Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Freddie Awards

Fresh after graduating college, bright-eyed with dreams of making fast money buying and selling stocks, I bought stock in Freddie Mac and Washington Mutual Bank upon the recommendation of a friend in the industry.  A few months later, one of them was bailed out by the government and the other went bankrupt.  I have not bought stock since.  I kind of forget now where I was going with that story, but I think it is to say, I haven't always been good at managing and maximizing my return on investment, if you will.  It hasn't been until recently I've started to realize that I should be getting something for what I'm spending.  One big area I try to do that is travel. 

I usually used whatever airline and hotels were cheapest.  I thought the cost savings was better than keeping track of points.  However, the more I started looking into the potential for reward travel, the more I wish I had started sooner.  It definitely takes some time, but my favorite way to get help is by letting the professionals do the research and depending on them for special offer alerts.  In other words I follow The Points Guy blog.  "The Points Guy," whose real name is Brian, is extremely thorough in covering all the frequent flyer and hotel programs out there, alerting you to point deals such as lucrative credit card bonuses and providing solid analysis on what programs are worth (in terms of your money and in relation to the various options).  I can go into what methods I personally use later, but there is a story in all of this:  I've become an avid Points Guy follower, both of his blog and on twitter and sometimes even instagram, and in my constant quest to get free stuff I entered a contest of his and I won!

What did I win? Well, every year, there an award ceremony for frequent flyer and hotel programs called the Freddie Awards.  (Maybe that's why I started talking about Freddie Mac?)  Last year there was a contest for a reader to join The Points Guy for the awards ceremony, but it was in NY, and as fun as it sounded, traveling to NY on a weeknight sounded kind of stressful.  This year though, the awards were in DC (well... the tri-state area), so I entered and, along with four other readers, won!

I know most ceremonies aren't exciting to most people, but when you are as crazy about points as I've become, the combination of dinner, the chance to pick up some more travel tips, and meet someone who I basically online stalk, is definitely my cup of tea.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  It is true that I online stalk his blog and travel advice, but I actually get really nervous to meet people that are "celebrities" in my head.  (You thought I was going to take back the "stalking" part rather than the "meeting" part, right?  One time I met John and Sherry from Young House Love during a book signing and had to rehearse the one sentence I wanted to say who whole time I was in the book signing line.  "I always refer to you as 'my friends, John and Sherry' and my husband always has to remind me I haven't actually met you."  That was the line that was so hard for me to remember.  Although Sherry did reply, "Now you've met us.  You have this moment - forever." I think she had signed too many books and smiled for too many photos at that point.  I still loved it.)

So last Thursday, I found myself at the Gannett/USA Today building in Tyson's Corner, VA.  It's actually quite a nice building with a peaceful lake out front.  The only bummer was that it was only one ticket, so I had to go without Jason.  It was quite a pleasant surprise to roll up to valet parking and a red carpet.  Before we go any further, let's talk about this red carpet.  I think before winning a chance to go to the Freddie's, I had heard them described as the "Oscar's of the travel industry." So naturally when I won, I was totally unsure what to wear (#girlproblems). Maybe this was my chance to wear the long, formal gown I had bought for 90% off sale "in-case-of-emergencies."  (Quick! We need to attend this gala ASAP! It was during a lot of the inaugural balls, and it was cheaper than most normal dresses, so can you blame me?)  Alas, though the event was very nice, it was not quite Oscar-level formality, which meant I will save my dress for another day.

you can see the red carpet a little as well as our somewhat dry but pretty dinner

I checked in after my walk down the red carpet (no, no paparazzi). There was a nice spread of charcuterie and passed hors d'oeuvres.  Everyone was very friendly, though when introducing myself, I felt a bit out of place since everyone else was a points blogger, super frequent traveler, worked with an airline or hotel, or worked for one of the former. I chatted with a lot of people who were experts at the points systems. Some people were retired and traveled for leisure. Someone else lived on one coast and worked on another. Everyone was an expert on points.

Brian was an extremely kind host, so I got over my talking-to-"famous"-people-anxiety immediately. He was easy to find even before getting to my table since he's 6'7". I got to sit by him during the dinner and award portion of the evening and really enjoyed chatting with him and the other guests. It was hard to hear much of the ceremony, but the big winners for North America were American Airlines and Marriott.  At the end of the night there was a dessert bar and some goody bags to bring home filled with nice swag.  More free stuff!

The more I travel and read blogs like The Points Guy, the more addicted I find myself to the points systems.  Seriously, can I get a job planning travel for other people and managing their points accounts?  Because I love it!  I've started doing things like checking fares constantly, strategizing where and how to get elite status, and doing my best to maximize rewards any time we spend money (especially online).  Everyone's priorities may be different, so do what's best for you, but even if you travel a little, it's worth at least signing up for the free loyalty programs.  So now that I've become a travel nerd (I definitely track my points on a spreadsheet), and because you know I like free stuff, it was a fun evening.  And now I can associate the word "Freddie" with something way better than my Freddie Mac stock failure.

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