Are Business Travelers Stupid?

Christopher Elliott hit bottom last week with his article suggesting that advocates of frequent flyer programs should be arrested. And now he keeps digging even further with an article provocatively titled, “Are Business Travelers Stupid?”

Mr. Elliott is an intelligent man, and he isn’t wrong about everything.

So I have to imagine that in even writing this post, I’m getting played. Because he can’t actually believe the things he’s been writing over at LinkedIn since becoming one of their ‘thought leaders’, can he?

He begins his post,

Don’t lean back your airline seat. Opt out of the TSA scanners. Cut up your frequent flier card.

I actually agree with the first two of his three propositions. It’s just that he spends the most amount of time — and the greatest hyperbole — on the last claim.

He’s actually read the refutations, including here on this blog (he left a comment last week). And yet he keeps going, without actually addressing the ‘real’ arguments being made against his position. Instead he attacks straw men.

This time he takes it to the next level, getting personal with frequent flyers.

Many of you haven’t been on your best behavior on the road. You’ve wasted your employer’s money accumulating worthless loyalty points… You’re rude. And you’re making travel intolerable for everyone else.

There are certainly rude travelers, of both the elite (‘do you know who I am’) frequent flyer variety and the infrequent traveler types. Yet there’s never any sense of irony in how rude his characterizations are.

Dumbest reader comment? “Frequent flier programs work for me, so they can’t be a scam.” I’m sure that’s what Bernie Madoff’s victims told themselves right until the end.

Instead of reading Bernie Madoff into the reader comments, he could have taken the same claim (which I doubt is a direct quote anyway, and Elliott doesn’t provide the link to verify) and formulated it as, ‘I have anecdotal evidence which contradicts your broad sweeping claims that don’t present any evidence.’

The cardinal rule, I think, and I’ll admit that I don’t always live up to it (though I try) is to characterize your opponents’ arguments as charitably as you possibly can, and grapple with the strongest formulations of those arguments and not the weakest.

You probably like to think of yourself as a successful executive, right? How did you reach your position when you’re unable to follow basic instructions? (I said, “Stop reading.” You didn’t.)

Also, did you sleep through your high school Latin class? If so, how hard can it be to look up “ad hominem” online? Are you aware that you’re commenting under your own name and that your current and future employers will read your angry, irrational rejoinder?

I don’t even know what to say to Mr. Elliott’s ad hominem attacks on what he claims are ad hominem attacks. Way too post-modern.

For years, I’ve received emails from whiny, elite-level frequent business travelers who ordered me to recover their expired miles or appeal an airline’s decision not to grant them super-elite status. They threw tantrums when I didn’t go to bat for them after they knowingly booked an incorrectly-priced airfare, and I politely refused to be used as leverage to force the airline to honor a $29 transpacific ticket.

At least at times, with ‘mistake fares’, he’s been much more nuanced in the past.

And most of the tantrums he deals with in his ‘travel troubleshooter’ columns are from non-elite frequent flyers, not from elites, he tends to side with passengers most of the time not against them. Although no doubt even he finds some of the complaints that he gets to be unreasonable (I find many more of them to be unreasonable than he does).

As one friend, who flies more than 100,000 miles a year, admitted, “Most of the super-frequent fliers I meet seem to think ‘elite’ means you gotta be an a-hole.”

Back in journalism school they taught us that our role was to comfort the afflicted — and to afflict the comfortable. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I’m not your concierge. I’m not here to coddle you as a high-value customer.

I am your conscience.

Of course, not all business travelers are spoiled children with an IQ to match. But many of the ones who left hateful and ignorant comments on my last few posts are. And it’s a safe bet they’ll fling even more barbs right here in the comments section, once again proving my point.

I do love the rhetorical tactic, even if I wouldn’t ever endorse it, that anyone who disagrees with you is ‘flinging barbs’ and that the more people disagree with you, the more right you must be, so there’s no reason to, you know, actually make a solid argument.

Mr. Elliott, not everyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid. It’s worth a dose of humility, to at least be open to the possibility that when so many people disagree with you, and real arguments are marshalled against your positions, that there’s a burden of proof to meet. It’s at least possible that you’re wrong. And — titling articles, “Are Business Travelers Stupid?” is not actually going to be in your long-term best interest.

Here’s what the column could have said:

I write a travel troubleshooter column where I help people get justice, or at least a little bit of dignity, from travel providers. Things go wrong in travel and dealing with major companies, especially in this industry, can be tough. So I work hard as a consumer advocate.

I’ve found though that many of the complaints I get are from frequent flyers who should often ‘know better’ and don’t fall into the category of ‘powerless at the hands of a travel bureaucracy’ but instead ‘trying to game the system.’ And those people I’m not actually out to help.

My message to frequent business travelers is that you should work on patience and good humor. You know the system and how things work better than infrequent travelers, so smile and take with good humor when someone reclines their seat into you or crowds the gate when it’s ‘your turn’ to board. And don’t feign outrage when you don’t get your preferred meal, or that mistake fare honored.

In the arena of travel, you’re smarter than the average passenger — and should be held to a higher standard. So professionals on LinkedIn, I implore you: towards a higher standard of decency, and a willingness to let the petty indignities wash off of you, as you already have much to be thankful for.

The odds that insulting business travelers will get that message out effectively and convincingly are exceptionally low. But buried deep below the veneer of attack and ad hominem is a message that wants to get out. Will Christopher Elliott’s future pieces take the high road? That’s the challenge I’m issuing. I know you’re reading. Are you up for it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have finally decided that he is just doing this to generate traffic on his website. Makes it even easier for me to ignore him when he blathers about the ills of frequent flier programs.

  2. I think the article is trying to get attention. My expectations are reasonable with the programs I am in. I dont give anyone a hard time, although I did have one interesting story that happened to me a year ago.

  3. I don’t understand why you and some of your fellow bloggers give him the publicity. If people are stupid enough to take his advice and quite FF programs en mass, so be it. Then more award seats/complimentary upgrades will be available for the rest of us.

  4. Madoff’s clients had to pay back any profits that they managed to extract from the criminal enterprise before its collapse. If the FF programs collapse, members who burn miles will not have to pay anything back. That’s a huge difference even if you believe that FF programs have some Ponzi characteristics.

  5. “Of course, not all business travelers are spoiled children with an IQ to match.”

    Just for the record, IQ scores for kids are relative to other kids of the same age. So kids (spoiled or not) can have a distribution of IQ scores similar to that of adults. Actually, argument could be made for spoiled kids having high IQs.

    It wasn’t just an ad hominem argument, it was factually flawed at its premise. A two-fer.

  6. “You’ve wasted your employer’s money accumulating worthless loyalty points.”

    Indeed, business flyers should quit screwing around with their employers money and leave the loyalty points game to the professionals, like Mr. Pickles and others, who can more economically relieve the airlines of those evil, worthless loyalty points.

  7. Sounds like Mr Elliott is just one of those people who refuse to get the most from his money. Guess it’s just best to leave him to his idiocy while the rest of us travel for free/cheap. I quit following his blog about a year ago and apparently I haven’t missed anything substantial.

  8. I left Mr. Elliot a comment on what I assume was the original article. I’d guess he might be talking about me, except I’m not a business traveler. Nor am I an elite by any stretch of the imagination. I fly mostly domestic coach, and awards allow me to do much more of it, cheaply. So, it does “work for me”, and with a little research, it can work for anyone. Which WAS part of my comment.

    Could it have been me who irritated him? I sorta-kinda hope so. But I doubt it.

    I’m not going to go back to his silly articles. I’ve wasted enough of my time with this wacko. If some people are getting value from his drivel, I would say “good for them”, but I wouldn’t really believe that.

  9. You’re definitely getting played, Gary. This guy is a troll, and trolls thrive on attention–or in this case, page hits.

  10. C’mon Gary, you know by now that Elliott is a bright and savvy guy who’s found his niche pandering to his two core audiences: the ill-prepared occasional traveler that loves his populist pieces tearing down the sybarites they shamefully walk by in First Class, and the elite frequent flyer who seek validation through expressions of envy by the unwashed masses.
    J/k, love the back and forth, “popcorn journalism”.

  11. I just consider him to be ill-informed, and not only was this verified here, but he gives some insights into why he doesn’t care to be knowledgeable – he’s got some stereoptypes in mind that he wants to believe in. Not much value in arguing with him. We can enjoy taking great flights to amazing places without his approval, which I do regularly on a very average salary with no status in any program.

  12. I don’t quite agree that we (as successful points and miles travelers) would be better off if lots of people took Elliott’s advice. And they won’t; he’s not really that influential. The programs do currently depend in part on a model of having lots of participants who don’t use them well, and a substantial segment of Elliott’s readership would probably fall in that category, if they bother with them at all. Elliott is purposely bombastic, but does know his readers.

    If demand for frequent flyer miles went down, it wouldn’t follow that there would be more seats for the rest of us as some suggest. More likely the credit card companies and others would have to look for other types of incentives and the airlines would allot even fewer reward seats. The programs would likely be restructured to cater much more directly to capturing the loyalties of the true business frequent flyers (which they intend to do now, but not in a carefully focused way since they also see a nice market in the bumbling activities of the inefficient program users).

    Just don’t read him on frequent flyer plans. On the other hand, he makes sense when he comments on TSA, and his ombudsman activities do often focus on legitimate problems in the travel industry, with the opportunity for any traveler to become better informed about mistakes to avoid and ways to handle situations.

  13. why bother giving him the attention? I dont read his posts, and am certain now that I never will. Please ignore him!

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