Christopher Elliott Joining BoardingArea

Well this place is about to get a lot more interesting!

For those of you not familiar with Christopher Elliott, he’s a self proclaimed “consumer advocate” with a “rescue complex” that’s “fighting the good fight.”

Now if you ask me, “consumer advocate” seems to translate to him helping people that can’t read.

Did you fail to read the terms & conditions of a promotion and are angry at a travel company and swear you’ll never do business with them again? Then Chris is your guy, as he’ll reach out to the travel provider and make things “right” (and by “make things right” I mean quite the opposite, since he’s basically getting the “victims” a one time exception because of his influence, which does nothing to help the average consumer).

Anyway, over the weekend he posed the question on his site as to whether or not he should join BoardingArea. He set up a poll on his site, and after 24 hours of polling, 54% of people said yes, and therefore he’s joining:

Update: (10 a.m.) After 24 hours, the “ayes” have it with 54 percent of the vote. I’m joining.

What does he see as one of the biggest drawbacks of BoardingArea?

✓ BoardingArea is associated with some of the most rabid pro-mileage rhetoric on the Internet. I’m America’s number-one loyalty program critic. Can you say “culture clash”?

That is true, he is America’s number one loyalty program critic. After all, he thinks frequent flyer programs are scams. Why are they scams? Because even an entry level elite member has to pay if they miss an international flight (which is the case for all passengers, even top tier elite members).

He also believes that hotel minibars should be illegal — now that’s consumer advocacy at work, folks!

I’m excited to see his rhetoric insight brought to Boarding Area — if nothing else, it certainly will mix up the content a bit!

In all honesty, I think this is great. Chris has a big readership, and hopefully some of them can see the error in his ways and begin to really reap the benefits of this hobby, rather than just have “consumer advocacy” pity parties.

Comments

  1. Will be great to get to get some balance on Boarding Area. At least then 1.5 bloggers will not be in the pockets of the Airlines, Banks and Hotels.

  2. Doesnt make sense to me why he would want to join BA but I can see why the other BA bloggers would support the move. He brings thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of new eyeballs to the blog everyday. Surely some of those translate into new ad clicks and credit card sign ups. Even if he opposes the general mission of most of the BA bloggers and really the whole orginization its hard to say no when someone offers to bring his huge daily readership to your blog.

  3. I think his opposition to FFPs is a little dumb too. But he does not only help “people who don’t read”. Quite often people do get screwed by travel providers who refuse to even follow their own procedures in many cases. Or that have ridiculously consumer un-friendly policies. If he can use whatever clout he (or the WashPost or other publications) has to get some help for people being abused by the system that is a good thing. Some of the cases he takes on are the customer’s fault, but I’d say that is the exception not the norm.

  4. I have no problem with Mr Elliott’s thoughts and issues with FF programs although I find I disagree with most of them. I have always been interested to hear his opinion just in case something resonated, and I respected the fact that he stuck to his positions despite often being in the minority (of educated consumers) that share his views. This, however, is just a sell out. It’s the gamekeeper turned poacher scenario and Mr Elliott’s stock has just taken a nose dive as a result. Just IMO, naturally.

  5. minibars are annoying for another reason. They are put in place of a minifridge that a cheaper hotel would have. Even if you had the hotel remove all the items, the temp is much warmer than a real fridge.

  6. I gave up reading his drivel on his own page, I’m not going to start now. It’s just really difficult for me to engage with someone who is as blatantly obtuse as he is.

    Although, if he has referral links, I might use them just for fun.

  7. Sure, some of the people who write in are dumb, but he does help people with legitimate issues as well. Not everyone has the clout of a frequent flier to get proper treatment, so I do think he provides a valuable service, even though I do think he’s 100% wrong about frequent flier programs 🙂

  8. @ Ric — To clarify, who are the “less fortunate” here? Those being helped by this hobby by traveling the world for pennies on the dollar, or the people that (largely) can’t read and try to blame others for it?

  9. Those being helped by this hobby by traveling the world for pennies on the dollar

    As long as you have perfect credit, perfect ability to pay a bank back, enough free time to go stand in line at Walgreens/CVS and track which gift card needs to pay which credit card in a spreadsheet, and enjoy lots of American chain hotels that in many cases offer cookie-cutter experiences.

    Let’s be realistic here. This “hobby” is predicated on banks shelling money out for miles, and airlines minting more miles that can reasonably be redeemed in the near future. Someone has to pay for it. In this case it’s people who pay 20-30% interest or late fees, plus any other number of ways banks can take money from other customers. It’s not unreasonable to think this is anti-consumer, and think that overall consumers would be better with lower interest rates rather than having SOME customers get large piles of miles.

    Traveling the world for pennies on the dollar is also based on other schmucks rammed into 30 inch pitch seats 10 across on a 777, who pay $25 to talk to a human being after time on hold, or $75 to redeem their “free” award (which might not actually correspond to a time they want to travel), or who wait on hold while elites go to the EXP desk. The “non-elite” experience on a lot of airlines sucks, in part because you need to give “elites” something, so you take it from the people who don’t fly on other people’s money. I notice you don’t fly Lufthansa coach… but without that coach, you don’t have viable airlines. So the luxury you blog in Lufthansa F about is in part based on there being people who aren’t in that luxury. Nothing wrong with being a blogger who stands up for them.

    I admit I play this game because I know I can do OK at the casino, but just because there are ways for an individual to come out ahead doesn’t mean the game isn’t rigged in the casino’s, bank’s, or airline’s favor, and we’d be better off collectively if it wasn’t rigged. Also nothing wrong with a blogger pointing that out, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

  10. Elliott takes a strongly pro-average-consumer stance. Sometimes those interests align with more sophisticated consumers (eg. lower taxes, clarity on total airfares) sometimes they don’t (eg. FFP’s).

    And to analogize to my field, criminal defense attorneys represent everyone who needs a defense, not just the not-guilty. Yeah, he helps out people who “can’t read,” but he also gave me advice by email when I had a dispute with United (to oversimplify, the UA CSA “couldn’t read”) and United was stonewalling me.

    I think a broader range of voices will be healthy.

  11. Don’t forget Chris’ relentless campaign to expose every TSA agent as a pervert who’s sole aim in life is to see his bare backside…..

  12. actually, I agree with much of what he says. Minibars are a total rip-off, and they encourage people to get drunk. Frequent flyer programs are stacked against the flyers — it’s a bad deal unless you have to fly a lot anyway. In that case you might as well join so you suffer a bit less than the non-frequent flyer!
    [I say that as a 1k United member, who gets lots of benefits which I appreciate! but none of the benefits are as great as they make you think]

    And the credit cards are great, but only for people who have money. You want to know the reason why almost everyone calling the reconsideration line is approved? Because the banks want people who are going to be late on their payments and go into debt (albeit not customers who actually go bankrupt)

    So, it’s good to hear his viewpoint as well. I love your posts though, Lucky!

  13. i loved Chris in Something about Mary- funny stuff.

    actually, this may be a good fit. given the proliferation of absolutely clueless new bloggers on BA, CE could make a career out of just reading them daily on BA and advocating against their terrible ‘advice’.

    i fail to understand why RP has decided to dilute BA of quality by bringing on bloggers who know about as much as a newb on FT whose ‘join date was y̶e̶s̶t̶e̶r̶d̶a̶y̶ today. i especially like the travel reports laced with affiliate links from people who read like they’re on their first trip…. ever. one bragged about paying 2000 baht and a 2 drink minimum or something for seats at what everyone with an IQ over 65 could quickly determine was a free Muay Thai fight/exhibition. Oh, and the ‘deal’ she got on a taxi from BKK airport to her hotel for only 2500 baht (it’s less than 500 metered).

  14. It’s often worthwhile to hear contrary opinions.

    The disconnect between the million-mile bloggers and Chris Elliot is that he seems to think you’re preaching the benefits of loyalty when, in fact, you’re really pushing the notion of DISloyalty — that is, taking the most and giving the least to the programs. Your approaches aren’t that different in that you both see the loyalty programs as an enemy — in Chris’s case to be avoided and in your case to be exploited.

  15. And now boarding area is losing credibility. Maybe it is time I follow the bloggers I like on their site and use an aggregator, rather than boarding area.

  16. “Elliott takes a strongly pro-average-consumer stance. Sometimes those interests align with more sophisticated consumers (eg. lower taxes, clarity on total airfares) sometimes they don’t (eg. FFP’s).”

    Thank you for saying that better than I could. FFPs and Lucky’s travel style depends on arbitrage not everyone can take advantage of (or really, could, planes are not 100% first class lie-flat with caviar, are they?). It’s a reasonable viewpoint to say “well, not everyone gets to experience this when they travel, and just because some can, doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious problems with how airlines market FFPs to the average consumer”.

  17. Differing points of view or dissenting comments are always good, if they are always presented constructively. We all know that one blogger will never have 100% buy in from every reader on every subject every time. Contrary POV’s provide alternative viewpoints for everyone to consider, and perspective. Think of it as a more well-rounded experience here on BA. We embrace dissent at my organization and the team I lead because it ultimately makes us better. Chris’ viewpoints will, I believe, make Lucky simply better at delivering content – AND vice versa.

    That said, reading anybody’s blog – including Lucky’s here – is a choice. Just as minibars are a choice (no hotel I know forces you to use them), so is the decision to read (or not read) CE’s blog entering the BA sphere.

    So, I say: Great! Bring it on. Don’t think anybody would be harmed by it, do you?

  18. @eponymous coward:

    Elliot strikes me as the sort who sympathizes with people who say “I didn’t read the rules and now the airline is enforcing the rules and it isn’t fair! .” He’s also the sort who tends to fall back on demagoguery to defend “the little guy.”

    But travel isn’t a zero-sum game. If you (in the general sense) are sitting in coach it’s not because you are a powerless pawn. It’s because you’ve made choices. The most obvious is that money is more important than short-term comfort. Or that you’d rather watch football (or knit, or shop, or read, or play with your children, etc.) than read Flyertalk, blogs, and FFP Ts&Cs. Maybe the guy sitting up front makes a lot more money than you do, or maybe he just made choices different from yours.

    Also, I don’t entirely agree with your casino analogy. A disciplined and intelligent gambler can shift the odds in his favor, but he can’t change the fact that chance will always favor the house. By contrast, I submit that in this game any person of average intelligence and with average levels of self-control can win if he cares to understand the rules. The FF game isn’t rigged (in sense of a casino) because, at bottom, it isn’t about luck, it’s about contracts and rules. If you understand the rules, you can generally predict the outcome. Even though clicking “search” on the award engine might feel like pulling the lever on a one-armed-bandit if you’re poorly informed.

    I’m genuinely curious as to what you mean by “we’d be better off collectively” if the game wasn’t, in your word, rigged. I don’t pay any credit card interest at all and would see no benefit if rates were reduced. How am I better off if I’m stripped of contractual benefits in order to reduce someone else’s credit card interest rate?

  19. @eponymous coward and Andyandy: interesting view points from both. EC – there are bigger issues at play with your comments that don’t *necessarily* have anything to do with miles/points (personal financial management being one of them). Andyandy points this out with the ‘choice’.

    @Andyandy: what is TLDR?

    And for anyone else: why are some folks’ names underlined and how does one add smilies or other emoticons here? Have I not read some T&C’s myself?

  20. I love and welcome all views. But it feels hypocritical for him join. I believe his reason for joining is to increase exposure and help with ad units. And for that reason I’m not in favor. I don’t believe he believes in much of the mission of the bloggers on BA.

    Just my two cents.

  21. @Kelly: Names are underlined (and clickable) when you supply a web site in your comment information. Emoticons are added by using the standard text versions 😉 ; they’re converted for display.

  22. It will be interesting to throw Chris Elliott into the mix and stir the pot with the other BA voices and see what happens. I’m not a fan of his “advice” for a variety of reasons over the years – with a national platform, I wish he used it better to educate the leisure traveler, which I think is his key readership?

  23. Long ago, when Chris was a newbie in the blog world, I read everything he wrote and thought he was terrific in his views and writing style. However, I now call him grumpy Chris. He has become increasingly cranky and negative. His blogs are complete downers. Who needs that?

  24. But travel isn’t a zero-sum game. If you (in the general sense) are sitting in coach it’s not because you are a powerless pawn. It’s because you’ve made choices

    I’m pretty sure exactly no travelers chose to have 10 across on a 777, or 29-30 inch pitch. In part, coach and non-elite experiences are horrible as a way to push people into loyalty programs (to save them from bad experiences).

    A disciplined and intelligent gambler can shift the odds in his favor, but he can’t change the fact that chance will always favor the house.

    No, gamblers can find games where there are positive expectations for THEIR play- as an example, when a blackjack deck is loaded with aces and low on bust cards, there is a positive expectation (you should win money over time). That is the analogy I am using.

    But you have to be able to count cards and the house can’t throw you out of the casino (which I hear does happen every so often for people who REALLY milk things in the FF world).

    The FF game isn’t rigged (in sense of a casino) because, at bottom, it isn’t about luck, it’s about contracts and rules. If you understand the rules, you can generally predict the outcome. Even though clicking “search” on the award engine might feel like pulling the lever on a one-armed-bandit if you’re poorly informed.

    So, you’re saying there aren’t more miles than seats out there, that every single person who had sufficient miles could redeem from their large piles of miles today and get a premium class seat going longhaul, now through the end of schedule? Airlines don’t have blackout dates or restrict award availability? I could totally find saver coach availability for the Sunday after Thanksgiving?

    No, there are restrictions and limits? Oh, so that’s where we get into the rules of the casino…

    I think the analogy is quite accurate. It is not extraordinarily difficult to get positive advantage at various games casinos offer, the discussions and details are available online. It doesn’t change the fact that casinos would go out of business if very single person who walked through the door was winning money playing there, and airlines would go out of business if every single person could milk credit cards/etc. to completely fill premium cabins.

    “I’m genuinely curious as to what you mean by “we’d be better off collectively” if the game wasn’t, in your word, rigged.”

    The key word is “collectively”. Just because there’s no cost for you doesn’t mean someone doesn’t have to pay a cost. The money banks pay for miles comes from somewhere.

    But as an exercise, let’s imagine that overnight, NOBODY carried a balance on their credit card, and EVERYBODY was a manufactured spend expert, able to generate ridiculous balances at no cost to themselves other than time, and were experts at extracting value from frequent flyer programs.

    Think this would be sustainable for very long?

  25. +1 Andyandy.

    One point that hasn’t exactly been made: I have no clue who this new guy is, but I will say that (as a lawyer) almost No One reads those T&C and it’s unrealistic to think we would. I’m trying to have a life, here. BUT, that is one of the main reasons I enjoy this and other BA blogs: Lucky and others do a wonderful job of reading that fine print and alerting us to changes or “gotchas” and offering tips on avoiding pitfalls. If you play this game well (which I will grant you does require good credit, some cash to float, and some time to invest), it is pretty much risk-free and a lot of fun for very little money. But, I think reading the good blogs is a necessary part of the hobby (and way more fun than reading those pages of fine print.) Thanks to Lucky and welcome to the new guy. I’ll check him out, but probably won’t follow him. I don’t really need an advocate–I’m kind of a “buyer beware” risk taker. (Informed risk taker, that is.)

  26. Eliot is annoying. Really annoying but I’m sure it’ll be a click-bait bonanza as all the bloggers fight and argue amongst themselves. It’ll help break the monotony of blogposts about the latest ‘once in a lifetime’ credit card offer I guess.

  27. Chris Elliott is nothing more than a rabble rousing muckraker. Him joining Boarding Area is like Barack Obama joining the Republican Party, or like Derek Jeter saying he’s a Red Sox fan.

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