Category Archives: Musings

Myths About Travel Blogging: Bloggers Are Experts You Can Trust

You shouldn’t believe everything that you read on the internet. Crazy, right?

There are definitely bloggers who know what they’re talking about, and there are some I trust for the most part, but you should not take what bloggers write as gospel. There are extremely low barriers to entry, so anyone can become a “points/miles expert” overnight (see the Friday interviews on Million Mile Secrets as examples). As a personal example, while I like to think that I generally know what I’m talking about, a reader smartly pointed out that Aeroplan offers even better rates for intra-Asia travel than Alaska Airlines in one of my recent posts. I fully admit that I don’t know anything about Aeroplan, which is why you shouldn’t trust me if I write anything about the subject.

More perniciously, there are no journalistic standards within the points/miles blogosphere. In the past year or so, we’ve seen several major blogs write about supposed devaluations without full investigation, which has justifiably caused people to freak the eff out and do stupid things. And since these are the big players in the space who are sparking these fires, almost everyone assumes that they know what they’re talking about, so all of the smaller blogs repeat the same false information until everyone thinks it’s true even if there’s no actual confirmation.

Larger bloggers also have different incentives from their readers: namely, their primary job is to market financial products to consumers in the form of selling credit cards. Other people have done a much better and more comprehensive job delving into this problem, but know that there are serious sums of money flowing through some of these blogs. (I believe that smaller bloggers are less prone to conflicts of interest because they generally get all of their compensation, if they’re generating revenue at all, through page views, and the incentives for driving page views seem to be more aligned with those of the reader).

All of this is just to say to read everything with a grain of salt. For sensational news or predictions, ask yourself if they make sense; for any credit card links, ask yourself how the blogger is getting compensated.

Travel Stories from an Asian Man #7 (Boston Edition)

Links to stories #1, #2, #3, #4#5, and #6.

It’s been a long time since I last posted a travel story that had to do with race, but three incidents this past weekend inspired me to write this post.

Incident #1:
Random woman on the street (directed at me): “Ohayou!”

Incident #2 (while waiting at a T stop):
Man: “Can I catch a train here to go to Boston College?”
Me: “I think so.”
Man: “Thanks. Are you a student at MIT?”
We were not near MIT’s campus.

Incident #3:
Not related to me being Asian, but as I boarded the plane at Boston Logan to leave, the gate agent said loudly, “First class only. We are boarding first class only”, clearly directed at the whoever was behind me. I turned around and saw two black women.

Myths About Travel Blogging: Trip Reports are Easy/Filler Posts

I write a lot of trip reports. I mostly write trip reports because I personally find them helpful when I’m preparing for trips, and I enjoy reading well-written, well-photographed reports by other people even if I’m not. I’m not going to lie: it also helps for SEO, and some of my most frequently visited posts over the lifetime of my blog are trip reports.

But I’ve been told that some people think of trip reports as easy/filler posts. This is false. You might not like them, but trip reports are some of the most time-consuming posts to write. When I brought up trip reports amongst a group of bloggers at BACon, there were groans and the collective sentiment was that trip reports were helpful for readers but took way too long to do.

Think about it: not only do you have to make sure that you’re taking good photos while you’re on the trip, you also have to take good notes so that you can write about the trip coherently and comprehensively at some point in the future. And then the actual write-up can easily take an hour or more when you consider choosing the photos, doing any sort of edits necessary, the writing, and fact-checking to fill in any gaps that you forgot to record.

Yes, there are lots of bad trip reports out there. But I am totally forgiving of occasionally bad photos and inane captions (the only reason I usually put captions is because my formatting can get messed up if I don’t include them) because it’s frankly hard. And yes, we don’t need yet another trip report of Cathay Pacific or Lufthansa first class (although the latter will likely become much more rare now that the rest of the United tickets have been flown). But there are tons of products out there that I think are underreviewed, and if you’re not interested in a given product, just don’t read the post. I essentially x out any hotel reviews on my Feedly since they’re almost always irrelevant to me as I very rarely stay in hotels.

Summary: don’t read a trip report if you don’t like it, but don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into a decent trip report.

In Which I Go Crawl Into a Hole

Dear loyal blog readers (all three of you),

I need to go crawl into a hole temporarily. I promise I’ll be back soon, but I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate right now.

Grosses bises,

Edward

[Really, I just need to reclaim some time for myself right now. Life is pretty crazy and will continue to get crazier over the next two weeks or so, but then it should hopefully all be good (I’m probably being way too optimistic with that statement). So don’t expect much posting for the rest of October, but it should be better by November.]

On Parallels Between DIY Home Blogging and Points/Miles Blogging

There was an article in the NYTimes Home section yesterday entitled, “When Blogging Becomes a Slog“, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the themes in the article about DIY bloggers and the current state of the miles/points blogosphere.

While people like Gary and Ben aren’t losing steam any time soon and haven’t expressed a desire to give up their blogs, many sentences from the article lifted directly out of this article and applied to many people’s discontent with many miles and points blogs.

Examples:
1. “But some loyal readers had lately noticed a decrease in quantity and quality. There were more product giveaways, fewer in-depth tutorials.”

2. “A tricky thing to avoid as a full-time blogger, considering that the Internet never sleeps, readers want fresh content daily and new social media platforms must be mastered and added to the already demanding workload. Add to that the economic challenges of blogging full time. As Grace Bonney of Design Sponge lamented earlier this year in a “State of the Blog Union,” advertising rates have dropped significantly because advertisers are flooded with options.

To earn money, many bloggers have had to embrace sponsored content, breeding distrust among readers.”

3. “‘If readers begin to suspect that your content is heavy on product placement, if they see excessive amounts of sponsored posts, you risk losing what’s most important, which is trust and authenticity,’ said Ms. Kueber”

I think we need to ask ourselves what’s realistic to expect in terms of blogs. Blogging takes time. For most of us, we don’t make meaningful sums of money from our blogs; for a select few, they make sizable incomes. Do you want to reward a blogger who posts multiple times a day just to post? Are credit card affiliate links legitimate ways for bloggers to monetize in spite of the potential conflicts of interest? Would you prefer to compensate bloggers directly (a la the Freequent Flyer)?

I Hope AA Can Fill More Seats on DFW to HKG

I’m about to fly AA 137 from Dallas to Hong Kong on one of AA’s newish 77Ws in business class. I paid coach and applied a SWU, and my upgrade cleared way back when I purchased my ticket.

But here are the seat maps for the flight about 1 hour prior to departure:

First and business class

First and business class

Economy class

Economy class

While I’m super grateful that my upgrade cleared, those seat maps are not promising for the future of the route. Looks like most people are applying SWUs to get into business or first class, and coach is absolutely empty. Actually, this wouldn’t be a terrible flight in coach given that you could probably snag a whole row to yourself…

5 Fees Spirit Airlines Should Consider Charging

I recently flew Spirit and avoided most of the fees–I printed my boarding pass before getting to the airport, packed only a backpack that could fit under the seat in front of me, didn’t get an assigned seat until check in–but I didn’t avoid the online ticketing fee (aka “passenger usage fee) of about $17. If Spirit can charge $17 to book a ticket online (with the alternative being going to the airport to get a ticket booked in person), here are 5 other fees I think Spirit could get away with.

1. Air circulation fee. Feeling hot on the plane and want some air? Pay up to open up the air vent above your seat. Spirit could increase air vent usage by removing window shades from their planes so the planes get extra hot and toasty in the sun.

2. Passenger appearance fee. This could take the form of you paying more to be seated next to an attractive passenger, or ugly people could just have to pay more at check in. Beautiful people are just more pleasant to look at, after all.

3. Smooth flight fee. Don’t want to get jerked around on touch down? Hate turbulence? Better hope that enough passengers paid the smooth flight fee so that the pilot doesn’t intentionally fly into storms or come down a little too hard.

4. Paper utilization fee. Passengers might revolt if they were charged to go to the bathroom (although Ryanair has talked about instituting such a fee in the past), but why not charge people for toilet paper and paper towels once they’re in the bathroom? Don’t want to pay and need to go #2? Better hope that you brought your own toilet paper on board.

5. Cabin pressurization fee. It ain’t easy to keep a plane pressurized so you can keep breathing, so why shouldn’t Spirit charge for this? You can avoid paying this fee by providing your own oxygen tank and mask.

NYTimes Article on the A380

Summary version of the article: the A380 was the wrong choice for Airbus to make as airlines want fuel-efficient, long-distance aircraft like the 787. This has led to many fewer orders for the A380 than originally planned, which means that Airbus might not even fully recoup their R&D costs. The only airline to bet big on the A380 is Emirates, and they love the luxury factor that the A380 brings.

My take? I love flying the A380. I’ve flown the A380 in first class on Emirates, Lufthansa, Thai, and Singapore (trip reports for the latter two coming whenever I can get to them), and it’s my favorite plane in the sky. Yes, the 747 is iconic while the A380 looks like a bit strange, but the A380 takeoff is magical, the plane is super quiet, and the novelty still hasn’t worn off after 5+ years of service. It’s an amazing feat of engineering and it makes me giddy whenever I get the chance to fly it.

I also agree with Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, that the A380 offers a kind of luxury experience that no other plane can. There are showers on board the Emirates A380! It’s so wasteful and crazy and ridiculous but also wonderful and special and something that makes it stand apart from everything else.

I can’t speak to the feasibility of the aircraft for the aviation industry, but I personally seek out the A380 when I can, and I’ll always be fond of it. What are your thoughts on the A380?

Things I Don’t Get: Sundaes on Airplanes

One thing (of many) that I don’t understand is why so many travel bloggers seem to like sundaes on airplanes. The sundae is particularly pervasive on US carriers (well, at least UA and AA) who serve them as the only choice of dessert in premium cabins.

The offending dessert

The offending dessert

The biggest issue that I have is that the sundaes generally aren’t very good. Maybe I’d be happier if I were a 5th grader going to an ice cream social, but I really don’t want to be eating bad quality ice cream with my choice of hot fudge, caramel, nuts, fruit syrup, and whipped cream. Especially since ice cream served on planes is often served rock hard.

I guess there’s the larger issue of food quality on US airlines, but so many bloggers seem to rave about these bad quality sundaes while simultaneously complaining about all of the other food choices. Would you seriously pay for this sundae at a restaurant? If you’re going to provide ice cream, I’d much rather get higher quality, more interesting ice cream like the Humphry Slocombe ice cream offered on Virgin America.

There’s also some odd element of the infantilization of premium class passengers. I admit that I am a total pajama-on-airplanes convert, but it’s strange how some elements of premium class travel seem to encourage reversion to younger states of life (another example: cookies and milk on AA).

NYTimes Article About MoneyPak and Fraud

The NYTimes posted an article about MoneyPak, discussing a lot of the ways that it’s used for fraud. A typical example is fraudsters getting victims to load money onto MoneyPaks at CVS or Walgreens and then sending the reload codes to them where they then disappear with the money. It’s also discussed as a way for criminals to move funds through the financial system in a way that’s hard for authorities to trace (i.e. money laundering). While most miles/points schemes haven’t focused on MoneyPaks specifically, we’re all familiar with Vanilla Reloads, which operate very similarly and are also mentioned in the article.

Articles like this are helpful to better understand the ecosystem in which manufactured spending operates. While we were all saddened by the demise of buying VRs with credit cards at CVS, it makes more sense if you consider the high risk of fraud that CVS was taking on, even if you gave them your ID (you can still dispute the charge as a consumer with your credit card company, even if it’s your fault for falling for a scam).

In general, people doing manufactured spend have nothing to worry about, since there’s nothing illegal about the practice. Assuming you’re not involved in other criminal activity, you’re not doing anything to integrate bad funds into the financial system or intentionally layer money. But you should be aware that most people don’t really understand what we do and have a right to be suspicious given the potential for fraud on all of these prepaid devices. So don’t raise a fuss if people want to record your ID or if they want more information from you, since you’re not doing anything wrong, and failing to provide that information can just make you look more suspicious.