Welcome To The OMAAT Team, James!

Yesterday we introduced Spencer on the blog, who will primarily be covering miles, points, and credit cards from a US perspective (which often includes maximizing non-US loyalty programs as well). Today we’re excited to introduce our next contributor, James (he usually goes by “Ben S” in the comments, and for that matter we actually share all three of our initials, so we had to get creative — I swear this isn’t just me ghostwriting for myself). 😉

James is an Australian based in the UK, and I’m looking forward to the international perspective he’ll bring to the site. Other markets don’t have access to dozens of credit cards with huge sign-up bonuses and annual fees waived the first year. We have a significant readership in both Australia and the UK, so from covering ultra low cost carriers in the UK to credit cards in Australia, he has expertise in areas I know very little about.

One thing I love about James is that he has been involved in the miles & points space for so many years. No matter which site I go to, I always see him commenting on posts. It’s great to have someone with such demonstrated passion joining the team, and especially someone who has practiced so many of the techniques we talk about, from US Airways Dividend Miles to Avianca LifeMiles.

Here’s a Q&A with James, in hopes of you guys getting to know him a bit (and you can expect his first “regular” post in the next couple of days):

How did you get started with miles and points?

In 2011 I was working horrendous hours as a corporate lawyer/attorney and didn’t have time to take holidays, let alone research mileage opportunities. I was burnt out and decided to make a change to a far more manageable in-house job. This gave me plenty of free time and I had always dreamed of one day sitting in those ‘nice big comfy seats’ at the front of the aircraft.

I discovered One Mile At A Time, Australian Frequent Flyer, View From The Wing and FlyerTalk around this time and became hooked, spending every spare minute reading, learning and asking loads of questions. Initially I couldn’t understand why so many Australians were talking about US frequent flier programs like American AAdvantage but it soon made perfect sense!

I have read OMAAT religiously multiple times a day, every single day for the past 6 years so it is an incredibly surreal feeling to actually be writing my own posts for the site.

Depending on the time of year, Lucky’s first post would be published around midnight Melbourne time. I would stay up to read that post every day which wasn’t great for my sleeping patterns!

Sledding through the Canadian Rockies with these magnificent creatures

What’s your favorite redemption you’ve made?

US Airways Dividend Miles (RIP!) zoned Australia and the tiny island of Guam in the same zone — South West Pacific. That meant it was only 30,000 miles return in business class or 40,000 return in first class and the only logical way to get there was to route via North Asia.

I ended up going to Guam 3 times in 2 years for the sole reason of this award chart quirk and had some wonderful stopover adventures in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul along the way. One of the trips involved five flights in first class with my best mate along for the ride. My goodness that was fun!

You’re Australian, but live in the UK now — how different are the miles and points opportunities in each?

In the last few years the sign-up bonuses for Australian credit cards has increased dramatically, and 100,000 point bonuses are the norm, not the exception. In the UK a 20,000 point sign-up bonus is considered generous so it’s much harder to earn lots of points quickly without spending or traveling a lot. There are also an enormous number of European low-cost carriers offering incredibly cheap fares (as I’ll be writing about soon) so it can be difficult to justify full-service airlines for short trips, even with status.

There are plenty of ancillary earning opportunities through non-flying partners in both countries but in general I earned far more points in Australia than the UK.

You’re involved in various communities within the miles and points world — what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making with miles/points?

Not having a plan for their use.

It’s like opening a savings account at your bank and trying to save as much as possible without having a savings goal. You won’t be motivated if you don’t have a goal to work towards.

The best time to really focus on this ‘hobby’ is if you have a big trip down the track such as travelling for a wedding, or your honeymoon. You know when it is, you know where you need to go and you can work backwards to have a realistic plan to earn, then redeem and then enjoy.

Planning is the fun part!

Most ridiculous thing you’ve done to collect miles?

In 2012 Virgin Australia’s Velocity eStore shopping portal offered 1,600 Velocity points for each order placed through Vistaprint, an online stationary store, with no limit to the amount of points to be earned and no minimum spend. I thought this was unusually generous and would be withdrawn or reduced pretty quickly so jumped in and took advantage. I realized the cheapest item to purchase was a single Post-it pad for only a few dollars. But these each had to be ordered separately.

So I ordered a single Post-it pad.

More than 200 times.

It took 6 months to get the points because naturally both Velocity and Vistaprint tried to weasel their way out of giving me the points once they realized how much their promotion would cost them but eventually they did honor it and it paid for a wonderful business class trip to Europe and back.

Attending the Red Bull Cliff Diving in Bosnia and Herzegovina

For your own personal travels, are you most into airline loyalty programs, or do you care as much about hotels?

I’m more focused on airline programs because I don’t have a dedicated hotel loyalty program so I’m a ‘free agent’ and I’m also a huge fan of Airbnb. I probably travel slightly differently than how some of the OMAAT crew do. I fly everything from first class to ultra-low-cost carriers and stay in everything from five star hotels to private-room Airbnbs. It allows me to travel often and conveniently.

I do regularly use the Hotels.com Rewards program which is great for a free agent like myself and I’ll be writing a post about that very soon.

Value aside, what’s your favorite premium cabin product you’ve flown? 

Qatar Airways QSuites absolutely took my breath away. The attention to detail in the design of the hard product was incredible. When you combine that with Qatar Airways’ award winning soft-product it is without a question in my mind the world’s best business class by a long way.

Qatar Airways game-changing QSuites

Is there a particular trip you’ve taken that really stands out?

Flying Etihad’s A380 Apartments when I moved from Australia to London was a trip I’ll never forget. It was pretty emotional having packed up my life (into three checked bags and 2 cabin bags!) and taking a huge leap of faith moving to the other side of the world.

I had also left my UK working visa application a little late meaning I received my passport back from the UK Embassy exactly 4 hours before the flight left Melbourne, which added unnecessary stress (I wouldn’t recommend that method!).

But once on-board the excitement of such an innovative hard product and all sorts of surprises, treats and luxury made for a wonderful trip and I arrived in London in style!

Despite how it may have appeared to some readers in my guest post about British Airways I love living in London (I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t!). It’s a wonderful city full of opportunity and if you can get through the long winters it is a fantastic place to live.

What made you decide to apply to be a OMAAT Contributor?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given was: ‘first we learn, then we do, then we teach‘.

I’ve learnt so much about the world of earning and redeeming miles/points, especially from OMAAT and have been ‘doing’ by happily following their advice for years and having numerous ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experiences. Now it is time to give something back and help others maximize their travel opportunities.

Ben and Tiffany have been wonderful to work with already and I’m really enjoying the blogging process. I’m looking forward to covering some more unusual topics that I hope I’m well-placed to write about as someone living outside the US.

Comments

  1. So, BA-bashing James joins the team, to give us a different perspective. Yeah, right.

    Still, have to agree with your assessment of Qsuites.

    This grumpy, frumpy and always-complaining Pom looks forward to putting you right… welcome!

  2. Welcome James,
    Nice meeting you and hope to hear and read some interesting reports from your travel.

  3. Way to go James!!! Jealous of you!!! Had I known that you were recruiting contributors, I would have applied for it!

  4. Welcome. As a London-based reader, I look forward to your posts (and never mind those tongue in cheek comments, I mostly agreed with them anyway ;-))

  5. Yea +1 to the post above about revealing the guest post authors if they got hired. Keen to know.

  6. Welcome James! Just like you I don’t have a dedicated hotel program. I’ve never travelled for work and most of the time I prefer to stay in boutique-type hotels or airbnb places that can give me more of a glimpse of the local culture. I’ve found that most chain type hotels look and feel the same all over the world. I look forward to reading your posts here on OMAAT.

  7. Yeah – based on his test piece he’s going to be really popular with the UK readership… And we know what you look like now.

  8. Oh..so that is where we are going then..knowing James’s face?? Is he a contributor or the next bachelor?…I am here for related issues regarding travel..and not facial features or hair or skin type…
    Ben, if this will be the start of ” who is my next crush..”…pls. stop showing their faces…I want to judge and endorse these people because of their contribution…in publishing reports and not how good or bad they look like..

  9. Thanks all for the warm welcome! Im extremely excited to be joining the team and covering some topics that may not have been covered before. I travel a bit differently!

    If you read all of the guest posts it should be fairly clear which one was mine ; )

  10. Look forward to posts from James. Especially his perspective on non loyalty lodging. We don’t all have top tier with hyatt and spg! Also interested to learn more about low cost airlines in Europe.

  11. Welcome James. Trump got elected because Obama was a lapdog. Too absorbed into getting everyone to like him that he didn’t get much done. Trump is a fool but at least not wasting time trying to get everyone to like him. We expect you to fill that role. Say as it is. No sugar coating or giving undesrved 5 stars.

  12. @ Rodrigo and the rest of the bunch..who is more interested in James’s looks than his reports…I do not want to sound nasty…if you want to talk about his face than ask or write him directly…it has nothing to do with traveling…some here and Ben sometimes do it also…the crush thing…not all here appreciate this kind of childish, puppy love admiration..there is a different platform for this…or has OMAAT suddenly turn to this crazy dating site??..

  13. I loved your BA post and I was hoping they hired you! Congratulations, James! And good job Lucky and Tiffany!

  14. @Myles literally one person complimented James on his hair. Perhaps you’ve got some deep seated issues you’d like to share? And no, not your overzealous use of ellipsis, the other one…

  15. @Rodrigo
    LOL..I have stepped on a wounded spot!..Have I insulted you?? Sorry, if I
    am being honest to you right now!!..my deep seated issue..are hypocrits..

    is it forbidden to use ellipsis, even a lot?…probably your deep seated issue!..or something more deeper than the most of us here!!

  16. It will be refreshing to have an Avianca enthusiast penning columns. There is a drought of insight in the travel blogosphere regarding Lifemiles.

  17. Welcome, James – will be great to have some posts with a UK/Oz slant. I went the opposite way (albeit only for a year!) and loved my time in Oz. Accrued 165k Qantas points and got lots of folk at my workplace into collecting who’d never bothered before. Really jealous of the amazing US sign-up bonuses but never going to happen here with an interchange fee that’s about a tenth of the cost!

  18. To this question:

    “You’re involved in various communities within the miles and points world — what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making with miles/points?”

    @ James provided the PERFECT answer:

    “Not having a plan for their use.

    It’s like opening a savings account at your bank and trying to save as much as possible without having a savings goal. You won’t be motivated if you don’t have a goal to work towards.

    The best time to really focus on this ‘hobby’ is if you have a big trip down the track such as travelling for a wedding, or your honeymoon. You know when it is, you know where you need to go and you can work backwards to have a realistic plan to earn, then redeem and then enjoy.

    Planning is the fun part!”

    Absolutely right on the money! For me, it’s my 3- to 4-week “Annual Year-end Asian Escapade”™, which is my primary (maybe only) motivation for playing the miles/points game. The destinations and the types of award tickets and award stays that I would need to book, while spending as little as possible out of pocket, enable me to develop a strategy for earning the necessary hotel points and airline miles, including deciding whether I would purchase hotel points (e.g., Hyatt points) that I do not earn enough of through revenue stays, when they are offered at a great discount. Having a plan and working backwards is precisely the best approach for getting the most out of the game and playing it…with a “full deck”!

    Lastly, I concur that planning it all is, without a doubt, the funnest part!

    So, James, welcome!

  19. Looking forward to more articles by James (Ben S). I like it that he flies many different ways and classes. An occasional non-F review is useful and interesting.

  20. You’re lucky the Post It scheme was administered by Velocity.

    Cartera would have weaseled out of giving you a damn thing.

  21. It is great to see some geographical diversity in the new OMAAT writers! Will we be seeing any ethnic diversity as well?

  22. Fantastic that someone based in the UK will be a regular contributor to the site (which I read most days)! I’m sure your insight will be valuable.

  23. See what you have started James..you gave them the taste of LCC..like the gremlins get water!..where will this ends?..standing in the cabin like in a tube or bus..for the sake of flying for Pound..who needs FA or seats..

  24. Welcome James as someone that lives in Australia I am thrilled your a writer and will no doubt bring valuable content.

  25. Halleloo! BA Guy got hired.

    @James really looking forward to your posts. But that frosted hair has to go. Sorry.

  26. Couldn’t care less about his hair. Just hope he doesn’t feel the need to use “reach out” , or similarly repulsive Americanisms, in every second post ( or worse: moving pictures from moronic tv shows). I’m hopeful.

  27. Welcome, great first post, and ignore the haters!

    Question: When you say “direct” flights, do you mean “nonstop” or simply “no plane changes” or a combination of both?

  28. I get your meaning completely @Gerard. No one from OMATT is Asian, Hispanic, Native American, African/African-American, Arabic, not enough women writers, etc. In that perspective, I understand. OMATT also needs opinions from people based in places such as Asia, Middle East, or Latin America for more international flair. With that said, it is nice to have James onboard for the various upcoming airline and hotel/AirBNB reviews.

  29. Oooh, another white man! Seriously Lucky, do any people of color (or women besides Tiffany) contribute to this blog? Way to reflect Trump’s America!

  30. @Gerard @Stanley

    We only notice the lack of diversity when someone new comes aboard (Congratulations to James btw). 100% white. 90% male. As a minority who have always created and values both personal and professional teams that are diverse, it’s definitely disappointing.

  31. Glad to see a UK based person! With HfP focusing 90% of their posts on tesco, hoping to see more nuanced and detailled info

  32. Welcome ! As a dedicated POM reader who has lived in Australia for 9 years and is a big collector of velocity points I can’t wait to read more ways to drive the points harder for long haul trips.

  33. Thanks James; so looking forward to getting an Australian who knows what the environment here given it seems a bit harder from Australia to make use of programs like Alaska
    Thanks again!

  34. @schar his real name is Ben S******* – but while posting on here he’s going to pose as James.

  35. @ Gerard @ Stanley @ Rick — We notice everyday, actually.

    Of the hundreds of applications we received, fewer than twenty were from women, and that number only rose above seven when I asked for signal boosts from other women in the travel space. I didn’t ask anyone their ethnic orientation, but did put my thumb on the scale if there was a question as to whether or not someone from a more seemingly-diverse background should move to the next round or not.

    The unfortunate reality of the miles and points space is that it (like many others) is most accessible to those with certain privileges. The inequalities in our society are reflected in various ways, and in this case the disparities in writing skills and knowledge meant that the demonstrably better candidates were, almost without exception, male. Other than Spencer I haven’t met any of these people in person or seen photos prior to offering (or not offering) a position.

    So, we’re excited about the people we have, of course, but would have also preferred to bring more diversity to the team. I like to give chances, I’d like to include varying perspectives, and we did everything possible to ensure that people received a fair hearing and equal consideration. But I can’t review applications that aren’t submitted.

  36. Thank you tiffany. Part of being a liberal is to make racket and be a nuisance.

    Sorry but I tried is not good enough. You need to achieve diversity. I wish “I tried” from most large companies was good enough to shut up most women that keep blabbering about equality. But its not.

    So right now you need to do more. And figure it out soon.

  37. welcome, James.
    But on the subject discussed above – please do not choose contributors based on diversity factors but rather based on their knowledge and benefit to the blog’s readers. I am an Asian woman myself but absolutely do not care about racial/ethnic/sexual orientation composition of your staff – I come here for information on miles/points/travel insights. And I do not care if a piece is written by white or black or asian author. So let the best men/women win and forget about stupid quotas.

  38. Tiffany, you seem like a feminist. You seem more concerned about the lack of women, rather than a lack of anyone who isn’t white.

    This site doesn’t need more krug-quaffing airmiles nerds…it needs something which you or Lucky don’t offer. Not everyone is interested in reading about credit card sign ups or gay men.

  39. @ Tracy Anderson — Respectfully, that’s not at all what I said, and I apologize if the sincerity of our intentions here didn’t come across clearly. I gave the example of women vs. men when describing the makeup of the applicant pool because that’s the demographic information I have available. And that’s still really just based on “feminine-presenting names” versus “masculine-presenting names”, it’s not like we quizzed people about race and gender.

  40. Tiffany, it’s interesting you can distinguish female names but not asian or Hispanic names? We all know it’s easy to spot them so spare me the garbage.

  41. @tiffany and @james

    the locals are restless and dissatisfied..very demanding at the moment..racism, feminism, homophobie..very tough topics..but over one point, I total agree..less credit card sign up infos… otherwise keep the good work guys!..

  42. James, I enjoyed the change of tone in your Ryanair post. For me, it was less about the info (long in the tooth EU traveller who knows this stuff already) than about the fact that you’re covering aspects which are neglected, as well as providing a much-needed EU/UK-based focus as a counterpoint to the predominantly US-oriented content.

    Hopefully, you can write an article focusing on Norwegian (especially their Premium service on TATL) fairly soon.

  43. Oh dear..more requests for Eco and PE..sorry to say..are Europeans getting cheapos nowadays..

  44. @Myles, why don’t you put a sock in it? Nobody made you king of the internet. There’s a hatful of OMAAT contributors now so they don’t all have to talk about exactly the same thing (US credit card signup bonuses, premium cabin redemptions using said signup bonuses).

    There’s plenty of people who have expressed a desire to hear more about Premium Eco deals and options so why not allow the rest of us a day in the sun? It’s not like blogs hardly ever talk about J or F, even with the miniscule proportion of people who can afford to fly this way exclusively.

    I for one welcome a different perspective from a new OMAAT contributor. No doubt you will quickly reply with some asinine comment poking fun at any peasant who ever has to fly in cheaper sections of the plane.

  45. @european son

    First of all, I will not call any Eco traveller peasants..you are the one who is insulting your own!

    Second, I could not understand how someone would allow themselves with low and cheap service

    Third, even I have once travelled Eco..but it is mostly the kind of SQ, TG, JL..where you still experience service as it should be and mostly treated as a human being instead of a cargo..

    In one point you are right, very selfish of me to think that people expect more for their hard earn money..eventhough it makes my stomach turn..so please enjoy the Eco and Prem Eco reports..hopefully @Lucky has not been infected yet…

  46. @Tiffany Thanks for a peek into the process of choosing new contributors. Hoping more women and people of color apply next time around. I take you at your word that you and your colleagues were seeking out diverse perspectives, but among candidates who could write well and had insights into the miles/points game and travel more broadly.

  47. Welcome James! It’s interesting how the people who are griping about the lack of “diversity” don’t put any ideas forward on how to change that. Moreover, shouldn’t qualifications outweigh an individuals skin color or gender? I come here to read airline reviews, I – and most people – couldn’t give one whit as to who is writing them.

  48. @Trevor

    Yet positive discrimination is not only welcomed in America, its perfectly legal.

    What the OMAAT team could have done is welcomed contributors specifically from say Asia…or Africa…then it would encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to apply.

    Lucky is known for his bias towards a certain phenotype…and that bias still continues.

  49. @Tracy Anderson

    Why not those willing contributors make their own blog?.they are so eager to contribute here? …why not do it somewhere else?…why should OMAAT suddenly be the platform for this diversity, gender related or skin related or whatever related is out there…
    As some here are already voicing out…WE do not care from whom it comes from..as long as it is travel related…period!

  50. @Myles + 1…
    I believe the majority of people who come to this blog are NOT looking for the joys of Economy class…this blog has a certain niche, and Economy redemptions and Economy trip reports are not it…I personally have been a loyal follower for a number of years, and hope that the content will not skew towards Economy travel…

  51. @ T

    Amen to that!..not even trying quality airlines like SQ in Eco…but LCC…there are enough other Eco class blogs out there…go find it somewhere else…here we want something better for our money..and we treasure quality as well as a far better travel experience
    Hate us because we want the best from the best and despise mediocrity and cheapos..

  52. What’s wrong with those who prefer to fly in economy?! Mr IKEA was a millionaire yet he never once went business class.

  53. “As some here are already voicing out…WE do not care from whom it comes from..as long as it is travel related…period!”

    So what about all those NRA posts Lucky posted?

    What about the daily posts begging people to use his credit card referral links?

    Or talking about Oscar Munoz shifting some sand outside his home?

    Or the Z list celebrity in his undies on a grounded plane?

    Or the story about the family murdered in a Hong Kong hotel?

    Are all these travel related that Lucky wrote about??

  54. @ James

    Is this true? Or @roy is just labelling you?…does not matter actually…substance of your reports are more important…but pls.no poofy attitudes..

  55. @steve

    so Ford has competition now?..in what discipline?..a poofy one? over @lucky?…he is busy rolling around with…the waves in the Seychelles..and one wave is called Ford…

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