There was a bit of a twitter conversation about my blogging this morning, with folks observing that I’ve been posting more lately than I have in the past, and wondering if I’ve become a full-time blogger. I haven’t. I originally came at all of this miles and points stuff years ago, traveling for work, traveling for personal reasons shortly after college — I would head home cross-country several times a year, my girlfriend after college lived in a different city. And my nature is that I read fine print, I read all of the marketing materials that the frequent flyer programs sent me in the mail. And I was kind of blown away by the value propositions I was seeing before my very eyes.
I signed up for a US Airways credit card, got the bonus, but decided I didn’t want to pay the annual fee so I called and cancelled in my second month and got the fee waived. I decided the card was actually worth it later, got the sign up bonus again, and then started wondering how many times I could pull off that trick. That was about sixteen years ago.
Meanwhile I remember getting iDine (now Rewards Network, but before that Transmedia) marketing in the mail, back then I think United required you to have elite status to participate. I thought it was a cool elite benefit, they sent me an offer of several thousand bonus miles for eating at four participating restaurants in a given period of time. I was surprised that the fine print didn’t specify minimum purchases, so I would get myself a soda. All the while marveling at how many opportunities for miles there were, how easy it was to earn them, and how lucrative the award charts seemed.
But my insights have come from actual travel, from experience, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Plus I need my reimbursable business expenses to meet the minimum spending requirements on all of those credit card signup bonuses! So no, I haven’t gone full-time in blogging or in travel.
The Points Guy, One Mile at a Time, and Frequent Miler blog full time. I’m not really counting Mommy Points since she’s a stay at home mom and that’s a pretty significant job. And Frugal Travel Guy started his blog in retirement, so while it may be his only job he wasn’t really out looking for one.
More power to them, I think that’s incredibly impressive, and in some ways I’m even a little bit jealous. But I love all of the things I’ve got on my plate.
My full-time job, I don’t write too much about the particulars since I try to keep my separate universes, well, separate to the extent that I can. But I actually like it even if it takes up time that I could be blogging or taking award trips, if I can’t redeem an award just to share a new product with my readers quite as often as Ben can. I negotiate contracts, work numbers, and am involved in a ton of strategy in my job and I also think it gives me pretty good insight into the things that I blog here. The point is that the different things that I do are actually pretty reinforcing of each other rather than my seeing them all as separate.
I write this blog of course, and have been since May of 2002. I started it as a way of chronicling my own learning, back in 2000 I sure thought I flew a lot and also thought I knew a lot. Until I met others in the frequent flyer forums who knew and flew much more than I did. I catalogued what I was discovering along the way, and if anyone read it and got something out of it so much the better. It’s sure grown a ton in the 10 years since then, sometimes it surprises me how many people do visit here on a daily basis and I genuinely hope that by sharing my experiences and the offers that I come across that I can help people improve their own travel lives. Because goodness knows that mine has been far richer than I could have ever imagined.
Growing up I flew a lot, my parents were divorced and lived on different sides of the country. And I remember traveling back and forth and walking through first class cabins and thinking that I would never sit up there — I couldn’t ever afford it, even if I could I would never spend so much more money for it, and I couldn’t imagine who would. All grown up I still can’t imagine having the sort of resources where I’d be buying premium cabin international tickets, but I get to travel in a manner I never imagined possible and see my life even in such an unconstrained way — popping over to Barcelona for dinner, stopping in London to try a new restaurant, vacationing in places I thought of as too exotic to ever visit and more than once a year even. And all thanks to this miles and points hobby, and learning how to get more and quality travel at the lowest possible price.
I’ve also been helping folks to do the same, sometimes who don’t have the time or interest to learn it themselves, through my award booking servce. Folks with miles but not the expertise to make the best use of them come to me (and now to us as I have full-time help on this!) and for a modest fee get the trips that they didn’t think were possible, that they’d gotten frustrated searching for. It’s really fulfilling. And it’s gained great recognition, with a listing as one of Conde Nast‘s world’s top travel specialists, a profile in Town & Country, and coverage in the New York Times and USA Today (and elsewhere).
I could easily book awards full-time, but I like being busy and having lots going on. I also love diversification, I don’t know how long a given opportunity will last and having as many different ways of earning a living as possible creates a certain sense of freedom (which made me a useful case study I suppose for Chris Guillebeau’s book The $100 Startup earlier this year. It was very cool sitting up on the main stage in front of over 1000 people at Chris’ World Domination Summit to talk about that story and strategy.
After several years as a Senior Moderator at Flyertalk, and after six years as the site’s member-elected President, I was honored to help that site’s founder Randy Petersen to start a new frequent flyer community Milepoint.com. A lot of folks saw it as a competitor to Flyertalk but that’s never been my perspective. Flyertalk is a great site, after a year and a half it’s still much larger than Milepoint. But I see them as serving different (though overlapping) communities. Flyertalk is 300,000 or 400,000 members to Milepoint’s 75,000. But there are nearly 90 million members of United’s MileagePlus program alone. Not all of them want to engage online to discuss their travel and miles and points. But some of them do, and Flyertalk is a great place for experts but a friendly community with a social media-savvy software I believe will resonate with different members and help improve their travel lives.
Milepoint has been a lot of work but it’s along been great fun. And as a part of that I’ve helped to organize Mega DO frequent flyer trips. And also FT University frequent flyer seminars. I like to think we’re doing things a little bit differently or at least adding value to the members there, bringing the heads of various programs to chat with frequent travelers online (such as the heads of the American, Southwest and Hyatt programs, and even a former Administrator of the TSA). And that the premium membership offerings are valuable too — miles, points, status and discounts. All while doing quite a bit for charity in the process.
I chair nominations, voting, and working with loyalty programs for the Freddie Awards, the voice of the frequent traveler for the best in frequent flyer, frequent guest, and credit card programs. That has me talking to a plurality of world’s programs. It’s probably a half hour conversation by phone with each one, a whole lot of emails, and then putting together spreadsheets to import into the online voting platform.
Throw that all together and add in volunteer work, I serve on the board of a non-profit that I used to Chair, I used to serve on my homeowner’s association board as Treasurer (hint: don’t ever do that, it isn’t worth it, never have so many people spent so much time wringing their hands over the smallest issues).
So why am I oversharing like this? The folks on Twitter were egging me on this morning to share some of my time management tips although I’m not sure that I have any. They wanted an explanation of how I do all of these things?
I try to answer every email. This is actually fun for me. I multi-task. I did step down from my homeowner’s association board, which freed up a ton of time, and I actually moved — I moved within walking distance of my office, I used to have a 50 minute commute each way, so I got back over 8 hours a week of my life and that seemed like all of the time in the world. That’s when I started my award booking service, with all that extra time.
I get up at about 5am each morning, sometimes 5:30 but when I do I feel like I’m behind. I love my coffee machine, I bought it five and a half years ago and got a great bargain, it’s a push botton Jura Capressa that was the previous year’s model on close out and combined with a bunch of discounts so it was something like 75% off and still felt expensive at the time but turned out to be an amazing investment. I’m very particular about my coffee, I order my beans online and have a preference for deep Indonesian flavors. The news turns on, I drink my coffee, and sit on the couch with my laptop.
I open up about 10 different web broswers. I run an update on my frequent flyer balances via Award Wallet. I keep up with the BoardingArea blogs via the Twitter feed. I log into my blog’s control panel to read comments left overnight, and approve those caught in the spam queue. I read my Yahoo email (where I get reader notes, and where I’m on tons of lists for press releases). I read my award booking Gmail. I scroll the 200 most recent threads on Milepoint. I check for anything new at the Traveling Better American Airlines forum.
And then I spend the most time on my Google Reader subscriptions. I subscribe to pretty much every frequent flyer blog there is, if I come across it I subscribe to it. There are a handful that are especially good, that I enjoy reading (my favorites are One Mile at a Time and Mommy Points and I’ll read those first). But I scroll through the titles of all of them so I can be sure not to miss any learning, new developments, or promotions. I do my best whenever I’m posting about something I come across on another website to credit that site, not everyone takes that approach and it’s stylistic so it doesn’t bother me when folks don’t link back to my blog, but it’s how I started seeing blogs behave mostly in the political space when I frst started over 10 years ago so it’s ingrained in my approach.
Writing doesn’t take me very long, something I’ve certainly had complaints about over time is that I don’t edit my posts. I don’t plan out my posts. I just write. I don’t consider myself an especially gifted writer, I don’t have particularly grand turns of phrase, but I think of myself as a functional writer in that I’m usually at least coherent as words spill onto the page. So each post usually takes just a few minutes. Part of that is writing quickly, but most of that is having done this for so long. And that everything I do is really quite integrated — talking to the heads of frequent flyer programs for the Freddies, searching award space for redemption bookings, traveling, and having a decade of conext (and a pretty good memory) — what I want to say spills off the page, and I’m pretty opinionated I usually have something to say.
If you’re searching for award inventory all day long, you already have run most of the searches you need, and know right away which routes are going to have the space you want. So award booking doesn’t take long either and you don’t have to do a ton of research to write a post about routes with award availability, either.
There’s so much spillover in the things I do, or put a different way there probably aren’t good enough boundaries either. During the day if I’m walking between meetings, or between office buildings, I’m on my phone — catching up on twitter, using my Google Reader app to see what’s new. And I have a ton to write later in the evening. I get home and I continue to keep up on news and also write posts, taking a break for dinner. But I’m constantly plugged in, one way or the other.
And there’s little doubt that Gogo inflight internet has changed my life as well. I used to get on a flight during the business day and there would be such a buildup of questions and tasks by the time that I landed that I’d instantly be hours behind. Now, though, I can even pull up a ton of award inventory and piece together bookings for folks. Or answer reader emails. And draft posts. It’s a huge productivity boost that for me is well worth the price.
I guess the lessons I draw, which is really what folks were asking me for yesterday but which it took this entire meandering post to develop are:
- Always be productive, but since I love what I do that productivity is also relaxing.
- Get up early, have a routine that’s well-structured to assimilate as much information as possible quickly
- Leverage technology to make the most of otherwise-unproductive downtime, for me that’s my phone and Gogo internet but also having one laptop that I use for everything that’s light enough to carry anyway (Lenovo u300s).
- Multitask, preferably over really strong coffee
- Take on more than you can accomplish, work will spread out to fill available time but if there’s more work then there’s little opportunity for waste or procrastination
- Hold yourself accountable. Don’t move on from a room, or where you’re sitting, until you finish what you’ve set out for yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to move on you’ll power through.
- Calendars. This is related to being held accountable. I put a task into my calendar and then I have to do it when it comes up (if I can keep myself from rescheduling it). I schedule phone calls with people or I won’t make them. I am introverted and don’t like the phone, I’m also running around and not always at my desk when I’m at the office. So catching me as catch can almost never works. Setting a definite time for specific activities holds me accountable for those activities, phone calls are just example.
I haven’t ever read any time management books that I’ve found useful, and some of mine may sound trite. There’s a whole literature on this for sure, I’m no expert in it, so take everything that I offer up with a grain of salt and it may not work for you. But at the insistence of several readers there you have my approach to all of this.