Want to know more about the Faces of FlyerTalk?
Dan (smashr) is a man that values his upgrades … but then I think most of us over 6′ tall do. Recently making a switch to AA from UA he’s very happy with it all. What it comes down to for Dan is making the most out of every experience; little things easily add up to a great expereince, take each of those individual opportunities and you’ll end up with something amazing. Dan, thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences with us all. We’re thrilled to you be a part of “Faces of FlyerTalk”.
When did you find FlyerTalk and how did you find it?
I joined FlyerTalk in the fall of 2006 shortly after joining a Washington DC-based government consulting company and being temporarily put on a project in Austin, TX. At the time, the ~3hr flight mostly on United Express CRJ-700s seemed to be an incredibly long way to fly for just a week of work. How little I knew then! I did most of my initial research about upgrades and elite programs on United’s web site, but before long I stumbled upon FlyerTalk via another forum like FatWallet. About 5 weeks into the temporary project, I scored a VDB on an AUS-IAD flight, rerouting via Chicago. My first time sitting in first class ever, on a 767 from ORD-IAD with a VBD voucher in my pocket, I was hooked!
Do you consider yourself an infrequent, fairly regular, or miles and points addicted reader?
How about a status and upgrades addicted reader? Two factors here: I am 6’4” and I have a young family at home. This leads me to concentrate on making sure that when I do need to fly, it is as comfortable as possible and that when problems inevitably happen, I’m in the front of the line to get home on the next flight. (While I used to love VDBs, it’s been years since I’ve taken one).
My original consulting project led to Premier (Silver) status on United, which I renewed the following year. After a change in employer and several intra-employer role changes, I’ve burned through Premier Executive (Gold) for a few years, before reaching 1K for the past two. I’d credit regularly reading FlyerTalk for making all of that travel as comfortable and worry-free as possible. The amount of information and expertise available on the forum is nothing short of astounding.
How often are you on FlyerTalk, and what forums do you typically visit?
As I imagine some frequent travelers do, I visit FlyerTalk roughly in inverse proportion to my travels. Weeks when I am traveling heavily, I rarely visit FlyerTalk during downtime; when I’m home for a stretch, I’m usually on once per day. The United MileagePlus forum was my fairly exclusive home for many years, though I regularly check the Mileage Run forum for that $1 First Class fare to Tokyo with unlimited transfers that I just KNOW is going to show up someday, as well as Coupon Connection when my upgrade balance runs a little low.
Like many frequent United travelers, I’ve found the merger with Continental to be nothing short of abysmal for upgrades, service, and operational performance. I’ve accepted American’s generous status match offer and thus have been spending a lot more time on the AAdvantage FT forums. I’ve found it to have a slightly different tone than the United forum (even before the merger), but have enjoyed getting to know some of the familiar names and following regular threads there.
Do you travel for business, leisure, or both?
I travel ~95% for business in a given year with time for maybe 1 personal trip.
My employer’s travel policy is rather restricted – all airfare booked via an online portal which enforces a “least-logical-cost, economy-only” policy for all worldwide bookings. It is coach-only from the CEO on down, so it is equitable, but nonetheless a challenge to deal with. I am able to focus my travel (mostly) on an airline of choice by leveraging the multiple local airports, taking connections when needed (on my own time), and by paying close attention to fares and booking during sales.
What credit cards are you carrying in your wallet right now, and which ones do you recommend to friends?
Despite my defection to American, my wife and I still use a United Select card for every day purchases. Despite huge devaluations to 1K-status, MileagePlus is still a decent currency for award redemptions, and double miles on household purchases such as groceries is a nice perk. Hilton is my current hotel brand of choice and I carry one of their branded Amex cards nearly exclusively for use at Hilton properties. I applied for two 50k mile bonus AA cards via the “double browser” trick and am currently plotting the min-spend requirements.
When a friend asks me for a card recommendation, I actually point them towards the Chase Sapphire cards – the ability to transfer points to a variety of programs OR use them at 1 cent/point for revenue bookings is great for novice travelers. I’ll likely apply for these cards myself about 11 months from now.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to acquire points and miles?
I know it’s a bit of an anathema to readers of this blog, but the most successful thing I’ve done to acquire miles is to simply fly them! Of the ~500k miles in my United account at the moment, 400k are from making 1K in 2010 and 2011. My comparatively small balance of 100k miles on American is also entirely through flying.
How many miles / points have you accumulated in the past year? In your lifetime?
In 2012, between all programs, I’ll earn about a half million miles/points. More than half of this will be from actual flights/hotel stays with the balance from bonus points and general credit card spend. In my lifetime, it’s very hard to say. This is my third year traveling at this rate, with a solid number of years before that traveling a still substantial but lesser amount.
Do you use a tracking program to keep track of your miles / points? Which one?
Since re-qualifying for status is my primary concern, I do not use one of the conventional point tracking tools. Instead I use a spreadsheet of my own design to track status qualification – this tells me at a given point in the year how I am tracking compared to trend lines reaching various goals on Dec 31.
How does your spouse / partner / family / friends feel about this hobby?
As the resident traveler in the family I regularly end up fielding questions about flights/hotels/etc. (Which I of course don’t mind). I also try to spread some of the perks around; this summer I helped family members get upgrades from WAS-ANC and friends from NYC-HNL. I don’t believe my wife has flown in a non-premium cabin on a 2 or 3-class plane since before we were married. In return she is kind enough to put up with one short mileage run a year in years when I am tracking a little short. (It was not needed last year, but will be this year).
What’s your most memorable trip?
It would have to be our honeymoon, which was almost entirely on points/miles. We flew Lufthansa Business from IAD-MUC-NAP and Lufthansa / United Business home from NCE-FRA-IAD. In between I cashed in Marriott points for stays at the then – Marriott Tiberio Palace hotel on the island of Capri off the coast of Naples, the Rome Marriott Grand Flora, and the Marriott next to Monte Carlo. Of all the destinations, Capri was our absolute favorite. My wife tells me it is the one place in the world she would drop everything to go back to; I plan to take her up on that before too long!
What suggestions can you give to rookies and newbies on FlyerTalk?
There is a vast amount of information on FlyerTalk and each sub-forum has a slightly different method to the madness. I’d encourage a rookie not to get frustrated easily and to really spend enough time to get the ‘feel’ of each forum they are interested in.
Are there any particular fellow FlyerTalk members whose advice you follow?
I don’t want to call out anyone by handle as I’d be afraid I’d miss someone, but I’d have to say a number of the mods / regular posters on the old pre-merger United forums would be top of that list. I’ve also found a number of travel/mile blogs via FT that are on my regular RSS reader.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see change on FlyerTalk?
Despite currently being a casualty of the United-Continental merger debacle myself, I’m ready for the animosity between the Pre-merger United and Pre-merger Continental crowds to end. There is only one United now; it doesn’t matter who did what before; it only matters what the present and future hold.
Have you attended or are you planning on attending any FlyerTalk related events?
The Star Alliance MegaDO is on my personal bucket list. I can’t imagine when I’ll manage to have the time to do it, but some day….
Any other comments / questions / suggestions / advice?
Don’t ever fly in first class unless you are prepared to hate flying coach for life!!!
Dan, thank you again for sharing with us. 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 Dan has shared with us: