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ft4rlWelcome to my live blog of the Family Travel for Real Life conference (#FT4RL).  If you’re new to the Family Travel for Real Life conference, it is a smaller conference that focuses on the more “real life” aspects of travel.  While it is primarily focused on family travel (it’s in the name, duh!), there are lots of things that are talked about in the conference that are applicable for those without kids as well.  If you want to see more information, you should check out my introductory post, which also contains links to recaps of all of the past FT4RL sessions

The 2nd speaker of the day is Sam from Milenomics.  When I was first starting out in the miles and points world, Milenomics was definitely one of my favorite blogs.  More recently, he has taken a bit of a hiatus, but he is back, at least partially out of retirement, and ready to talk to us about Be Your Own Elite : Go where you want, when you want spending as little as possible to do so


Sam started us out talking about the concept of Be your Own Elite (BYOE), which was one of the seminal concepts from his Milenomics blog.  Instead of chasing elite status on airlines and hotels, you want to use your OWN knowledge to get your own elite status by manufacturing things like lounge access, upgrades, free luggage on flights and other things you normally associate with elite status.

Be Your Own Elite

waiting-in-linesThe concept of Being your own elite is to emulate a true elite program, stopping you from wasting time and money

Sam shared his personal elite program – this is what he personally values

  • Values spending time at his origin and destination
  • High value in being able to change flights (the #1 thing that he looks for)
  • Low value in being able to change cabins (upgrades)
  • Skipping lines whenever possible (SEE ALSO: How to skip lines when visiting Ancient Rome sites)

Figure out which “elite benefits” are most important to you and make your OWN elite program

How to avoid change fees

Most airlines charge you anywhere from $75 to $200 for cancellation of award flights or of paid tickets.

For Domestic flights, this is how Sam gets around these change fees

  • For American flights, you can book with British Airways Avios (book as a one-way ticket)
  • For Delta flights, book with Alaska miles and you can cancel for free 60 days before you fly
  • For United flights you can book with ANA miles (but you have to cancel over the phone)
  • Southwest – the Southwest cancellation policy is awesome and so if you need to change or cancel a Southwest flight, there are no fees whatsoever!

You can also use these same programs to get around the close-in booking fees that many airlines charge – (SEE: How to book United or American without the $75 close-in booking fee)

For this particular conference, Sam booked 2 separate trips.  One on American airlines, and one on Southwest, all on one-ways.  Since if you’re doing it right, you can cancel your flights later, there’s not a lot of downside to booking multiple trips, as long as you cancel the flight before you’re actually supposed to fly

Important note: If you do this, you do need to make sure to actually CANCEL the tickets that you don’t book 😀

Let’s talk luggagehotel-day-rooms-luggage-cramped

Many elite flyers don’t check bags (go carry-on only).  Most airlines do charge for fees, though some airlines give you free bags with their co-branded credit cards.  One option can be to actually ship supplies TO your hotel where you’re going to say – one time Sam bought a European car seat through the Italian version of Amazon and had it shipped for free to his hotel in Italy.

And of course, if you’re flying Southwest, they offer 2 free bags per person – on a recent Southwest flight we went onboard with SEVENTEEN pieces of luggage (all for free!)


New for 2016 – hotels.  Sam rarely collects hotel points but does collect some that are closed system points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or SPG points, which you can transfer to other partners.

The reason is that you can almost do better with cash and Points = Cash!  Figure out where you actually want to go, and not where you have points to go.  Especially if you’re trying to stay at an out of the way place – there are often not any big chain hotels in those places.

One thing that Sam recommended is if you DO use points, consider using points to upgrade yourself. SPG and Hyatt both have options where you can spend additional points to get an upgraded room.

DYKWIA?  Or do you know who YOU are?

Do you know who I am?  Or, do you know who YOU are?  And what kind of things are you interested in?  Figure out if it’s a round the world trip in first class, or traveling #hobostyle, or somewhere in between.  Figure out where you want to go and travel how YOU want to travel.

Expectations inevitably lead to disappointment.  So when you bring your own elite, you only expect what you’re ACTUALLY paying for.  Again, figure out what is important to you and buy those things and make them part of your own elite program

Don’t be afraid of locally owned non-chain hotels – they exist purely based on their ability as a hotel (SEE: What’s the worst hotel you’ve ever stayed at?)

How to complain without any status or a brand to Tweet tocomplaints

One problem that you might worry about if you’re staying at a non-chain hotel is when things go wrong.  When things go wrong (and they WILL go wrong).  Sam’s 2 rules of effective complaints are both the same thing – always, always remain calm.  As soon as you escalate things by doing things like yelling or screaming, people start to get defensive.  Here are some tips

  • Speak to a decision manager – talk to a manager first
  • Be clear – only mention 1 or 2 things that went wrong
  • Know what you’ll accept as compensation ahead of time
  • Use inclusive phrases like “Can you see my frustration?” or “What do you typically do in a situation like this?”
  • Gladly accept any offer better than or equal to what you’re looking for

(SEE ALSO: List of Airline and Hotel Twitter contacts)

These are some great tips – the other thing that I had was agreeing with the concept of asking open-ended questions.  So instead of asking a question like “Can I get this refunded?”, which is easy for the person on the other side to answer “no”, you ask “What can you do to help me?”, which puts the ball back in THEIR court to come up with something

Great talk here – what benefits are in YOUR elite program?

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