Plus, Egypt & Jordan, the best trip steals of the week, and more travel hacks and insider secrets.
How to find the real value of all those points and miles. Which are the best benefits, hacks, and tips? And how to get your status tier with one provider matched by competitors. As usual, we get the inside view from loyalty expert and CEO/co-founder of Status Match, Mark Ross-Smith.
Plus, Jessica Deverson, our resident millennial adventure traveler – and deals guru – returns from a life-changing journey in Egypt & Jordan, looking like Lawrence of Arabia and bearing gifts: transformational travel tales and the best trip steals of the week. Also, what to do first when you get to town or the hotel, and other strategies from uber-travelers.
Produced by The Greenville Podcast Company.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 0:26
Hello, I’m Mike Putman.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 0:28
And I’m James Ferrara.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 0:31
And welcome to episode 11 of No Tourists Allowed. We’re very excited to have a special guests with us today. Mr. Mark Ross-Smith, who is the CEO and co founder of Status Match, which is a really interesting company.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 0:49
Sound like a dating application. Are we moving into a different area with his pocket?
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 0:56
Yeah, I guess so. It could be be thought of that way.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 0:59
So this week, Mike, I thought we would talk about something that’s very important to a lot of travelers. And that’s loyalty programs. I know you’re a big fan. And you and I both count our points and watch our mileage on Airlines on hotels, car rental companies, and we try to leverage all that frequent travel into benefits for us. Upgrades, priority treatment at the airport, free luggage and so on. And, you know, for me, it’s become really important, and it really changes the whole experience of travel. Don’t you agree?
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 1:43
Absolutely. And we are really honored to have one of the foremost experts on loyalty programs as our guest today. So I’d like to welcome Mr. Mark Ross-Smith, he is the CEO, and co founder of Status Match. Welcome, Mark.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 2:03
Hey, Mike and James, you’re actually right. It has been referred to as sort of dating for airlines.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 2:11
I think that’s brilliant, brilliant.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 2:14
Mark is a great guy. And over the last couple of years get to know him a little bit better. And Mark is podding in from Malaysia, I believe. Right, Mark?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 2:24
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 2:26
Where it’s late at night, we’re recording this earlier in the morning. And so thanks for staying up and making the effort to be on No Tourists Allowed. And you can find out more information about us at notouristsallowed.com, shameless plug there. Mark, why don’t we start off by giving our listeners a little bit of background on yourself? How did you get in the travel business? And how did you become an expert in the loyalty space?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 2:52
So, that’s a funny story. So I actually started I was about 10 years old. My parents, you know, got magazines, and like business magazines in the mail, right? Every week, there’s a new edition of whatever. And when I came home from school, when these magazines arrived, the mail kind of arrived at about the same time. This is the 80s mind you, 90s, mind you. So you know, get the magazine that I’d sort of open up and there would be all these airline ads in there, you know, like full page color spreads, you know, Cathay Pacific now flying to here, and you know, big 747, you know, really beautiful stuff. And I used to tear these pages out of the magazine, and stick them on my wall. And so my bedroom was just plastered full of airline stuff everywhere. And, of course, my parents, when they go to read the magazine, there’s couple pages missing. So it kind of started there. But you know, I’m essentially an internet entrepreneur. And, you know, I’ve started a bunch of Internet businesses. And when you do that, you know, you fly around the world, you meet people, you go to events, you know, shake hands and stuff like that. And so I was just, I’m just a traveler, really, I’m just a, just a bit of a frequent flyer nerd got into the points and miles and credit card stuff that sort of comes naturally with flying a lot. And then what happens when you start flying even more, you know, airlines sit up and take notice they go look at this guy, he’s doing 200 flights a year, is pretty young, he’s doing something right. And they want to meet you. And so that’s when I really got interested in the business side of travel, when, you know, airline executive started to want to meet me and find out what I’m doing and basically how to get me to spend my money. That sort of kicked off the whole, you know, business interest side of it and you know, sort of escalated from there, I guess in my my interest level and wanting to do more and then eventually now running a business in this space.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 4:47
You mentioned you were you were involved in other internet based companies. Can you tell a couple of successes that you’ve worked with in the past?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 4:57
Yeah, the biggest one is a company called SMS Fun than it was in Australia, Oceania. So that was a social network. A telco social network, built that from scratch, ran it for just over seven years sold that in 2013, to an industry sale. And that was that was really fun. That was a sort of a cash sale, walk away, no earnouts. So nothing. So I had a bit of money. And tax in Australia is quite high. So I wanted to get out of that, learnt my lesson. And then I moved to Hong Kong after that. I thought, you know, I like Asia, always flying through there. I thought it’s either Singapore or Hong Kong, because they’re both pretty pro business and landed at Hong Kong.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 5:42
Awesome, awesome. And then tell us tell our listeners how you formed Status Match and what you do there.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 5:50
Building on my Hong Kong story, when I moved out, I actually asked Cathay Pacific for a status match and status match for anyone not cluded, has been around, the idea of it’s been around for about 40 years or so. It’s where you’ve got, you know, like gold or platinum status at one airline or hotel. And you effectively ask the competition, you say, hey, look, if you I’ve got gold status over here, if you give me gold status over here with you, I’ll shift my business. So you kind of matching the status level, Yeah> So I contacted Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong, and I said, you know, I’m this super uber VIP with this other airline. Can you status match me? And they said, No. Screw you. I’ll show you. Anyway, I hit up a couple other airlines. And they said no, as well. And I’m like, why wouldn’t they do this, you know, I’m spending all this money. And I’ve just moved countries, you know, I need a new airline, right. And I need new credit cards, you know the whole thing. And that’s really what kick started Status Match, in that I started researching why airlines didn’t want to do this, because I hadn’t, I’d not work for an airline for this, right, sort of come in just from a pure consumer perspective. And so I just saw my business, I had no job at the time. So I thought, you know, how do you learn about this, there’s no university to go learn about airline loyalty. There’s no, not really any courses online. And so I just started paying my way to industry events, you know, as an outsider, just just to try and learn. And it’s pretty expensive going to these events, and, you know, after a while, I thought, this is kind of fun. And from, you know, having experience of being a real frequent flyer, I felt, to some, some of it sort of talks I’m hearing at these events on stage, I felt that I might know more about loyalty than some of these people, because I’m a real customer of this. And people work at airlines, they’re not customers of their own product, right? It’s effectively a job, they, they don’t even platinum status, by themselves, they just get it for free. And when they fly, there in you know, $20 business class tickets around the world. So it was a bit of a disconnect there. So now I’m sending all these events eventually started a blog traveldatadaily.com, which is still up, now it’s free. Just started blogging, about, you know, how airlines and how loyalty programs could make more money out of customers, you know, putting, you know, taking some experience from the telco industry, which is what I came from, and just started just putting information out there for free. And, you know, suddenly I start getting invited to speak at some of these events. And then more and more and more and more, and then eventually, you know, got asked to, you know, if I wanted to run loyalty at Malaysia Airlines. And so that’s when I moved to Malaysia, and headed up the enrich loyalty program for there. And I started implementing some of these, these ideas that I had, started running some of these really cool campaigns, things that basically, as a frequent flyer you wish airlines would do, I was just solving my own problems. Had a lot of fun. Mad the airline a bucket load of money as well, which is really fantastic.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 8:55
Mark, what were some of those things that were additive that you felt like frequent fliers wanted, but those needs were not being met?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 9:05
So things like you know, at the end of the year, when you’re, you know, your status is up for renewal, right, the end of the calendar year, you know, you want a little bit of a helping hand from the airline sometimes because, you know, you know, you fly a lot you’re trying to keep your gold or platinum or diamonds or whatever. And, you know, bit of you know, quote gamification in it right. So you know, we ran like Malaysia ran the first time I’d ever seen it like a three times like a tier points or status credits promotion. And a lot of airlines had run like double tear points or status. No one had done three times. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s actually a big deal because because it’s new, no one had seen it before everyone flocked to it. So suddenly, you know, you’re getting three times the credit for each flight that we’re doing. And you know, you do a bit of math, you go well, if I fly here to here, then I can, you know, I won’t just retain my status. I could get the next level up. And so what happens is, new promotions like this encourage like a spend up sort of psyche from people. People start spending money they really probably shouldn’t be spending on flying. Great for the airline. You know, you get status that you might otherwise not have, because you’re doing this extra flying. And it’s kind of a win win for everyone.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 10:16
I would imagine that created some mileage runs. And for our listeners out there that might not be familiar with that term. In the frequent flyer loyalty space, there are people that will get on planes and fly to places with no intention of spending any time at that place, other than just accruing the miles and they will fly back. And I mean, you might fly to another country and spend two hours there and get on the return flight back. Those are milage drones, and I would imagine a 3x in earning potential probably created some of that.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 10:57
Yeah, totally, you know, I’ve actually got my mother into mileage earning now. She loves it.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 11:04
I will tell you, and I can’t remember if it was delta or American, but I had a friend who lived in San Diego, towards the end of the year, and he was trying to achieve platinum status on one of the two. There was some some similar type promotion. But this guy flew from San Diego to LA and back. He did eight segments in one day. So it was just San Diego, LA get on a plane. LA to San Diego back and forth. And he got eight segments in one day.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 11:38
That’s interesting. It’s interesting how motivating all of these loyalty programs and ideas are in the airlines. You know, Mike and I, because of our involvement in the retail side of the travel industry, in the technology side, were granted status by a lot of major airlines. So I don’t have to work to get, you know, my pretty high status. But once I have it, even then it’s motivating for me, you know, then I see how it affects the choices that I make for travel. Because I want those benefits. I want those upgrades, you know, I want that. It has real value and real motivation. For me, this space is always so fascinating for me. So where did you go from there, Mark, after the work at Malaysia,
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 12:33
So afte Malaysia I did a bunch of consulting with a few other airlines. And you know, the same questions kept coming up, you know, how do we make money from data? And how do we get new customers per week, basically how to just make more money. New customers, more money. That was really a recurring thing. And I thought, you know, what, it’s about time I revisited my old, you know, status match thing from when I came into the industry, effectively solving my own problems again. And no one had really created a system to build this for airlines and hotels, you know, when airlines hotels ran these promotions, it’s literally just like a landing page and, you know, fill in a Google form or send us an email with a screenshot of your gold card. And, you know, we’ll reply in six weeks and tell you if it’s successful or not. And that really is just a really shocking customer experience. Really, you know, if someone’s got gold status with an airline, presumably they’re spending, what 5, 10, 20,000 bucks a year on flying, you know, thats a good customer. You know, if you’ve got status with an airline, you’re in, you’re in the top 2% of commercial travelers in the world already. And that that top 2% is responsible for somewhere around 30% to 40% of total ticket sales for airlines. So like this is, this is the kind of customer you want, right? It’s like the best customer they buy premium seats, right? There’s a lot of business travelers, so they’re buying up last minute tickets that paying a premium for it, especially, you know, you know, like a full full class economy type ticket. So that they’re displaying the patterns you want, as an airline, you know, they’re coming in last minute, they’re spending a lot of money, they’re doing it frequently, they’re doing it a lot, tend to complain less as well. And when they fly on vacation, they tend to be loyal to your brand, you know, they might use their miles bring their family along, and suddenly for the first time, you know, they’re showing off to their family. Hey, look, I’ve I’ve not been at home a lot this year. But you know, hey, we’re going first class to Tahiti. So, you know, and then “that’s why daddy flies.”
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 14:39
That is so true.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 14:41
And so you know, these loyalty programs are really powerful. There’s psychological really, there’s, you know, they’re designed out of, like computer games, right? You think how addictive computer games are. Highly addictive. The whole gamification kind of comes from it. You know they’ve got status tiers and levels and ways to earn different currencies within games, and, you know, people play games for, you know, hours and hours and days at a time, right? There’s something called like the gold gradient effect, which is like when you’re getting close to a, like a new tier, for example. So you’re almost like a gold or a silver level, you’re almost a gold getting close. And the closer you get, the more likely you are to keep spending money to get there. You know, airlines know, this, hotels know this. And so, you know, that’s why the tiers and programs are actually designed in a way where most people that do, you know, fly from Los Angeles to New York, if they do three returns a year, then they’ll be just short of the next one. And so you look at your account, again, to the end of the year, go, “Look, I’ve got a month left, I just need to do one more flight, and I get these perks for the next year.” And so it encourages a spend up behavior. Which that’s why we fly actually a lot of people towards the end of the calendar year, just before this, they’re about to lose status. A lot of people start, you know, suddenly, they need to have a company trip to New Zealand for some bizarre reason.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 16:11
So what is your current role, then Mark? What is your company Status Match about?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 16:18
So we built a system to manage status matching of about half of airlines and hotels. And so, you know, instead of an airline, putting up a Google Form on that landing page and saying, you know, put in your name and email, contact us, and we’ll reply to you in six weeks, we manage all that on behalf of the airline. So what would happen, then, you’d go to statusmatch.com or maybe you have a branded page for the airline, if we work with them on a different basis. And you go through a process a really fast, really simple, really beautiful onboarding process, you know, it’s like three pages of forms. I say, like two input fields per page takes about 60 seconds to go through the whole process. And we can get your loyalty account, you know, matched, slash upgraded, you know, within, you know, could be hours could be a couple of days, tops, like worst case tops. So what that means is someone that’s, I’ll give you give you an example. Right? You, you live in New York, and you’re flying a lot with JetBlue. Yeah. And you company relocates you to Germany, right? And it doesn’t make any sense. You can’t fly JetBlue anymore. So you kind of got to give that up. So you want to status match with someone like Lufthansa right? It makes sense. You fly a lot with JetBlue. You’re spending a lot of money with them. And presumably, you’re going to fly a lot in the same company when you move to Germany. And so you hit up someone like Lufthansa, say, can we get a status match? Look, I’ve I spent all this money over here. Can you just give me the same thing with you guys? So you know, I start flying you instead of any of the low cost options in the area, right? Because there’s competition, right? Because you’re starting from the ground up. So in a perfect world, Lufthansa says yeah, cool. Here’s, here’s like a senator status, for example, start flying us. And so in that kind of scenario, we effectively handle all the logistics on behalf of the airline. So instead of you contact the airline, you come to us.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 18:20
Got it? So a consumer would go to statusmatch.com to initiate this? Or would they go to Lufthansa in that example. And then you host forms or white label pages that process the transaction for Lufthansa?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 18:42
Generally most people come directly to statusmatch.com. Actually, a good example is probably Emirates who we work with. If you ask Emirates for a status match, they will just say go to statusmatch.com. And so you go to us, go through a bit of a process. You know, we validate that you really do have status and other airline, we validate that you really are you everything’s legit, we charge a fee. That’s how we make our money, we charge the customer application fee. And once that’s validated, we send your details off to the airline, and you get upgraded pretty quickly. And so what it means is the airline doesn’t really have to bother with anything. They don’t, you know, they’re not set up to do these kind of checks. You know, they’re there to run an airline not to worry about these little things. So that’s why we manage it for them, and have that really beautiful brand experience as well. Because when you’re switching airlines or trying a new airline, often we find a lot of people it’s the first time they’re taking that new airline seriously in their life. They might never have flown with that airline ever. Right? It’s it’s a bit of unknown, unknown, right? And if you have this really fabulous customer experience, the first thing you do is you just status much like that was easy. 60 seconds and you know, I woke up the next morning and my accounts gold status. Well, if it’s that good now in the beginning, imagine what how good it’s gonna be when I fly them. So what it means is they get status in the account. And the faster it happens, the better. Because, you know, their frequent fliers they fly a lot, they spend a lot, right. And they’re not going to book a ticket with this new airline until their accounts got that gold status there, right. So if an airline takes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 weeks to do that, it’s effectively six weeks of lost bookings. So speed is a big element that we we assist with with this whole process as well. Get them upgraded, get them booking quickly, get them flying, everyone’s happy.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 20:31
What kind of benefits do you see Mark? I mean, what are some of your favorite ones? We know that upgrades are really important to frequent travelers. And those are usually a part of these kinds of programs. And sometimes the upgrades can be confirmed right away or confirmed within a certain number of days of travel, there’s preferred boarding and priority, right? Help our listeners understand, what is it that – why is this so important to frequent travelers? What is it that they’re getting?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 21:08
Typically, it’s a mid range frequent flyer, we’d get these typical kinds of benefits, you know, you arrive at the airport, you’re traveling economy or coach, and you don’t line up at that counter, you go to the business class counter. Right? So instantly you could’ve shaved couple hours off the check in process at that point. But you know, you’re in business class check in no matter what even if you’re in coach, and with your family, you bring them there for that. So that’s like, perk number one. Perk number two, obviously not paying for bags, if the airline would otherwise pay back, generally one or two bags for free, you’ve got a better seat selection already to start with, you maybe might not have paid for the seat selection either. So that means, you know, like bulkheads, if you’re in economy, or if you’re lucky, an exit row, you know, things that, you know, if you’re traveling with a family, and you want to select the, you know, the priority seats, and you’re paying for them as a non status when it gets really expensive, really fast. And so if you’ve got like a gold star, mid level status, generally, that’s free. So that’s the second thing. And then after that, you’re traveling internationally, maybe there’s some perk on immigration queues, depending on airports and airlines. Then, of course, got lounge access, you know, you’re traveling in economy class, you have a really cheap ticket, you go into the business class lounge. And in the lounge, you know, you’ve got free food, free drinks, free alcohol, you know, it’s a quiet space got free Wi Fi, cool place to just to chill out before your flight. And then of course, when on boarding, you’ve got priority boarding, even if you’re in an economy class. You know, when they call, you know, business class and Gold members, that’s you. And there’s nothing quite as satisfying as when they call business, first class, gold and you sort of just walk past 200 other people that are in a long line waiting, even though you’re probably the cheapest ticket on the whole plane. You’re actually the least valuable customer on that flight, but you’re walking past everyone else. Pretty satisfying.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 23:04
Such a difference in experience. I mean, you know, if you’re lucky enough to have experienced it, and Mike and I, thankfully do this a lot. I mean, you sort of sail through the whole airport experience while for other people, that experience can be tied in knots, you know, There’s so much time, so much angst and aggravation. And these kinds of status plateaus, change the whole experience for you.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 23:37
Exactly, they take the painout of the travel really.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 23:40
And that’s part of our ethos to with this podcast is how to travel better. And it certainly does make it much smoother getting through an airport. And having status is a big part of getting it through quickly. For sure.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 23:56
What about the current environment we’re in where, you know, we’re dealing with historically very high airfares. How does that affect the use and being able to use your points? I mean, are people still… is there a benefit? What’s going on now?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 24:17
So if I could just rewind a little bit here in time. If we go back to two and a half years right, not not as many people flying and you know the message was “stay at home, don’t worry. Just keep spending on your credit card, keep earning your airline miles and you know when the world opens again, you can use your miles for business or first class flight around the world. Your dream destination, your dream trip,” right? But just keep keep spending on the credit card, because the credit card and and the miles earned from that… Airlines make billions of dollars out of this stuff. So they wanted you to keep doing that because that was cash flowing to the airlines which of course they knew at the time. So the message was keep collecting miles, you’ve got to use them one day. And then what happened is the world started opening up, but it’s pretty much open now. And, and the demand came back. And the airlines kind of went back to the world called the 2019 ways of, you know, revenue management and pricing taking over. And what happened, the demand was that airlines were like, “wow,” you know, we’ll just, we’ll just make as much money as we can try and make up for the last two years. Effectively, that’s what they’re doing. And what it means is, there was this unwritten promise, or unspoken promise about, you know, save up airline miles be able to use them later. And what’s happening is, you can’t really use them now, because they’re just doing so well, selling fares for cash. Right? And so there’s a bit of a, well, “what, why should I collect these airline miles anymore?” If I can’t use them for upgrades, if I can’t really use them for the flights I want, because, you know, I want to travel between, you know, everyone wants New York, London and business class kind of over Christmas kind of thing. Everyone wants that. And it’s just not happening anymore. And people in the back of their minds like, well, you know, I did the right thing to support the airline when you need it. And now, and, you know, I’ve looked at a ticket in coach across the Atlantic, and it’s like, 5000 bucks, like, what, what the heck. And so, what’s happened is, during the pandemic, the loyalty programs of these airlines pretty much saved most commercial airlines. Because what happened is the value of the loyalty program and airlines in 2020, 2021, let’s take the big three US airlines. All their loyalty, the top three USA, their loyalty programs are worth somewhere between 20 and $30 billion each, right, the VAT, just the loyalty program itself. Whereas the value of the airline on the market was they’re all somewhere between sort of $9 and $12 billion, at the time, for the whole group, including the loyalty program. So you kind of look at it and go, so basically, the airline has negative value. Loyalty programs got all of the value, something’s not right. And, and all that is underpinned by the number of miles earned into the loyalty program through people having the credit cards, there’s a cash flow from that because it’s high margin revenue. You know, American Airlines publishes that they’ve got a 72% gross margin on selling miles. 53 or 54% net, I think. And it, airlines don’t get those kind of margin selling tickets, selling seats, right consistently. And so because the value of these loyalty programs is underpin, by selling miles, they need people to collect those miles. So people start disconnecting from earning miles, it sort of flows on to the rest of the business.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 24:17
So just to play back that a little bit, you’re saying that the airline has a relationship with a bank card, and they co mark it and get people, you know, they they push these credit card applications on the plane on the flights, it’s just it’s very annoying to by the way, the way they do it, but they they do that, so that the passenger then gets a credit card, creates a level of loyalty back to the airline. But the real trigger it sounds like is that as that passenger accrues the miles, then they monetize the purchase of the miles back from the bank card.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 27:43
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 27:49
And that’s where it becomes so lucrative. I did not know that.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 28:35
Exactly. American Airlines makes more money selling miles to banks than they do profitability than selling tickets to passengers. They’re effectively a marketing company. They’re a marketing company that has an airline division, not the other way around.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 28:52
Interesting. Because one of the questions I had for you is, and I know that with American this year, they they’ve kind of moved away from earning points from traveling or, or flying or, or mileage, if you will, to really what you spend on the airline and your credit card spend. So with an American as you’re trying to, to go up the elite status totem pole that they have, every dollar that you spend, you get a mile not only as a frequent flyer miles, but it also helps you achieve that elite status. So that that answers a little bit of my question there is why they put such an emphasis on spending, because you can spend it on anything. You can spend it on gas or groceries or whatever and you’re still getting those points. But I guess that means that the airlines are monetizing that spend therefore they’re motivating you to spend more on your credit card and that seems to be more important to them than actually buying airline tickets it’s implying.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 30:00
Well, it’s more profitable, right. And the airlines have other profit centers too. I mean, this kind of unbundling of airfare spanned the ancillary services and products you can buy from them. And even commodities, like the the futures on fuel, you know, there was a time depending upon what’s going on in the economy. You know, there was a time when some of these airlines were making incredible profits on fuel futures. Look, airlines are not the only kind of loyalty programs out there. So if this is germane to your business, Mark, what about like hotel loyalty programs? And what’s going on there?
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 30:52
Hotels a little different. Because the setup, generally with an airline, the airline owns the loyalty program, effectively, one family, yeah. Hotels is a bit different. Because you know, the special the big chains, you’ve got hotel brands sitting atop, and hotel owners kind of sitting under that that operate under the brand, right. And so the hotel owners don’t necessarily own the loyalty program. And so the dynamic is a little bit different there. There was a good post recently, Justin Sprout on Twitter, he, he was talking about how booking.com is, and more specifically, third party booking agents, can be more rewarding than hotel loyalty programs directly. And the argument it goes somewhat like this. You know, if you look at Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt IHG, the top ones the the rebate in points. So they’re basically the points you earn from when you stay booking directly. And being part of loyalty program. It translates roughly to a record rebate, right, somewhere between 4 and 7%. It’s kind of about where you are. And if you’ve got elite status, it’s up to about 10, 10, 11% on a rebate. And what that means is some of the third party rebates or OTAs, can actually be worth more than 10%. And so you’ve got it comes to a point where even if you’re really brand loyal, and you’re staying 200 nights with Marriott, if you’re still only getting up to 10%, effective rebate through the points that you’re given, but you can get more than that. By having no brand loyalty, except your loyalty effectively to the third party or to the OTA not to Marriott, or Hilton, or, you know, wherever. And if you could just be loyal to a booking channel, as opposed to a brand and get more out of it. That is probably a tipping point somewhere where you go, Well, why am I booking direct, why am I why am I going after this titanium status? Why am I going after stuff when I can get more by being less loyal? Right. And so I think hotels are, in some ways, setting themselves up for failure here. Because at some point, they’re just going to start pushing away some of their best customers.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 33:16
Well, Mark, thanks so much for your time. You’ve been very gracious. And I know it’s getting late in the evening there in Malaysia. I did want to wrap up with one other question which we ask our guest. As a frequent traveler, as most of our guests are, is there one particular thing that comes to mind as a traveler, could be points or not points, that really helps you or something that you do as you travel? You know, taking a pillow on a plane or what have you, things like that, that you could share with our listeners to teach them or share with him how you travel better.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 33:58
So I live in Asia. And so this is not really a hack. But what I find very useful is is a thing called APEC card APEC card for people that live in APEC economies. So I’m an Australian passport holder. So I got one of these cards, it’s for business travelers. And it effectively is a business travel visa to about 20 different countries, including China, Indonesia, you know, a bunch of these countries that it’s a business visa. But the big hack is you can use all the diplomatic passport lines and all the airports. So this card cost me I think 300 bucks for five years. I see it as like a VIP pass through all these airports. It’s very useful. It saved me a lot of time. Actually it works in the USA for arrivals as well, can use the diplomat line. It’s quite good.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 34:49
That’s great. Well, that’s similar to, not not similar but for our listeners who don’t live in APEC countries, something like global passport, for example. Or one of those programs Global Entry that allow you to use faster lines through immigration. Yeah.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 35:10
Well, Mark, again, thank you so much for your time. And let’s give your website’s URL again, for our listeners.
Mark Ross-Smith, Status Match 35:18
Statusmatch.com. Also traveldatadaily.com If you want to read any articles that I publish online, otherwise, add me to LinkedIn. I’m pretty active on there.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 35:27
Great. Thanks so much, Mark.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 35:32
Next, on the podcast, we’d like to bring in our deals guru, Miss Jessica Deverson.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 35:40
We’re actually welcoming her back, aren’t we? She’s, she’s a intrepid traveler, Jessica. And she’s, well, without giving away too much. Let’s say she’s of a certain younger age. And she travels, always in a fascinating way. To me, always really interesting trips. Expedition cruises are very unusual, exotic locations. And we’re welcoming her back from, based on her photos and her postings I’ve seen on social media, from some incredible experiences in Egypt and the Middle East. So great to have you back, Jessica. And I know you’ve got deals, but you’ve hopefully have a few words you’ll share with us about your experience the last couple of weeks.
Jessica Deverson 36:30
Yeah, absolutely. So thanks, guys for having me again. So I actually just got back from Egypt and Jordan. And if I had to sum it up in a one word, I’d say hot. And then if I had two words, I’d say hot and dusty. It was extremely hot. Obviously, it’s the desert. So everything was dusty, but totally an amazing experience. Did a sunrise ATV tour to the pyramids, swam in the Nile, swam in the Dead Sea, climbed the mountain in front of the treasury of Petra to get some really good photos, and just all kinds of amazing stuff. And one thing I realized, you know, traveling now and still in this kind of post COVID world is that people are so happy to see tousists. People in other countries and people in the travel industry, they’re welcoming tourists with open arms, they’re happy to have us there. They’re, you know, go above and beyond to make the experience wonderful, because they’re just so excited to get people back. And I took at least six flights, and every single one was half full, so I had whole rows to myself. So truly, it’s a great, great time to travel. So book those trips now, get on those planes, get on those cruises, it’s really just an amazing time to be traveling. With that said, I have some travel deals. So first, we’ll open up with United vacations. And specifically United vacations has a feature for Riu Hotels and Resorts. They’re calling it the sunshine on spotlight because there’s some really great deals across Mexico, the Caribbean, and all at the Riu hotels and resorts and they’re featuring exclusive offers at New resorts like the Riu Palace, and I’m going to kill this word Kukulcan and the Riu Latino. So just the ultimate vacation experience and right now when you book and you have to book through a Travel Advisor because you will need a promo code. Right now when you book you’ll get savings up to $550. You’ll get hotel savings resort credits, free room upgrades, and you’ll save 10% on round trip transfer. So literally savings across the board on every element of your vacation package. And the Riu Palace that’s an adult only location and the Riu Latino is also adults only so just if you’re wondering. But both of them brand new, one I think one opens in October one opens in November, tons of restaurants nightclubs, just really new interesting places for you to get out to and tons of savings on both locations. Like I said, that offer requires a fair code. So reach out to your favorite Travel Advisor to get that booked. Next up, we have virgin voyages. You guys know this is one of my favorites because no kids. But if you’re not familiar with Virgin voyages, they actually focus on the Caribbean, Europe. They have some really amazing ocean crossings also known as trans Atlantic’s, super yacht inspired design, they tried to make everything really progressive and, you know, forward thinking and interesting, eco friendly, you know, focus on wellness. So you can do nothing, you could do something, there’s something for everyone. And like I said, from seminars, yoga, to outdoor boxing, to hit workouts, to their Bimini Beach Club, literally you’ll find something to do or you can just try one of their 20 Plus restaurants. So, tons to do on the Virgin voyages ships. Right now you can book any ship, and you’ll get 50% off the second passengers voyage. So if there’s two of you sailing, you’ll get 50% off the second passenger, plus an extra $100 towards your prepaid bar tab. So that’s an extra 100 bucks to spend on Sunset cocktails as you, you know, relax on your personal terrace, or you go to the beach club at Bimini. And if you’re sailing solo, I love solo travel, you can book with no single supplement, which if you are a solo traveler, you know, that’s an incredible deal having no single supplement, and you also get the $100 towards your bar tab. So that’s a very, very good offer. Plus, always included in every sailing for everyone, you get $600 in value. So that’ll be tips, the Wi Fi, the fitness classes, the 20 Plus restaurants and more. So really great value there.
Jessica Deverson 40:53
Definitely check out all the different sailings. And then if you have questions as far as itineraries and things like that, talk to your Travel Advisor. And then lastly, I would say in honor of halfway to St. Patrick’s Day, just for fun, we’re halfway there. On September 17. I wanted to tell you about some Ireland trips, you know, we always get to St. Patrick’s Day, and we’re like, oh, wouldn’t it be great to go to Ireland wouldn’t be great to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like there. But you know, it’s too late. It’s March, when you’re thinking about and you’re like maybe next year, well, we’re halfway to St. Patrick’s Day. And if you really are thinking about booking a trip to Ireland, now is a really great time to plan and book now rather than waiting, you know, until it’s too late or waiting until spring. So there’s actually tons of travel companies, both on the land and crew side that visit Ireland. But if you’re just you know, interested in popping over stopping by, you know, heading into port for a day, a cruise is a great way to go. But if you’d prefer to, you know, in depth exploring, land tours are definitely your best bet. And even on the land tour side, there’s plenty of companies that go over to Ireland and you know, the general region but and they typically contract within destination guides and in destination drivers and things like that. But there’s actually a handful of brands that specialize specifically in Ireland, Scotland and that general region. So I want to give you two of those brands today. And the first one would be Brendan vacations. So they’re definitely passionate about having an authentic experience. So Brendan vacations, you know, they, they really do only focus on Ireland and Scotland. So that means they focus on providing the very best experience, because those are the places they know best. You know, they’ll introduce you to storytellers, you’ll stay in hand selected accommodations, you know, experience highly personalized service, then they consider themselves the Celtic expert. So definitely a great brand if you’re looking to travel to Ireland or Scotland. And they have some interesting, different kinds of trips, and one is an ancestry tour. So they actually help you discover your Celtic roots, retrace the footsteps of your heritage, that’s really cool. They also do really amazing golf trips, if that’s your thing if you like golf. They feature some of the most historic golf courses for golf lovers. And then they include things like if you’re not so into golf, you can also do horseback riding, they’ll do food tours, they have something at the falconry where you can, like hang out with the Falcons and the birds and like they’ll teach you how to call them and you can hold them and things like that. So really, really interesting options if golf isn’t your thing. And you know, they welcome couples family solo travelers, everyone in between. And obviously you can travel for St. Patrick’s Day, but really any time of year is a great time, you know, to see Ireland in the winter would be lovely, you know, around Christmas time or to see Ireland that St. Patrick’s Day, that’d be amazing and fun. But obviously spring and summer are very great times to visit Ireland as well. So, um, they also offer actually, you know, if you have luxury, luxury tastes, extravagant tastes, they have luxury trips to Ireland as well. And they travel for every style. You know, they have travel for every style. So like if you want guided vacations or if you want a custom chauffeur driven itinerary, if you want to self drive, or you want to do a real trip, they have everything. So right now you can save 10% on self guided vacation packages. So like I said, right, now’s a great time to be thinking about 2023 travel to Ireland and Scotland in that area. And then the second the second company I wanted to tell you about is CIE Tours. So that’s the largest North American tour operator and they send visitors to Ireland, Scotland, over 90 years of operation. So again another expert in the industry as far as Ireland and Scotland and they really want you to understand and feel confident in the destinations because they know those destinations inside and out and so they’re really taking care of every detail for you. And right now they have an offer where you can save $250 per person when you book nearly any 2023 tour with airfare. So they have something like the taste of Ireland where it’s like a super whirlwind seven day tour, really hitting the highlights like Blarney Castle, Killarney, Cliffs of Moher, Dublin and that sort of thing, or like an Irish adventure that’s nine days. And you actually, you circumnavigate the entire island and see, you know, in addition to the places I just mentioned, but also add, like Galway, and Titanic and Belfast. So really cool tours, tons of tour options, actually, that’s just two of them. So if you have questions regarding more itineraries, or you want to book any of these, contact your Travel Advisor, because also, these two offers I just mentioned, for Ireland, also have a special fare code. So you’ll need that to take advantage of the offer. So that about wraps it up for me, guys, thanks so much for having me again, talk to you next week.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 45:59
Wow, those are some great deals, Jessica. Thanks for that information and information about your trip that you just came off of. But we’re glad to have you back as well.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 46:11
Absolutely. And, Mike, we have a few minutes. And I thought we would chat about, again, our travel experiences and maybe some tips for our listeners to close things out. And I was thinking about, you know, what is it that we do when we first land in a new destination, or maybe when we first get to the hotel, and I’ll give you an example. This is gonna sound funny, but one of the things I do if I’m staying more than just a day or two, is I immediately go to the concierge and I arrange to have flowers sent to myself in my room. Now I know you’re laughing.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 46:55
This is a joke. This has to be.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 46:57
It is not a joke. It just brightens up the room. It’s lovely. It makes me feel at home. So if I’m going to be there for you know, four or five days a week, I just send myself a beautiful arrangement of flowers for the room. Now, I know I caught you off guard there.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 47:16
Yeah. And I hope your CFO is listening to this too. Oh, that’s yeah, that’s… I did not expect that one, and I can say I’ve never done that. But I’ll tell you one thing that I do when I first check into a hotel room is I take the bed cover off. A lot of and I’m not a germaphobe by any stretch of the imagination. But a lot of times hotels don’t wash those. It’s not the duvet but like the bedspread, a bedspread. Thank you that’s, that’s the right word. And, and what happens is, and you know, people come into a hotel room, and the first thing they do is they sling their suitcase on top of the bedspread. Which you know, your suitcases if you’ve ever been through the back of an airport. I mean, it’s pretty disgusting. So that that’s the first thing I do is I take that off. And generally what I do also is I put I the do not disturb sign up, put it out on the door, and I leave it there the entire time, unless I want my room clean, because that’s that just lessens the chances of somebody walking in your room that shouldn’t be there. So that’s a couple of things that I do.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 48:36
I think it’s so interesting to see the different ways you and I think. Another thing that I do is I walk around and collect up all those cards and papers, that hotels leave around instructions and little tent folds and all of that stuff. And I put it in a drawer like in the desk drawer, because it doesn’t feel homey to me, right. It’s kind of cluttery and very businesslike. And I want my hotel room to feel comfortable and cozy and pretty and like you know, like I’m staying someplace special. That stuff gets in my way visually. So there are several things usually the bathroom several cards and instructions for whatever, and I don’t I don’t need them. So I put them all the way. Another thing I do is I always ask where the the gym or the health center is in the hotel. And I bring with me always workout clothes and sneakers. So I stopped at the concierge of the front desk. And I say ask where the gym is and sometimes I even look at it. Go to look at it on the way to my hotel room. The thing is, I never actually go back to it during the hotel stay. So it’s like a tic that I have.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 50:04
Learning lots learning lots about you today James.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 50:11
The concierge is your friend, right? I mean, you’re staying in the nice hotel, go see the concierge might even tip them or have them make a dinner reservation for you and tip them. Get on their good side from the beginning of the stay. Because a concierge can really be helpful to you and help make your trip that much more enjoyable and authentic and all the things that we talked about here. And I think that the concierge is underutilized at hotels.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 50:40
Absolutely. And that’s one thing we can agree on. I’ve had some amazing experiences, including one that I shared, I think earlier, for this past Christmas, when I took my family to London, and we ended up staying, we were gonna stay a few days in London and then go and spend Christmas in Paris. And because of a change in the COVID travel policy, we couldn’t make it. So we ended up staying in London the entire nine or 10 days and and had a blast, by the way. But when I let the concierge know that we were going to be there for Christmas, and I have a small child, they made a lot of effort to make sure that the room was decorated, that the elf brought some gifts up to the room and made it a very special time for for my daughter at Christmas. So that’s a great example of how concierge can really can really come to the forefront. One thing I did want to chat about before we sign off is just kind of an update to a topic that we had a few weeks back and that is when should you arrive at an airport. And and I think James and I are kind of the ying and yang of travel, it sounds like because James thinks you need to be there five hours to go shopping and eat at some of the fun restaurants at the airport. And it just so happened this week that James and I were I was in New York, and we had a meeting. And James and his wife were gracious enough to take me to back to LaGuardia. And he was stressing out because it’s like three hours before the flight and he’s like you need you need to go you need to go you need to go. And anyhow so I just calmly got there at exactly an hour before the flight, check my bag, got through security, and got to my gate in 12 minutes just as a as a happy camper. And of course James was telling me you know you’re not in the south this is not the little Greenville airport, you’re at this this big major airport.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 52:47
What I actually said was you’re not in South Carolina anymore, Dorothy.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 52:54
He did. But you know, as we were talking with Mark about the advantages of having you know, status with with the airlines, and having some of these tools like being TSA PreCheck or having a clear membership which by the way, most of your premium credit cards we’ll refund that membership for you. Give you a way to you know, get to the front of the line when you check in or have priority check in, zoom through security and and board your flight early, etc etc. So hopefully our listeners got some good tips from Mark and some odd tips from James and checking into hotels and sending yourself flowers. But hope you guys enjoyed. Enjoyed the podcast. We certainly enjoy our time with you. So please stay tuned and share with your friends ask them to download and tell them about what we’re talking about.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 53:58
Mike in upcoming episodes, we really have some great topics. We have executives from the river cruise industry on a special guests. We have adventure travel people, we have virgin voyages, the new brand from Virgin for ocean cruising. We have some really incredible episodes coming up interesting stuff. And you can always count on us for advice and information that you’re not going to find anywhere else like my little tips about what to do to the hotel.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 54:31
Absolutely. And we also have our contest that we teased a couple of episodes ago that is in progress. We’re still working out some of the finer details but it’s going to be an exciting contest that you can all participate. And we have some wonderful wonderful prizes that are being sponsored by some of our people we do business with. So if you want the opportunity to possibly win some nice trips. You might want to listen in and keep listening in for the coming weeks as we announce this program.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 55:06
Sure, can you say free cruise? But you’ve got to you’ve got to be in it to win it right? You’ve got to be downloading this podcast and be an active listener to win these prizes.
Mike Putman, Custom Travel Solutions 55:17
Yep, more on that to come next week. But for now, thanks for listening. No tourists allowerd and safe travels going forward.
James Ferrara, InteleTravel 55:25
Thank you, everybody.
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