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.
This week I have the distinct privilege of sitting down and talking to a legend in the frequent flyer world and someone who has literally been blogging for decades. Gary has spent more time in 1st class seats and hotels than most of us will ever do in our lifetimes. When he speaks on things that can impact you about an airline, a hotel or anything else travel related I listen and you should too. Let’s get started with this week’s interview.
Rene – Hello Gary. It is great to spend some time with you, one of the founding fathers of so much frequent flyer from here on BoardingArea, to MilePoint to all your other endeavors writing for Condé Nast Traveler and now on other papers as well (The Colbert Report was fun to see too). So tell us, since you have been blogging for so long, even before it was called blogging, how did you get started and why?
Gary – Well it was definitely blogging back when I started writing in 2002, but most successful blogs were purely political at the start. I knew many of the big political bloggers, and I wasn’t going to out-politics Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Reynolds but I was really learning a lot about miles and points and to most people I knew it was a fascinating topic and they had tons of questions. I started to write up the things that I found and learned, so I could point friends to them and even just keep it for myself. Backing up a few years I thought I was a real expert traveler, earning status and getting upgraded, but then I signed up for Flyertalk in April 2001. I still remember meeting Randy Petersen for the first time in October 2001, I met a bunch of frequent flyers for drinks at National airport during Randy’s “Come Fly With Me” US Airways tour to get people back in the skies after 9/11. At that meetup I remember introducing myself as someone who mostly reads, never posts, because I still had so much to learn. And of course I still have plenty to learn! But I also share my thoughts each day, when it started I remember site stats and being happy when I would hit 50 readers a day! I’m grateful to everyone that’s been along for the journey with me on my blog.
Rene – You clearly reach such a diverse audience and cover such a wide range of topics. I think most would love to know how in the world you keep up on so much and have the pulse on so many airlines, hotels and other programs?
Gary – I’m blushing a little bit already, I don’t do well with flattering questions, but I’ll answer because I hope that the answers are useful to folks because I’ve learned a few things along the way. First, it’s easy for me to stay on top of developments in travel and loyalty because I’ve been at it so long. I was a frequent flyer right after college, so more than 17 years. I’ve focused seriously on these things for the past 13+ years. That’s a huge base of knowledge, so new developments are processed in the context of everything I’ve seen and learned in the past. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers talks about the 10,000 hour rule, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code talks about deep practice — you need to spend a lot of time doing something, experiencing it, immersing yourself in it, to become really good at something (no matter how much talent you start with). I think the years I’ve been at this really help a lot. And second I love it, some people watch football and I think about miles and points. So it’s the fun spaces in my life that fill up with all of this, I get up early and read from 5am onwards with my coffee.
Rene – I know in the past you have said you just share what is on your mind but do you have any big plans for View from the Wing for 2014 and are you planning more FTU’s?
Gary – I really do just share what is on my mind, I started the blog as a hobby and I still think about it as my personal blog sharing whatever interests me at the time, with folks welcome to join me for the ride (benefit from, criticize, whatever they wish). So I don’t think about the future of the blog, the future is whatever I’ll be interested in when the time comes. Frequent Traveler University has been a lot of fun, we’ve had more than 600 people at a time gathering to talk miles and points and learn from each other — the April 2013 event was the largest frequent flyer get together ever. I actually thought that one was too large, the 400 folks for Tampa in September was a better size where it was easier to get to know people. So for the next one, which will be in Seattle the last weekend of April (more details soon!) we’ll be looking to cap things at that size.
Rene – Exciting. OK I was told by another BoardingArea blogger that I must ask you this so, sorry, but why do you secretly long to only fly Southwest Air for the rest of your life?
Gary – Uh, yeah. I flew Southwest once. That was 1993. They used to have seats that faced backwards, but of course not like British Airways or United (lie flat seats). Southwest is great, it isn’t generally cheaper than its head-to-head competition but I think they’re a good reliable airline and they’ve brought a lot to the communities they serve. I used to love sparring online with their founding President Lamar Muse, and his autobiography is a great must-read. I loved the stories about their commitment to putting skylights in their first planes so passengers could look up to the heavens (helped them get financial backing) and of how the La Quinta chain got its name (a Southwest board member founded it, and was looking for the cheapest furniture possible which happened to have a Southwestern motif — and needed a name to match). But there’s no possibility of an upgrade on Southwest, and Southwest points can’t be leveraged. So the two things I value most are impossible.
Rene – Thanks for the fun answer. I think you and I have the same view of the airline. On to other things. You have had some good posts about the changes to the frequent flyer “game” and all the recent devaluations. Do you think it will ever reach the point that there is no point anymore?
Gary – Frequent flyer programs are the most successful marketing innovations of all time. They are profitable as standalone businesses. While there are changes in the offing, many of the programs are funded by smart business people who won’t undermine the fundamental value proposition that supports their profitability. And there are too many frequent flyer programs around the world to count, which means there are plenty of places for mileage junkies to go to continue getting real value. So I don’t worry too much.
Rene – Thank you so much Gary for taking the time to sit down and chat with me. Your blog and knowledge are truly a treasure and I look forward to your posts each day.
Gary – Thanks, Rene!
You can follow Gary’s blog on BoardingArea, via Twitter, receive his posts via e-mail each day or instantly via RSS feed! If you are not reading View from the Wing each day, you should be! Also if you need Award booking help, be sure to check his service out. Be sure to check back next week as we come to know another of “your” BA bloggers. – René