Tag Archives: interviews

Joe Brancatelli

The Secrets of Business Travel: Straight from Joe Brancatelli

In the new media landscape we live in, the unvarnished truth is harder and harder to come by. But business travel expert Joe Brancatelli always nails it.

I’ve interviewed Joe for dozens of articles over the years. Not only does he cut through the fog and BS that envelop so much travel coverage, but his advice is ageless. To this day, whenever I’m at an airport and want to find out how long my flight will really be delayed, I do what Joe taught me 13 years ago: Ask the gate agent, “Where’s the equipment?”   Why?  Because if you ask “When are we boarding?” they’ll say they don’t know or give the standard non-response “Just a few more minutes.”  But if you ask “Where’s the equipment?” it forces the agent to check the computer and find out what time the aircraft left its point of origin—which tells you how much time you really have. (Nowadays you could also use the FlightAware app to find out where your plane is. But using the jargon with the gate agent is more fun.)

If you don’t know Joe’s site, JoeSentMe, then you’re not taking advantage of one of the best travel resources in existence. His “home page for business travelers” is not just for frequent fliers; the links listed there are for any traveler who wants to make smart, well-informed choices on the road. His newsletters are so wise, so true, so depressing, so snarky…I never know whether to laugh or cry. I usually do both. They’re worth getting, if only so you’ll know how to cope the next time a winter storm or airline strike threatens to wreak havoc on your travel plans.

And then there are Joe’s Steals and Deals. He ferrets out the best business-class airfare and hotel values, filtering out all those phony deals and doing the math so that you don’t have to. Best of all is when he lets you know the moment the airlines’ unadvertised Thanksgiving and Christmas business-class airfare sales to Europe start.

But wait. Stop. Before you check out Joe’s site, check out the travel tips and truths he shares in our exclusive interview. You’ll probably laugh and cry—and collect some cool new travel strategies for your arsenal.


Job and Title:

Editor and publisher, JoeSentMe.com, a non-commercial site for business travelers. Also, business-travel columnist for the 47 Business Journals around the U.S.

Most memorable travel moment:

I’ve been on the scene when governments and ideologies have fallen. I once was one of just five people in the Sistine Chapel. Lots of stuff like that, of course. Virtually everything I know about the world comes from having had the ability to travel it on business. I had never been more than 250 miles from where I was born until I took my first business trip. But I guess I have to give the incredibly obvious answer: I met my wife in a restaurant in a shopping mall on a business trip to Honolulu. So, you know, nothing is more memorable than that. (By the way, the Thai food was also excellent at the restaurant.)

Most embarrassing travel moment:

Too many to count, but I’ll give you one from just last month. I was in Hamburg on a Sunday evening and hadn’t had dinner. Not much is open in Germany on Sundays, so I went to the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof–the busiest train station in Germany–and found an interesting little take-out noodle shop that seemed popular. I order my meal in German and the Chinese woman behind the counter wasn’t sure what I wanted. So I switched to English. Not much more success. She then looks at me and says: “Your German is bad. And your English is poor too.” I mean, that is cold… I didn’t agree with her, of course. My German is serviceable enough and my English, when I keep my Brooklyn accent in check, is quite good. But she surely gave me an emotional beat-down with my noodles. I can’t ever recall being more embarrassed than that on the road.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Duct tape. It’s an all-purpose problem solver. It’ll hold together a broken laptop, help you do an instant hem, repair a rip in your luggage or a hole in your shoes. It’ll be an emergency bandage if you need one, and I can’t tell you how many packages I’ve shipped home from around the world that were secured with duct tape.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

Oahu, I think. First-time visitors never leave Waikiki. Regular visitors to Hawaii insist Oahu is too touristy and go elsewhere. But if you head into downtown Honolulu, you’ll find an interesting little city with some marvelous turn-of-the-century Hawaiian architecture. If you head off to the North Shore, you’ll find scenery to rival anything on any of Hawaii’s other islands. If you surf, the waves are best off the beaches of Oahu, too. And if you insist on hanging around Waikiki, just walk a couple of paces to Diamondhead for a wonderful hike to the top of the crater. Each of the Hawaiian Islands has their unique charms and culture. But I think Oahu offers it all in one place.

Non-touristy spot people should add to their must-visit list:

I’m urban guy. I love cities. I tell people to go to Pittsburgh and their heads explode. But it’s a charming town that has found a life after its iconic industry (steel) long ago disappeared. The confluence of the three rivers is a natural marvel. The Duquesne Incline is one of the world’s great funiculars. Food’s good, people are sophisticated AND nice. The museums and attractions (they all seem to be named Heinz, Carnegie or Frick) are top-notch. It’s a quintessentially American city and deserves a better reputation and more visitors.

Name 2 indispensable apps you use when you travel:

Salk’s Airport Transit Guide is the first thing I consult when I visit a destination for the first time. It lists every possible way to get from the airport to the city center so you can make an informed choice. When it was a print product, I carried it in my bag. Now that it’s an app, it’s literally the first one I add to any new phone. And the PriorityPass app. I spend more time than I’d like in airports, and I never want to be without access to a private lounge. So I make sure I know where all the lounges are and whether I have access to each via one of my credit card programs or Priority Pass membership or simply have to lay out cash.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

My Glaser Designs Stadium bag. I bought it 25 years ago and the leather-and-ballistic nylon duffel is not only indestructible, it looks as new as the day I purchased it. I use it for short trips, of course, but if I plan and pack properly, I can squeeze a week’s worth of travel into it and still hit the carry-on rules of the airlines. A Glaser Designs transaction bag is my primary carry-on. It is beautifully crafted and has been my trusted travel companion since before 9/11. (I’m probably the last traveler in the world who doesn’t own a bag on wheels.)

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.

I was the original frequent-flyer program expert 30 years ago because I was literally the first person to cover them regularly. All of the travel writers of the day—whether they were leisure or business-travel oriented—were obsessed with planes and hotels and destinations. But I came to travel as a business reporter, and I saw instantly how frequency marketing was changing the travel equation. But as the programs became more intricately entwined with the airlines and hotels that sponsor them, I switched to covering them as part of the package, not as their own products. So when I read Gary Leff’s View from the Wing today, I know the kind of deep thinking and sharp analysis he puts into the frequency game. His strategies and tactics are almost always sound, and he has a wonderfully holistic approach to maximizing the value you can get with your miles and points. And that is saying something because the airlines and hotels have literally rigged the games for their own benefit.

I love reading Carol Pucci’s blog. Carol is a marvelous reporter with a reporter’s eye for detail and telling a good story. She’s a fun read; she goes to places I’ll probably never get to because I cover business travel, not leisure travel; and I learn from her coverage of those destinations. Even when she visits places where I have been, I find she turns up details that I missed.

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

I only got onto Twitter as a service to JoeSentMe members so that I could push out breaking news to them before and after our weekly newsletter and time-sensitive alerts. But it turns out I learn as much from my members’ Tweets to me because they are working literally everywhere in the world and transiting at airports everywhere. They are quick to alert me to something new or untoward they’ve found on a flight, in an airport, at a hotel, or in a place where they are working.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.

There are a million ways for the travel industry to do things better. But most of the existing companies in the travel industry don’t really want to innovate. Especially now, with energy cheap and profits high. So if you ask what one thing can be done better, I’d have to default to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The airlines have made their pricing specifically opaque and infuriatingly convoluted. And they do it to trick leisure flyers into paying more. (Airline pricing starts by being biased against business travelers because we are perceived as “must fly” customers and we are ALWAYS charged more.) But the DOT should regulate more and better disclosure of mandatory or de facto mandatory fees. I believe the DOT should require airlines to show more than just the “fare” because the fare today only covers the actual transit. Whenever airlines put a price on their website or in an advertisement, it should also be accompanied by the cost of checking a bag, choosing a seat, making an itinerary change, and (if applicable) carrying on a bag.

We even have a template for this. The food industry once claimed it could never rationally have a label that explained a product’s contents and ingredients. Well, they have them now and we know how many calories, how much fat or sodium or whatever, is in the package. The airlines should be required to post a grid along with every fare that includes the other basics. It’s not hard, it’s not complicated, and it would allow leisure travelers to make informed choices about the true cost of flying with a particular airline.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

Failing a breakthrough on Star Trek-style transporters, I don’t think airlines will be all that much different in 20 years. Lodging, on the other hand, will be dramatically different. And I base that simply on how much the lodging experience has changed in the last decade.

As personal tech gets even better and cheaper, I can’t imagine traditional hotels and resorts putting TVs or phones in rooms for much longer. You’ll bring your own stuff and just plug into the Net for all your communications and entertainment. Lobbies will continue to evolve because guests won’t need the check-in/check-out/concierge facilities because that, too, will be handled electronically. And while hotels aren’t yet suffering from the growth of Airbnb and other “sharing economy” operations, I think it’s inevitable that chains will try to ape what travelers like best from these options. You might see mixed-use buildings where some people are permanent residents and others are transient guests. The lodgings themselves might feel more residential and more personalized. That’s what’s good about the lodging industry. It has always been more willing to change and segment itself to accommodate guests. Airlines, of course, require you to adjust to them.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

I know this will sound incredibly basic, but the most effective thing anyone can do to get an upgrade or a perk is simply to ask politely. Don’t act entitled or arrogant. Just politely inquire if there is a better seat or better room or better car available. You’d be surprised how often something better is available simply for the asking. And even if they are not willing to give you something for nothing, a polite inquiry will yield some incredible bargains on a suite upgrade or a better class of car.


To make friends, I always carry:

Mints. Has anyone ever declined a mint?





If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

“You Don’t Have to Cry” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

American Beauty. I was so shaken up I had to get out of my seat and go hang in the galley with the flights attendants so that I remembered life is better than that.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

Any new circumstance.

But I am afraid of:

Not having done my homework and being unprepared for situations that I would logically expect to encounter.


Follow Joe on Twitter @joesentme.

Sean Murphy, Jetsetter editor in chief, in Cordoba, Spain

Inside the Mind of a Hotel Expert: Jetsetter’s Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy knows how to travel in style. As Editor in Chief of Jetsetter.com, he leads a team that focuses on luxury experiences and gorgeous hotels. In fact, they’ve just released their 2015 Best of the Best hotel awards—which curates the world’s top accommodations by essential categories such as Best for Foodies, Best for Romance, Best Pool Scene, and Best-Looking Guests.

So where does Sean travel himself when he gets out of the office? We had to find out. Here, he shares his most memorable travel moment, his trick for tackling crowded tourist attractions, and the surprising thing he always packs.

Most memorable travel moment:

Years ago, at the urging of a well-traveled friend, I made a summer pilgrimage to the not-so-easy-to-get to Greek Island of Patmos. It’s a ten-hour flight from New York to Athens and another all-day ferry ride from the port of Piraeus. You arrive on island in the middle of the night and as you enter the harbor, your eye is drawn to the illuminated Fortress Monastery of St John. It stands atop one of Patmos’s highest points and dominates the landscape. The house where we were staying was just under the monastery. It had a roof lounge with views stretching to the islands east and west shores. Upon arrival I made my way up to the roof just as the monastery lights were being turned off for the night, revealing the most extraordinary sky of stars I had a ever seen. I discovered too that if you looked hard enough and long enough, you could track satellites with your naked eye as they crossed the heavens. Even though I was exhausted from my journey and certainly in need of sleep, I stayed up most of the night amazed by the simple, but spectacular show overhead and have been madly in love with that island ever since.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

Ask my team at Jetsetter. We have an All Hands meeting each week. At this meeting it is a tradition that every new hire has to reveal their most embarrassing travel story. I’ve heard some frightening, hilarious and honestly worrying tales. But once you tell it, your secret’s safe with us. Mum’s the word.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Guide books. As an Editor in Chief of a digital travel site named Jetsetter you may think I know it all or use some digital device to arm myself with what I don’t, but I still like to carry a quality guide book, one that highlights cultural history and walks me through specifics. It helps me pass the time while on a plane, train boat, or during quiet moments when pulling out my phone seems just wrong. Plus, I don’t worry about the batteries running out and leaving me uniformed.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

The Louvre, The Uffizi, The Prado, any well-know art museum with must-see art. I make it a point to visit these iconic museums whenever I visit a city despite the crush of tourist. The trick is to go early or late and make advanced reservations online. There is too much to see in the world to waste time in queues. Some guides (search my friends at Viator.com) offer group, after-hour tours of well-known museums for a premium price, but it can be worth it to see a Botticelli without bumping into a sea of selfie sticks.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about but should add to their must-visit list:

The desert, specifically the Sahara. I took a three-day journey into the Sahara once when visiting Morocco and discovered what Paul Bowles already knew. It is a magical place full of stillness and absolute silence. And “then there is the sky, compared to which all other skies seem fainthearted efforts.”

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:

I am a visual omnivore, so Instagram is an addiction. Google maps has come to my rescue more than once, especially when driving unfamiliar roads or navigating maze-like towns. And of course, I use Jetsetter’s App to book my hotels.

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.

I am a fan of Tiny Atlas and its Travel Log. You get a true sense of place through their visual storytelling. It reminds me that one image, however iconic, should not be burdened with providing the whole picture. As well, I’m obsessed with A Hotel Life, Ben Pendole, who works for Ian Schrager’s Edition Hotels, has put together an impressive look into the world of the fabulously well-traveled. It reminds me that travel is supposed to be fun.

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

I gravitate to more visual feeds and honestly peruse Instagram more than Twitter, but I do appreciate the US Interiors’ twitter feed @Interior for its spectacular imagery. It’s making me rediscover and fall in love with America. Ruth Reichl’s, (former editor in chief of Gourmet) tweets remind me of the exquisiteness of well-crafted words @ruthreichl.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.

Stop commoditizing travel. My travel choices do not always come down to just price. They are mostly driven by the expectation of an exceptional experience, one that will stay with me, transform me in some way and remind me why I love travel. Help me decide by telling me a better story and please, keep it real.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

Already the Internet and especially mobile has transformed travel by putting more information in the hands of the traveler. We can dream, plan, book, navigate and share our experiences in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. When I look toward the future, I see information and experiences melding even more. Whether it’s virtual reality providing a totally immersive preview of where I want to go or information digitally displayed to me in the moment when I need it most, I think future technology will give me the confidence of knowing. I must admit, however, this future causes me just a little angst. Intel is awesome, but I will not want to lose one of the greatest delights of travel: serendipity.

#jamon, jamon, jamon. #Madrid #Spain #travel #traveltransforms #travelinspiration #food #yum #jetsettering

A photo posted by smurphsup2 (@smurphsup2) on

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

I deeply and sincerely appreciate all your efforts on my behalf. Thank you.

To make friends, I always carry:

My insatiable curiosity.


As a celebrated amenity, TVs in hotel rooms.


Accessible outlets.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

For all those involved, its better I don’t sing. That said, I have been known to hum Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while driving on the open road.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

Mr. Turner. Mike Leigh’s film about the life the famed British painter J.M.W Turner I watched it on a flight to London (when I should have been sleeping) and found it quietly unsentimental, but also incredibly sad and remarkably sublime. After checking into my hotel, I ran straight to the Tate so I could commune with his work and pay my respects.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

The journey.

But I am afraid of:

Forgetting my passport.


Follow Sean and Jetsetter.com

Twitter: @smurphsup2 and @Jetsetterdotcom

Instagram: @smurphsup2

Brett finds a treasure in the duty-free shop onboard the Korean Air's A380.

The Airlines’ Biggest Shortcoming, According to The Cranky Flier

Brett Snyder’s title is Chief Airline Dork. And it’s fitting. As a kid, his idea of fun was watching planes land at LAX; by the age of 12 he’d become the youngest known travel agent. Since then, he’s worked his way through various airlines—US Airways, America West, Eos, and United—all the while helping friends and family solve various air travel snafus and frustrations. Eventually (and we’d add, inevitably), Brett turned his knack for solving problems into a service available to anyone, via his company Cranky Concierge. Need a last-minute alternative for delayed or canceled flights? Help finding a hotel when a blizzard has grounded travelers all over the country? An ally who can talk directly to airlines and untangle their rules and regulations? Call Cranky. Wendy does. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she named Brett to her Condé Nast Traveler list of top travel specialists, as an expert in urgent airline assistance. Today, when travelers ask Wendy for the best travel agent to book a complicated airline itinerary, she often sends them to Brett.

You can follow Brett on his blog, The Cranky Flier, where he monitors the airline industry, using his insider knowledge to ensure that the rest of us understand what’s going on behind the scenes. As you might have guessed from the name, Brett’s sharp sense of humor pervades all of his posts and work—after all, you’d have to be able to laugh in his business. Here, he bravely reveals one of his most memorable and embarrassing travel experiences, as well as his opinion on the biggest issue that airlines face.

Most memorable travel moment:

Well, you’re asking this question just a week after I stepped off my first (and likely only) flight in Singapore’s Suites class. So it’s tempting to say that’s it. But really there is one flight that sticks out in my mind as being the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Back in 2002, I flew Concorde from London to New York. That was incredible and is easily my most memorable travel moment.

Brett relaxing in Singapore Airlines' A380 Suite.

Brett relaxing in Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suite. Photo courtesy The Cranky Flier.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

This isn’t airplane-related, but I still remember it to this day. Way back in third grade, I was on vacation with my parents and younger brother in Washington, DC. We had walked into Georgetown to go to dinner and my brother spilled what seemed like a gallon of milk right in my crotch. It was a long walk back to the hotel for this mortified third grader.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Not much. I travel very light when I’m on the road. My wife still can’t believe I brought only a duffle bag on our two-week honeymoon. Granted, it was in French Polynesia, so I didn’t need more than a bathing suit anyway.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

Dubuque. Oh wait, that’s not touristy? Ok, then I’d probably say Washington, DC. The place is absolutely full of history, and most of the monuments and museums are free, so it is not only a great place to visit but it can be done economically for those on a budget. While there are some great out-of-the-way memorials (the Einstein one is my favorite), most of the places you want to see are the same ones everyone wants to see. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to walk. Get yourself an awkwardly named SmarTrip fast pass for the Metro as well. Stay hydrated and bring snacks. In other words, prepare like you’re getting ready for some post-apocalyptic world. Lastly, don’t go during cherry blossom season (spring). Everyone goes then, and it’s even more crowded than usual. And don’t go in the summer. Not only are their hordes of families, but the place was built on a swamp. You’ll feel like you’re in a steam bath. If you can go in the fall or winter, you’ll be better off.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about but should add to their must-visit list:

I don’t think Slovenia counts as touristy, does it? When I was young, I remember seeing a picture of this impossibly blue river in Slovenia. It took me a long time, but I finally made it there about a decade ago to see the Soca River for myself, and it remains one of my favorite trips. It’s an incredible sight. But what’s more incredible is how much you can see in Slovenia within such a short drive. You have the glacial valleys where the Soca River roams in the west. In the north you’ll find the Julian Alps and some incredibly picturesque mountain lakes (Bled and Bohinj). Come down a bit to the center and you’ll be in the medieval capital of Ljubljana. (Just try to ignore the Soviet-era buildings that surround the city.) To the east is the wine country of Maribor. And in the southwest is Slovenia’s tiny coastline with the historic town of Piran and beachy Portoroz. From one side of the country to the other is less than three hours by car. To top it off, I’m convinced that every person in Slovenia is friendly and speaks 300 different languages fluently.

Hiking outside of Kobarid in the Soca River Valley, Slovenia.

Hiking outside of Kobarid in the Soca River Valley, Slovenia. Photo courtesy The Cranky Flier.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:

1) The app for whatever airline I’m flying.

2) Google Maps, which is great for plotting public transit routes and providing fare information.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

I’m not really a gadget guy. I travel light, so my phone is probably the only real gadget I use when I travel. And it has definitely saved me a lot of stress. (It also creates a ton too, but that’s my fault for checking my email.)

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each:

Here’s the funny thing. I don’t read a ton of travel bloggers. When I do, it’s usually more for the business insight into the industry as opposed to things that focus on the travel experience itself. So for example, I read Gary Leff’s View from the Wing for news on frequent-flier programs. Or I read really geeky stuff like Airline Route, which shows airline schedule changes. Boring, right? I should read more aspirational stuff—I’d probably be happier.

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

Well if you’re looking for entertainment, try out @FakeUnitedJeff and his impersonation of United’s CEO. It rings a little too close to home. Otherwise, if you’re looking for useful, I turn to all my favorite #AvGeeks. People like Airline Reporter, Ben Granucci, Benet Wilson, Ghim-Lay Yeo, Henry Harteveldt, Holly Hegeman, Jason Rabinowitz, Jeremy DwyerLindgren, Jon Ostrower, Justin Meyer, and Paul Thompson.

Name one way the travel industry can do better:

Well my experience is more on the airline/travel agent side, so I’ll focus on that. I honestly think the biggest issue for airlines has long been communication. We all understand that flying airplanes around the world is a complex business. Most people are understanding when things go wrong if they know what’s actually happening. But for years and years, airlines have had this “need to know” kind of attitude, and the customer doesn’t need to know. It’s not just on the operations side either. Delta has really taken this further by hiding its seat maps and availability from third parties. Heck, it even stopped publishing an award chart altogether. If airlines really want to improve the travel experience, they should communicate openly, truthfully, and often. The fact that they don’t is one of the reasons that my Cranky Concierge business is thriving, so maybe I shouldn’t hope for them to change…

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

I’d like to think that we’ll be closer to having space travel as a reality. Even if it’s not for travel into space but as a way to speed up the transit time between cities on Earth, it would be a huge win. Between 1903 and 1965, we saw travel times come down dramatically in the air. But nothing has changed since then. It’s time.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

The best thing anyone can do is just be nice. If you’re using that as a tool solely to get an upgrade, then that’s pretty shady. And it doesn’t work with airlines much anymore, since there’s a lot less leeway for a gate agent to give you an upgrade than there used to be. But just be nice in general and things can sometimes fall in your favor. If the gate agent has any leeway, then being nice is the only way you’ll get an upgrade. (Just try the “do you know who I am” route. You’ll end up in a middle seat in the last row.)

I remember one time I was at JFK and it was a mess. I had to get rebooked and finally got to the agent at the counter. She looked wrecked. I simply asked her if she’d like a sandwich or a drink or anything, and her mood changed instantly. It’s hard doing that job and getting yelled at all day. I actually did end up getting a seat up front, but I didn’t even ask. I was just trying to empathize.

To make friends, I always carry:





Train travel.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

Some good classic rock—maybe a little Tom Petty, possibly some Zeppelin. Or it could be something a little more recent like Smashing Pumpkins, which admittedly still isn’t all that recent. As my brother says, my appreciation for music somehow stopped developing at the turn of the millennium.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

Marley & Me. Never watch a dog movie with a sad ending on an airplane.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

Going naked into a communal bath.

But I am afraid of:

Getting violently ill from accidentally drinking the water in a country where I shouldn’t.

View from the Wing's Gary Leff (right) with fellow frequent flier Randy Petersen.

Inside the Mind of a Miles Expert: An Interview with View from the Wing’s Gary Leff

If you want to know anything about travel rewards programs, Gary Leff is the person to ask. He is one of the most well-known and respected authorities on miles and points—whether they be for airlines, hotels, rental cars, or credit cards. He writes the View from the Wing blog, runs Book Your Award (with another mileage pro Steve Belkin of Competitours), co-founded the frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, and was a longtime moderator on FlyerTalk.com. His most impressive accomplishment (to nerds like me, anyway), is that he’s also had a cameo on The Colbert Report. To other types of nerds, it’s that his day job is as CFO for a university research center.

Although I’ve known Gary for years (he wrote for me regularly when I was editor of condenasttraveler.com), I was embarrassed to realize that while I’d engaged him in countless conversations about credit cards and the best ways to earn miles quickly, I’d never really asked him about his own personal travel experiences. And not surprisingly, he has had amazing ones. Anyone who’s traveled as much as he has would—though not everyone’s stories would include being accused of stealing coffee from a hotel in Macau. Read on…

El Bulli

Most memorable travel moment: dinner at El Bulli, 2008. Photo: Gary Leff.

Most memorable travel moment:

I managed to get a Saturday night booking for El Bulli, which at the time was regarded by many as the best restaurant in the world. So my wife and I flew to Barcelona for the weekend, took the train up to Figueres, and checked into a hotel in Roses. When we arrived at the restaurant, after a long drive up a cliff beside the Mediterranean, two young women dressed in sweat pants walk in ahead of us and asked for a table. They were told, as politely as I could possibly have imagined, that this would just not be possible…. We walked inside, were greeted and taken to the kitchen where we met and took pictures with chef Ferran Adrià.

Now that the restaurant has closed, with Adria having stared down the John Stuart Mill problem (Mill wondered what the point in life was if he had accomplished all of his goals by age 18!), I feel grateful to have experienced it.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

Being accused of stealing coffee by room service staff at the Sheraton Macau. I didn’t do it, honest!

I was there over Chinese New Year (nearly every hotel was sold out, and rates at the Sheraton approached US$600 per night, so I was grateful to be able to use just 10,000 Starwood points a night there). I decided to order coffee from room service around 6 a.m. The hotel explained that I could tell them how many cups of coffee I wanted, and that’s what they would fill the pot to. So I asked for 6 cups. A short while later room service delivered the coffee. It seemed awfully light for 6 cups. I poured two cups, and the pot felt nearly empty. So I called back down to in-room dining. The same person I ordered from answered, and she remembered that I had ordered 6 cups. She said she’d send up 4 more cups right away.

So at 6:30 a.m. there’s a knock on the door, and the man who delivered the first pot of coffee appeared. He didn’t have a pot of coffee in his hand. Instead he declared: “I am here to investigate.” I told him that we had ordered six cups of coffee, I poured two and that’s all there was. He lifted the pot of coffee and said, “there’s still some left”. He then said it’s not possible that we could have gotten less coffee, because the machine is electronic. They specify how much goes in the pot.

There I am, standing in a bathrobe in my hotel room, being told that it’s not possible that I could be missing coffee and in any case the coffee I ordered was right there, in the pot! What was I trying to pull, anyway? He thought I was trying to cheat the hotel, to get extra coffee without paying for it.

He then poured the remaining coffee from the pot into an empty cup. It filled only half way. I said, “You were right, there were actually two and a half cups.” He harumphed, walked directly outside the room, and handed me the pot he had brought along with the four replacement cups of coffee I had been promised—once I satisfied him that I wasn’t actually trying to steal coffee.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Downy wrinkle releaser. As experienced a traveler as I am, and no matter how much I work on my packing and folding techniques, I can’t get rid of wrinkles.

East Coast Lagoon Food Village, Singapore

East Coast Lagoon Food Village, Singapore. Photo: Gary Leff.

Non-touristy spot everyone should add to their must-visit list:

The criteria I’d use to think about ‘non-touristy spots’ isn’t that they’re places tourists don’t go, but that they’re places locals go to and indeed are primarily visited by locals.

I love to enjoy travel and understand a place through its food, whether it’s eating my way through Paris or the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. If you love food as well, two places truly can’t miss are some of the Singapore hawker centers. The Newton Center, closest to many of the hotels around Orchard Road, is the most touristy and in general also the most disappointing. I think there’s nothing that compares to an evening at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village, open air and on the beach. Visit the Red Hill Road center or the Hong Lim Food Center. Each place will specialize in a single dish and take cash only. Look for dishes that sound like you’d want to try them and then walk around the center, focus on the stalls that have the longest lines.

Seating is first come, first serve. Place something at your seat to save it. The traditional Singaporean method is to leave your tissues at your place, this is respected, although of course you can have a companion stay there while you go and order, too!

In the U.S. I think the best place to travel is the Austin area for Central Texas barbecue. Franklin Barbecue is technically perfect, but the lines are incredible. There are so many fantastic places in Austin proper like La Barbecue and a new outpost of Black’s in Lockhart up by the University of Texas, that you have options. Take a drive out to Lockhart for the original Black’s, my favorite, and while you’re there try the sausage at Kreuz and just walk inside Smitty’s with the blackened corridors from a century of smoke.

Blacks Barbecue Texas

Blacks Barbecue. Photo: Gary Leff.

Name 2 indispensable travel apps:

The spread of Uber gives me plenty of confidence going out in unfamiliar places, knowing that I can always easily find my way back even if I wind up somewhere off the beaten path where there’s no public transport and taxis don’t go.

I find I’m much more efficient walking around cities I don’t know well thanks to Google maps, I simply don’t get lost and waste time the way that I used to.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

Compact power strip. I carry a power strip in my laptop bag, it’s something that costs less than $10. But I’ve never heard a hotel guest say, “this room just has too many outlets!” and I’ve found myself in many airport terminals and even lounges where sharing outlets is a must.

What travel-world bloggers have you learned the most from?

The person on social media who taught me the most isn’t a blogger, but an online forum participant named Mark Love (who goes by the name PremEx online). He taught me that the most important thing isn’t understanding travel rules and what you’re entitled to, but how you talk to the real people on the other end of the phone or across the desk. You want to build a rapport, understand what they’re capable of doing for you, and generate the sympathy that will motivate them to help. (And of course, if that turns out not to be possible, ‘hang up call back’ and start the process over.)

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining?

Scott Mayerowitz (@GlobeTrotScott), the Associated Press airline and travel reporter.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that will be different in 20 years:

The next step in online is mass customization. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are beginning to do a better job not just listing and selling travel, but helping to provide the information and guidance that consumers want. That was the idea behind Orbitz’s PR flub in ‘charging Mac customers more’ for hotels. They weren’t really charging customers with Mac computers more, their data suggested customers who use Macs tend to prefer hotels at a higher price point. So they were suggesting pricier hotels, not because those earn the OTA more commission but because consumers visit an average of 9–12 different sites when planning travel. If they can’t give consumers what they want, they lose the sale entirely.

The Department of Transportation has a pending rule where they plan to require all travel sites (above a revenue threshold) that display airfares and schedules to present the same uniform information—as opposed to the customized information most useful to a given individual consumer for their specific trip.

Provided regulations don’t get in the way, in a few years—not 20—we’ll have come full circle with online travel sites providing customized advice the way people used to get from the very best travel agents. It will have taken more than two decades, but we’ll have gotten to a place where online booking serves consumers about as well as the top end of brick and mortar used to.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade:

You get an upgrade by having loyalty program elite status or points to spend, and knowing the rules of each chain or airline. You increase your chances of an upgrade clearing by avoiding the stiffest competition—traveling when planes and hotels aren’t likely to be full, and when passengers seeking upgrades don’t have status. That means hotels during shoulder season, and airlines outside of peak travel times (avoid Thursday and Friday evening flights, and the first bank of flights Monday morning; fly Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the afternoon).

Hotels have far more discretion than airlines to deviate from a predetermined algorithm for whom to give upgrades to, so the next most important thing is to be nice, and ask.

To make friends, I always carry:

Starbucks gift cards. (Call me mercenary, but I’m trying to make friends with people who can reciprocate, like airline lounge agents.)


Western European capitals


Central and Southeast Asia

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

Airplane. (Google tells me bawl means shout loudly, not just weep.) The travel movies that get me every time are Lost in Translation and Before Sunset.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

The strangest of street foods

But I am afraid of:




Follow Gary and View from the Wing:

Twitter: @garyleff

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/garyleff


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Rod Cuthbert Rome2rio founder

Rome2rio and Viator Founder Rod Cuthbert: Interviews with the Smartest Travelers I Know

Rod Cuthbert is one of the smartest travelers I know—and he has spent his life trying to make travel easier for others. He’s the founder of Rome2rio, a site that points you to your most efficient transportation option (train? plane? bus? ferry?) between Point A and Point B anywhere in the world. Before that, back in 1995, he founded Viator, a site that points you to local activities and excursions (day trips, half-day tours, even skip-the-line tours) in destinations worldwide. (Full disclosure: TripAdvisor bought Viator in 2014, and yes, I’m TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, but Rod and I became friends many years before that. In fact, he’s the reason Tasmania—where he’s originally from—is on my bucket list.) Rod’s personal insights and quirky tips have helped me travel better, so I wanted to share a few of them with you.

Job title and usual home location:
CEO of Rome2Rio; Melbourne

Most memorable travel moment:
Flying low over central London on a BA flight into Heathrow. One of those clear, cold days where it seemed you could reach out and touch the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye. I agree with Samuel Johnson: when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu. Spend a day there, not an hour. Go surfing, or take a lesson; even if you’re terrible you’ll have fun. Talk to the beach people: the lifeguards, the board rental guys, the local surfers. Their life operates at a different pace to yours; maybe some of it will rub off on you.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about (or have thought much about visiting) but should add to their must-visit list:
Any courtroom in any city you visit. Real drama, and an instant insight into life in the place you are visiting.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:
Rome2rio for how to get from where I am to wherever I want to go; and HotelTonight for somewhere good to stay once I arrive.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind: Pad and pencil. Neither runs out of batteries.

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?
I’m way too industry focused: @skift and @Tnooz.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.
Travel suppliers can do a better job of helping people anticipate their trip. There’s tons of research showing how important the anticipation phase of a leisure trip is, and how much impact it has on the traveler’s post-trip memories of their experience. It’s hard to get your head around but when it comes to whether or not someone will have positive recollections of their vacation, their pre-trip experience is almost as important as the things that happen in-destination.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:
One really interesting challenge for the industry is that many of the iconic attractions that we’ve been visiting for generations are putting up the “sold out” sign much more often. The growing numbers from China, India, and other rising economies are putting so much strain on iconic activities that they are frequently turning people away, or making them wait in unbearably long lines. If you’ve already seen everything, you’re fine. Otherwise, just imagine the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower!

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:
I ran into an old friend at the airport in Auckland. He was on my flight, traveling economy, while I was in business. I approached the counter, explained the situation to the check-in staff, and asked if there were two free seats together in economy where we could sit together. They instantly upgraded him instead!

You founded Viator (and congrats on the sale to TripAdvisor by the way). Can you tell us a bit about why you created it:
At that time—the mid ’90s—there was simply no good way to research the activities and sightseeing tours available at your destination. People waited until they arrived, then had their hotel concierge make bookings for them. And tour operators had no way of forecasting demand: 75% of their bookings were for the next few days! Providing an online venue for consumers to browse activities and tours, and for operators to promote their offerings and take advance bookings, was an obvious response to the gap in the market.

To make friends, I always carry…
a smile.

First Class is overrated, but

Leg room

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing…

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was…
Sense & Sensibility.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of…

…but I am afraid of…
losing my glasses.


Follow Rod and Rome2rio:
Twitter: @rodcu and @rome2rio
Facebook: facebook.com/rome2rio


Interview with an Expert Traveler: Cruise Critic’s Carolyn Spencer Brown

Carolyn Spencer Brown spends most of her life on cruise ships, but don’t mistake that for a life of leisure. As Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic, the hugely popular cruise-review and cruise-trends website, Carolyn is always at work, even when she’s at sea. She’s constantly reviewing new cruise ships, checking out old favorites, exploring up-and-coming ports, and rediscovering popular ones, all in an effort to make sure her readers have the most up-to-date and intelligent feedback on the cruise experience. And those readers have high standards: They are more than four million strong and make up one of the largest and most vocal cruise-forum communities online. Since she’s spent so many years meeting the standards of these discerning travelers and seen so much of the world herself, we thought it was high time we put Carolyn in the hot seat and grilled her about her own travel experiences and strategies. Interestingly, they’re not all about cruising.

Job title:
Editor in Chief, Cruise Critic

Most memorable travel moment:
My husband proposed on top of Rome’s Spanish Steps—that was pretty memorable. Alas, I wasn’t quite ready so postponed the decision. When he proposed again the next night, while on a cruise sailing out of Italy’s Civitavecchia (under a beautiful moonlit sky), I said yes. Italy’s special to us for that reason—and also because we met in Naples.

Most embarrassing travel moment:
There are so many. My suitcase is fairly distinctive; it’s a large red Rimowa with an orange bag tag. Still, I managed to pick up someone else’s large red Rimowa and didn’t notice it wasn’t mine until I was outside the airport. There was the time I had a five-hour layover in Paris and managed to miss the flight (I still don’t know how that happened). Or when, headed to Leipzig, I discovered I’d booked a flight to Dresden by accident; the incredulous look on a cabbie’s face at the airport when I asked how much taxi fare would be between the two cities was a tip-off that I wasn’t this-close. (Took the train instead).

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:
Jordan’s Petra is haunting and beautiful, and it’s on many cruise lines’ shore excursion menus. But you can’t do it justice in one day (plus, the trip between Petra and the port city of Aqaba is a several-hour bus ride). You need a couple of days and should definitely avoid midday summer heat by visiting early and then again later in the day. Another place I go back to time and time again is Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. The vast estate perched on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific—and surrounded by a lot of emerald fields with grazing zebras—is so massive that there are at least five different tours you can take through it. I’ve done them all, at least a couple of times.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about (or have thought much about visiting) but should add to their must-visit list:
I love to bicycle through England’s rural villages—not just the well-known ones like Chipping Camden, Lymington, Aldershot, and Rye, but also smaller places, often with just a pub and a few shops—and see what I find.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:
I’m not a huge app user, but the TripAdvisor app is a helpful pal (full disclosure: Cruise Critic is owned by TripAdvisor)—it works offline—and I love Instagram, though the newer version has me a bit confounded.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:
The iPad. Always the iPad. I can watch a movie, choose from among tons of books, catch up on Facebook…or simply play solitaire, which is my when-travel-is-stressful go-to.

Whose tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?
I love Bob Payne’s tweets—they always make me smile.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.
To parlay the expression “when life makes lemons,” when things go wrong, travel companies actually have a chance to win my loyalty—if they handled the situation properly. Too often they exacerbate a bad situation and fail to take responsibility or act in a generous manner—and that’s unacceptable, especially when it’s their own mistake. Recently I showed up at a Hyatt in Los Angeles hours before check-in. Slightly tense because of a tight day of important meetings, I was impatient and a bit…brusque…and then, it turned out, the reservation didn’t exist. The staffer was so lovely—and went above and beyond to try to help, ultimately creating a new booking at the same price I thought I’d paid and finding an available room so I could get settled—that I didn’t mind apologizing for the fact that I’d booked the wrong hotel. Oops.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:
I’m going to look ahead 20 years in cruise and wager a bet that after all the contemporary styling, and the deconstruction of traditional styles of cruise travel, there’s going to be a resurgence in retro cruise traditions like formal nights, set-seating-set-tablemates, and elegant evenings.


Villa/cottage/flat rentals.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing…
Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road.”

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was…
The Notebook. It was on Continental Airlines, in the day when there were no personal screens, and everybody was bawling. It was such a common experience that a flight attendant walked up and down the aisle with a box of Kleenex.

When I travel, I’m not afraid of…
Surprises on the ground.

…but I am afraid of…
Surprises in an airplane.


Follow Carolyn and Cruise Critic:
Twitter: @CruiseEditor
Instagram: @carolynspencerbrown
Facebook: Facebook.com/CruiseCritic

Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog Founder George Hobica: Interview with an Expert Traveler

George Hobica accomplishes two things that mean a lot to me as a traveler and as a journalist: First, the website he founded, Airfarewatchdog.com, solves one of the most frustrating challenges of travel by offering customizable low-fare alerts for any route you choose. Second, his own high standards as a longtime reporter mean you can rely on the intel sourced by his entire team, whether they’re relentlessly hunting down the best deals or delivering travel news. But George isn’t one to rest on his laurels. Recently, Airfarewatchdog (which, full disclosure, is owned by TripAdvisor, where I am Travel Advocate) ventured into new territory, launching a beta version of a hotel-deal-finding feature. We’ll be watching closely to see how that develops. In the meantime, we asked George a few revealing questions about his own travel experiences and about some valuable tips and strategies we can all use.

Job and title:
President and Founder, Airfarewatchdog.com

Most memorable travel moment:
When I first started travel writing, I was a last-minute replacement on a press trip to Bangkok with two very seasoned and grumpy (and rather cynical) travel pros, who wondered who this interloper was. We were staying at the famed Oriental Hotel and my floor attendant couldn’t have been nicer, so we really hit it off. Just before check-out, he presented me with a handwritten thank-you note and a small gift—a pair of silk shoe bags, which I still own. On the way back to the airport, thinking that his gesture was one of those things that hotels tell their employees to do to impress visiting travel writers, I remarked to my colleagues, who also had the same floor attendant, “Wasn’t that a nice gift and note?” One of them snapped, “What gift? What note?”

Most embarrassing travel moment:
When I was 18 and on my very first cruise, I was discovered by the fire department in a storage room on board the Queen Elizabeth 2, while making out with a crew member who had earlier invited me down below for a drink in the crew bar. There was no fire, and I can only speculate as to why the alarm was sounded soon after we began snogging. True story. I blush.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag.
My goose-down travel pillow. I never go anywhere without it. If I could only bring one thing when I travel, that would be it.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:
Venice. Just go in the off-season, even in winter.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about (or thought much about visiting) but should add to their must-visit list:
Lanai. Many visitors to Hawaii give it a miss, but the two Four Seasons resorts there are worth the trip.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:
I fly a lot on British Airways and American Airlines, and their apps are the last two I’d delete from my iPhone. They both offer a high level of functionality and cool features.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:
The second thing I’d never leave home without is my Bose noise-cancelling headphones. They drown out jet and wind noise and crying babies, and reducing noise helps you relax during flight. In fact, one morning on the way to JFK I discovered I’d left them at home and told the taxi to return so I could grab them.

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.
I’m not just saying this because this is being posted on WendyPerrin.com, but with whom else would I begin but Wendy Perrin? I learned from her many things, including the importance of putting yourself in the hands of expert travel agents to plan out-of-the-ordinary trips. I also learn a lot of insider stuff from Peter Greenberg’s blog.

Name one way the travel industry can do better. 
As an airfare guy, I’d love to see an airfare search engine that allowed you to plug in a departure date and a return date and then spit back 50 or 100 of the cheapest destinations for just those dates. Southwest experimented with this for a few days last year and then quickly killed it.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel, or the travel industry, that you think will be different in 20 years:
I think that eventually we will see an end to the archaic laws that prevent true globalization of the airline industry. If Fiat can buy 100% of Chrysler, why can’t Singapore Airlines, if it wished, buy 100% of Delta? Current laws restrict ownership to a minority interest. I also think in 20 or 25 years we will see something like Star Alliance Airways or Sky Team Airlines—in other words, true global airlines that can fly anywhere they wish and combine with anyone they wish.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:
This doesn’t work very often, but one day I was in the United lounge at JFK waiting for my flight, and I heard my name paged. That day, as most times I fly, I was well dressed—on this occasion, a dark suit, tie, and nice shoes. I have never had status on United (and still don’t) but they upgraded me to first class. Everyone else in the lounge was in the usual attire—jeans, dirty sneakers, some gym shorts and tank tops. I’m well aware that computer programs assign upgrades by frequent flyer status automatically, so who knows—I suppose an airline employee can fiddle with a computer if they wish. I certainly didn’t question the reason. Anyway, it certainly never hurts to dress respectfully while flying.

To make friends, I always carry…
Pens for the flight attendants. Want to make your flight attendant smile? Hand out some Uni-ball Vision Elite pens (they don’t leak in pressurized cabins).


Talking to strangers on planes is underrated.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing…
“Me and You and a Dog named Boo” by Lobo. “Traveling and livin’ off the land.” The corniest road trip track ever.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was…
The Kite Runner, among many others. I will never watch that movie in flight again. Too embarrassing!

When I travel, I’m not afraid of…

…but I am afraid of…
the middle seat in economy class. I’m platinum on American and at my age and size, flying eight hours in an economy class seat is eight hours of squirming, slouching, shifting and just trying in vain to find a comfortable position.


Follow George and Airfarewatchdog:
Twitter: @airfarewatchdog and @georgehobica
Instagram: @airfarewatchdog
Facebook: facebook.com/Airfarewatchdog

Randy Peterson

An Interview with Frequent-Flier Legend Randy Petersen

One of my longtime favorite travel visionaries is Randy Petersen. He’s the founder of a cornucopia of frequent-flier sites and services—including Milepoint, FlyerTalk, BoardingArea, and InsideFlyer—that I’m not sure how we ever lived without. He has helped millions of people travel for free. He’s a really nice guy.  And he collects tequila. But the biggest reason to like Randy is this: Even with all his miles and expertise, he still relates to ordinary travelers—those of us who do not have the bandwidth to obsess over arcane award charts or sign up for 18 credit cards but would just like to be able to get a free flight now and then the way the airlines promised.  Here Randy shares some of his wisdom:


If you could sit next to any famous person on a cross-country flight and enjoy an in-depth conversation, who would you want that person to be?

I’m a realist and understand it would have to be someone living today. With that in mind, it would be John Paul DeJoria—for three reasons:

* He’s been a serial entrepreneur with a lot of successes and failures as the co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products.

* He’s the co-founder of Patrón tequila and, because I collect tequila myself (175 different kinds), I’d like to hear his take on the topic.

* He’s been active in charitable causes, and I’m always interested in what motivates others to give and dialogue on how to help others.

P.S. I considered many entrepreneurs and philanthropists in answering your question, but the tie-breaker was the tequila!


What’s the magic frequent-flier tool that people don’t know about but could really solve their problems?

The tool is your fellow man. While technology is a great equalizer for the knowledge-deprived, it’s really your fellow man that is your best tool. This is clearly evident in the social communities that exist on the Internet. I’ve never seen a problem that a traveler didn’t have a chance to solve thanks to a fellow traveler’s advice, suggestions, and sharing of a similar experience. It’s funny: In a way, travelers are the most generous people in the world with their time and their knowledge. This is why I always encourage anyone with a frequent-flier-miles problem to know that Google is your friend. Your problem can be resolved easily by finding the advice of your fellow man—although I guess a Twitter shout-out to solve your problems is not magic.


Airlines have been devaluing their miles right and left. Are mileage programs committing suicide?  What can save them?

Mileage programs are not going to die the death of a thousand cuts, regardless of both self-inflicted wounds and changes in consumer habits over time. They will be saved by the same saviors who have existed over the past 33 years: the program members. No matter what the headlines might say about how certain people feel, there are far more people who have enjoyed the travel-related benefits that keep these programs alive. Even in an age of social media, the “silent majority” that belongs to these programs remains generally content.


Given all the mileage devaluation, what’s the simplest way people can make the most of their miles nowadays?

Treat your miles like money. Some people will let miles burn a hole in their pocket. Others will put them in a jar in the cupboard and save them for rainy days. Others will be as tight-fisted with them as that uncle of yours is with his money. If we treat miles other than what we think they are, we’ll be happier.


If we’re supposed to treat our miles like money, how much is a mile really worth and what’s the smartest way to spend them? 

It’s simple math: Earn miles at about one to two cents per mile. Spend them at two to three cents per mile. A mile is worth slightly more than two cents…if you are breaking the piggy bank.


Given travelers’ frustrations with mileage programs and the temptation to give up collecting miles altogether, what advice would you give an airline that wants to keep travelers loyal?

Remember that you are the keeper of many people’s dreams. (When redeeming our miles, it might be that we only want enough miles to go on vacation to Disney World when school is out, but we still dream of taking a shower in the first class cabin of an A-380 while cruising at 33,000 feet.) Broken dreams are the most powerful way to topple a program. Broken dreams can topple governments. The most basic rule of any business is to treat your customers the way you would like to be treated as a customer. This seems to be lost at times. For instance, recently AAdvantage announced a change to their program with no advance notice. They were within their rights to do so. But what airline executive would want to be treated that way as a customer?


If you were an airline and you wanted to make a splash with a new loyalty program, what would you do differently?

Not have one. Imagine if Apple had an airline—an Apple Airways that concentrated on product, that did not ask customers what they want but knowingly delivered it to them, that found ways to entice them to pay a premium price for service and schedule, and that, more than anything, delivered sizzle with the steak. I’m not one to think that loyalty programs are needed for every enterprise; they are, however, great when you can’t do other things well.


What’s your favorite secret hiding place in any airport in the world?

This has to be a trick question. Who in their right mind would have a secret hiding place in an airport?  I’m tempted to say The Bridge airport lounge in Hong Kong, but that’s only for premium passengers. The rest of us need to hide in plain sight, and I do that at Lefty’s at the Denver Airport. Almost once a week you’ll find me slipping in and out of there only to order the handmade potato chips. Have I told you I love potato chips?


What is something that people would be shocked to learn about you?

That I don’t know the difference between Boeing and Airbus aircraft. I’m not an #AvGeek guy and clearly view airplanes the same way I view taxicabs: They’re transportation. Truly, I could not pick out what a 777 looks like on the tarmac. But I do know that a 747 has that bump on the top.


So many miles-and-points bloggers have learned from you, but what have you learned from them?  Choose any three bloggers (e.g., Gary Leff of View From the Wing, Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time, Seth Miller of The Wandering Aramean) and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.

Having worked with more than 150 bloggers, it’s hard to pick just three, so I’ll go with your examples.

* Let’s start with Seth Miller. From Seth I’ve learned that I’ll never be the smartest guy in the room. Seth is a mashup of smarts, experience, quick thinking and, in his own manner, a true New Yorker (a little brash—which never wears on me). Seth really is wicked smart.

* From Ben Schlappig I’ve learned that enthusiasm can drive great storytelling. When I helped him get started with a blog, he was only a college sophomore, and I wasn’t sure if he knew how to write, but he had an unparalleled enthusiasm for the topic, and that has continued to translate into his written words today. He is truly one of the more important success stories of any blogger today.

* And, finally, Gary Leff. From Gary I’ve learned that grace and style can define a blogger. Likely the classiest blogger alive, Gary has the ability to magnetize topics in an honest manner, make time to address readers, and, most important of all, actually know what he is writing about. Kidded to be a cyborg with his work ethic, Gary is legitimately the dean of the contemporary group of bloggers in the road warrior space.


Can you leave us with a priceless nugget of travel wisdom?

The key word in this question is “wisdom,” so, with that in mind, I’ll pass along a parallel from a line in the movie Wall Street that seems to apply here: “First lesson in business is: Don’t get emotional about stocks. It clouds your judgment.” My travel wisdom: “First lesson in travel is: Don’t get emotional about miles. It clouds your judgment.”