Episode #2 of the Travel Is Free Podcast is here (and will be every week), and this week we sit down with Spencer Howard.
Spencer is an interesting guest because he’s made a hobby of looking for business and first class award availability and sending out his findings in his Award Alerts newsletter.
Spencer also writes for God Save The Points.
- travelisfree.com – just listen below
- Apple Podcast
- Google Play
- Google Podcast
- For those using PocketCasts, they seem to have cashing issues and won’t pull up new episodes. Try feeding it this RSS link, and it should pull it up.
Note that this is only our second podcast episode and our first guest, and it causes a couple of audio issues being in the same room, because my amazon order was not in yet. They’re minor, but from now on the audio should be perfect… I assume.
Podcast topics summary
- We discuss his award alert newsletter.
- Tip on QSuites: Asia Miles opens up 360 days out and nearly everyone transfers to Asia Miles.
- Later talks about how BA and Qantas do the same.
- Later talk about how Asia Miles is actually a good deal on really long distance premium flights.
- He wrote about ins and outs of Asia Miles on God Save The Points
- Searching and starting from hub cities.
- We debate going “too hard” on deals.
- Dave and I get back to reminiscing… again. But about the $1 coins, I recently wrote about.
- Briefly talked about Etihad Miles (I recently wrote a Best Use Of Etihad Miles on Partners), and Spencer says he’s had good luck calling with the Serbia agents. Royal Air Maroc.
Song credit: “Human” by Kagu (here)
Drew Macomber: Welcome to the Travel is Free podcast, this is episode #2 and it’s with myself Drew Macomber of Travelisfree.com, my cohost Dave, and this week we have Spencer Howard. I was going to try to introduce him and say, Dave, I don’t know if you know this, but he’s written for like, a dozen blogs. Can you name every blog you’ve written for?
Spencer Howard: Yeah, I probably can. I’m trying to think…
DM: But am I right, it’s a lot?
SH: Yeah, it’s a lot. In two and a half years it’s been a lot. But right now I do work with a site called God Save the Points. That’s where you’ll find my writing.
DM: And are you there full time now?
SH: That’s my full-time writing gig.
DM: Do you write for anyone else now?
SH: No, so I edit 10X Travel, and help run their Faceboook group- it’s about 34,000 people, and then I have my personal site: Straighttothepoints.co, (not .com, there’s an Italian Marshall Arts guy who owns that domain name that I’m still trying to get), but I send out a newsletter for premium cabin awards space.
DM: We’ll definitely link to that and we’ll talk more about that.
SH: Yeah, so that’s the current set up.
DM: And then who else have you written for?
SH: One Mile at a Time was most recent. TPG just a few articles. Upgraded Points- a bunch of articles. And I think I did some ghost writing for Reward Expert or something. I don’t remember my name being on anything. I just remember writing something.
DM: Are you allowed to say “I think I was ghost-writing?”
SH: Yeah, I don’t know.
DM: Alright well, we don’t have time to keep listing all this stuff but…
Dave Homyak: I am curious though why somebody would jump blog to blog and write here, write there. What happened behind that story?
SH: Behind closed doors?
SH: Yeah, it’s the nature of freelance- When you’re a contractor. I think I’d finished my day job at the end of 2016. I’d worked in politics since college. (Everyone’s favorite profession). But yeah, I was… y’know you just want to make sure you have enough writing to stay afloat- keep paying rent and student loans. So I was probably trying to take on too much because I wanted to make sure I had options just in case something else fell away and they didn’t need something. So…yeah…a lot of writing.
DM: What you’re doing- Let’s jump more into your website with the reward alerts.
SH: Yeah Straight to the Points.
DM: Yeah so straighttothepoints.co. Explain what you’re doing there.
SH: I feel like I just found an unusual… One day there was like, one business class seat from LAX to London Heathrow on Air New Zealand and I looked at the entire calendar just for kicks to see if I could find one because I never see it. And I found one and I tweeted it and said something about how I should just start a newsletter where I send out interesting award space opportunities and I got positive feedback which I didn’t expect and I was like, “Ok, I guess I’ll give that a shot.” So it’s turned into – basically I look for generally 4 seats in business class, 2 in first class…
DM: This is for you, Dave, because I get a lot of people asking “hey, you don’t write about family stuff” and I’m like, “sorry I don’t know, I don’t have any experience.”
DH: Yeah this is perfect for me.
SH: Yeah my goal is to find premium cabin award space on international long haul routes, or I mean, to Europe, I don’t know if you want to call that long haul.
DM: So what’s a typical alert. It’s like, “hey, tickets from US to Istanbul on Turkish”?
SH: Yeah, I did one on Turkish. Part of it is just what I’m curious about and interested in. So Turkish is launching their Dreamliner flights out of Atlanta. So I was like, oh, let’s see what kind of award space there is, so I sent an alert out about that. I’ve done several on Q suites. It’s kind of back by popular demand. People keep asking for it so I keep looking for it. But yeah, I basically start out with my little “Straight to the Points” section, which gives you the bear bones details- the stuff that if you wanted to go out and search on your own, you could go do it. and then I give the details in a more detailed section where we actually go through the dates that are actually available. And then after that I get into if there’s return space available, or if you’re going to need to find a different way home, best ways to book and my opinions on that, and then a run down of the booking process of the steps you need to go through for each program. I just try to make it easy for people.
DM: And that goes back to what we talked about on the last podcast. We talked about how the game has changed and one of the things that we said is award availability was infinite back in the day. You’d just pick a day and your route and there was business class and maybe first would be a little more difficult but if you wait it will come. And now it’s not like that at all. I mean I can see exactly why people would need to subscribe to something like that. Because it’s difficult, right? On most airlines you can’t just search. If I wanted to book 4 people to Bangkok on business class right now for 3 months out, I mean what success am I going to have?
SH: Yeah, it’s so hard to know these days. And I think you actually see a lot of people get frustrated with that. At least for some there was kind of – their expectations were set at a time when space was more readily available. so now the idea that they have to hunt for it is frustrating and I guess I’m just kind of an odd ball in that I enjoy the hunt. It’s just a challenge to me. I’d love to say that I have some sort of method to what I decide to search but it is just things that I decide to do that day. Let’s just see if I can find something on this route, and that’s how it comes together. I sent one earlier this year and there was just a boat load of El Al business class space on their Dreamline- basically it’s like a Polaris cabin like the new Polaris cabin that united has. And I was just like, “Oh I’m just curious what kind of Award space there is” because you can book from the east coast for like 87,000 Qantas points. And 1) no one thinks about Qantas points and 2) no one thinks about El Al, so I was just like…let’s try that.
DM: And that might be the way to go. I have a chart of what websites will search what airlines, because it used to be United only searched half their partners, so you’d need to go to my chart and find what websites would search the other half. I’m updating it right now and it’s like, every alliance is fully searched by United/AA. There are some things you can’t search like suites.
DM: Well, definitely that. And it’s changed in that there aren’t partners that you can only see if you know the tricks. Anyone can now see these things too. But maybe, are there non-alliance partners? Do you ever see that? What would be an example- like Etihad with AA? Is there any time it’s better when you’re searching for a non-alliance partner or a partner that’s not going to show up on the website?
SH: Do I think it’s better with award space?
SH: Honestly I haven’t noticed anything crazy-different.
DM: It’s all bad- that’s what you’re saying. We’re all screwed.
SH: I just remember when AA was adding in award space or allowing you to search online for Qatar and some other airlines. Qatar is the one that sticks out to me because everyone wants to use suites. And I remember a lot of people – we’ll say deeper into the miles and points world- just bemoaning this because, “Oh no, it’s going to be so much easier for these other people”. It’s just this weird “the outsiders…the ones who are not as obsessed as me don’t deserve to book this.” To me, I thought that was kind of weird. What are the odds that someone is trying to book the same class of service as you on the same date as you on the same route as you? It’s not that many people who are doing this. It’s not like there’s a million people trying to book April 15th from Washington Dulles to JAL. And even if they were, you can just go try to fly out of a different airport. Booking awards, everyone has always said, the more flexible you are, the easier it is. I think anyone who’s been in this for awhile and knows this stuff- I haven’t seen a big issue for award space for Q suites.
DM: Do you want to explain Q suites and how to book them?
SH: Yeah, I mean it’s mostly with American Miles. I always tell people if you really need this seat, you can book 360 days out with Asia Miles. Your’e going to pay six-hundred-and-something dollars in taxes and fees for one way, but if you want to go to the Maldives and you want to guarantee…let’s say you’re going on a honeymoon and you want to guarantee those two seats, you get a 30 day head start as those who book on American. So it’l be more miles. For some people it’s probably easier to earn the Asia miles than say, well, the transfer partners, but…
DM: Right. Nowadays.
SH: Yeah, I don’t think it’s become more difficult. Or at least as difficult as some expected it would be. But We’ve seen so many bad changes I think. Y’know the “enhancement”. We just assume changes are going to be bad.
DM: And award availability does generally get worse. I mean it’s been getting worse. So that is a real fear to think that the person sitting next to you is the reason that it’s going away. We were talking about this- it’s a secretive community.
DH: This whole conversation has me wondering how many people move their wedding because they only would book 330 days out to the Maldives. And you know the marriage is like…on shaky ground right away. “Well…we could get married…Nope we’ve gotta move it out a couple weeks..I couldn’t get the availability.”
DM: Dave, you’ve just offended half the people listening.
DH: I’m sorry! We’re down to no listeners again! Got it. No, I really would respect that. I don’t know how long the marriage would last… but as a points play, I totally appreciate it.
SH: I appreciate that.
DM: Dave, you’re telling me you haven’t majorly inconvenienced…don’t even get me started. C’mon now.
DH: There was a minivan ride to Columbus Ohio one time because there was a significantly better fare from Columbus and if you gotta move 6 people to Miami. I’m just not paying hub captive prices in that particular….situation. So, yes. My family has suffered for my frugality in the world of miles and points.
DM: Yeah and you think it’s justified because it wasn’t your honeymoon! But she endures it on a regular basis!
DH: I just see at this point, my wife is like “You realize we have the money. We can just pay the money.” And i’m like “I can’t do it! I have to find the deal!” Y’know, it’s the hunt. You gotta do it.
DM: Yeah it is the hunt. Although I don’t know if most people want to drive to Columbus Ohio from…how far of a drive is that? Four hours?
DH: It’s more like 3 and a half. It wasn’t bad unless you’re one of the other 5 people.
DM: But you know someone lives in Montana and has to drive 4 hours anyway to get to a major airport but that’s a different story. So how much of award availability do you think someone should just start in a different airport or connect in a hub. Like one thing that you can do, but I don’t like doing this…I could just get a paid ticket to New York for probably cheap on Frontier, and then book an award ticket in whatever suite or whatever availability because it’s going to be way more likely to start from a hub, right? But then you’re risking if my Frontier flight gets delayed…which seems unlikely because I have status…but…
DH: What do you get with Frontier status?
DM: You get a carry on.
SH: Private jet flights, clearly.
DH: You do get a carry on?
DM: I get one carry on.
DH: I didn’t even know you got anything with frontier status, so that’s good.
DM: You peasants don’t get to know. Yeah, so if I were to fly and connect in New York, which a lot of people probably need to do to find award availability, they’re risking. You could leave a day gap. That’s what I like doing. I want to spend a night in New York. But otherwise you’re risking getting cut off -if I booked with AA miles and I booked a cash flight on Frontier to get there, if my Frontier flight is delayed, AA is not helping me. Not likely.
SH: So, fly a more reliable carrier to New York.
DM: Well, I mean…it’s not going to be AA.
SH: Yeah, well actually because I live in dc I actually fly to JFK a lot and if I book far enough out or just track flight prices, you can get a cheap flight up to New York so it’s not that big a deal and sometimes it’s just fun to go out and hang out with friends for a couple days. So I mean I do that a lot.
DM: That’s crazy. You live in DC. You have 2 airports…you have 3 airports under the WAS code. But there are international flights to BWI and IAD. I mean there’s lots of international flights and theres’ a lot of people who don’t live in the east coast. And people are flying to DC to get better award availability and you’re flying to New York…man the game is over. I change my mind.
DH: It is.
SH: Call this off. We’re done.
SH: Again, it just depends what you’re flying. I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic out of Washington Dulles out to London rather than going to New York. If it’s there I’ll do it. Like Iberia- I wanted to try Iberia. It doesn’t fly out of Washington Dulles or BWI. Obviously doesn’t fly out of Raegan National. They don’t really do that out of that airport. So yeah, it just depends on what you wanna fly and can you find the award space and y’know you work with what you have. I’m very flexible with my travel schedule. So it’s easier for me. But yeah, I think you just kind of have to find what’s going to work. And we do get into some issues though I guess with… well not that American releases great award space on its own flights, but with their married segment stuff where even when you think you’re doing the right thing by starting with the long haul search and then you don’t find space but if you search from a random small airport all of a sudden space is there. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to find award space on American, especially premium cabin because it’s just most of the time not a great use of my time. I mean, I definitely do the going out of hubs and seeing what I can find and hopefully finding connections. I don’t know what you all have seen but I definitely have seen like, you end up having to connect in economy when you book United awards.
DM: you know what I see? I see a lot of economy because that’s all I book. Y’know what, I’m not having a lot of award availability issues like you guys are. I should start an economy newsletter. Like, “Hey! Still tons of award availability!”
SH: You’d have way too much content you could never keep up.
DM: Yeah that’s probably true.
DH: Now “7,000 alerts last month”!
DM: I mean there definitely are times where there’s not economy so it’s not always a joke. So are there any things that kind of end up being themes where you’re like “this is a good deal”, or “I’m finding lots of award availability on this,” or it’s mostly like “hey for whatever reason this new route launched” or, what is it?
SH: I think I try to mix up between going to like Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. I’ve done, what, two or three, maybe four to Australia. I try to work that in because Australia gets requested so much.
DM: Yeah definitely.
SH: The problem is expectations are at play. They’re like “I want to go during the month of December,” and I’m like “Well, everyone wants to go during the month of December so you gotta really get lucky on that one.” So I try to mix it up by region and then I find some excuse like a Turkish Dreamliner launch- I’ll just search that just because.
DM: And then how long does that availability last?
SH: It depends. I’ve sent them before where it’s just kind of gone in a day. I’ve sent them where it’s gone within hours. Others just stick around for like a week.
DM: Right just because they’ve opened up a ton.
SH: Yeah just because they’ve opened up a ton of space. Other times I send out… December it was two seats in Qantas first and I only really ever see one usually. So I sent that out and that stuff was gone, I feel like it was within hours. Maybe less than a day. Now part of that was because like 10 people reached out to me and told me they booked it. So a lot of the space got booked because of the newsletter, so that was fun.
DM: Yeah, so people gotta sign up for the newsletter.
SH: Yeah exactly.
DM: Yeah remind them again?
DH: Well I was going to ask how somebody that would be interested would sign up for the newsletter.
SH: Just on the website straighttothepoints.co there’s a little email sign up when you get to the site. I’m actually in the process of re-designing it because it’s a dumpster fire. Square space.
DM: You’ve been around Ben too much. “Dumpster fire?”
SH: Is that a thing?
DH: More sarcasm is about to start if he’s been around Ben as well.
SH: So yeah, straighttothepoints.co and there’s an email sign up on the site. It will be much cleaner in the next, I think, month. It’s going to be redesigned so that will be nice for everyone to come and see what looks like a professional website. I’m clearly a person who’s good at the content side of things and not the website side of things.
DH: How many times do you do a search and then just decide to book it yourself?
SH: That’s a good question. I actually don’t know if I’ve booked any. Yeah, I can’t think of one that I’ve booked yet. I did send out a …was it HongKong Airlines had that fair deal back in August of last year when it was released. I did book that one actually and then email the list. It was actually the first email I sent to the list. I was like “usually i’m actually going to send award space but if you want to spend $670 to fly round trip business class to Asia, here you go.” So I did send that one out and I did book that and flew it earlier this year.
DM: I’m guessing what happens is that you’re searching for a route for yourself sometimes. Not every time obviously- you have to create more content than that. But it’s gotta happen sometiems where you’re looking for a route for yourself and your’e having no luck and then you try something else, right?
SH: Yeah I do get kind of inspiration from my own searches I think. Actually I was looking for flights to I think Munich and then noticed there was a connection and I was just seeing on a bunch of dates the exact same connection so i was like, “Oh, maybe there’s a lot of award space”. I think it may have been Swiss or something and I was like “oh maybe there’s a lot of Swiss space” so I went back and started to search that and ended up sending out an award alert on that one, even though I wasn’t booking that particular one but it still kind of sparked the idea to go check this a little more in depth.
DM: I thought of another question because you mentioned Qantas. How often are you finding better award availability with a different program. Like people are seeing different availability on AA vs British Airways sometimes.
SH: I haven’t run into too many issues with that lately.
DM: It’s pretty universal?
SH: Yeah it’s been pretty consistent. There’s been some weird stuff with the Q suites ones. I had some show phantom space, but if anyone’s used to the AA search you get your flight options, you pick one, you hit continue, and if it’s phantom space it will just bring you back to that same page and that option just won’t be there to select. But I had this situation where I actually clicked all the way through to the end of the booking and then it was at the very end where I was like “oh…it’s gone’. And so, I don’t know why that happened. Happened to a friend of mine as well. It seemed like that was just an odd ball case because more people were telling me they were finding bookings. AA in the past has had issues with Finnair phantom space. Though oddly enough I recently booked it. I thought it was going to be phantom availability.
DM: Well I guess you don’t know until you go to book it.
SH: You just gotta go for it.
DM: Also I guess how many days out- that would be the big difference between programs. Some might get availability over 330 days.
SH: Yep, that’s the big difference. I mean you have American- I think a lot of people love American miles, Alaska miles, but that’s 331/330 days.
DM: So what are the programs more than those?
SH: Theres’a a bunch actually. But the ones I think about the most are Asia Miles just because I’m thinking about One World stuff. And that’s 360. and I mean British Airways and Qantas can do that as well. But I don’t really use…
DM: And Asia Miles has a good award chart.
SH: It does if you think about how you’re using it. I think the ultra long tiers for flights that are like 7,501 flight miles or more, and business class is 85,000 Asia Miles.
DM: So if you’re going a long ways then it’s a good deal.
SH: Yeah if you’re going from New York to Hong Kong or Washington Dulles to Hong Kong, that Sydney ultra long tier is 85,000 miles, you should just include a stopover and continue on to somewhere else because you can get it for free.
DM: Right, exactly.
SH: I remember when they changed the chart actually.
DM: Exactly because it’s a distance based program and it tops off. So if you just keep flying, the top tier is anything over 7,500, so anything over that, it’s one price and they give stopovers, so you can just keep flying.
SH: Yeah you get one stopover on the one way. If you’re just flying Cathay or like Cathay and a single partner you get one stopover on a oneway. It gets weird if you do the multi carrier thing- the award rates change but you can start adding in stopovers. I wrote a very long piece that has the ins and outs of all the different options for that.
DM: And where did you write that?
SH: God Save the Points
DM: Ok, because I don’t have time to search every site you’ve written on.
SH: I know, right? Yeah so Asia Miles is great for that because of the one stopover and if you’re just flying Cathay you can continue on to Johannesburg. It’s kind of like that Alaska- you’ve written about this- the Alaska miles booking on cathay and then just stopping over and going to South Africa. Yes it’s more miles, but it’s a lot easier to get Asia miles than Alaska miles.
DM: And what are the fees like? What are the taxes and…
SH: Not bad at all. I don’t remember off the top fo my head.
DM: There’s not fuel surcharges on most partners?
SH: On Cathay’s own flights there’s not. If you start booking on Qatar, British Airways… that’s always something interesting to me. Asia Miles will have lower taxes and fees booking British Airways than like American or BA itself.
DM: Oh really, I did not know that.
SH: It’s very weird.
DM: But it’s still going to be expensive, right?
SH: But it’s the difference in paying like $400 and instead you’re paying like, $200 something.
DM: Even for business class? Are you serious? So it’s not that bad of a deal.
SH: It’s definitely less and I think it’s a reasonable deal in some cases. So if you need a flight and BA is what you’ve got, Asia Miles is I think a pretty good way to go.
DM: And who all transfers to Asia Miles
SH: Oh. Everybody?
DM: American Express, Citi
SH: Capital One, Marriott. Yeah I think Chase is the only one that doesn’t. For a lot of people it’s easy to get. And then there’s the cobranded Synchrony Bank Card.
DM: I don’t have to like..be a resident of Hong Kong?
SH: No, not the synchrony bank. From the US. It’s got a decent sign up bonus depends on the time. I guess if you do’t have a card that you want to use abroad that gets bonus points when you’re wandering the world, it’s like 1.5X on spend outside the US. So it’s something that’s a little perk.
DM: I love that you’ve started this thing. Like now I can ask you about award availability because you’ve made it a hobby to look for award availability. You’re going to be the leading expert on award availability.
SH: I seriously just sit and watch tv and just search things. Just because. I mean I’m just watching tv. If I’m watching a game or something, just hang out, have a beer and search for award availability. What else do you do with your free time?
DM: I mean, we need to get you a hobby. Nah, i’m just kidding. That’s great and it’s a great way to niche down as someone blogging. Not only are you creating your own thing, but it’s helping you write great articles for God Save the Points. (Which I just found out is not a British blog.)
SH: Well it is sort of. He lives there right now.
DM: But he’s a US citizen.
SH: Yeah, he’s from the US originally. His wife is from the UK. So he splits his time I think kind of going back and forth between families.
DM: Ok, well, now I know as a US citizen I can read his blog.
SH: Yeah, it’s ok. It’s acceptable.
DM: Also we were talking before, Dave, I’ll let him sell you on his version of this. But Dave listen to this. He thinks if there’s a great promotion, you should not hit it really hard.
SH: I didn’t say that, I said that you should consider the impact. I think you should consider the impact of your actions on the broader kind of miles and points and travel community.
DM: That’s very selfless of you.
SH: No, I mean, it’s about the long term viability of things. And I was telling Drew that I think sometimes people feel like everyone is going to hit a deal really hard, so that means I have to do it too before everyone else does and it goes away.
DM: That’s true, there is a competitiveness about it.
SH: There is, and there are so few people who are like deep into miles and points that would actually go to those extremes that if everyone all just basically got into a room, because I feel like you could actually fit them in a decent sized room, and go “hey guys…just chill out.” And I was specifically referencing the Cathay Pacific New Years Eve fair deal. And y’know the fair deal got honored but what I’d like to say is y’know it’s a lot easier for an airline if they do happen to price something a bit lower than they wanted, that if you have people booking 9 tickets each or 20 tickets each as Drew might do…
DM: Steve Belkin probably has a farm of Thai people that are now flying back and forth.
SH: But if everyone’s booking tons of a particular fair deal, that’s a bigger and bigger hit to the airline which makes them less and less likely to honor it. SO if everyone just books one and gets a trip out of it and enjoys the trip, then it’s a lot easier for the airline to be like, “yeah that’s fine this is a good chance to get some press and exposure.” When there are these cheap fairs, I think airlines often miss the opportunity to promote the fact that people are getting to try it. And why don’t you just pitch it as you know people will want to come back after they try it. I don’t know. I don’t run an airline. Maybe one day they’ll ask me about my marketing ideas.
DH: And I completely agree when it’s a mistake fare, whether it be airline, hotel, whatever. Y’know, that’s where people decide to book the entire month in case they feel like stopping by and you know you’re not going to use it, and those are the people that blow it up for the community. So I completely agree when it’s a travel related deal. Now there are some other deals, more MS type stuff, where I’ve said, “I’m going to stay under the radar and I will be fine” and other people have said “I”m going to go as hard as I can and I know I’m going to get banned but my goal is to get more in than somebody would long term.” And then in that case it’s like, yeah they get banned and then a year or two later the deal falls apart and you compare notes and they possibly did more than I did. So I mean it’s a balancing act really in some of these different things.
SH: Yeah and it’s tough. I mean the Cathay Deal I know a lot of people were doing it because they were going to go earn top tier elite status. And Drew and I have chatted a bit before about not caring enough about running after status and if you’re not traveling anyway, why are you hustling to get status?
SH: Just take the one trip and go and have fun, then go somewhere else. Book something else. To each their own I guess.
DM: Or like people who have millions and millions and millions of miles from MS-ing but take a once a year trip.
SH: Yeah, I guess I’ve always looked at… well 1) I don’t like the idea of hoarding miles and points. That just makes me nervous.
DM: I don’t have that problem but that’s a different issue.
SH: Why earn so far beyond what you need? At that point, just get cash back.
DM: Dave I really thought you’d be on the other end of this. I thought you’d be going “Why not go hardcore?” You go hardcore sometimes. There’s always someone going hardcore.
DH: And that’s the thing, I mean, to a lot of people that I hang out with, I go a little harder to a lot harder. But then there’s always people doing more than me so it’s interesting comparing notes on both ends. And my whole thing is, on some of these things, if i’m going to take out other people with me, I’m going to tread a lot more lightly. So if I’m going to book some incredible fair, but I’m going to book it belligerently and i’m going to help collapse a deal, I wont’ do that.
DM: But you know what’s going on here though. Have you heard of Dunning Kruger, have you heard of this? Dave, do you know this? The Dunning Kruger effect- it basically says that people consistently rank themselves at 70 percent. So if you’re the best in the world… It mostly gets referenced because people who are complete idiots still think they’re in the top 30. Y’know what i mean? And I compare it to like if I did one class of karate, I’d do some spinning kick and I’d go, “Hey my foot was really high.” And someone who knows what they’re doing is like, “He’s spinning on his heels, he looks like a complete idiot.” But I wouldn’t know I look like an idiot because I don’t know enough to know. But the other end of that is the imposter syndrome. So you have people like Stefan Krasowski. Everyone he hangs out with has been to every country in the world and so has he, but they’ve been to more places than him, so he’s going to think of himself as not the most traveled.
DH: “I’ve hardly gone any place”.
SH: Hasn’t he gone to every island in Indonesia? I don’t think he can say he’s “hardly traveled” at this point.
DM: I don’t know what he would say. I don’t think he’d say he’s “hardly traveled’ but he’s humble about anything.
SH: Yes, he’s a very humble guy.
DM: But I don’t think he’s gonna say “Oh yeah, I’m super well traveled.” and Dave’s over here saying “Oh I don’t blow up deals” because he knows someone blowing up the deals more.
SH: “I’ve only wrecked five but plenty of people have wrecked more than me”.
DM: No, I get what you’re saying about the viability of it. It’s very interesting that you think about the community aspect. That’s very unusual.
SH: I don’t know. I hit on this a lot when talking to people. It’s just like, you need to consider the impact of your actions. Whatever it is- whether it’s credit card stuff, whether it’s fair deals, whether it’s award bookings, whatever. If you think you found something that may be a loop hole, consider the impact on others. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take advantage of something they’re letting you do. Just consider the fact that other people might also be doing this and maybe they found it before you. Especially if someone tells you about it. Don’t wreck something that someone else taught you. Yeah, i think it’s important to consider other people when we’re doing things. I don’t feel like that’s a novel idea, is it?
DM: No, that’s weird. This could have been on the last episode which was “how the game has changed”. No one is talking about the long term viability of the deal. Back then it was like “I’m trying to blow up this thing.” Like, “how many pallets of one dollar coins did you get?”
SH: I really liked your article talking about that. That was really funny.
DM: I mean I’m definitely serious… like definitely MR. Pickles who is around. I mean his stories about that…it’s just hilarious. Because he literally had pallets of coins and it got pulled by the Wall Street Journal I believe.
DH: It did. Front page.
DM: It was front page, are you serious?
DH: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
DM: And then the comments from the US Mint. They’re like, “we don’t know how he’s buying” because they had a $1,000 cap, which in the article I talk about how that was easy for us to get around. But he was buying thousands and thousands of dollars of coins to a degree… the rest of us were buying thousands, he was buying tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousand of coins at a time. And I have another friend who bought 80,000… Dave you blew it up, didn’t you!
DH: Well.. see…again… you look at Mr. Pickles, I’m small potatoes. I didn’t do much. I have been known to…
DM: How much?
DH: There was probably a 3 at the beginning of a six digit number…so 300,000 ish somewhere.
DM: Over what period of time?
DH: That was the entire thing.
DM: That’s Mr. pickles!
DH: Mr. Pickles was like $50,000 a day and he would buy the bankers pizza to come in early to take his money. So yeah…
DM: Do you remember how he got those delivered? Did he just have them delivered to the bank? Because you’re not going to take those to your house. It would break your car suspension. I’m not joking!
DH: I think he had a land rover just to haul the coins.
SH: No, Drew, what you do is you do one of those rental car promotions to haul the coins and then just don’t worry about what happens to the car.
DH: There ya go! “I don’t know what happened to the suspension. It was fine” and then just…
SH: “I was just driving around for a week i don’t know what happened!”
DM: I do know my UPS guy was really grumpy because those boxes are heavy. Every once in a while I’d be home when he’d deliver them and I’d be like “Hi!” y’know, big smile and it was just nope, he’s not giving you anything. No love back.
SH: You’re just trying to help him hit his one rep max.
DM: Anyways, I’ll say.. How long have you been doing this?
SH: Not as long as many people. Only since late 2015.
DM: Like…I’d like to think I picked it up quickly…but sometimes you see people that if they haven’t been around in that era they don’t know as many of the routing rules. Like when I was researching the Etihad miles thing I went to Flyertalk to see if people were booking stopovers on American Airlines and someone was mad because they were going to use their Etihad miles which they have an award chart specifically for American since they’re not in an alliance they just have specific partners. So you can use Etihad miles for American flights and someone was like, “I’m trying to use it on American partners like British Airways” and in the comments they were mad that these “stupid” Etihad agents wouldn’t let them book on American Airlines partners and it’s like, no that’s not how it works.
SH: And the funny thing is I think Etihad’s Award booking agents out of Serbia are actually some of the better ones I’ve dealt with. So it’s funny for me to think about someone talking about how “horrible” they are. Seems like if I tell them what I want, they seem to be able to do what I ask.
DM: I posted about using Etihad miles for the Royal Air Maroc and it’s like 44,000 to anywhere basically in the Middle East in business class or 22,000 in economy so it’s a great deal, and people were saying they couldn’t get the stopovers because they would try to book it in two tickets. And also people might have been saying the same about American. I think other people are more successfully booking stopovers with American but the advantage is Etihad uses the really old, like 2011 American Airlines award chart so the prices are still really low, and if you can get a stopover. Do you know anything about how successful these are?
SH: I’ve never booked a stopover with Etihad. A lot of the terms they tell you for each particular airline like what your’e allowed to do I actually didn’t think you could with Royal Air Maroc.
DM: It says you are.
SH: It says you can, ok.
DM: But you can’t.
SH: Yeah, I’ve never actually heard of anyone booking a stopover. I remember talking to Richard Kerr about that because he and I were kind of playing around with that award chart and the things you could do but I don’t remember anyone actually being able to do that but at the same time, congratulations you got 44,000 miles in business one way or 22,000 in economy, just enjoy what you can get.
DM: Yeah you can’t beat that deal.
SH: There’s a flight out of DC, doesn’t have great award space in business, but out of JFK it’s usually quite good for two people. And it’s a great back door into Europe. I think most people kind of think the Lufthansa, the Swiss, without adding a lot fo time, flying through Casablanca is a pretty good way to get to Europe if there’s nothing else available.
DM: Yeah I mean there’s lots of award charts with different availability and lots of partners and you’re gonna hopefully be telling everyone how to find these things so I’ll sign off with telling everyone that this is genuinely a useful newsletter because as we said, award availability is getting tighter and you’re looking at these things. I think that’s awesome that you’re looking at these things. Yeah, so remind everyone how to find you again.
SH: Yeah so you can find my newsletter at straighttothepoints.co, you can find my writing on God Save the Points, you can find me on twitter @spencerformiles, and I’ve started to try Instagram. I don’t really know how these things work but I’m Straighttothepoints on Instagram too. I’m all over the place on the internet I guess.
DM: Yeah, but mainly nowadays straighttothepoitns.co and God Save the Points. Dave, any parting words?
DH: No I enjoyed it, thank you Spencer.
SH: Yeah, thanks for having me.
DM: Thanks Spencer and thanks everyone for listening!
Thanks Drew, great interesting podcast! I like to read along and it would be great if there was a pause button along the way so I wouldn’t need to scroll to the top when I get interrupted.
The transcript is much appreciated!