Thoughts

Travel Hacking Alternative Facts

Thanks to this new administration and the events of this weekend, the internet has had a mine full of golden comedy, like this beauty:

While I won’t hide the fact that I believe that making statements contrary to photographic evidence represents a real danger to this country, I’ll end my political commentary there.

Instead I’d like to take a look at the developing trend I’ve seen in the community lately, which I’ll name Travel Hacking Alternative Facts (I’m sure there are better names, but, zeitgeist). In my mind, these alternative facts are not outright falsehoods (unlike Spicer’s statement). Instead, they often are opinions or group think that gets restated so many times that they begun to be treated as if they are factual. They are those concepts and ideas which are repeated so many times that the caveats and exceptions, while still included, are mostly ignored and forgotten. When ideas that are really opinions are repeated enough times, they can often morph into alternative facts.

Below I’ve listed a few facts accompanied by related alternative facts. Matt recently retweeted someone who said that the way to fight alternative facts isn’t to question the truth, but to question the logic behind it. Socrates mumbo jumbo or something like that. Like much useful advice on the internet, it wasn’t accompanied by an example so I’m not sure I quite got it, seeing as my Greek philosophy…never existed. But what I’ve done in this post is present where I think the logic of the alternative fact breaks down. Not perfect by any means, so don’t flame me too hard.

As in many of my recent posts, I’m only writing this in the attempt to get myself to think about things from a different perspective. Hopefully it spurs some of you to question some of the conventional wisdom that has creeped into alternative fact status for yourself. 

Fact: You can use 115,000 Starpoints to fly in roundtrip business class to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific

Alternative Fact: Starpoints are worth 2 cents per point

Logic break down

I’ve recently written about how point valuations don’t mean much to me so I won’t rehash it much here. Just wanted to get warmed up with something easy. Of course converting 115,000 80,000 Starpoints into a roundtrip business class Cathay Pacific ticket represents an excellent deal. I have that exact ticket on the books; my flight retails for $7000. Six cents per point!

But not really, since I wouldn’t spend $7000. The price of that flight in economy is $1000, so about 1 cent per point (less, really). For Starpoints to actually be 2 cents per point I’d need to consistently redeem them in a way where I save 2 cents per Starpoint used. That kind of logic can break down pretty easily.

Fact: More and more bloggers are writing about reselling

Alternative fact: Bloggers are going to kill reselling!

Logic break down

Bloggers will not kill reselling. First of all, reselling existed long before it became more vogue in the miles and points world. Heck, reselling has existed at least as long as capitalism has existed! Opportunities will always be there for those willing to put in the work.

And if you take a look at how much work it takes, simple logic leads to the conclusion that not enough people are cut out for this sort of thing to actually kill it. My eyeballs bled reading Matt’s latest post on cleaning up his books. Like, my goodness is that complicated. And Trevor’s out here mailing out 500 pound boxes!

Logic dictates that reselling will be just fine.

Fact: 25 stays before the end of February 2017 will get you Hyatt Globalist status through February 2019

Alternative Fact: This is an amazing deal worth pursuing (paraphrased)

Logic break down

As readers of this blog know, I am susceptible to FOMO and definitely feel that with this promotion. I have no doubt that many travelers in this space will glean a ton of benefit from having Globalist status for two years. You get a ton of perks: more complimentary upgrades, the old confirmed suite upgrades, lounge access, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t want to read about because I’d just get jealous.

But those of us not making this mad dash need not feel left out. People with Globalist status, logically, will be looking to Hyatt first for their hotel stays. Looking at Hyatt first will influence their choice of destination due to Hyatt’s relatively small footprint. Staying in Hyatts will also preclude people from staying in apartments or alternative housing that might better suit their needs. The psychology of going all in for two months might affect Globalists’ desire to use their benefits. This might cause them to spend more money at Hyatt than they normally would. 

Fact: Delta no longer displays an award chart for public consumption

Alternative Fact: Delta Skymiles are so worthless they should continue to be named Skypesos

Logic break down

Alright, I’ve been beating this drum for a long time. Others are starting to notice and this alternative fact is quickly becoming outdated. But the major mistake in logic here, made mostly in the past, was equating customer unfriendly policies with customer unfriendly award space. Sure, sometimes the two go hand in hand, but that’s not always the case. It depends on a ton of factors and ignoring one of the largest airlines in the country can really limit your travel hacking opportunities. But since group think declared Skymiles useless, lots of beginners just ignored them while those who searched out Delta award space for themselves laughed all the way to the bank. 

Here’s where I personally see the logic break down. Delta wants to maximize profits, that’s pretty much indisputable. They don’t want people to maximize their award redemptions so they are going to severely limit the number of seats they offer at the lowest levels, especially in premium cabins. Therefore, they will send out their planes with empty Delta One cabins. That’s the point where the logic falls apart from me, it’s impossible for them to get people to pay cash for ALL the seats and they can at least make some “profit” by offering a couple of seats per flight. Same argument for economy seats. There are a legion of jobs dedicated to maximizing revenue from fare/Skymiles redemptions: if they are good at there jobs there will be spaces open, but just enough to maximize their profits. 

Fact: You can earn many miles and points quickly through sign up bonuses

Alternative Fact: Sign up bonuses are the best way to build up your miles and point balances

Logic break down

Yes, sign up bonuses can boost your balances very quickly. But this advice only applies to a certain subset of the population: people with good credit who are fiscally responsible. If you don’t fit into these categories, this advice could lead you into some dangerously murky territory. And despite boilerplate warnings, since many blogs have an economic stake in people signing up for credit cards, you see credit card bonuses talked about very often. Thus the alternative fact is born and suddenly “credit card sign up bonuses are the best” starts looking like irrevocable fact.

Where this breaks down logically just needs one simple example. Freequent Flyer, one of the most avid travelers in this space, famously does not chase sign up bonuses. I swear he has written that in a post somewhere but perhaps he needs to upgrade his search features on his blog (you’re welcome for the ten free clicks I just gave you though!). He has absolutely no problem taking plenty of trips, has Globalist status like any good travel hacker, and signs up for maybe one or two credit cards a year. Living proof that the best way to build up YOUR miles and points balances might not be through credit card sign up bonuses.

Fact: A lot of the big blogs have made a ton of money off of credit card commissions

Alternative Fact: The big blogs don’t care about their readers

Logic break down

Again, as long as capitalism has existed, many businesses have been concerned with turning a profit. Miles and points blogs aren’t the first and they certainly won’t be the last. Wanting to make a dollar off your customer and caring for your customer isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I’m sure there are some large miles and points blogs that genuinely want to help out their readers and some who are just in it for the money. But buyers generally are pretty savvy and can see through “fakes” pretty quickly.

Logically, it’s in big blogs’ best interest to genuinely care about their readers. By helping readers out, they make readers feel a small measure of debt towards them and they are “thanked” with credit card clicks. You may disagree with what they’re selling (metaphorically AND literally), but just because they are selling doesn’t mean they don’t care. Personally, I believe that most bloggers think they’re giving out good advice. Giving out bad advice that you think is good doesn’t mean you don’t care, it just means you are bad at giving advice.

Before George gets mad, I’m not saying big blogs necessarily care about their readers either. It’s just illogical to come to the conclusion that they don’t care just because they make money.

Final Thoughts

Alternative facts, in any context, represent a potential danger to my decision making. My Socratic logic may not be amazing, but I found it a useful exercise to break down the logic behind some of these oft-repeated “facts”. What I’m calling alternative facts here are not necessarily outright falsehoods, but in some senses because they can be true depending on your circumstances they could be more dangerous. So, as always, think for yourself, forge your own path, and happy travels.

Got any alternative facts for me? Have at it in the comments!

 

 

Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

8 thoughts on “Travel Hacking Alternative Facts”

  1. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>But buyers generally are pretty savvy and can see through β€œfakes” pretty quickly.

    I seriously doubt that…as the Titan blogs are making a killing (and hiring lately!)from newbies who are good for half a dozen credit cards before they get drowned in debt, give up the Hobby because they are just too busy to keep up with it. The few who stay one will eventually get it and realize they are dealing with mega plastic pumping bank representatives and seek out higher quality blogs. Rinse and repeat.

    Loved the opening πŸ™‚

  2. Great read thanks.

    Though something I’m super confused about, unless I’ve lost it lol. 115k SPG for rt J on CX to Asia??? Why not 80k SPG to Alk for the same flight?

  3. Great post. It reminds me of all the so-called “myths” out there. I’m still just a few years into the miles dance, so even though I consider myself a solid “intermediate” I’m still only beginning to formulate my own opinions, as opposed to trying to asses the lay of the land from different experienced viewpoints such as yourself.

    By the way, I think this might be a candidate for a regular post series! Thanks

  4. “Yes, sign up bonuses can boost your balances very quickly. But this advice only applies to a certain subset of the population: people with good credit who are fiscally responsible.”

    I take issue with this. If you can’t manage your finances, you shouldn’t be traveling the world at all. Not that irresponsible people don’t deserve to travel the world. They absolutely do deserve to, just the same as anyone else. But it could ruin them. If you carry debt, you shouldn’t even attempt churning. And if you don’t have at *least* a few thousand in the bank (i.e. enough to cover an emergency flight home), you have no business traveling over water.

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