Want to know more about the Faces of FlyerTalk?
Peachfront is a New Orleans writer who has published a number of books and uncounted magazine articles on pet care and other topics over the years under the name Elaine Radford. In the 1990′s during the expansion phase of the casino industry Elaine got involved with advantage play to profit from casino promotions. She later graduated to playing on a blackjack team . She’s been retired and traveling for a few years, but has re-opened her writing business; although now more focused on producing eBooks and blog content instead of dead trees. People can feel free to PM or tweet her if they need a writer. She’s also interested in hearing from anyone who has Peachfronted Conures over age 20
When did you find FlyerTalk and how did you find it?
In 2004 I did a bird of prey tour in Kenya in January, and as it happened I flew on the old Northwest/KLM route with stop-overs in Amsterdam. I realized that I’d earned a lot of miles and still had most of the year left. A light bulb went off in my head. Why not see what I could do with those miles? I poked around a bit to see if they were worth anything and ended up in the Northwest forum at Flyertalk.
Do you consider yourself an infrequent, fairly regular, or miles and points addicted reader?
I would be chuckled at by the serious miles collectors, so let’s call me a status addicted reader. I’m here for the upgrades, people.
How often are you on FlyerTalk, and what forums do you typically visit?
In days gone by, I was a regular on the Northwest forum, and today I can still be found on the Delta forum, but lately I try to participate more actively in Mileage Run Deals. I can pop up anywhere though, so watch out. When I’m out in the field, I may not get online for a few weeks, but when I’m home, I try to check in every day and sometimes several times a day when I’m intensively searching for deals.
Do you travel for business, leisure, or both?
I travel to find birds or to get more miles so that I can fly business class and be well-rested when I travel to find more birds. I’m a birder, not an ornithologist, so this is just hobby travel.
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet right now, and which ones do you recommend to friends?
I carry the usual suspects like Delta Skymiles Amex but I don’t give credit card advice to friends. They don’t want to hear it.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to acquire points and miles?
I tend to earn my miles by good old-fashioned butt in seat flying. A memorable adventure came in the old Northwest days when I traveled MSY-MEM-LAX-HNL-SFO-DTW-LGW-DTW-MSP-PDX-HNL-LAX-MEM-MSY for something like 26,000 miles for $600 – a whole status level in one trip.
However, maybe what you’re really asking is what’s the single most successful thing I’ve done to beat the travel industry – which was to play blackjack. We got way more than free trips. We got paid! We played poker for a few years too but it wasn’t nearly as profitable.
How many miles / points have you accumulated in the past year? In your lifetime?
I’ll be laughed off of Flyertalk if I answer that question. I’m a former Northwest Gold and now a Delta Gold … not one of your huge miles earners.
Do you use a tracking program to keep track of your miles / points? Which one?
How does your spouse / partner / family / friends feel about this hobby?
My husband and I have taken at least one trip involving free airfare a year since 2005, and I feel that he’s lucky for me, since it seems like we always get at least one bump voucher every year or so when we’re together, whereas I’m almost never chosen when traveling on my own. Unfortunately, he isn’t crazy about flying, and he has now informed me that he’s giving up air travel unless he has to do it for work. He has a very common name that’s on the watchlist, and he’s sick of the hassles.
My family and friends aren’t real enthusiastic either. Someone recently told me that she got disgusted with trying to cash in miles and simply donated them. Someone else asked about a trip, and it turned out that after flying all over the world, to four continents, she had only 10,000 Sky Miles in her account. How does that happen? I guess her travel agent never enters her frequent flyer number into her account when she buys her ticket? Who knows?
What’s your most memorable trip?
I hate to pick favorites, as I have many memorable trips. A big goal of mine was to observe the Peach-fronted Conure in the wild, and I was able to arrange for a private tour with the help of Bird Boliva in April 2011. Viewing the Peachfront was going to be too easy, so I ended up doing a tour where I chased three species of endangered macaws, the Blue-throat, the Red-front, and the Hyacinth.
On that particular trip, I guess I got out of my usual comfort zone. I leased a small plane to get to the Hyacinth Macaw site in the Bolivian Pantanal and I went around on horseback in the flooded areas. Oh, and I also bought a business class ticket with cash instead of using miles, but the price was right. I’m not sure I should admit that to Frugal Travel Guy though
Some other highlights: I’m one of the first six tourists to see the rediscovered Madagascar Serpent-Eagle in the wild. I’ve observed thousands, sometimes over one hundred thousand, migrating birds of prey in a single day in Veracruz, Mexico, and the canal zone of Panama. In Göreme National Park in Turkey, hiking solo, I came within touching distance, eye to eye, with a Long-eared Owl. They’re not rare, but to walk right up and look him in the eye is something I’ll never forget. And I’ve had many other amazing experiences.
What suggestions can you give to rookies and newbies on FlyerTalk?
In order to gain belief in yourself and the system you’re following, start small and get a quick win. Don’t go for delayed gratification. The human brain doesn’t learn from delays. It learns from immediate results. With travel deals, almost the smallest thing you can do is apply for a credit card and get 25,000 (or more) miles and book that free ticket. Yes, you’ll swear a little, trying to redeem at the lowest level, but you’ll learn something, and you’ll get a free trip out of it. That’s a small but attainable challenge, followed by a success you can point to. You can build from there.
And, sure, somebody will make fun of you for cashing in your miles for a domestic economy award. I don’t care. When you’re starting a new hobby, you need a quick success. Otherwise, the overwhelming majority of the time, you’ll give up.
Are there any particular fellow FlyerTalk members whose advice you follow?
There are certainly names that I’ll pay more attention to their opinion, but I’m open to hearing all sides. I’d rather not get involved in naming names.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see change on FlyerTalk?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If a thread has been inactive for three months, automatically lock it so people can’t kick it up to the top years later. For that matter, if a thread has been ongoing for twelve months, lock it and start a new thread. There’s a terrible hazing culture of telling people to read threads and stickies that are crammed full of dead links and outdated information. I wish everybody who tells a newbie to read a sticky would read it first to be sure it still says what you think it says. Travel deals, miles, and points are time sensitive information.
Have you attended or are you planning on attending any FlyerTalk related events?
Yes, I have, but I’m a rather reserved person, and I don’t get much value out of big meet-ups. I’m also an outdoor person so seminars and speeches just put me to sleep. I do much better meeting a few or even just one or two people at a time.
Any other comments / questions / suggestions / advice?
To the newer deal-seeker: If you’re limited in how many promotions or credit cards you can accept, and you’re not sure whether to chase airline miles or hotel points, go with the miles. I’ve stayed in tents. I’ve even stayed in a cave. There are lots of ways to get cheap stays. But you can’t flap your arms and fly.
To the expert: Sarcasm and snark make you look fat. Lose some of that overweight ego. Newbies don’t kill deals. Advanced players kill deals. So why are you yelling at the newbies and telling them to spend 100 hours reading so they can become an advanced player? The newbie seeking a one-and-done trip is not hurting you.
To everybody: I’m not interested in free. I’m interested in paying less to big airlines and big chain hotels so I can have more money to support the scientists, guides, reserves, eco-lodges, and so on. If you’re just looking to never open your wallet, the easiest thing to do is stay home.
Elaine, thank you again for sharing with us. Your story is a fantastic one that we can all learn a thing or two from. We’ve got a couple of thank you gifts to get to you, and your avatar will now show you, as one of the Faces of FlyerTalk for years to come.
Here are a few pictures Elaine has shared with us: