships as anything else.

Finally, I think you’ll find that many people are very generous if you simply ask. Send them a direct message on FlyerTalk, MilePoint, or Twitter, or email your favorite points blogger. Many times they’ll be happy to help you along a little further, and if not the worst they can say is “no.”

I’ll leave you with one final Morpheus quote from The Matrix:

“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

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What’s in Your AwardWallet? My Journey to 1 Million Points!

I was fortunate enough to have parents that loved to travel when I was younger, and they allowed me to tag along with them to quite a few locations around the world. My family knew only the bare-bones minimum about traveling and points – that if we’re flying, we should be signed up for a frequent flier program to earn points. Beyond that, we didn’t know anything…not even how to redeem those points.

And the last few years I was able to do a little bit of travelling either on my own or with friends/siblings, plus a four month work assignment, and so I’d built up a relatively respectable amount of points. When I first found out about this whole points world and realized that I should start tracking my programs in AwardWallet, I had about 300,000 points spread among all my programs.

It’s about 10 months later now. I honestly feel like I’ve come such a long way in such a short amount of time, but even still I know I’m just a beginner compared to so many out there that I aspire to be.

I’ve signed up for eight points-earning credit cards over those 10 months, and received quite a few free points through various sources, as well as speculatively buying points when I see a good deal and transferring when there’s a bonus involved…all leading to more points for very little cash.

In those 10 months, my balance has gone from roughly 300K points to today sit at 929,682 across all programs. I know that many people in the points game are multi-millionaires when it comes to their AwardWallet balances. In fact, Gary at View from the Wing noted in the comments section of this post that he has a 7 digit mileage balance with just American Airlines (a program that isn’t tracked on AwardWallet anymore btw).

But I will very shortly be crossing the million mile/point mark, and I see that as a major personal accomplishment. And the coolest part is that I’m not just going to surpass a million, I’m going to absolutely fly by that mark because of my recent credit card churn: I’m due 50K United miles, 50K Chase points, 20K SPG points, plus my normal spending and category bonuses. I also have about 53K Southwest points and a few thousand American miles sitting in accounts that refuse to allow AwardWallet access.

And it seems like I’ve brought my saving/hoarding habit from the cash world to the points world, except that in the points world inflation is rampant and an absolute certainty. I need to start using my points before programs start to devalue, and I plan to do so very soon.

I hope you join me on my trek to 2 million points and beyond!

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