This is a continuation of a previous post on the state of the community. Don’t forget to read Part I.
Many of the Easy Manufactured Spending Strategies Are Fizzling
On the converse side, and I’m sure we have many friends and family that fall into this boat, are the people who are enamored by your pictures in JAL First class, but honestly don’t have the time or attention span to spend nearly as much energy on the hobby as you do.
You’ve hooked them into reading this blog, or more likely The Points Guy or Doctor of Credit, and they’ve signed up for the United credit card and the Amex platinum (and maybe even got a good bonus). They aren’t going to jump on ridiculously cheap cash fares because they don’t follow the twitter feeds and blogs that post about them, nor do they have a strong enough network of friends that text them “CAI-DOH-HKG $283 in J 1/25-4/1 a.i. you in for 3/7!? I’m in 3K” at 2 in the morning. And they don’t “jump” on fares at a moment’s notice.
These people will gradually dissipate and in the short to mid-term, drive less attention to the hobby. This is probably good, because we’ve gotten battered in the past few years with many devaluations because miles were flooding the markets. Carriers have to devalue when balances get too high and have to get creative about redemptions that are cheaper to provide than actually flying (like Veuve at the Skyclub). This is probably good for most of us in the middle (we care about miles and are willing to do research, but we’re not hitting up 5 grocery chains a week) as it relaxes the inflationary pressure we’ve seen on our healthy, but not huge mileage balances.
It does mean the manufactured spending game is getting harder and credit card bonuses aren’t as easy to obtain as they used to. But new products get released if you’re patient, new banks will enter the game and try to woo you from Chase or Citi and you’re becoming less reliant on miles anyway (or are at least accruing them more efficiently through a foreign program).
The ex-FlyerTalk Community Is Being Driven Underground
I’ll be honest, as someone who writes for an (admittedly small) audience, we have to be very careful about what we post, because if a carrier or bank concludes it falls on the wrong sides of the intent of the program, it will get closed fast. Airline and bank employees regularly attend FTUs. Many of them are fascinated by the creativity that comes out of this community, some are avid mileage hackers as well, but when it shows up as raw dollars flying out the window, they have an interest in making sure they still have a profitable business.
Not to mention the people who discover a loophole and then try to exploit it 100x to the extent feasible, generate suspicious behavior reports, get drunk in lounges, loudly complain to the airline or bank for not honoring some extremely technical aspect of their terms and conditions, threaten to lawyer up, publicizing their fiasco to outlets with millions of readers and generally ruin it for the rest of us. We’ve learned to avoid these people, and I’ve found myself only exchanging tips with people who have a similar amount of wonkish interest and have done their homework and also have the social skills to not throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way.
This means that private email lists, slack channels and Facebook groups have thrived, where some degree of trust is required for entry. It’s becoming both more technical AND more social. It’s easier for me to ask a relatively specific question to 10 or 20 friends who have cut their teeth and maybe know a particular program better than I do, than it is to sift through dozens of pages on FlyerTalk these days. We often build our own technical tools to expedite types of searches and speak in code, not for secrecy but for expediency (often typing with two thumbs – J is easier than “Business Class”).
In some ways, this is also great because you get much higher quality discussion that isn’t derailed by trolls or people looking to complain (really, so many complainers!) These groups act as a number of mini-skunk works of small packs of expert travelers, with different philosophies on earning and burning, how to interact with banks and carriers and different appetites for risk — which really combats the reversion to the mean that you get with “Vendoming,” lamenting Chase 5/24 and overwater bungalows in the Maldives that have been so popular over the past few years. The strategies get more diverse and not as easily packaged for mass consumption. And these communities have a clear interest in ensuring they don’t become packaged for mass consumption!
So do your homework. Make friends. Approach people in an open and constructive manner. We all started in this game somewhere, but yes there’s a steep learning curve that creates a bit of a barrier to entry. That in part makes it more fun. The fact that you used your brain to settle into seat 1A as you sit your glass of Krug, but that you used your heart to understand why you’re going to wherever you’re going in the first place.