a desk with a laptop on it

Feb 17 Update: There’s been back and forth today in a follow up from Upgrade Pack to this article, and alarming allegations leveled against the company from current employee whistle blowers. After reading here, head here for the update.

With no budget, no office and nothing but an internet connection and a few ideas, people often ask about the secret sauce of how GSTP has been able to gain over a million readers a month, with just one person writing virtually all the content. The “secret sauce” is really disappointing. The only fundamental goal and “secret sauce” of this website, as it’s been from day one, has been to empower readers with travel opportunities, insights and ideas that will benefit them.

If I benefit too, that’s great, but the benefit must always extend to you first. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get covered, no matter how lucrative the offer. Last year, Upgrade Pack, a start up by a team I was proud to be familiar, with hit me up about highlighting their innovative new platform.

As I noted in the coverage, which I was compensated for, I was as skeptical as anyone. I didn’t believe consumers would ever pay en mass for an app which may or may not actually save on upgrades, but when I was told that the aim was to sell the platform as an exclusive credit card benefit, where users could save 30% off upgrade sticker prices, I genuinely believed in the business, given their slant on simplifying upgrades.

Since it was positioned to me as a benefit only for ultra exclusive credit cards, and would never be available to the public, I really thought I was delivering a neat value and opportunity for readers. It was positioned to me as a one time opportunity, that wouldn’t come around again and I felt excited to be the one bringing that to you. When I saw a pivot this year, that the app would be sold publicly to anyone willing to pay, it enraged me and made me wonder just WTF was going on.

UP insists they never promised that it would only be privately available via our sign up or a credit card benefit, but that’s something I’d refute in strong terms.

As to the app, I’m not someone who thinks paying $1400 instead of $2000 has any value, because I’d never pay either amount, but for corporate travellers and more niche cases, there’s still potential for benefit, particularly if it’s a card benefit and easy to use, without red tape or “who to call” elements which currently frustrate people.

Basically, I still see real potential for Upgrade Pack, and I wish them the very best. I positioned the app this way in the initial coverage and if they’re ever able to deliver that, I’ll be overjoyed.

But I’m also beyond furious.

Lufthansa First Class Wine And ChampagneI was lead to believe that the app would launch within the same quarter in January of 2019.  I also believed I was the only “public” road into the app. That meant I was expecting a launch circa March/April 2019 when I agreed to coverage, and at the price offered to you via the content, I believed it was a really excellent opportunity to get in on, even for curiosity sake.

I offered UP a deeply discount rate on the content alone, based on mutual friendships, and never benefited from anyone signing up or not.

Then came, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and finally November 2019. Actually no, it’s been December, January and February since, but it was November when I’d had enough, and even then I’ve waited 3 months to give them a little rope.

I reached out to Upgrade Pack for an update, since I’d seen them opening offices across multiple continents (Asia, North America, Europe), hiring more than 30 staff and regularly seen flying in business or first class on a monthly basis or greater at the dime of their investors. Yet, here we are, and there isn’t even a beta test for the people I encouraged to join and give them a shot – their “first believers”. Instead, they’ve been pushing people to buy in.

As someone who consults and advises in the start up and travel investment space, it just didn’t quite make sense to me. I’d never seen anything like it. Most startups without a downloadable product barely have one office, let alone multiple, and even the start up founders don’t fly in premium cabins or stay in five star hotels.

Constant office expansion, luxury travel, corporate outings, yet a product anyone could touch, even in its greatest infancy had not been introduced. What’s the hold up?

When I was pitched the app in 2018 – I was told there were at least 5 signed sealed and delivered partners and agreements in key markets where our readers would benefit imminently. Years later, I believe there are no more than 3 launch partners, and those can’t be publicly disclosed? I pressed UP for more info as inconsistencies began to mount.

During this tango, I was constantly fed articles and factoids about new investment, but as someone who only cares how things affect actual consumers – aka you –  I didn’t care. It doesn’t matter if you have Google funding, or are an actual start up, using points and miles to pay for coffee and flights in economy -it all comes down to product and what you do for the people who bought in.

I kept pushing for facts about real life airline and hotel partners, release dates and opportunities and felt truly stonewalled. I just wanted a genuine release date I could inform our readers about, and was finally given March 3rd. That’s more than a year over the time it was supposed to be in your hands, but it was a date. I thought I’d let it go. After all, this is between you and them mostly.

Then, on February 14th, just before the weekend, they called off the launch date, with no new date given. Why?

They blamed coronavirus.

Yellow crane tower and Wuhan Yangtze Great Bridge scenic view in Wuhan Hubei ChinaTo the best of my knowledge at the time of writing, coronavirus is an airborne, human based illness and has nothing to do with infecting apps or computer programs. There’s simply no justifiable way to blame Coronavirus for the lack of an app delivery, over a year on from when it was initially promised.

Adding murkiness, members of the executive team were in Singapore all week, seemingly without a care in the world, flying first class to get there. Before you say “well their developers might be in China” – they’re not. They’re in the UK and I do not believe any cases are reported in their offices. It certainly didn’t affect the teams travel, so I don’t know how it would affect their product.

That’s all background noise, because really I’m just here to apologize to you, my readers. I’m sorry, on behalf of an app I have nothing to do with. I cost you £99 and told you you’d be able to have something in return in early 2019. It’s now early 2020 and I am sorry.

I hyped something I believed would be great, and even though I still hold out strong hope that it will be, and that your money wasn’t lost in luxury travel for others, it’s more than a year late from delivery, and the spending, travel and culture I’ve witnessed as a casual observer makes me question how much is going toward a revolutionary product.

Furthermore, many other upgrade solutions have scaled up and gained partners in the year since, making the road to usefulness more uphill than ever. Since we began pushing UP for details, I believe their communication with those who signed up has increased and that’s good, they should. I also still think this could still be a win, and many of you who put your faith in our advice and their product will see a positive outcome.

My promise to you is simple: we will never take a leap of faith again, if a transaction is involved. If we can’t use it and verify the bones behind the ideas, we won’t write about a product ever again. This has been a learning lesson, and I’m sorry to anyone adversely affected. We value your time, money and trust.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I was one of the subscribers to Upgrade Pack after your article, and I am really disappointed that I’ve not seen anything for my £99 yet. I’m an eternal optimist though so I’m not giving up hope! That said, I don’t hold GSTP responsible in any way! I’m a grown adult who made my own decision, and I knew I was taking a risk. The frankness of this article is really refreshing but, although the risk I took hasn’t paid off (yet!), I don’t feel it’s something you need to apologise for! Your content is great, I enjoy reading it, and learn a lot from it, keep up the amazing work you do!

  2. Don’t worry we still trust you. I wouldn’t be sitting here reading this in New York after a great premium economy deal. Or having flown to Singapore last year with Swiss first class with my family for less than three business seats. You deliver constantly and have saved us all a fortune.Everyone makes mistakes!

    1. You are GUILTY ! Of trusting in people you were believing in who obviously used you and your influential online presence to further their own personal gains.

      This this happened to me in my agency in Asia several times by expats, Brits were the worst perpetrators and yes I’m British.

      Fortunately I did not purchase the APP as at the time suffered I’ll health and my travel was limited to personal travel.

      Your writings on this site have saved me many thousands of £ when my mega number of miles were used to service my health needs.

      Best one was a £750 biz class flight by Qatar CPH – BKK on B787 on a full economy section but me and my son were the only ones sat in biz !

      My, at the time,12 year old was most impressed how smart and clever I was !

      The best thing you could have made this apology and be open and honest about what happened.

      Keep those premium deals coming please as not quite ready to get back on the road warrior horse.

  3. Gil I too 🙄 over the Coronavirus delay & ever the optimist still have hope that it could mean I source an upgrade cheaper. You’ve given thousands of good tips & heads-up so worry not. I just think of the £99 as the best bottle of plonk I never drank

  4. “To the best of my knowledge at the time of writing, coronavirus is an airborne, human based illness and has nothing to do with infecting apps or computer programs. There’s simply no justifiable way to blame Coronavirus for the lack of an app delivery, over a year on from when it was initially promised.”

    I once had a hotel blame 9/11 for slow room service. This was in 2005.

  5. I’m not sure coronavirus is airborne; the news outlets here mainly state it’s spread through tiny water droplets from someone infected (via sneeze/cough). I’d imagine if it’s airborne a lot more people would be infected by now (think movie Contagion.)

  6. Another delicate Tom Ponzi’s scheme. Such things happen, forget and go ahad (or do the Italian way: burn their houses, forget and go ahead)

  7. Will they refund the money we paid out if we are no longer interested? If so, how do we get it back? We don’t blame you and thank you for the upfront,honest message

  8. Well written and really appreciate your apology. Personally, I still trust you and keep up the great work.

  9. why do you think UP has all the access ? Now its just some thing that hasnt handled out things and charges people for it

  10. Fresh of breath air seeing someone apologise for something that wasn’t there fault in my opinion. I don’t think your readers would blame you for this.

  11. Gilbert, you did as much due diligence as you could at the time, youre not responsible for the failure.

    It does highlight the danger of course for anyone endorsing something that hasn’t yet launched!

  12. I invested. And that’s what it was, a start-up investment. A gamble. That’s the nature of speculation, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Value of your investment may go up as well as down and all that stuff. For £99 if it works, it’s awesome. Two people get the app and the benefits. If it doesn’t, oh well, shrug. £99 would have earned me £13.86 in a “high interest“ ISA, or bought me 3.17 coffees per month over that period. We are all adults. You didn’t twist anyone’s arm. I’m personally glad you gave us the heads up. I do hope UP works out, I think they have a great idea and a great product. But investment is like gambling, don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose.

  13. as a blog reader, going forward it would be nice to know in clear terms to the reader if you were paid for promotional post. It wasn’t clear at all you were in the original article. I think that would be fair to the reader so they can make up their mind on a product

    1. All articles that are sponsored are very clearly marked with “this post is brought to you by”. The way the site displays now skews how the original post looked.

      1. With all due respect, this is a dodge. If anything, it underscores that the disclaimer, such as it was, was not in the content of the post and instead was in some sort of banner/header.

  14. Upgrade Pack is offering anyone of you who are dissatisfied a refund of your £99 subscription‼️ please contact Upgrade pack by email to request your refund and it would be process promptly.

    Understand that airlines and hotels have changed their priorities due to the COVID-19. China economy is in stand still. Italy yesterday decided to take drastic measure because things start to become uncontrollable. Same things with the borders being completely closed between Iran and Pakistan. Many airlines like British airways has cancel all flights to and from China. This is a serious matter. CEO Craig is more than happy to refund your £99 subscription 🙂

    Best of luck.

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