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???”