Last Night I Defended Delta on The Colbert Report

Back in December I wrote up my stay at the Morgan’s Group’s The Hudson hotel, and explained I had stayed there the night before shooting a television show.

The Colbert Report folks set up the reservation, so I was staying somewhere I didn’t have status, something I’m not used to. And while it was probably a great hotel for the price (under $300) on a night where hotels in the city generally were close to sold out, it was the first time I had stayed somewhere without status in Manhattan in a Very. Long. Time. I wasn’t used to what ‘normal-szed’ hotel rooms in the city are like (miniature furniture to make the room seem larger, and while there were two TVs they were close enough that the remote control would turn them both on and off at the same time).

The show was about to go on hiatus and they were doing a ton of taping, getting segments ‘in the can’ so that things would be a bit less hectic when they went back on the air. As a result, there was no studio space available and the crew had me meet them at a budget hotel down the street from their studio to do the filming.

Apparently the hotel is a regular location they’ll use as overflow, someone mentioned the Daily SHow was also filming there that day.

We fit a full camera crew, producer and assistant producer, even an intern into the room. And we filmed for about five hours.

My role in the segment was (ironically enough, as the person who coined the term ‘SkyPesos’) to defend Delta. They had closed down Lynn Harrell’s Skymiles account for his also accumulating miles for the cello he purchased seats for. Delta had specifically warned him not to, that it was against the rules. He continued to do it, for years, without Delta acting.. until they did.

I was there to explain Delta’s side of things. That frequent flyer miles are for human beings (really, that they are meant to incentivize human beings rather than non-sentient beings), that frequent flyer programs have rules which are associated with costs and budgets, and that ignoring those rules generally busts the budget and makes it impossible to fulfill redemptions for members at large — if the rules aren’t enforced the economics of the program don’t work.

Does any of that mean that accruing and then redeeming a cello’s miles is going to bust the bank? No, but that i they don’t enforce the rules it makes t difficult to do so across the board, and that would be a problem.

The question I was asked that I liked best but that didn’t make it into the segment was, “Is this… destroying America?

Of course my answer — since i was taping The Colbert Report… was yes. That we agree to private, contractual rules and should stand behind those agreements. I said something to the effect that, “if we teach our children that we don’t have to keep our promises, then a little bit of America will die, each and every day.”

That was, naturally, after I first busted out laughing when I was asked the question. The producer explained, “Stephen loves America.”

I didn’t actually meet Stephen Colbert. The segment producer sat behind the camera asking me questions. That way I can give my answers and they can voice over what they need the host or narrator to say later.

We cruised through questions for an hour and a half or two hours, ordered in sandwiches, and kept going shooting a ton of B-roll… walking with carry-on luggage (theirs) down the street, through the halls of the hotel… stealing hotel soaps… tossing my frequent flyer cards down on the desk, down on the bed, beside the bed. As much time went into getting down shots for them to think about using later as answering questions.

All-in it was about 24 hours for a few minutes of television, which while about miles is also an interesting commentary on equality at the same time.

Months passed and when it didn’t air I sort of capitalized that it wouldn’t. They told me they loved it, and that I wouldn’t see it on right away — that indeed the producer actually likes things to die down a bit in the media around a story much of the time before coming back to it. But I figured it had gone stale. A couple of times though I saw the story resurface, and pinged the producers to note that, hoping that there would still be a live news hook. Then, out of the blue, they let me know it would be coming soon..!

The segment is available as a clip from Hulu, so even embedded here you may have to wait through a commercial. Then skip forward to about 6min 15sec for the clip, I thought it was hilarious and well worth watching.

(Here’s a direct link to the segment but I haven’t managed to be able to embed it in to the post.)

The best part? I now get to add to any bio… The Colbert Report calls Gary Leff “the expert on frequent flyer miles.”

    You can join the 30,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to receive posts by email (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s free. Don’t miss out!

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. Did Harrell pay for the seat for the cello? Seems like if you pay for the seat, Mr. (or Ms.?) Cello should earn the BIS miles.

  2. Bahahahahahaha.




    wait… you let miles expire?! WHAT?! *Serious face.*

  3. awesome! and hilarious. Did you get to meet Stephen or did his people just come and do an interview with you ?

  4. Gary, great stuff, loved it!

    @william, read Gary’s post and find the answers to your question (hint: the answer may even be underlined)!

  5. Looking good Gary! Very funny stuff. Congrats on getting some more well-deserved recognition!

  6. Dude, you’re famous!

    Hilarious, and good for you for not taking yourself too seriously and allowing them to poke fun. 🙂

  7. Hilarious segment! But I’m with bf: Harrell paid for the cello’s seat — the only way to travel with a cello, BTW — so Mr. Cello should be able to collect and redeem the miles. Unless you/Delta are arguing that the money paid for the cello’s regular-fare seat isn’t as good as the money paid for Harrell’s seat? (t would be different if Mr. Cello were paying only 10% of the fare, like a lap child…)

  8. Saw it last night, and loved it. I wonder if your blog will now get “the Colbert bump.”

  9. Gary, American just called and they were very upset to see you are cheating on them, again, this time with your ex; Delta. Stephen is never wrong, and he just said you were in a committed relationship with Delta, so it must be true!

    Come on, Gary, have a heart. Delta isn’t the one for you. American Airlines is your snuggle buddy, and they want you back.

    By the way, great piece!

  10. Great job!

    You were perfect for the segment.

    Did you really leave miles expire at one time?!? Wow!

  11. Congratulations on the TV show Gary
    But please say it ain’t so that you ever defended Delta!
    Have you heard my new country song I just released
    Delta Breaks Cellos =! 🙂
    A number one global hit record amongst Frequent Flyers 😉

  12. Watched it last night, and nearly jumped out of bed hearing you defend Delta. Colbert should introduce you as Mr Skypesos. Looking forward to more!

  13. AMAZING!!!, love it love it love it. And Lynn Harrell is a genius – first of all as a cellist (par excellance) but also for bringing this to colbert report. love!!!!,

  14. You were awesome!

    Not sure which is funnier, the premise of the skit or the idea of you defending ‘SkyPesos!! 🙂

  15. I agree with bf, if you pay for a seat you should be able to collect miles. What if it’s a pet?

  16. Wow, first you plug Fresno tourism and now this? And I thought George over at was cool…

  17. I just watched this. Hilarious! My first thought was, “there’s no way Gary chose that hotel.” Glad you confirmed that. 🙂

  18. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! You have to buy a seat for the cello. Mr. Cello is a frequent flyer. I heard a story about the Julliard or Emerson or some important quartet traveling years ago and fighting over who got to eat Mr. Cello’s first class dinner. By the way, on certain European airlines, the cello gets a discounted seat. This policy is specifically stated in their regulations, like lap children under two etc. I’m not holding my breath for this to happen in the US of A.

  19. I thought you (and Delta) had your heads up your backside. If you pay for a seat, you should get the miles. If you paid for 10 seats, you should get 10x the miles. The fact that it is a cello is immaterial.

  20. This segment was hilarious. But Lynn Harrell paid for the seat and deserves the miles so I disagree with you and Delta on that.

  21. Gary – so completely hilarious. I loved it (except of course the defense of Delta). Way trumps any video I’ve ever done! Maya

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