Review – TravelCon OC 2015
I first heard about TravelCon OC a few months back through one of the blogs I follow, Travel Codex. Several of the main contributors from that site were putting together a one day points and miles convention in Anaheim. While many of these events are often in cities across the country, I saw this as a good opportunity to expand my knowledge with something close to home.
The convention was hosted in the less popular area of Anaheim South at the Embassy Suites. Technically, the hotel is in Garden Grove, but since it’s close to Disneyland, they are still frequented by families, and was quite busy when I pulled up at 9:00 a.m. While the area isn’t the greatest, there are a good number of hotels in the area, so I understand why the organizers chose the hotel. Mainly, I believe most are Hyatt elite members, so they probably stayed at the Hyatt next door and used the Embassy Suites for it’s lower meeting space costs.
Once inside the hotel, there weren’t any specifics signs indicating where exactly the convention was taking place, but I found it easily enough in the back corner of their meeting space. Our group had a large banquet hall with round tables and there were already a good number of people in attendance. As for the room itself, the walls and chairs were an uninspiring beige color that seemed to be popular in the 90s. The hosts had provided coffee and some light pastries for breakfast, while a full lunch would also be included. Not knowing anyone and wanting to go solely for the information, I selected an unoccupied, mostly central table, on the far end of the room. Within a few minutes, a chatty young guy, three women, and another man filled in at my table. At around 9:30 a.m. the conference kicked off with opening statements.
After a few words from the organizers, the conference was underway. Our first presenter was Jamison with Points Summary. While certainly not the most polished speaker, (or at least that’s how it came across) the information he presented was fairly basic and focused on why having elite status with hotels/airlines is beneficial.
Following Jamison was Omar of Travel Summary. Omar had an interesting discussion about Life Miles, the frequent flier program of Avianca. The program has some good business class redemptions on routes that go though Asia.
Omar’s discussion led us into lunch which was served in the hotel’s atrium space. Everyone received a lunch ticket at registration and our group was the only ones using the space, so getting food was easy. The meal itself wasn’t very exciting, although the pasta was pretty decent.
Back in the meeting space with fuller bellies, our next presenter was Matt with Saverocity. Matt was definitely an interesting character as he presented himself as sort of the alternative to many of the other presenters whose points and miles strategy revolved around manufactured spending. He discussed ways in which he shows little loyalty to hotels and airlines so that he can avoid issues when points become devalued. Most of his discussion dealt with a lot of numbers that flew over my head (and many others I’m sure) but he did so in an amusing way.
From Matt, we transitioned into a short discussion on credit card retention offers by Grant from Travel with Grant. I found this discussion to be pretty interesting as I was unaware that you could sometimes receive extra points or other benefits when calling your credit card issuer to cancel a card. Key points were: You need to have a zero balance at the time, a good reason to cancel (no longer use the card, don’t fly the airlines, etc.), mentioning that you are “thinking about” cancelling the card, and also discussing the annual fee coming up. For Matt, these often resulted in some sort of additional points added to his account for keeping it open, or just having the annual fee waived.
Scott with Travel Codex (formerly Hack my Trip) was up next and was one of the few presenters I was most looking forward to. When I first started pursuing this hobby, I frequently read Scott’s site along with a handful of others. Scott’s discussion pertained almost exclusively to Alaska Airlines and it’s many benefits for MVP Gold members (mid tier elite status). He made a compelling case for the airline based on how flexible their cancellation policy is and how well they reward elites. Although Alaska does not participate in airline alliances, they have many partners.
Up next was one of the sponsors of the event, Hao from Hotel Tonight. Hotel Tonight is exclusively an app based, last minute hotel room finder. They have a very short window in which you can book rooms with them (7 days out) and it can only be achieved through the app. Everyone was encouraged to download the app so that we could see how easy it is to use and also enter into a raffle to win a credit for the site. Certainly interesting if last minute bookings are your thing.
Tahsir, who is a contributor to Travel Codex, goes by the name Bengali Miles Guru, and also one of the co-hosts of the event, closed out the presentations. Perhaps the most anticipated speaker of the event, Tahsir discussed exclusively the ways in which he earns tremendous amounts of points through manufactured spending. In all honesty, it was quite an interesting discussion, but also overwhelming. The amount of effort that goes into the process can be a lot to undertake, particularly for someone new to the hobby or not a big traveler. I would try to explain what he discussed, but since I only have a basic understanding, I don’t think I could give a fair assessment. You can read more here, or through a quick google search.
Closing Thoughts: Was it worth $120?
At the conclusion of the presentations, the conference then separated out into “breakout” groups in which you could walk around and ask more questions of specific presenters. After seven hours sitting in an uncomfortable banquet chair, I decided to call it a day. I couldn’t think of any questions to ask and I was ready to head home and enjoy the rest of my Saturday.
For someone who is still very much learning the ropes, I thought the conference was useful, but perhaps a bit too focused on things that don’t really work for someone who is considered an infrequent traveler such as myself. There were definitely some basics mixed in and I could tell that most around me found them to be very remedial (including the chatty guy to my right). If you have a desire to network yourself like crazy, then I think events such as this are definitely a great avenue for that. To be honest, I felt a bit out of my league at this conference as I haven’t been collecting points long, and to do date, I have only booked one award trip. Was it worth the money? Yes, I think so. If for no other reason than to say that I went to one of these conferences. I might go again, but I think the next event I attend will be one of the larger Frequent Traveler University events. But for now, I’m happy to have gotten the experience.