It’s the 21st century, and the simple motto I try to live by is that as long as I can live with my own decisions it’s none of my business what other people think of me. Even though I put quite a bit of my life “out there” for others to read and comment about, I really don’t get offended easily, and I can’t think of a single comment that has been left on this blog in recent memory that has actually offended me. Now, it hasn’t always been that way. Next week marks my five year anniversary of writing this blog (I’m only 22 now), and if I’m going back four or five years I do remember being personally offended/saddened every time that a negative comment was left.
But that’s not the case anymore, because I’ve learned how the internet operates. I tend to think that there are two types of negative comments — those that are constructive (which I can learn from), and those that reflect more poorly on the person leaving them than on me, because they’d never make such a comment in person but are only hiding behind the veil of anonymity.
The reason I mention this is because it often means instead of deleting or responding to ridiculous comments I just ignore them. I by all means open myself up for people to ask me questions either via email or on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog, and I’ll gladly answer them. But when I see a ridiculous comment I usually decide not to respond, not because the comment hits too close to home and I’m sitting in my mom’s basement in my pajamas crying, but because I’m actually entertained by the assumptions people make.
One such assumption is that I’m a trust fund baby and my family pays for all my travel. I don’t think it’s fair to my family to bring their financial situation into this, but let me simply say that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. While I’m fortunate to have parents that are extremely supportive of my job/hobby, they’ve never been in a situation to fly me around the world in first class, and certainly don’t fund my travels. I’ve been supporting myself since I was 18, was fortunate not to have to pay a dime to attend college (which, in retrospect, is probably what I valued the entire experience at), and do probably spend a disproportionate amount of my income on travel.
Anyway, what prompted this post is a thread started by Astrophsx on FlyerTalk, entitled “Are bloggers getting paid to fly?” The original poster seems to be referring specifically to me and wondering how I’m able to travel so much, and the conversation continues from there. I’m not sure I actually follow his logic, because he’s simultaneously saying I complain too much about the little things and not enough about the big things, which seems to lead him to believe the airlines are paying for my travel.
For that matter, I’m not sure he’s actually interested in the answer, in which case he could have emailed me, Tweeted me, or left a comment on my blog asking the question. I probably get at least an email a day from a reader asking in a non-offensive way how I can afford to travel so much, and I’m happy to answer every single time. But I suspect in this case he was just trying to stir up controversy.
He thinks I’m jaded, saying “he is upset that while on the ground he didn’t get to drink his favorite champagne till he was in the air due to some sort of tax.” I don’t think anyone can tell me with a straight face that my commentary about champagne on the ground made it sound like I was upset:
I ordered Krug, though they only had Dom open on the ground (they have to pay taxes on alcohol served on the ground, so only a portion of the selection is available then). As is usually the case on Singapore, the news was delivered in the same way I imagine a doctor would deliver a horrible diagnosis. “Mr. Lucky, I’m so so sorry, unfortunately we only have Dom Perignon open right now. Would it be okay if I poured you a glass of that, and I promise as soon as we’re airborne I will pour you a glass of Krug first thing? I’m so sorry.”
Well I guess Dom will just have to do…
And as far as his claim that I think I’ve become a food critic goes, well, I think that speaks for itself too. My food description vocabulary is just about limited to “delicious” and “not good,” and I don’t think you’ll ever find me suggesting that the risotto could’ve used more truffle oil. But I’d like to think I know what tastes good and what doesn’t, to the extent of whether or not it’s edible on a plane.
But all of that really isn’t the point.
All of my travel, unless explicitly otherwise stated, is self funded. Yes, I’ve taken some sponsored trips. For example, last year I participated in the “Amex Stars” program, whereby I got access to some awesome events courtesy of Starwood, with corresponding stays at Starwood properties. I clearly disclosed my relationship with Starwood with each post, and I think most would agree my hotel reviews were fair and balanced (I didn’t leave out the empty box of condoms I found in my room at W Union Square or my frustration with the valet at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, for example). And one of the main reasons I took part in the program is because there was something in it for you guys. With each trip I took I could give away enough Starpoints for a similar hotel stay, so I was able to give away around 200,000 Starpoints. I figured that’s a win-win, and frankly I’m not sure I would have participated without that, as I’ve turned down plenty of comp trips when there was nothing in it for you guys and I didn’t think you guys would find the content interesting.
Beyond that, I disclose how my trips were paid for even when they’re self funded. In the introduction post to each trip report I provide an exact breakdown of how many miles each award ticket costs. For example, here’s the introduction post from my most recent report.
So where do I earn all my miles? Much like most savvy mileage nuts, through a combination of credit card churning, flying, strategically purchasing miles, and taking advantage of every promotion out there.
I earn well over a million miles a year, which I don’t think is really unattainable for most. I probably fly about 200,000 miles per year on American, and as an Executive Platinum member I get a 100% bonus on miles, so that’s 400,000 miles right there. I earn another 500,000 or so miles per year (at a minimum) from credit card churning. And then I try to maximize miles on everyday spend, which can add up to another couple of hundred thousand miles per year if done properly. Lastly, I strategically purchase miles when it’s a good value.
Let’s take my current trip as an example. I redeemed 90,000 US Airways miles for a business class ticket from the US to Asia via Europe, as outlined here. I purchased these miles for 1.14 cents each through the 100% bonus on shared miles promotion back in October. That means by trip cost me a bit over $1,000, which I’d say is an amazing value for sampling four longhaul business class products.
But more than anything else I look at these trips as an investment in what I do. The two things I do for a living are blogging and travel consulting. My goal is to review as many products as possible so that I can dish out the most useful/educated advice. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the flexibility to not be limited in the amount of time I can spend traveling, so my hope is that by sampling as many different products as possible, I can help those of you with limited vacation time make the most of your trips. And while many may not like my writing style, I hope the fact that I compare so many airlines is useful to you guys. One of my struggles with online reviews is that you usually don’t know enough about the person making them to know whether they’re credible or not. For example, you can read a review of a Four Seasons that gets five stars because everything was amazing, while the next review gives it one star because they were angry the hotel charged for wifi and parking, and that it should be free at such an expensive hotel. Hopefully the fact that I review dozens of airlines and hotels in a similar fashion makes it easier to actually get something out of my reviews, since you can judge them based on what you value most.
As much as I’d like to think I know about airline products I’ve never flown, there’s no doubt you have a new understanding of a product after experiencing it firsthand. For example, yesterday I flew Brussels Airlines’ new business class for the first time, and I chose one of the “throne” seats, which in retrospect I realize was a big mistake, since the foot “cubby” is so small. I’d rather have a seatmate and sufficient leg room than sit alone and not have room for my feet. I wouldn’t have had that problem if I selected a different seat. Hopefully that advice is useful not just to those of you that read my blog, but I can apply it to those I help booking awards for as well, since up until now I would have booked singled travelers in the “throne” seats.
Unlike others I’m not making a claim that travel is “free” or costs “just pennies,” though I certainly respect that approach. Rather, my hope is that every trip I take is attainable to anyone willing to put in the effort to earn the miles and spend a bit on taxes, cash co-pays, etc. I do spend a disproportionate amount of my income on travel, though that’s because it’s both my passion and my job, and I don’t view it as a waste of money but rather an investment. My living expenses are reasonably low, so a large portion of my income is discretionary. Unfortunately I’m neither loaded nor a trust fund baby, or all of this might be even more fun!
Anyway, hopefully that clears up a few things for those of you that were wondering. And if anyone has any follow up questions, I’m more than happy to answer. Thanks, as always, for reading!