My daughter and I attended Frequent Traveler University (FTU) this past weekend. It was our first time attending the event, so we were not quite sure what to expect. We knew we would be attending a full day of classes presented by travel experts, though, and were excited to hear what they had to say.
FTU is divided into two tracks. The basic track – the one my daughter and I registered for – cost $39 this year, although we were able to secure free passes through one of the bloggers we follow. The signature track cost $249 and offered advanced and more in-depth classes.
Many of the classes were about how to earn and then, spend – airline and hotel points. Other classes covered solo travel, travel photography, and general travel advice. We learned a few things, but especially enjoyed meeting several of the travel bloggers and specialists that we have been following online. Here is a short recap of the nine hours of classes we attended:
Johnny Jet and Chris McGuinness
Our first class in the morning was presented by Johnny Jet and Chris McGuinness. Johnny Jet has been traveling and giving advice for ten years, while Chris McGinniss has been a reporter for the BBC and CNN and has been traveling for over 25 years. The two men took turns giving travel advice.
Johnny Jet first told us about how to get cheap flights. He said that choosing a flight with a stop, rather than a nonstop one can often save money. He suggested that we sign up for fare alerts or newsletters. His main point, though was to be flexible. If you need to fly at 4pm on Wednesday, you will have much fewer choices than if you are open to flying anytime Tuesday through Thursday. The more choices you have, the better chance you have at finding a low cost flight.
Chris McGinnis then spoke, giving us ideas for how to get a great hotel room. He gave us a list of question to ask at check-in, knowing that the desk person is familiar with the details of each room. Is WiFi important to you? Ask for one of the rooms with the fastest WiFi. If you’d like a quiet room, ask for one without a connecting door. In a hotel that has been undergoing renovation – or still is – ask if the room has been renovated yet. Is it in the old or new part? By just asking a few questions, you can be assigned a much better room than you otherwise might have.
Johnny spoke again – this time about how to get upgraded on a flight. He said that although its not as easy as it used to be, it is still possible to get upgraded. Johnny reminded us that upgrades can be purchased with cash or miles and awarded to frequent flyers. He told us that people traveling alone are more likely to get an upgrade. It also helps to fly during off-peak times.
Chris then talked about how the seasons of the year affect prices. The week after Thanksgiving and the first week or two of December are some of the best times to fly, since most people fly for Thanksgiving or Christmas – not in between.
Stephan Krasowski and Tiffany Funk
The second class we attended was taught by Stefan Krasowski. He offered a lot of instruction on how to find the best award tickets. Often, the best deal is not the one offered by one of America’s big three airlines – American, Delta, or United – but by a partner airline.
Stefan told us that the partner fares may not be listed on the the big three’s websites so some research is necessary. Instead of booking online, a call to the airline may be necessary.
Stefan also suggested that using the airline shopping portals can help earn points for flights. Sometimes gift cards can be purchased using a credit card with a bonus, then the gift card can be used at the shopping portal to get more points. This process, called stacking awards, is a bit more complicated, but to many point collectors, worth the hassle. I haven’t used stacking in the way Stefan described, but I may give it a try in the future.
The next class was led by Tiffany Funk, an avid points collector. She admitted that she has over 4 million airline points at this time. That is a huge amount – almost unbelievable. Tiffany collects a lot of her points by signing up for credit cards that offer point bonuses. Many of the cards include nice benefits, but also charge yearly fees – often waived the first year. After she has received the bonus and held the card for a year, Tiffany will either keep the card, or downgrade it to a card that does not carry a fee.
Collecting points through credit cards and shopping portals can be rewarding, but if you don’t understand how the system works, you may not be as successful as you hope. As I’ve mentioned before, it is important that you use credit cards wisely and do not charge amounts that you cannot pay. Carrying a credit card balance and paying interest negates any award points that you might receive.
Matt Kepnes, known as Nomadic Matt
I’ve followed Nomadic Matt’s blog for several years so it was nice to hear him speak in person. He is a young man and specializes in traveling very cheaply. He suggested using the sharing economy to save on travel – staying with Couch Surfing, eating with Eatwith, or getting a ride with Uber. All of these methods can save you money over traditional methods.
Matt also suggested traveling the way you live. If you don’t go out to eat every night at home, don’t do it when you travel. If you are in an apartment or hostel, you can cook your own meals. Sometimes grocery stores have pre-made meals that are easy to prepare or ready-to-eat – a huge savings over the cost of a restaurant meal.
Chris Guillebeau made headlines in the travel industry when he completed his goal of visiting every one of the 193 countries in the world. A high school dropout, Chris has been traveling and writing about travel for many years.
The most important message Chris gave at FTU was to “Decide for yourself what you like – or how you should travel – or how you should live your life.” So often people travel where or how they are expected to travel. If you want to travel cheaply, or luxuriously, the choice is yours.
Rudy Maxa, travel television host told us how he got started in the business. He was interesting to listen to, although we didn’t learn as much from him as we did from some of the other speakers.
Gary Arndt, a self-taught, award-winning travel photographer, spoke about how not to take bad pictures. He showed some of his early photos, critiqued them, and then gave us advice for how to fix the problems. Gary said that many amateur photographers buy expensive equipment thinking it will help them take better photos, but the camera is not as important as the person pushing the button. He encouraged us to get to know how to use our cameras so we can take the pictures we want. He also explained a few design principles that, if used, should help improve our photography.
Senitra Horbrook and April Perigrino spoke about solo travel and woman’s travel respectively. Although not the greatest of speakers, each of the women taught us ways to become more confident as a woman or solo traveler. Senitra suggested taking sort trips within the US at first, then increasing the length of the trip or traveling to Western Europe, and eventually traveling to the less familiar areas of Asia, Africa or South America. Since I am not always able to travel with another person, her suggestions made sense.
We had a full day, soaking up as much information as we could. Since we both love to travel, we hope to be able to use the advice and suggestions from some of the speakers we heard.
As I try out the suggestions, I’ll share my experiences on this blog – maybe you can try them out, too.