View from the Wing as Jon Lovitz as Harvey Fierstien

Let me forewarn y’all up front, this post is a true meandering rant without focus, just working through some thoughts on why I blog, on helping others, and on my own selfishness that I do feel rather guilty about this morning. It won’t teach you anything about travel, won’t help you in any way to read. So you may want to stop right here…

When I first realized I had a knack and affinity for travel and deals I was about a year into my first job after college. I was the office “web guru” which back then meant that I knew all about “that internet thing.” All things technology interested me, because I was finishing college just as the internet was really taking off and breaking into the mainstream. And at the same time, I began traveling for work.

I loved playing around with Expedia when it was still a project of Microsoft. I flew enough that first year to make the entry level of elite status with United, and loved playing with the United Connection disk-based software. I signed up for iDine (my friends still knew it as Transmedia, and at the time only United’s elites could sign up for free), and earned miles any which way I could. After reading some various e-mail discussion lists about air travel, I found Flyertalk (from a link on Holly Hegeman’s PlaneBusiness site, I think).

At first all the information on Flyertalk was overwhelming. I didn’t know the lingo or have the context for everything the programs had to offer. I knew that miles were worth something instinctively, and I’d looked over award charts, but I didn’t really realize just what I could do with them. I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t want to redeem my points for cheap domestic roundtrips, and I just loved seeing my balances grow — or rather, hearing my balances grow. After each trip I would call United’s automated phone system and listen to my Mileage Plus balance.

After reading and being overwhelmed by Flyertalk for awhile, I mostly concentrated in the United and MilesBuzz forum the place was just too sprawling for me, things finally began to make sense. I remembered much of what I read, and at some point that I didn’t realize at the time I crossed a tipping point where I generally knew what I was talking about and I went from newbie to veteran. And I was so excited by my newfound knowledge (the limitations of which I didn’t even realize at the time) I just wanted to share that knowledge with others. I was pretty much getting upgraded all the time, I was striving towards higher and higher levels of status and picking my flights based on where I could confirm upgrades or where upgrades were most likely to clear. And I was offering advice to others and answering questions.

I don’t want to sound conceited, but I really did learn a lot and figure out all kinds of ways of maximizing travel experiences and I loved sharing this for anyone interested and at any level — from the basic “how can I get a cheap hotel room in X city on priceline” to much more technical “how can I maximize an award trip with Y miles, flying the most international first class possible and getting the best value at resorts, with upgrades?”

Somewhere in there I started this blog as well, which began as a mixture of weird news, political commentary, and miles offers. I realized htat plenty of other people did strange news and politics and I gradually morphed into primarily miles, points and travel. I was one of the earlier travel bloggers, and garnered more media attention probably than I did web hits. After all, I tend to write at a technical or obscure enough level that there’s probably not that much of a mass market for what I have to say. Others do travel industry news much more than I do. Others do their personal daily flight experiences much more than I do (though I’ve done much trip reporting lately, it tends to be fairly detached, I’m a private person and tend to write even there from a distant voice).

I’ve often said that I don’t care how much traffic I get, and for the most part that’s true. I don’t really promote the blog in any way, I don’t go fishing for links, I don’t advertise. I just write what I write, I hope it’s useful, and if people read it great. (Not that my viewership is small, but I don’t actively promote or grow it, and I don’t think I’ve ever hit 100,000 unique visitors in a month.

But I do like the notes of appreciation that I get at times. I like knowing when I help someone book the dream award trip they didn’t know was possible, save thousands of dollars on their travel, or figure out how to turn left on boarding when they never thought that direction would be possible for them. So I guess I do want to be appreciated.

But people do ask me for a good amount of help, much of which I’m more than happy to provide, and once I do that’s usually the end of the story. I find available award itineraries for people, find them their best luxury hotel deals for less than the cost of the local Best Western, and then… Silence.

While the feedback I’ve gotten from this blog suggests a pretty wide array of experience levels among my readers, on the whole most visitors to the site are pretty knowledgeable compared to the average person when it comes to travel and finding good deals. So I’m wondering how y’all handle these sorts of things?

People ask you for help, it takes a real application of knowledge and their lives are meaningfully better as a result of the help you provide, but most of the time it feels pretty unappreciated. Not that I want gifts per se. But after years of providing more or less unrequited assistance I feel a certain level of frustration. Maybe it’s just my mood on a Friday morning, but…

When friends, colleagues, or random acquaintences ask for help, take that help, and don’t really express appreciation or more than the momentary and cursory “thx” does it get to anyone else? How do you handle it? Do you pull back and make yourself less available? Continue to let yourself be taken advantage of? Or am I thinking about this all wrong?

I think the question was sort of precipitated yesterday when someone asked me for help finding a nice hotel for a night away — they had basically a specific city block in mind, and not one with hotels that are especially pricelineable. They didn’t want to pay much money at all, and they wanted a top-end experience. The hotel they initially had in mind was completely sold out. I found them an actual five-star property for under $150, about one-third the going rate for the hotel. And it wasn’t even prepaid. No, it didn’t take me long to accomplish, but I used my accumulated knowledge to find it. They will be in a much nicer place than they had even contemplated, for much less money than they expected to spend. They saved about $300 on a single night compared to the hotel’s web rate. And I do this every day. Is it unreasonable to think that maybe one of every ten times that I do this someone might make a modest gesture back of real appreciation?

I don’t always need it, and don’t mean to suggest I’m expecting it from you, my dear readers.

I truly enjoy making travel better for its own sake. If I can help make a dream honeymoon, I’m happy to put hours into it. And if I can point someone in a direction, great. Once in awhile someone might say, “let me at least shoot you a drink coupon, the next one’s on me if you ever fly XXXXX airline and don’t get an upgrade.”

Oh well, by the weekend I’ll probably return to a happy place where the unrequited love for my readers, for colleagues, and for random people I meet on the metro returns. But for today I just want to be loved. “Is that so wrong???”

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. Well, Gary, I never even fathom bothering you personally for that kind of stuff, I though that was what FT forums are here for. So getting some great help (as it’s clear you’ve provided folks) and not thanking you, that’s just wrong, indeed.
    I never comment but just wanted to say thanks for all the tips!

  2. I totally understand where you’re coming from. Back when mistake airfares were all the rage, I was able to get in on many of them. My coworkers would get jealous hearing about all the places I’d gone for next to nothing. I told them it wasn’t hard to do, they just had to be willing to invest a little effort.

    Not long afterwards, the AZ deal to DEL came up (or was it the AZ deal to Cyprus?). In any case, I saw the fare on FT, went to Expedia to book, screenshot the page showing the fare, and sent out the screenshot to my entire (< 50 at the time) company. Not one person took advantage of it or cared enough to say thanks but no thanks.

    I’ve since stopped trying to help. People who care will actually want to learn and do it themselves. People who don’t will just mooch off of those who can – and will show no gratitude. Those who want to but can’t (e.g. not web savvy, pressed for time) will show appreciation, thanks, and perhaps offer the drink coupon you mentioned. I haven’t met one of those yet. I still gladly offer help when I can but only to my family and good friends.

  3. Gleff – you are DEFINITELY appreciated in my family, and circle of friends. I truly would not have thought up Honeymoon #1 in ’06 to PPT/AKL/ZQN if it hadn’t been for you, wouldn’t have been able to do Honeymoon Part Deux in ’07 to IPC-PPT-AKL-MEL-SYD-AKL-PPT without the accumulated ANA award tool + Starwood ideas from your posts, and would not have been able to plan a SE Asia trip to SIN, BKK, and HAN/SGN without fresh ideas borrowed from your blog. I consider myself a Masters degree level traveler/adviser, and guys like you, Lucky, and Kiwi Flyer to be working on multiple PhDs. So, thanks again!! Ace

  4. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve learned a lot from you. One example: I no longer use a Mileage Plus credit card – would have taken your Amex suggestion but I dislike the “we don’t take Amex” experience so I picked up an Aeroplan MasterCard instead.

  5. Helping people to travel better may be nobler than you think. Much of the frequent traveler knowledge that is taken for granted is golden to the novice.
    You have been a great contributor to Flyertalk and I’m sure this blog has thrilled and delighted many newbie’s as well as the seasoned traveler.
    Keep doing what you do, better travel for all depends on it.

  6. If you give something for free, people will take it and not look back. It is unfortunate, but that’s simply how most people are. If you want something in return for your services, you may have to specify it up front. This is how businesses are made 🙂

    If you *don’t* want to turn this into Gary’s Help-With-Your-Travel Agency, then how about telling your petitioners:
    “Hey, I’ll see what I can do, but in return for my efforts, you have to send me a postcard from your destination. Deal?”

  7. I understand. You’re right.
    I have learned a lot from this site & FT for the past couple of years. You showed me that sitting up front is not only possible, it’s required for FTers like me.

    Thank YOU.

  8. Brilliant post, Gary, and unfortunately all too true. I haven’t been doing this even a quarter as long as you have, but I’m already starting to get a bit burned out. Sometimes I’m tempted to post some of the emails I receive, but that’d just be too mean.

    Nonetheless you’re a HUGE asset to the travel/FT community, and on a personal level your help has been invaluable. I don’t know anyone else that’s as willing to help as you.

  9. Gary,
    Thank you for this blog. I have been reading it for years, first as a business traveller. I recently took six months off to travel with my GF and it was that much nicer doing so as elites, in business class, staying on Starwood Cash and Points (thanks to that Amex). I appreciate all of your help!

  10. Hi Gary,
    What you write is interesting and true in general for all sorts of people with particular expertise that is freely given. I am known as a person within my profession that is willing to advise others on various topics. I often get calls asking simple questions and it is just my nature to not stop myself from spending more time than I have to help and advise. Only very occasionally have these phone or email conversations ever resulted in a consulting fee to me, because I have a regular job and in essence, I am just trying to do my best for some nice (clueless) people. I do get verbal thank yous, of course, but my colleagues in my office think I am “too nice” to people. I don’t think so. I actually think they are being unfriendly and mean in not wishing to help someone as I do. So, I guess I am saying, if a person has a helpful nature, it is just an ingrained response to want to share what you know–regardless of what you get out of it.

    Regarding your importance to me and my growth in the world of travel, let me just say this: I have been on three 2 week European trips with my kids, within the past 4 years. Each of them have cost me about $1000 out of pocket, and we flew business class and stayed in the best hotels. My kids have grown up knowing that I know all this stuff because I sit at my computer and learn from Flyertalk and a guy named “Gleff” and when I have told them I may not be able to manage a specific destination, they have said things like, “But what does Gleff say?” So …just know you are a household name around here and I get your blog on a RSS reader and make sure not to miss a thing!
    Thanks for everything—
    from Lisa and the kids

  11. I keep a handful of drink chits on hand and do use them as “thank you” currency, so don’t be totally shocked if the gate agent calls you up, only to be later approached by me with drink chits of appreciation.

    Given the rules allow it, people like you would be my first choice on gifting expiring SWU’s.

  12. Gary –

    Totally get what you are saying – I’m in a similar situation where I’d do money saving favors for people, and then get almost no appreciation. Basically I’ve stopped offering to everyone except the people that I know will appreciate it, not take advantage of me, and are truly friends.

    Keep up the good work! And say hi to Ms. Gleff !

  13. I’m a huge fan of yours. I read your blog ALL THE TIME and luv the tips.

    Also enjoy flying first class to exotic destinations/being upgraded to the best suites/dining out at the best restaurants vicariously through your blogs. Dream travels that I’ve often imagined but haven’t been able to go on…YET, so I really enjoy your trip reports. And the great thing is that you reveal to us for FREE that it can all be done without having huge trust funds to tap into.

    Your site is most appreciated by this reader! Thank you.

    W2B Globetrotter

  14. Gary, I enjoy reading your blog daily, and I appreciate the time and effort you make to inform people with such useful travel information.

  15. Hello!!

    I was wondering, when you had time, if you could help me find a cheap way to get to Berlin this summer. I would really appreciate it!

    -The random girl sitting next to you in the disabled seat on the metro…haha.

  16. Gary,

    I have never commented before, but I wanted to tell you that I have been an avid reader for two years, and I greatly appreciate your efforts and the knowledge and stories you share. It is disappointing to hear that not everyone shares their appreciation for you and all you do for them/us.

  17. Gary — I have been following your blog for several years. It’s on my “must read” list (I never delete posts without reading). Thanks for the many tips you have offered over the years. They have immeasurably helped this small time business/leisure traveler have a better experience.

    I take vicarious pleasure in your detailed trip reports (esp the pictures of the food!). I hope to do one of those soon…..


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