A Fireside Chat with Bobby the AAdvantage Geek

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Welcome to a new Sunday series that will be a bit like a fireside chat. I count it a privilege to be a part of an amazing group of Travel bloggers here at BoardingArea.com. But just how well do you know “your” BoardingArea writers? Are you reading all the blogs you should be each day? This series will help you get to know them one by one. Now on to this weeks chat.

bobby aadvantage geek

So many of the BoardingArea blogs are general interest and they cover so many topics. They are great source for general program knowledge and I follow them all and learn each day from my fellow BA bloggers. But when it comes to all things American Airlines, there is only one place we should all turn – Bobby the AAdvantage Geek! Let’s get right to the Q&A.

Rene – Hi Bobby it is so fun to get to chat with you. One of the questions most want to know is why did you start blogging, why AAdvantage Geek and why did you find your home at BoardingArea?

Bobby – Hi Rene, thanks for chatting today! I’ve been blogging for about four years: one year on my own and about three years on Boarding Area.

Long before I started blogging I was a loyal reader of Rick’s ‘Frugal Travel Guy’ blog, Gary’s ‘View from the Wing’, Marshal’s ‘MJ on Travel’, and Mark Ashley’s ‘Upgrade Travel Better’ blog.  I was also a big fan of Seth, Ben, Brett Snyder, and JonNYC’s Traveling Better AAdvantage forum.

So because I kept up with loyalty program news, and because I was fairly obsessive about my AAdvantage Miles, I was always the ‘go-to guy’ at the company for bonus offers. Colleagues would stop by my office before going on a business trip and ask about the best AAdvantage car rental offer or hotel bonus.

A few years back I ran into a friend at a conference.  We both attended a morning session on blogging and afterwards we went to lunch and talked about the session. We used to work together at a software company and he’s one of the most brilliant and interesting people I know.  For years we’ve had these big fun discussions on a variety of technology topics, and at the time we were engaged in a long running conversation about cellular telephony and competing mobile technologies (HSPA vs. GSM, iOS vs. Android, Verizon vs. AT&T).

Feeling a little inspired by the conference, I told him that he should start a blog about mobile technology; he was too funny and too smart for an audience of one, and blogging would be a perfect platform for him to share his ideas with more people.

He said that he would start a blog it if I would do it too.  I tried to squirm out of it by offering up the excuse that I couldn’t think of anything to blog about. “You’re a geek about your AAdvantage miles, write about that” he suggested. So, we made a dinner bet (first one to quit had to buy the other dinner) and both of us started blogging.  After three weeks he quit, but during that short time I had managed to gain a few readers.

I knew from Google Analytics that with each day I was getting a few more visitors from Google searches, and that someone from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development was stopping by daily.  After about a month I received my first comment. It was kind of exciting to see the blog grow, and even though I had already won the dinner bet, with one loyal reader I felt kind of obligated to continue. So I kept blogging.

As a tiny little blog I tried to find unique topics to write about, subjects that weren’t getting covered on the bigger blogs.  AAdvantage sweepstakes offers.  Admirals Club upgrades.  When American quietly relaunched their Twitter effort, I think I was the very first blogger to write about the new @AmericanAir presence.

Very early on Ben, Gary and Rick were kind enough to link to me and give me a hat-tip every now and then, which helped me gain new readers.  That’s probably how I came to Randy’s attention. Randy left a comment on my blog, and at first I thought the comment was from a prankster, but he followed it up with a Tweet and asked me to give him a call.

I’m a long-time admirer of Randy (I even have a dog eared copy of his 1995 ‘The Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook: The Essential Frequent Traveler Program Guide’) and it was exciting  to get a chance to talk with him! I called him up, we talked, and he invited me to join Boarding Area.  I was reluctant at first, it’s one thing to make a dork of yourself in front of a few hundred readers, but quite another to put yourself out there in front of thousands.  But you know Randy, he’s always so positive and full of encouragement, and he has this optimism and enthusiasm that’s sort of contagious.  Who can tell him no?

So here I am.  On Boarding Area.  And I owe it all to my friend and a dinner bet, with hat-tips to Ben, Gary, Rick, a big ‘Thank You’ to Randy and a loyal reader at HUD!

Rene – That is so neat! You seem to have a very good relationship with AA and blog about so many of the “behind the scenes” stuff. How do you get so many insights about the airline and do you have special access?

Bobby – American has some really bright people in Communications and on their Social Media team.  They made the decision a few years back to evolve with the times and to expand their definition of ‘the media’ to include bloggers.

When I started blogging I would sometimes reach out to American on Twitter to clarify the occasional question about an offer, and they started to include me when they sent out press releases.   Later, when I was at SXSW, I got an invitation to meet up with the @AmericanAir team at a reception in Austin, and at the party I was able to meet lots of people at AA.  My connections at American grew from there.

They read the blog, they read the comments.  While there have been a few posts they probably wish I hadn’t written, they’ve been very supportive of the blog.  And it’s not just me, they work with a lot of other bloggers as well. As a blogger, it’s great to cover a company with such a progressive online strategy. As an AA geek and an aviation fan, it’s been lots of fun!

More broadly, I know that they’re really interested in the discussion topics that come up in the AAdvantage community.  They’re on Facebook, Twitter, Milepoint, and FlyerTalk.

I’ve been able to attend press conferences, I was invited to ride along on the delivery flight of a new 777-300ER, I’ve been able to tour new aircraft before they go into service, visit the flight training center, and I’ve even been able to take part in a plane pull!

American has been very generous and given me AAdvantage miles, amenity kits, mugs, shirts, and other items to give away to readers. But other than that, they don’t do anything special for me.  No special status. I still, on occasion, find myself number 25 on the upgrade list!

Rene – It is nice to see a company be so supportive of your work. So do people ask if you have some kind of affiliation with American Airlines?

Bobby – I get that question from time to time, and the answer is no.  I’m just a customer.  I live in Dallas, and travel a lot for business and most of it is on American.

I don’t write much commentary about American’s business strategies or industry trends, there are many people who do a much better job than I ever could, I’m pretty much just about the miles, bonus offers, new planes, new destinations.

Sure, I’m probably a little biased, but then again I’m not the Wall Street Journal; I’m a (usually) happy and satisfied American Airlines frequent flier who finds a lot of value in the AAdvantage program. I try to keep the ire and indignation to a minimum, and to remember that all this frequent flier stuff isn’t really all that important.

My blog isn’t about living with cancer, coping with life after returning from war, or the health care debate.   It’s just a little blog with a focus on earning, using (and sometimes winning) AAdvantage miles.

Like you, I try to keep the tone of my blog positive. If I sometimes come across as a fanboy, it’s probably for that reason.  (This may change though if after the merger they do anything to the First Class pretzel bread!)

Rene – Interesting and a good perspective. I know you have a “real” job and don’t blog full time for a living. Do you mostly write for the frequent AA flyer or the casual one as well?

Bobby – I don’t want to exclude the casual flier, but I write for people like me: business travelers who (mostly) fly on American Airlines.

For many of us, an American Airlines 737 is our office, the Admirals Club our breakroom.    And little things like new meals, faster nextgen Gogo Wi-Fi, new planes, more outlets, new espresso machines in the lounges, and new destinations affect our ‘workplace’ and I try to keep readers up to date on the news that impacts them as an AA business traveler.

I also share tips and strategies for earning the most elite qualifying miles and points. But, some of the topics are of interest to casual fliers too.

Everyone’s busy and it’s not always easy to keep up with the latest AAdvantage bonus offers, so I try to do that for readers.  I write about reduced AAdvantage mileage awards and widebody schedules.  Why airplane bathrooms still have ashtrays.  This is the kind of information that anyone might find useful.

AAdvantage Newbie or seasoned Executive Platinum…I welcome and appreciate anyone who takes the time to read the blog or comment on a post.

Rene – Good to know. You cover a bunch of OneWorld topics too. What do you think about the OneWorld alliance and where do you see it in 2014 with US Air joining AA?

Bobby – Hmmm, that’s an interesting question. American is a founding member of the oneworld Alliance and they’ve always taken a leadership role in growing and improving the alliance.

Star Alliance is a great alliance and US Airways has a history of being a good alliance partner. Even as a smaller carrier in Star, US Airways has been able to extract enormous benefit from their participation in such a strong alliance.   It’s been both good for them financially and good for their customers.

I think the experience in Star has shaped how they view (and value) being part of a large, well integrated alliance of top tier airlines.

For those reasons, I think the leadership team at the new American will be inclined toward a strong alliance and being a good alliance member. Unlike *ahem* some of Korean Air’s SkyTeam partners.

Rene – Thanks for your insight and point taken! What should we expect to see new and exciting for 2014 on AAdvantage Geek blog?

Bobby – I predict that next year you’ll finally give up on Delta and SkyMiles, we’ll announce our own merger, and you will become an AAdvantage Geek too!

Rene – Well we will see about that as I will have then almost 1 million AA points but either way Bobby thank you for chatting with “us” today. You are truly such an asset to BoardingArea and a blog I love to read and smile each time I follow along.

Bobby – Thanks Rene.  Appreciate the opportunity to visit with you.  Hope you, your lovely wife, and your readers have a wonderful holiday season!

You can follow AAdvantage Geek on this blog, here on Twitter and subscribe to his RSS feed here as well. If you fly American Air, you must make Bobby’s blog one of you daily BA reads. Next week we get a chance to meet another of the BA legends and you will not want to miss out! – René

 

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