Paying With Credit Card On Laptop

There are at least five genuine secrets to almost any loyalty program that I know of – but would never ever “blog” about.

What should be shared, what shouldn’t, and are bloggers ruining too many secrets?

In 1998, before the internet was on your phone and long before there were croissant donuts on Instagram, a personal hero of mine started something called Flyertalk. His name is Randy Petersen. Even before lawyers got a hold of loyalty programs and bubble wrapped them in red tape, terms and conditions, they were still complicated, and Flyertalk was a chance for anyone with enough interest to make sense of it all, via person to person message boards.

For most people reading this, Flyertalk was the beginning of everything. It was the “a-ha” moment when you realized how valuable your points were, or how to earn a suite upgrade certificate to cash in on a family vacation. Basically, it blew peoples minds and created a *mostly* helpful community, with answers to virtually any travel question.

For more general travellers, it was private groups on Facebook, or tips from local guides about the best spots to eat, drink and see the sunset. Those are now everywhere, and when you get to one of those spots, people are too.

a colorful cube on a beachFlyertalk is the place where no one knows your name, but everybody shares a major interest. Be it a specific loyalty program, secret airfare deal or stories from the road, it’s where you ask a question and get a million answers. Often, the stuff that’s not written anywhere else. With more than 4 million users per month, it’s a place where those answers didn’t always stay quiet for long.

Now those “secrets” are on blogs, and the people running them are talking about great travel tips on mainstream television, not just nerdy internet chatrooms. To be fair, I’m one of those people.

Though a few blogs such as The Gate, View From The Wing and One Mile At A Time existed since the very early days, many including mine came along later. With more blogs competing, more information was being shared than ever, and as people like myself aimed to carve out long term careers in the biz, sharing tips with mainstream media became more prevalent than ever.

Every once in a while, someone has a go at me for “ruining a great secret”, and generally – my eyes roll.

If you take one thing away from this, it’s that like many things in life, only a select few choose to spoil the real gems. Most bloggers know the thin line between great tip and “this will ruin an incredible trick forever”. So let’s first look at things which are ridiculous to claim as secrets being ruined, like award charts.

As to restaurants, bars and hidden gem hotels – I believe there’s a natural order. Those things will always change, like fashion. You might as well blame the times equally with the bloggers when your favourite Brooklyn pizza joint gets overrun with people. Social media is changing travel more than any “one” blogger. When that place goes out of fashion, you’ll just need to come back and discover the next new gem,

airplanes at an airportPeople love to complain that bloggers share too many great points redemptions and it makes airlines or hotels take them away. There’s just one problem with that: the airlines and hotels printed this info on their own websites for all to see when they created and published their award charts.

Pretending that this stuff is in any way secret, or that someone needs to be credited with discovering a thing which is literally public knowledge and searchable by anyone with a phone, pulse, computer or internet connection is laughable. Award charts aren’t secrets and learning to read them isn’t exactly a proprietary gem.

This is almost always hypocritical too, since these same people clearly discovered this information via someone or something else, be it Flyertalk or another person. It’s not as info was predestined and preprogrammed into the fabric of their being. So why was it all ok when it was on Flyertalk and not ok when it’s on a blog? Probably because people genuinely begrudge bloggers like myself for making a living out of something they love. It’s bad enough that we have a a voice, let alone make money from it all.

But back to the content, and the secrets…

I, for one, can say that there are at least five genuine secrets to almost any loyalty program that I know of – but would never ever “blog” about. I chose to make this distinction because talking about it would genuinely have it shut down before anyone could happily make use of whatever the thing may be. These things are black and white, and revealing them would be wrong. If disclosing something would break trust with a source, or end an opportunity for all – I’d never write it.

a sailboat with a dragon on itWould others? When you look at it… none that are still successful really. There’s “a code”, with the exception of the three letter billion dollar investment firm backed entity in the space.

Are there grey areas too? Sure. Like telling people to sign up for airline business programs, so they can earn extra points in addition to their personal frequent flyer miles. Running a household is technically a business if you look at things through one lens, but many might counter that by saying it’s not what these programs are intended for.

Rather than direct rage toward bloggers who are simply trying to help more people realize their travel dreams, people should spend more time voting with their feet with the actual brands being discussed in articles. Did your credit card company take away a great benefit, because blogs explained how to actually use it? Shame on the credit card company – not the blog.

People have kicked off for years about an article stating that 50,000 Asiana Club points can get you Lufthansa first class from Europe to the USA. Years later, that redemption is still in tact – so the anger is all vein. Yet other programs, which were never particular sweet continue to devalue at will whether we write about them or not.

Are we bloggers sharing too many secrets? The overall answer is just NO.

Everyone learns in different ways and generally, the blogs that explain things best stick around. Why should anyone be denied an opportunity you’ve been able to enjoy, just because you heard about it first? It’s not like we’re telling people how to reuse that one certificate…. yeah I’ll stop there.

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 still can’t figure out how to fuel dump so not everything gets out there.

    I think some deals definitely die quicker due to the blogs. But at the same time more people are able to take advantage of deals thanks to bloggers and forums like Flyertalk. And honestly, unless you are patient zero on a specific deal, you really don’t have a valid reason to complain when a deal is shared…because obviously someone shared it with you.

    But as long as everyone follows the golden rule of DON”T CALL THE AIRLINE, I think everything else is fair game.

  2. The only way to get value from any of these programs is from many people ignoring the benefits and intricacies so we (people who take the time) can take advantage of everything they have to offer. If everyone churned credit cards or everyone used their airline fee credits, priority pass, global entry, Uber credits, etc. these would be unprofitable to banks and this would all disappear. It happened to debit card rewards and it happened to Europe since the very low cap on interchange fees prevented credit card bonuses and points from blossoming like in the U.S.

    The more people become aware the less value and opportunities we get out of the program. A lot of people don’t understand credit card rewards or loyalty programs through every fault of their own since they have all this information avaliable to them online so there is floor for rewards unless that changes. My advice for myself and others is to take advantage now and use points ASAP for great redemptions on great products. International first class is going away on most of the remaining carriers (maybe Emirates, Singapore and ethical will remain) with Lufthansa and Air France saying they will keep first class but who knows how long that will continue.

  3. In my opinion the distinction between “good or bad bloggers” it’s not in revealing.
    Your blog for example adds value to the info.
    Others just copy the info

    I just choose the 1st, the value added one.

  4. The problem is with the sheer enormity of volume generated by the bloggers “tips.” These rewards programs are designed to make and keep loyal customers, not to attract one and done credit card opportunists. Many of the bloggers have, and let’s not decieve ourselves here, engaged in the publication of these blogs as a means of enriching their own coffers through the use of links, click throughs, and other compensated mechanisms. The blogs bring about overuse and abuse triggering shutdowns and devaluations by the program sponsors. And, why shouldn’t that be their response?

    1. Yeah, I couldn’t disagree with you more here. I can even taste the tone of distaste for the fact that we make any money at all for all the advice shared.

  5. @John Robinson

    Debit card rewards disappeared in the US for much the same reason Europe has poor CC rewards: limited interchange fees. That’s not “people overusing the rewards”, that’s regulation changing the economic drivers of a product. Not interested in a “good/bad” government discussion, just pointing out that bloggers/customer overuse was not the reason debit card rewards dried up.

  6. Excellent subject , Ive been thinking about this for a while.

    GSTP, HFP and TLFL all have a large audiences and can easily ruin opportunities for others IMHO.

    That said the vast majority of the articles I see are usually crafted in a manner that won’t kill off the golden goose, but the comments sections on one site in particular is often full of advice on how to churn cards, eat in multiple airport restaurants for free or how to achieve one off upgrade bonuses over and over again. The general population of travel hackers are careless blatantly blabbing in the open about the various offers and have to exploit them to the point they get pulled.

  7. Yeah, all those secrets that are given out, like flying ANA F on VS created by Amex at a 30 -40% transfer bonus. Everyone and their brother including me has booked it, talked about it & helped someone else book it. And it is still there, shining in the night. A lot of people may not want to dig that far to try & get that LH flight from Asiana, esp. now that Bonvoy points are tougher to come by and they take a month (my experience) to transfer. Actually I find too many bloggers serving up mediocre UA redemptions for too many Chase points just to keep the card referral clicks going. That is far worse IMHO than publishing an award chart sweet spot.

  8. The now infamous Amex-a-geddon in the UK is most definitely a result of HFP /Flyertalk comments sections on how to churn. The once quiet 20k amex upgrade bonus is being talked about openly so another route to earn points will be closed off shorty.
    ANA F is good, but by far the best use of VS points was Air China – London to Beijing in F, in this case perhaps the blogger, rather than the comments killed this one off.

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