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During the first weekend in May I had the opportunity to attend the Spring 2017 Family Travel for Real Life conference in Orlando, Florida. The conference is put together by Dia Adams, (AKA The Deal Mommy) and this one was number 6.

I didn’t know what the general level would be of the travel hackers in attendance. I consider myself fairly advanced in my travel hacking skills, but I *do* live in an isolated area with very few other hobbyists. It’s fairly rare that I have a chance to talk in person with others who are knowledgeable and passionate about this hobby.

So it was great for me to be in a room of people with *far* greater knowledge than me, on the whole. There were some other first-timers to the conference, and some who were pretty new to the whole travel hacking game. But a large number were definitely veterans.

All the speakers were fantastic, and Dia did a *great* job organizing speakers to cover a wide variety of topics. Each presentation taught me something. Here are the 5 top things I learned from the Spring 2017 FT4RL conference:

I need to up my cash back game

Jason Steele, full time freelance writer and a senior points and miles contributor at The Points Guy, talked about the opportunities out there with cash back cards. Often cash back gets overlooked in favor of cards that earn points or miles. His session talked about “getting to zero”, something I don’t often do on a trip.

I’ve often figured that if the hotel and airfare is super cheap, we can afford the sights and activities. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to erase the cost of those as well? Yes. Yes, it would. I need to do more of that. Cash back has rarely been my focus, but it will be more so in the future.

What “vendoming” is

Yes, I was one of the two who raised his hand when Dia asked who didn’t know what the term “vendoming” means. Put simply, it is not being aware of *why* you want to visit a certain location or fly on a certain airline. You are just doing it because some blogger told you it is the best. The term was coined after a number of bloggers reviewed the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. You can read some of Dia’s post-FT4RL6 thoughts on vendoming here and here.

Oh, the allure!

I freely admit, I’ve been guilty of vendoming at times. My best example was booking a night at the St. Regis Rome last summer. Sure, it was a nice room, and a great hotel. But I later realized I would have rather just booked the Category 2 Sheraton Roma for an additional night (we stayed there for six). The Sheraton? 5,500 points per night for an Club room with lounge access and breakfast. The St. Regis? Category 6 and 20,000 points per night. No lounge. No breakfast.

Look for value in foreign airline frequent flyer programs

This is obviously not true of every foreign program, but there are some that have fantastic sweet spots. Ari Charlestein gave a great presentation that highlighted some of what you can find. I’m quite familiar with domestic airline programs, and even a few foreign ones like British Airways, Aeroplan, and Flying Blue. After the conference I’ve been studying ANA, AsiaMiles, LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer and a couple others to see what more I can glean. There are some incredible sweet spots buried in the ANA program in particular.

Travel hacking Disney is an entire world in itself

When the last speaker stepped up to talk about Disney, I honestly didn’t even pull out my notepad. In my head I was thinking, “I don’t have kids, and we don’t plan on coming to Orlando anytime soon to visit Disney World. This won’t be all that useful.”

I was completely and utterly wrong. Disney is its own animal, worthy of plenty of travel hacking attention. Haley Bach, Disney guru par excellence, absolutely stunned me with her in depth knowledge of how to maximize every bit of a trip to Disney. From tips on ways to score deals on hotels, to how to evaluate whether the Disney dining package actually holds value (hint: it usually doesn’t), to hacks for maximizing every moment in the park (hint: don’t go during extra magic hours), her wealth of knowledge amazed me. For those considering taking their family traveling to Disney World, her talk was invaluable. Here is a great discussion with Haley, who has turned Disney travel planning into a business.

Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that I can put any of her tips to use anytime soon. But at least I have somewhere to begin when we can plan a trip!

I actually know less than I think I do

This was one of the biggest takeaways. I’m the one that friends and family typically go to when they have points and miles questions, and when I answered the survey regarding what level of travel hacking I thought I was at, I answered near the top. Now I know that although I have a good amount of experience an knowledge under my belt, there is always more. Much more.

It was cool to be with others who are experts in various areas of travel hacking. I learned from every one of the presentations, which made me extremely glad that I had flown all the way to Florida for the event. I’d simply hoped to just have some time to talk miles and points with other hobbyists and see a bit of the Sunshine State.

Final thoughts

So will I be attending FT4RL again? Probably not in the near future, but not because I don’t want to go. I just don’t think it will be possible with our adoption trip (hopefully) happening soon and then making the adjustment from a couple to a family or 4 or 5.

What do you think? Will you consider heading to the next FT4RL conference? 

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