So What Did I Learn at FTU LAX?

Monday’s post was targeted to newbies who attended FTU and may have learned a few new tricks they weren’t quite sure how to put into practice. I didn’t mean to be a tease, but I did promise not to spill the beans on what goes on in the secret session. Today, I’ll talk about what else I learned, which was still quite a bit of useful information for passionate travelers and may pique your interest in going to FTU in Tysons Corner this April.

Cranky Concierge Service

Brett Snyder, the Cranky Flyer, talked about his Cranky Concierge service, which helps you plan your entire travel experience to minimize hassles. They’ll even recommend the best place to stop for a bite during your layover!

Cranky Concierge is a full-fledged travel agency, able to rebook you in case of irregular operations or anticipated delays. Brett also mentioned a few useful tricks you can take advantage of on your own.

FlightCaster predicts delays, and FlightAware lets you track your inbound aircraft to see where it’s coming from. United.com now lets you do this, too (a holdover from the former Continental.com). Even if the gate says your flight is on time, sometimes a quick look at this information can tell you that a delay is inevitable if the inbound aircraft departed significantly late. If your flight is late or canceled, UnitedCargo.com gives more detailed information about the exact cause, which can sometimes help when negotiating for accommodation or compensation.

Finally, don’t forget that the ticketing carrier, whether it’s an award ticket or a revenue ticket, has ultimate responsibility for your entire itinerary. Brett gave an example where LAN screwed up a passenger’s ticket for an American Airlines flight. While technically American shouldn’t have let the passenger on the plane, in that case, they made an exception. But obviously, you should try to be prepared to deal with the ticketing carrier whenever a situation might arise.

Alternative Ways to Get 5X Everywhere

The Frequent Miler was available to speak about different ways to maximize credit card bonuses now that Vanilla Reload cards can no longer be purchased at Office Depot with an Ink Bold or Ink Plus card that earns 5X Ultimate Rewards points. He made a point that his presentation would not be shared on his blog, so I will respect the need for discretion and not get too far into details.

But he is still talking about them in public. You just need to read between the lines. It’s unlikely that the next big thing will be shared quite so openly as before with step-by-step instructions and big, red arrows.

The new strategy is much like the old strategy. You need to find a card that offers great bonus categories, such as at grocery stores, drugstores, or elsewhere. Once you find a store like that, figure out what kind of gift cards or reload cards they sell.

Be prepared to think outside the box. Some drugstores are bigger than others. Would you be able to pay for all your merchandise at Costco in the pharmacy department and get it coded as a drugstore purchase? Probably not, but that’s the kind of question you have to ask.

Vanilla Reload cards are much more difficult to find and buy with a credit card, no matter where you look. But other cards can still be purchased and used to buy items and most stores, just $500 at a time. There is no easy replacement for Vanilla Reloads to build a large account with Bluebird and use it to pay your mortgage.

But the prepaid card ecosystem is still young, and I bet we can look forward to new developments coming soon. Relationships such as that between American Express and Walmart to release Bluebird will probably provide the most opportunity since both banks and merchants will want to entice you to use their card.

There were other sessions by Frequent Miler and Million Mile Secrets on how to churn credit cards, which category bonuses to take advantage of, and so on. Mostly introductory stuff, and I don’t need to cover those. I’m sure you all get enough of that from the usual blog posts.

Tricks and Tools to Plan Your Travel

Several speakers talked about ways to plan travel cheaply, but Ben (One Mile at a Time) and Seth (Wandering Aramean) have the most experience in this field. Ben talked about mileage runs and using ITA. The key points of mileage runs really are:

  1. Learning how to use ITA
  2. Understanding your goals, whether to earn miles or elite status and where you’ll use those miles and benefits
  3. Understanding the route network and partners of your preferred program
  4. Using ITA to search for cheap flights with multiple connections to maximize the distance flown.

I’ve already provided detailed walkthroughs of ITA in the past, and I encourage you to check them out (my all-time most popular post is on advanced routing language). No offense to Ben, but I think my post explains things better, probably because I had the time to write it out and he’s up there fielding questions in real time. He still did a great job with a few sample searches.

Seth shared a few other resources he likes to use for booking and monitoring his travel. In addition to ITA, he also recommended Hipmunk. (Again, I’ve covered Hipmunk in the past, and you can read about their flight search here and here.)

The main benefit of Hipmunk over ITA is that it incorporates a lot of the ITA advanced routing language, has a similar display format, and actually lets you book your ticket. I think ITA is more powerful than Hipmunk, but you can’t book a ticket on ITA; it’s strictly informational. Sometimes you’ll find a convoluted itinerary that is hard to book in practice, but Hipmunk does a great job of taking you directly to the airline booking site where your itinerary is already assembled and ready to buy.

Finally, Seth discussed his Wandering Aramean Travel Tools (W.A.T.T.). I still need to do a post on these to cover them in more depth. Basically, Seth has another job as a freelance computer specialist, and while you and I may come up with a neat idea, he has the skills to actually go find the data and do something about it. Among the W.A.T.T. features include:

  • Award availability searches
  • Lowest published fares
  • UNESCO sites (for ideas of where to go)

The Concourse Z Shark Tank

Randy came up with a new idea for this year’s event to share some of the new business ideas coming out in the travel industry. Concourse Z is a forum on MilePoint for all the small businesses that cater to the frequent traveler.

Co-founders from AwardWallet, MileWise, PointsHound, Wallaby, and 30K pitched their ideas to a panel of BoardingArea bloggers that included me as well as Darren from Frequently Flying and Marshall from MJ on Travel. Our job as “experts” was to ask the tough questions about how their businesses would improve the travel experience. The audience then got to vote on which business idea had the most potential, and Randy awarded a $500 check on behalf of MilePoint.

This is actually just the beginning of a new venture from MilePoint to provide significant funding to travel startups. At the next FTU in April, Randy will be handing out $50,000. But every little bit counts.

I’ve already covered AwardWallet in the past. Earlier this week, Amol shared the inside scoop on Wallaby. I will be writing a review very soon about MileWise, but PointsHound and 30K will also get some special attention. Look out for these upcoming reviews of some great new ideas.

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Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Jon

    Would I get value from FTU in April, if I an intermediate understanding of loyalty programs, earning and using points, getting status, etc.? I really want to take it to the next level and book better award tickets, churn credit cards, etc.

    • Scottrick

      I think so. A lot of the experts just go to hang out. I still learned a few things. If you end up finding that the sessions aren’t advanced enough for you, you can usually find someone out in the hallway who feels the same and you can trade notes to get an impromptu lesson on whatever DOES interest you.

  • TravelBloggerBuzz

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for that Concourse Z mention, I had missed that!

    I hope you never become a Chris Elliott email newsletter sponsor:-)

    • Scottrick

      He does follow me on Twitter…

  • bonnerbl

    The funding for startups was an FTU highlight for me. That was a terrific idea and I look forward to the $50,000 competition. Randy never fails to surprise and be ahead of the curve.

  • Wei

    Nice post! I always learn new things here. Thanks for sharing!