The Frequent Flyer Community Has Split Into Two Camps, And They’ve Confusingly Taken The Same Name

There have been a number of frequent flyer seminars, in-person gatherings to learn about strategy in miles and points. But the “OG” is probably the Chicago Seminar, held each October, at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village. It started back in 2010, and I helped out a lot in the beginning. I gave four talks the first year. I spoke multiple times the second year.

This year there are two events, marketing themselves as the Chicago Seminar, over the exact same dates. The Peoples Front of Judea has split with the Judean Peoples Front.

On the one hand, there’s the Chicago Seminar being held at the Holiday Inn, Elk Grove Village involving Jamie Larounis; JT Genter (former of The Points Guy and currently Award Wallet); Spencer Howard (Straight to the Points award availability newsletter and generally good guy); and Marty Paz (“Mrp Alert” on FlyerTalk who once earned 100,000 miles in six weeks renting cars) and more.

There’s also the Chicago Seminar at the Delta Hotel by Marriott in Willowbrook. It’s organized by Stefan Krasowski (Rapid Travel Chai) who has also been responsible for Frequent Traveler University events. He reports several speakers in common with the other Chicago Seminar event? Perhaps they’ll be going back and forth.

This includes Dia Adams of Forbes Advisor listed at both; JT Genter whom I believe is one of the organizers of the other event (?) along with his wife Katie; Ben and Jon Nickel-D’Andrea of No Mas Coach!; Marty Paz (also an organizer of the other..?); and Grant Thomas (Travel With Grant). I’d note that Dave Homyak, bikeguy on FlyerTalk and formerly organizer of the Ann Arbor Art Fair DO which was one of the best for really ‘insider-ish’ tricks and where I spoke years ago, is listed as a speaker at the Delta Marriott.

  • Personally I am ‘skeptical’ that organizers of the Elk Grove Village event will actually be speaking at the Delta Marriott event…!

  • Whether Stefan was ‘kicked out’ as organizer and started a new event, whether he was simply non-responsive for awhile, and what other personality issues are involved here interests me not at all.

  • I’m just sad to see this all come to pass.

The frequent flyer community has never in fact been a single unified community, it has always been groups of business travelers, luxury travelers, and bargain travelers all in one. And that leads to many misunderstandings as it is, with one side often not understanding why anyone would be stupid enough to spend more for a larger room (‘that you are never in!’) or be willing to pay fuel surcharges on a premium class redemption while another side sneers as passengers who turn right at the boarding door.

To borrow from Sayre’s law, miles and points politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. I can attest to this as the former elected President of FlyerTalk’s user board.

I haven’t been invited to speak at the Chicago Seminar in a decade. I had committed to help with Frequent Traveler University events and the founder saw me as the enemy or competition I think? When all I wanted was to help frequent flyers (I’m net out of pocket and, while I understand some speakers have been paid for frequent flyer events, I’ve never taken more than partial travel reimbursements).

Ironically it turns out that both ‘Chicago Seminar’ events are being held the same weekend as ZorkFest which combines traditional miles and points with casino loyalty strategy. Scheduling it over the same dates was inadvertent. I’m speaking at ZorkFest. Why? Because they asked me at a time where I knew I could make the dates work. I have tremendous respect and affinity for the original Chicago Seminars.

I genuinely like many of the people involved here, fortunately am not involved in the unpleasantness, but share this in order to flag for people who might otherwise be confused.

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. These are the sort of reasons why blog readers have a distrust for miles and points blogs. I’d guess that started about 10 years ago with bow ties and points guys running it into the ground to turn a quick profit.

  2. “…miles and points politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

    Indeed, and consequently the FF cohort has never emerged as a coherent political force, or an advocate for passenger rights. In this regard FlyerTalk is a particular disappointment — it still drips disdain for regular everyday travelers, mocking them as “Kettles” (as in Ma and Pa) or worse, even as the benefits of shiny-metal status become sillier and more illusory. FT has never wielded broad influence because of this attitudinal problem, and because it’s too often obsessed with trivialities; an FTer given the chance to interview a legacy carrier CEO would be as likely to rant about the cut of the limes on the beverage cart as ask questions of consequence about customer experience design. “Small stakes,” indeed.

    At any rate the (now shrinking) world of serious frequent flyers has always been roughly divided into generous souls with good sharing instincts — and people who see FFdom as a cutthroat competition for scarce resources. As travel culture gets leaner and meaner and the US airline landscape has resolved into a virtual cartel that dictates terms to captive customers, we’re seeing the second cohort emerge dominant.

  3. I’ve been to several seminars in the early 2010s, and I’m sorry to hear that things have devolved to this point. While I’m not involved with either group, but I did receive a lot of spam in multiple Whatsapp groups from mrp alert (aka Marty) referencing needing everyone’s support for the original seminars and that “we’ll discuss the drama later”.

    After looking at the event organizers and speakers for each event, I can safely assume who started the drama.

  4. I went to Chicago Seminars 10 years ago. Was great. Made some friends who I am still close with today.

  5. Guy whose blog is now more akin to “Thot Leader” complains about not being seen as a “Thought Leader” anymore. Oh the irony

  6. Miles & points are dead. There, I said it. I still have what fun I can but it will never be like the old days. The paradigm has flipped to where the travel companies view frequent travelers as a high-cost-to-serve nuisance and would rather focus on one-off, high-margin customer on a transaction level rather than a CLV level.

  7. 2011 Chicago.
    Daraius asking “should I start having cc links”? Brian hosting invite only cocktail party, you could see the gears moving in his head (how do I monetize this?). Summer bringing her wee one. Ric, a favorite of mine, hanging back, always being himself, knowing what makes him happy (left aspirational” trips to others, was fine flying Y, forget Hyatt Vendôme, his focus was on hotels allowing visits to really neat places in Europe. Lucky spilling the beans on his UA antics, audience in stitches, later to bite him in the a.. Can’t remember if Rick “cc is the path to freedom” was there. And Gleff, you always had a scrum around you. Deservedly so.
    Oh well, not all kids turn out perfect.

  8. For an extra fee, the organizers of both events could create a super ticket to get you access to both events.

  9. Honestly, hopefully noone attends either.
    At this point in the miles/points game with so little left, all they are selling is fools gold

  10. The amount of bickering and infighting in the FF community is abominable.

    There was the whole FT vs. Milepoint dust up. I’d hoped that Milepoint would make it both as the graphical design was better and it was easier to insert photos, and so that we could get rid of the insufferable moderators on FT. But MP never attracted enough content.

    Many bloggers heap scorn on Brian Kelly and Points Guy and Red Ventures. At least they are relatively transparent as to who owns what and that they are a for profit business. The rest of the bloggers seem to hide that they are in it to make some money.

    I will assume that the Chicago Seminars split is also about grabbing money. Which the FTU effort also seems to be. FTU seems to hide its ownership and financial interests behind various LLCs. And those LLCs seem to have a history of overpromise and underdeliver.


    Could we please have some transparency? Remember, we are the product.

  11. Thanks for the level-headed post on this, Gary. It’s been a way-too-dramatic situation. But let me clarify some facts.

    As he’s publicly acknowledged, Stefan dropped the ball on organizing the 2022 Chicago Seminars, disappearing for months and failing to do any planning. Late last summer, Marty reached out to me to ask for my assistance in helping save the event, and I was happy to do so. It was a ton of work, but I’m thrilled with how 2022 turned out. Stefan re-engaged at the last minute, and we let him save face by leading the seminars. All was good.

    I share that as a preface for what comes next: Stefan disappeared again. The last contact that I had from Stefan was in December 2022. For more than three months, he failed to respond to our WhatsApp messages, emails, texts, and calls.

    Assuming the same situation was playing out as in 2022, Chris, Marty, and I moved forward with planning the event. In March 2023, after having not heard from Stefan since November 2022, the hotel set an ultimatum for signing the contract or releasing it to another conference. Still no response from Stefan. So, Chris signed the venue contract to save the event. All along, we reached out to Stefan to invite him to re-engage when he was ready.

    Unfortunately, instead of re-engaging and helping us plan Chicago Seminars, Stefan decided to announce a competing conference. He began selling tickets even though he didn’t have confirmed speakers or a venue. In fact, he locked us out of the shared planning account that had all of the speakers and sponsors that Chris, Marty, and I had confirmed and were working with. Even though he had no contact with any of those speakers, he announced them as his own.

    Stefan continues to act in bad faith, continuing to advertise speakers who have expressly told him that they wouldn’t be speaking at his event. Then, he has publicly lied about getting this notice.

    It’s a really unfortunate — and highly avoidable — situation. Unfortunately, he let his ego get in the way of helping make a single Chicago Seminars event be successful. By signing another venue contract — knowing full well that Chris already had a binding contract — Stefan locked the community into having two different events in Chicago on the same weekend.

  12. So silly it’s all coming to this. TravelZork sounds like fun too! I’d rather throw dice and gamble than deal with drama!

  13. Ever since the day of usernet and Prodigy bulletin board forums covered the frequent flyer program space, there have been all sorts of discord and disagreements based on anything and everything under the sun from petty personality conflicts, to jealousy, to wanting to try to lord over others, to partisan political motivations, to bigotry, to personal or financial vested interests based on family/employer/corporate relationship history, to personal social network, to differences in travel interests and/or travel funding circumstances whether real or perceived, to differences about what constitutes a zero-sum game, a negative sum game or a positive sum game, to differing views about how information sharing or masking should go about.

    FT has long been a microcosm of the FFP space. That it is contentious and that this friction plays out and how it plays out in the space is nothing new. This Chicago area situation is just a more contemporary version of that continuing to play out.

  14. @Tiresome Indeed, money is a sticking point. Unlike last year, the original Chicago Seminars (at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village) is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has it in the bylaws that we don’t compensate organizers. Any profits are bound to be donated to this year’s selected charities — which are Miles4Migrants and Airline Ambassadors International.

  15. CW has this explained the best. The ‘industry’ around getting new people to sign up for any credit card that is paying the highest commission has become overtaken by con artists who offer nothing new other than their golden promises of elite travel.

    The points guy has lost all transparency as highlighted when they promote equal and opposite views in almost the same announcement. They have lost their shame in getting caught playing both sides for whichever will bring in another dollar.

    Fortunately for the hucksters, flyer talk is either too complicated or the ‘customers’ get their feelings hurt the other people don’t kiss their ignorant butt. Writing an app to scrape flyer talk forums has given may websites the opportunity to appear to know something with very little effort.

    Now that all of this is based upon how to scam rather than just achieve maximum capability, people like me are moving on. I can read flyer talk and I can read the emails that I get from banks and travel companies. That leaves the ‘forum’ industry to cannibalize each other until their doom.

  16. Very well written piece by Gary ‘Personally I am ‘skeptical’ that organizers of the Elk Grove Village event will actually be speaking at the Delta Marriott event…!;’ nailed it and confirmed by JT

    @JT Genter Super concise explanation from your part, thanks for clarifying.

    Just my 2c, don’t know who Stefan is, but probably he’s not a jerk, he almost surely has bipolar disorder, hope he gets help.

  17. Stefan ghosted and has to make a competing for profit event in order to make up the 6 figures he lost in the Hardbody ponzi scheme.

  18. I don’t know anything about anyone’s medical diagnoses, but I wish we would keep any speculation about that off the internet. That’s their private business.

  19. I’m just curious as to what there is to talk about at any of these events. Sweet spots are near non-existent these days. If you look at boardingarea any given day, you will not see a single thing that actually helps you travel cheap. It’s all social commentary and some CC pimping. Where’s the value proposition of any of these conferences?

  20. @lars: We had a great discussion last year! Topics included everything from “How to Book Round the World Awards” and “How to find and book airline awards for larger groups” to “Lesser-Known Programs And Vacation Rentals” and an excellent session by Aaron Hurd about how he uses buying clubs, gift cards, etc. to MS $750k/year. None of these were about pimping credit cards.

    Much of this can be learned online if you know where to look. But these speakers did an excellent job of covering the topics in a way that can be more accessible to those that don’t know where to start.

  21. @Tom

    “an FTer given the chance to interview a legacy carrier CEO would be as likely to rant about the cut of the limes on the beverage cart as ask questions of consequence about customer experience design. “Small stakes,” indeed.”

    LMAO!!!! That. Is. So. True. There’s no broad thinking or strategy on FT anymore; it’s all “I flew from City A to City B and I didn’t get my the free ice cream Sunday that I am entitled to! How many millions of points should I demand?” Followed up with responses and a debate about how airlines are dying because they can’t get their ice cream ratio right.

    Flyertalk is all about trivial nonsense.

    Ha ha. Too funny. Thanks for the laugh. I’ve enjoyed this thread overall, actually.

  22. @ JT Genter

    Seriously, dude, whatever your pedigree in this space, airing all of this dirty laundry in public is (arguably) very bad optics and it is quite possible that most of your audience just doesn’t give a fccku about such petting infighting.

    FWIW your “explanation ” comes cross as tenuous:

    “…Assuming the same situation was playing out as in 2022, Chris, Marty, and I moved forward with planning the event…”

    Maybe you’re right and maybe you’re wrong, either way, I just don’t care….;)

    As the OP and some commentators above have noted, the FF blog / bulletin board political scene can be disappointingly odious.

    Whereas I’ve learned a lot, I’ve yet to come across any such website which really nails the task of supporting its audience in their FF path or advocating for the traveling consumer for all of the collective experience and self appointed / perceived expertise. The content is the same orthodox stuff weighed down by traditional thinking. Commentary contrary to such content in blog articles is instantly howled down and the authors vilified. Similarly, commentary that does not accord with the clique set and mods on FT similarly denied or denigrated. Newcomers are ridiculed for their ignorance.

    Focus on the positive opportunity….;)

    Wishing you both safe and exciting travels and trusting that both meetings will be a success (without having to support the gambling industry).

  23. I went to one of these events in Washington, DC in 2015. Mathew from the Live and Let Fly blog’s presentation was great. But beyond that, the manufactured spending part presentations largely struck me as classes on how to commit fraud. Worse, this seemed to be sanctioned by the event organizers. I never went again.

  24. @John Q. Public “I went to one of these events in Washington, DC in 2015. Mathew from the Live and Let Fly blog’s presentation was great.”

    I wonder how much that presentation has changed in 8 years.

  25. @footballfan412 “Flyertalk is all about trivial nonsense.”

    Well, you do seem like the type who would be better served by hollow Reddit debates and bloggers endlessly recycling their credit card shills.

  26. The ultimate truth is that neither conference is in Chicago, but in some cookie-cutter soulless suburb of despair.

    Why isn’t Chicago doing something about this deceptive advertising?

  27. @ JT Genter

    PS. On another blog it is suggested that here were attempts at a moderated reconciliation. You didn’t mention that in your “explanation” post above. Seriously, dude, grow up.

  28. I’ve checked my crystal ball and see the future of points/miles benefits . . . Cash Is King.

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