A Decent First Date
I’ve been blogging for over a year now. During the development of my website, the main launch goal I had was to have the website ready for the Frequent Traveler University (FTU) event in Minneapolis last summer. My blog went “live” the day before FTU began, but unfortunately my website domain wasn’t synched in with Google, and thus, was basically a ghost website. I wrote several articles in preparation for the FTU event, and thought a few may have some traction with readers interested in travel rewards and other topics. However, since not even Google knew my website existed at that time, it was nearly impossible for anyone to view the articles.
For the first several months of my blog being on the internet, the only way someone could find my posts or website was by word of mouth. Since I’d only told about a dozen or so people about my website, including a few at FTU, the early life of my blog was pretty bleak. Readership therefore grew slowly and organically. Shockingly there’s now over 5,000 people who have subscribed to my (free) newsletter, although I’ve only sent out a couple via email over the past year. I’d rather not send people something unless it’s meaningful, plus people (including myself) already get tons of email. I also don’t have that much time to dedicate to newsletters right now.
Finding out how to get Google to recognize my website was a process, but that issue is now fixed. Basically I had to do a few things to show Google that my website existed, and to allow it to be accessible on web searches. Although I’ve only logged into Google Analytics twice in the last 1.5 years to see if search results are displaying for my site or a post, and fortunately Google now knows that my website exists. Typing in “Million Mile Guy” or anything close to it into Google will likely bring up MMS (Millionmilesecrets), which is fine, but also kind of annoying. It’s probably annoying for MMS too!
Before starting my blog, I had no clue how to operate WordPress. I was actually kind of afraid of it. To some degree I still am! In the back of my mind I still think I could bring down my website by doing something on the back end like clicking installing something that makes the electronic dominoes fall down behind the curtain. But I’ve learned how to create posts, upload photos, find new photos for posts, create music playlists, upload audio, load podcasts and more.
I have to give a ton of credit to my Estonian website design and development company BlueGlass. Of all the places to find a company to create a website, I found mine in Estonia! I looked for a website design and development company for about 6 months, and finally found the one that I really liked. I went to Estonia to meet the team and work on the website last year too, so that was a cool experience. In the end I just wanted to build a site that I was around of and that I could look at everyday and be happy with. My website isn’t perfect, but overwhelmingly, the mission was accomplished.
The reason I chose Million Mile Guy as a website name is because earning a million travel reward points was my first year’s goal in the points and miles hobby. I had several other website domains that I purchased, but went with this one after asking some friends with different backgrounds what domains they liked best. I didn’t really like this one that much, but almost all said they did, so I gave in.
3 Headed Monster
I have 3 jobs right now: a normal day job, a part time job on the weekends, and my blog. I also earn points and travel rewards at a very high level. In other words, I don’t have much free time. I wish I could publish posts daily on my blog, have a consistent podcast (or even a couple of them), find a way to monetize my blog, and continue to earn points at a high rate. But all of those things aren’t possible with my current work load and daily responsibilities. With that said, I have chosen to be this busy too, and can also choose to be less busy. The tentative plan right now is to keep blogging for the next year and re-evaluate what to do going forward. The blog might shut down after that time, or grow into something else. I have no idea. However, I’m considering traveling around the world for a year or more in 2020, so that might fit into the future of this website nicely too, not sure.
Through being involved in the points and miles community, speaking at FTU, going to Chicago Seminars, and local travel meet-ups, I’ve met some really interesting and good people. Some people, like Stefan at Rapid Travel Chai, have been wonderful to me. Others like Randy Petersen, founder of BoardingArea, have also been generous and kind. I owe people like that sincere thank you’s. Some readers of my blog have been great too, as well as others that I’ve met over the past year plus have been encouraging and supporting. Again, thank you all very much.
At FTU Minneapolis, I was invited to be on a local manufactured spend panel with a couple guys that I know. One of the guys is a heavy MSer and the other doesn’t manufacture points much (he travels a substantial amount for work and earns a ton of points that way, plus his MS options in his city are limited). I was pretty nervous about speaking to so many strangers, even about something that I engaged in regularly. The Q & A format was open and unscripted, and I didn’t know what to expect. Not knowing what to expect and not feeling in control of the situation was difficult, and I’m not ashamed to say I think that it got the best of me. Looking back, I felt that I did a poor job even though the panel was a success overall. It was a learning experience, and I did do considerably better speaking at Seattle’s FTU manufactured spend panel. I’m not sure how many points conferences either attending or speaking are in my future, but if I do speak again at any event related to my new passion, I’ll be ready.
Real Thanks Is Rare
Sincere thank you’s probably aren’t shared enough within the points and miles community. People get tips that might save or earn them thousands of dollars worth of travel currency, or even tens of thousands of dollars worth of points or miles. Some people do say thanks, while others just leech and are dipwads. Those people that bother me. In my points journey, a number of people have given me tips, advice and help with different thing, and I always try and say thank you. Don’t even get me started about manufactured spending etiquette in stores. It’s amazing how poorly some people treat workers in stores they rely on to generate large amounts of points.
My blog isn’t the Points and Miles Bible. It’s also not the best points blog in the internet. It can’t be with how little time I have to devote to it. But I will say that it’s fairly unique. There’s music, a podcast, cheap flights, and news from around the world. I have several podcast openings, all of which I create from scratch, and also all of which I consider to be the most unique openings of any on the internet.
My website has positives and negatives like any media source, but I know that it, and I (through answering emails, local points meet ups, and individual talks with people) have helped people become better at earning points and pursuing travel goals. Some of the non-appreciation that I’m talking about goes with the territory. People in the points and miles community can be very frugal. They are used to getting things for pennies on the dollar if not for free. It’s not exactly a prominent based to earn a buck from! I didn’t create my blog with big dollar signs in mind, or to receive thanks or adulation. However when you give someone a tip or advice that you know will help them (and/or their family), sometimes in the thousands of dollars range, I think thank you is the least that one could ask for.
Running A Website, Not Just A Blog, Is Work
I don’t type fast and generally make a lot of errors:) I have friends (thank you Pauline) that I’ve sent some versions of my points and miles book that I’ve been writing, and the drafts always come back filled with red marks and edits. Like operating my website, it’s a learning experience for me. It’s a similar situation when I write new posts. Even simple posts take a good amount of time – which can often be hours to several hours depending on the post.
A podcast might take me multiple days of writing an outline or some script, capturing audio, editing audio, and uploading files to the internet and my website. Editing audio for a podcast takes the most time. I can’t stand bad audio and errors, so I generally go over the files repeatedly to get them where they sound okay. In general, I like working with music and audio the most yet I do it the least of any aspect on my website. I’ve talked with a few people about different audio pursuits in the future. Not sure where things will go on that front.
I intentionally do not publish some deals and points earning strategies, especially those that are linked with manufactured spend (MS). I’m sure that other blogs that touch on manufactured spend like Miles to Memories, FrequentMiler, and Miles Per Day take similar precautions, as they should. Once sensitive info gets out into a wider adoption, the method will have an extremely short shelf life.
Although heavy hitters usually create a short lived environment for MS related deals, wider adoption via the internet will surely kill opportunities prematurely. There’s also the unwritten rule that if someone tells you about a deal, and they ask you to keep it quiet, then you should keep quiet. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s what I do. People, especially some new to the hobby, need to realize that just because you go to a local points or travel meet-up, or read a certain blog, that doesn’t entitle you to an MS secret, method or strategy. That comment isn’t meant in a bad way or really anyway, because there is information on the internet that can help people when it comes to MS. Some of that information is on my blog in fact. But publishing viable and scalable MS deals isn’t something I’ll partake in.
One thing that I’m grateful for is that I really don’t have writer’s block. I suppose it helps that I don’t publish posts everyday, but ideas for articles isn’t the issue. I simply don’t have the time. Earning points at a very high rate takes significant chunks of time, and I don’t have any help to do so. So a free blog, which this is, sometimes take a backseat to other things that I have going. I wish I could blog full time, but right now it’s not feasible.
At FTU this past year in Seattle I talked with another blogger in the hallway. She and I both spoke at the conference and happened to bump into each other after she spoke. I was floored when she said that she had not only heard of, but actually read my blog. Since I didn’t check page views or analytics around posts, I was kind of thrilled at hearing this news, and told her that I wanted her honest opinion of it all. If it stinks, tell me that it stinks. Two things the I can’t stand are dishonesty and insincerity. I remember her pausing a bit after I asked for her thoughts and then saying,”well…the writing isn’t very good!” I laughed and thanked her. I was actually excited that she was open and didn’t hold back. When I got home from the conference I read over some of my old posts, and she was right on the money. The writing was pretty horrible. It’s gotten better, but I’m no poet.
Flying Upfront is Great, but Overhyped
Before starting my blog, I had the impression that all of the major points bloggers always flew either business or first class and stayed at splashy high end hotel properties on every trip. That simply isn’t the case. Some of course a few bloggers do go high end a good deal of time, but most don’t. Certainly blogs like One Mile At A Time often feature luxury travel, but even Lucky doesn’t always fly up front.
I think showing luxury hotels and first class airplane seats is to show people what is possible and to provide information thats necessary in order to achieve those high end travel goals. Another part might not be quite as sincere. It kind of implies that this is the type of travel that you need to pursue. Unfortunately, glamorous travel like that requires a lot of points and miles, and also shiny new credit cards. I have my own points values and goals and look to other blogs for specific information. Try not to let all the hype steer you into a direction that isn’t always necessary and that you probably don’t need.
Big Points Blogs and Big Companies
A lot of people reading points blogs start out with The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets. They are at the top of almost any points or miles related Google search. I started out reading them a good deal too. However many, if not most, people reading them don’t know that they are owned by a large internet company called Bankrate. I don’t know much about Bankrate, although I’ve talked to one of their sales people very early in my blog’s life. But it’s the wizard behind the curtain for a couple of the biggest points and miles blogs on the internet.
Also, a lot of blogs are given points and/or miles from their relationships with banks, hotels, and airlines linked to travel rewards. These points are often given away in contests and promotions, but not always. I can’t speak to every relationship that bigger blogs have with banks, airlines, hotels, and other travel companies, but it’s an odd relationship. People trying to give out travel hacking related intel are also advertising “partners” with massive companies they promote to hack. Seems pretty odd when you think about it.
Making money blogging about points, miles and travel is a tough racket. People are trying to earn money and at the same time, gather their own stash of points. For the most part I’m behind that. Just know that not all opinions, recommendations, and relationships are completely free of influence.
MarathonMan was right
On a post this past month about manufactured spend changes inside Walmart, a guy that goes by the moniker “Marathon Man” left a comment. I first met him at the Chicago Seminars during my first year in the points hobby about 5 years ago. He led the main manufactured spend talk and was kind of a legend, or at least a guy who had done high volume for many years. At the time though, I had no idea who he was. His first slide in the presentation was a photo of $87,000 in money orders, which caught everyone’s attention. I reached out to him outside my blog and we’ve chatted a few times since then. He believes that a lot of the manufactured spend information doesn’t belong out in the open on the internet as it exists now. I actually agree with him.
Before I started blogging, I read lots of travel and points blogs including MillionMileSecrets and PointChaser. I used to cringe at some of posts that I thought brought too much attention to manufactured spend and deals that hinged on secrecy and discretion. I remember actually being angry at how careless and selfish it seemed to be for those blogs to put that sort of (sensitive) information out in the public space for anyone to read. Heck, I even emailed Ariana, the woman behind PointChaser, asking her not to write about a couple of deals that, at the time, that were really great but fragile. I wasn’t specific about the deals, but figured that if she was aware of them, she would understand what I was talking about. I never heard back from her, and am pretty sure she didn’t know about those deals. Even if she was aware, I doubt she would publicly talk about them on her blog, which is a positive statement about her blog that often gets a ton of criticism.
However, now I have a blog that also talks about manufactured spend, although not quite as openly as PointChaser (and others) did. It’s also not the focus of my blog, as I never intended to write much about the topic when I started my website. So even though I think I write about MS responsibly, my blog is essentially part of the problem. I have never killed a deal from anything that I’ve written about, but I did bring MS further into the spotlight. That spotlight from me and other websites has seemed to create sort of an inflated exuberance around manufactured spending, which I did not intend to do or even take part in. But that’s kind of the nature of manufactured spend. It’s not a “normal” topic, and as a result, probably shouldn’t be treated as such.
On the flip-side though, I know writing about points, miles, and manufactured spend have helped some people earn more miles and become more efficient and proficient in terms of knowledge and skill. Hearing Marathon Man speak about MS years ago had a positive influence on me, and made me strive to learn and do more. It took me a couple of years to get to the level that I’m at now, but without hearing people like him talk about MS, or reading other blogs about it, my points balance would be significantly smaller than it is. I’m thankful for having the opportunity to learn from others, but recognize that it’s is a double edged sword.
In the end though, I think Marathon Man is right. MS is very fragile and should be treated like that. It should be protected. I can’t promise what I’ll write about in the future, but I can only say that I’ll continue to try and write responsibly. We’ve been given a massive gift – to live in a country where we can earn rewards that pay for a large chunk of travel costs, or in my case, even the entire pie on occasion. That is really incredible, and should be revered and respected.
I created the blog because I like to be creative. When I was younger, I enjoyed art and writing stories so this is kind of the adult version of that for me. However, having a website has been much more work that I thought it would be, and it’s taken much more of my time than I originally thought too. But in all honesty, I have really enjoyed most of it. Would I have liked some of my time back that the blog took from me over the past year plus? Absolutely. At the same time though, I’ve also been able to do some things that I set out to accomplish.
So far my website hasn’t made a dime, so this is all a labor of love until it 1) either becomes profitable, or 2) I shut it down. Both of those things are entirely in the picture in the coming year.