Around 440 FlyerTalkers convened in Chicago in October to attend the Chicago Seminar DO, which was most probably the largest gathering of FlyerTalk members to date. The participants came with varying degrees of experience–there were those just starting out and seasoned travelers who had been enjoying top-tier elite status with airlines and hotels for many years. There were grad students and retirees, business travelers and leisure travelers and those who loved Delta SkyMiles and those who didn’t.
There were a total of 12 seminars, and because of simultaneous seminars, participants could choose to attend only seven. Win Schaeffer (toomanybooks) welcomed everyone to the DO and his question, “Anybody from out of town?” was greeted with a collective chuckle. People had flown in from all over the country (and even a few from outside the country) to listen to the expert speakers and meet other travelers who shared their interest in (or possibly addiction to) miles and points.
The seminars started with a Saturday morning presentation called “Rookie Bootcamp,” by Bikeguy, which was an introduction to the game of miles and points. He recommended that members develop a travel philosophy and decide what is most important–want to travel well for not much money or do you want to travel for free? Or are you most interested in attaining status?
For the second morning seminar, guests could choose between Award Booking and Mileage Run Seminar (Part 1). Gary Leff (FlyerTalk handle, gleff), who has redeemed an impressive 70 million miles this year (most of which were not his own) gave a presentation on Award Booking. His focus was on booking business class international awards and said that if you’re redeeming for coach, you’re probably spending too much for those awards. He mentioned some of the programs, carriers and awards that offered the best value and shared his opinion about which points are the most valuable. In “The World According to Gary” Starwood Preferred Guest, American Express Membership Rewards, Aeroplan and Continental OnePass issue some of the most valuable currency. He also offered tips on how to talk to customer service agents and prepare for the call and how to find award tickets using the booking engine.
FlyerTalk’s Viajero Joven (a.k.a. VJ) gave an introduction to mileage runs. Those who were interested in mileage runs were able to sign up for a total of five and a half hours of mileage run instruction throughout the DO. The process is complicated and VJ said, “Mileage running is an art and science that improves with practice.”
The first Saturday afternoon sessions after lunch were a choice between a continuation of the Mileage Run Seminar or The Rental Car Kings. Marty Paz (Mrp Alert) and Jonathan Weinberg of Autoslash.com talked about rental cars and how to earn the most amount of miles while paying the least amount of money. Marty outlined all of the frequent renter programs and recommended joining every program. As a general rule, he said to credit miles to a non-U.S. program, “… don’t put in a domestic frequent flyer number without a bonus miles offer.” Virgin Atlantic gives 1,000 miles per rental and Miles & More gives 500 miles, which is a lot more than the standard 50 miles per rental in the U.S. To view a list of the best car rental deals available right now, visit http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3349
The second afternoon sessions were another Mileage Run Seminar and Good Credit and Bumps. Rick Ingersoll of Frugal Travel Guy blog talked about how to earn miles through credit card sign-up offers while maintaining your good credit and Ben Schlappig (Lucky of One Mile at a Time Blog) gave some tips on how to increase your chances of being bumped. Nathan Weber (wannaflyforless) gave a more advanced talk on mileage runs. Regarding spending 18 days in a row on a perpetual mileage run to get 1K status by January 18, Nathan Weber said, “I do not want to do that again.”
Sunday began with a Sponsors Workshop where the sponsors had an opportunity to speak about their products. Alliance Roundtable and Hotel Loyalty Programs were the next seminar choices. For the Alliance Roundtable, Nathan Weber talked about oneworld, Gary Leff spoke about Star Alliance and Steve Belkin (FlyerTalk handle, Beaubo) took on SkyTeam. Ric Garrido of Hotel Loyalty Traveler blog talked about all the different loyalty programs and emphasized, “Free night awards are always valuable.”
In the afternoon, Steve Belkin gave a presentation on Travel Trading Place and the “Legends of FlyerTalk” came up to the podium to inspire the crowd with tales of their infamous exploits. The famous Pudding Guy, who shared some little-known facts about the pudding scheme and gave some other examples of his mileage mania, admitted to a shocked group, “I let some miles expire–that shows just how far I’ve fallen.” Other legends who spoke included MrPickles, Beaubo, Gleff and wannaflyforless.
The organizers of the event are talking about hosting a similar event next year and based upon the attendance and positive feedback from this one, another Seminar DO will likely become a reality. You can read more about the Chicago Seminar DO on FlyerTalk at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3351