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Being a travel blogger nowadays means staying on top of the latest trends and always being ahead of the curve. Here, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele shares six travel industry experiences that belong on every new travel blogger’s bucket list. (All photos are by the author.)
Over the years, I’ve learned that there are some truly fantastic travel industry experiences that are reserved for the most passionate travel enthusiasts. Here are six of my favorites that every travel blogger should try at some point.
1. Attend a Frequent Traveler Seminar
A few years ago, award travel enthusiasts started holding events like the Chicago Seminars, Frequent Traveler University and Family Travel 4 Real Life. The first time I attended one of these, I was thrilled to meet not only my favorite travel bloggers, but also my fellow award travelers. So many people of different ages and backgrounds attended, all united by their love of award travel and their desire to share their insights with others.
Common seminar topics include tips for booking award tickets, creative ways to earn miles and detailed analyses of specific rewards programs. In addition to all of the great presentations offered by the speakers, some of the most valuable lessons can be learned through the connections you make with your fellow award travelers. I can’t think of any other kind of event where you can learn so much while having so much fun.
2. Do a Mega-Do
Frequent travelers get together for social events called a “Do,” as in “Let’s Do” San Diego — out of this tradition, a new event called a Mega-Do was created that took the form of a multi-day, multi-city event. For example, The Points Guy and I were lucky enough to be on the Star Alliance Mega-Do in 2012, which flew around the country on a chartered United 787 Dreamliner.
Other highlights of the Mega-Do — other than the 787 ride itself — included a party in a United Airlines hangar in Houston, events hosted by Hyatt in San Francisco and Chicago as well as a tour of United’s headquarters at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in downtown Chicago. The event also included a European leg and a Q&A session with United’s then-CEO Jeff Smisek. There hasn’t been a Mega-Do recently, but stay alert — when one is announced, it usually sells out quickly.
3. Take an Inaugural Flight
It’s a big deal when an airline starts flying a new route, especially when it’s an international flight between two cities that have never had nonstop service before, or when a new aircraft type is being used for the first time. Travelers on these first flights can expect to see airline executives, local dignitaries and plenty of press members attending the festivities before arrival and after departure. On board, airline crews go out of their way to impress passengers with their best service.
The best part is that inaugural flights on new routes can be easy to book as awards, as are most newly added flights. On the other hand, when new types of aircraft are being inaugurated, the airlines typically auction off the tickets and donate the proceeds to charity.
4. Travel in International First Class
There is no real practical reason why anyone should ever fly in international first class — these days, nearly every international business-class product offers full lie-flat seating along with fabulous food that should satisfy even the most jaded passengers.
And yet, most airlines still offer international first class, with an even higher degree of pampering than what you’ll find in business class and perks like a slightly larger seat or even separate luxury suites — by the way, international first class is not to be confused with domestic first class, which is an entirely different product.
Depending on the carrier, travelers in international first class can expect to be served champagne, caviar or even sushi, all prepared by an onboard chef. Once you accept the fact that you don’t need to fly in international first class every time you travel, you can then look at it as a special extravagance that you should treat yourself to at least once. A few years ago, I flew with my then-six-year-old daughter in Lufthansa’s international first class — even at a young age, she recognized how much of a treat it was.
The good news is that award flights in international first class are a relative bargain, sometimes just 20%-50% more miles than business-class awards. Unfortunately, airlines that do offer these seats to award travelers vastly restrict their availability. Worse, carriers will often add fuel surcharges, which can quickly add up to the price of quite a few servings of caviar. Some airlines are removing their international first-class award availability, while others like United and American have vastly increased the number of award miles required to fly international first class, so in many cases, it’s not as easy as it used to be.
5. Tour the Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington
About a 90-minute drive north of Seattle is Boeing’s wide-body aircraft factory, located in Everett, Washington, where the company assembles its 747, 777 and most of its 787 aircraft — there is now another 787 Dreamliner assembly line in Charleston, South Carolina, which is not open to the public. This is the only commercial aircraft factory open to tours in North America, although you can also tour the Airbus A380 assembly plant in Toulouse, France and the Airbus facility in Hamburg, Germany.
The 90-minute tour starts at The Future of Flight Aviation Center, which is a pretty worthwhile destination in its own right. From there, you’re taken by bus to the nearby factory for a behind-the-scenes look. Tickets are $18-$20 for adults and $9-$14 for children ages 15 and under, depending on the time of year you visit.
It’s difficult to describe the awesome scale of what’s going on here, as thousands of Boeing employees work around the clock to assemble its largest creations on a nearly unimaginable scale. To further enhance your experience, I recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Seattle North/Everett and requesting a room that faces the flight line so you can watch the new aircraft being flown.
6. Take a Flight Lesson
Even when you travel in international first class, you’re still just another passenger sitting in the back seat. For a different perspective on air travel, visit a flight school at your local general aviation airport and ask for an introductory flight lesson, often referred to as a “Discovery Flight.”
You’ll start with an orientation on how to operate a light aircraft and a briefing on the fundamentals of flight. Next, you and your instructor will conduct a pre-flight inspection of the airplane to learn more about it and ensure its safety. Then, the two of you will take to the skies for about 30-45 minutes of basic maneuvers and practice landings, called touch-and-goes. Finally, you’ll receive a pilot’s log containing a record of your lesson, which actually counts as credit toward your pilot’s license. Expect the entire experience to last nearly two hours and cost between $100 and $200 depending on where you go. To get started, visit the website of the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) for more information and check out my post about what it’s like to fly by private aircraft.
Whether you’re just getting started as a travel blogger or have been in the travel industry for quite some time, you should probably look into trying these out — they’re a great way to learn a little more about the business and help you get to know your fellow travel enthusiasts.
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