My favorite conversation from FTU DC

It is no secret that the best conversations at larger events happen in the margins. Smaller conversations among more intimate groups naturally tend to be more interesting, more educational and more valuable than huge lectures. That’s not to say that the big sessions are bad; it is just a function of the way events like that run. This past weekend at FTU outside DC was no exception to that rule (even though I do think my presentation was pretty good). I had a great time talking with old friends in the halls and at the bar and also in meeting new friends throughout the weekend. There were three specific women I met, however, who completely blew my mind.

I was sitting in the lobby bar around 7:30 on Saturday evening, chatting with a couple guys when the three women sat down at the other end of the couch area we were in. One was holding a sign from the event they had been at earlier in the afternoon. It turns out that they were in town celebrating their 55th high school reunion and the sign was a photo of one of them from that year. Upon realizing this I insisted that she let me take a photo of her with the older photo; she obliged. And then we got to chatting. They figured out that we were talking about miles and travel and such and they were curious about the details. I’m never one to shy away from the opportunity to tell a story so we started chatting.


Explaining to someone the crazy which is mileage running, credit card churning and flying to Perth just for dinner is often an awkward situation. Most folks either don’t get it or just don’t want to. And that’s fine, but it does mean that story-time can be a bit awkward. Fortunately, being that awkward guy rarely stops me. I had only barely begun to start explaining when one of the three piped up that she was a 3MMer with American, mostly from commuting to Argentina and back for many years. Another shared that she had been a flight attendant for Pan Am at one point and still travels a ton, though she was also frustrated by challenges in redeeming her SkyMiles. The third was sitting on a pile of US Airways points and was worried about the merger and what that might mean.

It turns out they were mileage junkies, just like us.

Hearing them talk about their CC habits – Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel/dining charges and AmEx Platinum for the lounge access – was awesome. They were certainly not the most advanced users in the room, but they were also far from beginners. I invited them to join us in the morning for the Sunday sessions and one actually did. She was engaged, asking questions and truly interested in learning more about this crazy hobby we all share.

So next time someone suggests that there is a specific stereotype which makes up the frequent flyer community I’d suggest opening your eyes a bit wider. Turns out that just about anyone can be in on the game and have a lot of fun doing it. These three certainly were.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Wonderful story. I love to listen to senior citizens. My generation kind of bores me, talking about Kardashans, Paris Hilton and iPads. Older adults have so much to share, wish I had been born a few years earlier.

    And finding someone who is also interested in airlines and miles is a true gem!

  2. “Smaller conversations among more intimate groups naturally tend to be more interesting, more educational and more valuable than huge lectures.”

    With 600 people in attendance and many of the “superstars” spending time with colleagues and old friends, how hard is it really to experience the casual conversations that end up being more valuable? I have considered trying to attend FTU or the seminars, but wonder whether newbies may find it hard to have access to the info that goes beyond the blogs, public areas on flyertalk, and public lectures. While a summary is never the same as being there, the blogs seem to do a decent job sharing info with those of us who did not attend.

    Perhaps the crux of this question – do you have to already be “in with the in crowd” to make it worthwhile? If you’ve done your homework by reading widely on flyertalk and are a knowledgeable newbie, do the sessions provide new info?


  3. To ES, yes, the small conversations happen all over – nor newbies and semi-pros alike. Last year I learned about Thank You points over drinks with folks I’d just met, tricks and tips for getting to Easter Island at breakfast, and pros and cons of TK status just walking up to a group chatting in the hall. Also had a great talk about Argentina strategies from a participant who mentioned she’d just been there during one of the breakout sessions. There are multi opportunities for informal discussion at these events — and as mentioned, much of the learning takes place outside the formal sessions.

  4. Great piece, and glad to know you had such a fun time sharing some stories. It’s amazing the things we can learn by leaving our comfort zone more often!

  5. @ES and Paul B.

    I had the opposite experience of Paul. Maybe I am just not social enough, but I didn’t feel like it was easy to get in on the conversations. I met a few people that all only wanted to discuss which cards to churn, so I heard some opinions on cards. But I didn’t find anything about airlines, awards, status or tricks that I didn’t learn from FT already.

  6. It was interesting to me that the demographics of FTU skewed younger than I would have expected as I would expect retirees as a prime audience but that did not prove to be the case………these three probably are more likely candidates for FTU graduate school when that becomes available………..

    1. The demographic is really pretty mixed IMO. There are plenty of younger “kids” playing and also older attendees. And I think that reasonably represents the demographics of the group overall: it really is broad.The demographic is really pretty mixed IMO. There are plenty of younger “kids” playing and also older attendees. And I think that reasonably represents the demographics of the group overall: it really is broad.

      As for getting in to the conversations happening in the halls and the bars, well, it does take some effort. If you aren’t willing to walk up to a random stranger and say “hello” they probably aren’t going to go out of their way to invite you in as you walk past. It isn’t easy for everyone, to be certain. Speaking as a VERY strongly introverted person, however, I can say that it isn’t really all that bad. Make up your mind to meet one person. It doesn’t matter who; just one. You might be surprised at just how easy it is. And once you know one other person it becomes much, much easier very quickly. That’s not to say that it is necessarily easy, but it gets easier. The group is, on the whole, quite friendly and very welcoming.

      And if you’re really struggling with it find me. As I think I proved in this story, there are very few conversations about miles/points I’ll shy away from. 🙂

  7. I flew from the West coast so I am determined to make sure I got in every session and then on breaks I drove back and forth to Tyson’s II to use my Starbucks gift card………it is my loss I didn’t strike up more conversations but perhaps on the next FTU “west coast” I can……..
    Again, thanks for your contributions to the conference and especially to the “Boarding Area”………it’s like drinking water from a fire hose sometimes……….

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