Chicago Seminars 2013 Wrap-Up

I spent the last couple of days at the 2013 Chicago Seminars in, well, Chicago. I guess more accurately they are held in Elk Grove Village at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove, about 15 minutes or so from O’Hare. This is my third year in a row attending the Chicago Seminars (here are thoughts on 2011 and 2012, so visiting the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village almost feels like visiting a (distant) relative’s house at this point! It isn’t a fancy joint, but they are quite welcoming to our interesting group!

I’m not sure that my thoughts on the seminars have changed very much from what I have written in previous years, but none-the-less, here are a few quick notes from this year.

2/3 of the 560-ish attendees were first-time attendees

I was told a couple of times that close to 400 of the attendees were first-time visitors to the Chicago Seminars, which I think is great! Even old pros can often pick up something, but the reality is most sessions don’t change dramatically from year to year, so you will get the most out of the sessions if you haven’t been to them before.

Daraius from Million Mile Secrets and myself co-presented one of the first sessions on Saturday morning that is geared specifically for miles and points beginners. Even after doing our best to scare folks out of the room who weren’t truly beginners (since they may get more out of a different session), there was still a pretty full room of folks with great questions!

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Intro to Miles and Points at Chicago Seminars 2013

Lots of good sharing and networking still happens over the meals and cocktail hours

I’m pretty certain this will never change, but I can safely say that there is still a lot of chatting about miles, points, deals, and destinations during the meals, breaks, and even on the shuttle buses to and from the airport. Many people there are traveling solo, so it is easy to strike up a conversation with those around you!

20131013-131845.jpgWhile there are a few folks who do know each other since they go to many of these events, most folks here don’t know anyone else either and are just as happy to make some connections with fellow miles and points junkies!

The food will never win awards, but it is “all you can eat”!

The lunches and breakfasts are never going to consist of award winning cuisine, but you can come with a big appetite as it is all-you-can-eat style! My personal favorite entree served this year was this heaping pile of cookies. Cookies are an entree, right?

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All of the speakers, sponsors, and more would love to answer questions

The speakers, sponsors, and more are there to get to know you, and answer as many questions as you can think to ask, so feel free! If there is a question you have been dying to ask one of your favorite bloggers, this is your chance to do it! For example, I can’t tell you how many people I encouraged to go chat with Greg from the Frequent Miler since they wanted to brainstorm about complex gift card and Bluebird schemes. No reason not to go and talk to the pro himself to brainstorm, ask questions, and share ideas! Two heads are better than one!

The newly introduced “spouses session” was a ton of fun!

Last year Rick from The Frugal Travel Guy and myself brainstormed to see what we could add to this year’s conference and came up with the idea of a session (or really, party) for the +1′s who get drug along to these sort of things by their partners. We wanted the spouses/partners/girl friends/boy friends/kinda friends/etc. to know that their support of their miles and points “addict” is much appreciated, so we hosted a reception for them during the late Saturday afternoon sessions with food, drinks, and lots of fun giveaways!

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20131013-131934.jpgWhile we certainly didn’t want to subject the “spouses” to a regular style of session, we also wanted to encourage them to learn a little bit of basic miles and points knowledge and lingo so they have some idea about what their partner is talking about! We decided the best way to do that would be via a trivia game with gift card prizes for every right answer (guess where those gift cards were bought?!).

Chicago Sems Spouse Session

Thanks @DeltaPoints for snapping this pic!

We asked questions like how many miles is a saver round trip domestic coach award in most US programs, what is an example of a bonus category that a rewards credit card might have, and how many Hyatt points does it take to stay at a top tier Hyatt hotel anywhere in the world?

In addition to the trivia prizes, there were two door prize drawings for both a Kate Spade SPG bag and a $100 Amex gift card. I had received both of those items from various PR type offers via this blog, and while I loved both the bag and the gift card, I would much rather share them than keep them. I was so happy when the Kate Spade bag went to someone who has been trying very hard to win one via the SPG Take a Spin online game that just ended!

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I also loved that the spouses were sharing tips with each other regarding how to stay sane with a “miles crazy” partner. One even busted out her credit card collection, complete with labels so she knows what cards to use at which stores!

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Between the gift cards, shirts, bears, and free food/booze, I can safely say that no attendee went home empty handed. Thankfully, no attendee fell in the pool either! It was a bit of an experiment this year to see how it worked out, but so far it seems to have been a successful addition, and a really fun way to meet a few new friends!

Chicago Seminars 2013

Thanks @mandakramer34 for sharing this picture!

Rumor has it the Chicago Seminars will happen next year at the same time and same place

I don’t have it on any authority that this shin-dig will happen again at the same location on the same weekend in October next year, but if I were a betting person, that would be my bet. So, just pencil it in if you think this might be a fun way to spend a weekend in 2014 and of course I will post an update if/when that info is confirmed. Hope to see you there!

If you made it to the Chicago Seminars this year, please share your thoughts!

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  1. Great to have been there. Was glad to have met you, Darius and Geoff. I had to leave Saturday evening though. Look forward to next year.

  2. Jennifer, I typically post about the ones I know of that are seminar type gatherings (and sometimes I post about some smaller gathering as well). Typically, this Chicago Seminars is once a year in October. Frequent Traveler University (same concept, different organizers) has been happening a couple of times a year in revolving locations around the country. The Community Buzz forum on Flyertalk is a good spot to keep an eye out for the smaller gatherings.
    Jamie, cool, hadn’t heard a confirmed date. I like the idea of moving it up a week though.
    Greg, so nice to meet you and happy to hear you had a good time!
    Kathy, I don’t know about soon, but I have heard some rumors about 2014.

  3. (this is a different Jamie than the previous commenter)…
    The word at the very end of the sessions today was that Rick et al are reconsidering having it 3-5 Oct next year because that is a religious holiday.
    On the other hand, it looks like the next week may also be a religious holiday, so who knows. Just don’t book your non-refundable flights yet :-)

  4. Those credit cards w/ the labels cracked me up! I have labels too, but mine are on little slivers at the very top of the card b/c that is all I can see of each card when it’s in my wallet’s slots. That way I can find the right card without pulling them all out & shuffling through them.

  5. I attended for the first time but have been following boardingarea/Ft for about 4-5 years now. I am sure there is a lot of stuff that I don’t know. Yet I learn’t almost nothing from these seminars!

    Yes, I met a lot of people who were miles and points junkies. I did learn a few things during the evening reception and lunch tables. However, the sessions were a bore.

    I am not sure I would spend $500 again to attend the seminar

  6. Jamie, good to know, thanks! I guess “stay tuned” is the best advice. ;)
    Rebecca, thanks for sharing!
    Claire, very handy.
    Asar, if you have been in this hobby for 4-5 years it doesn’t really surprise me that the actual sessions weren’t that eye opening for you. Many can still pick up a thing or two they haven’t thought about (or had forgotten about), but I agree that your best learning would likely be done at the informal social events given that this info is not at all new to you. Just to clarify for anyone else, the registration cost for the weekend is around $100, but no question the total cost can easily reach $500 if you don’t live local to where the sessions are held.

  7. Nice recap summer. I’ve yet to attend one of these but it’s great to know you guys do this year after year to help the newbies out. Keep up the good work.

  8. This was my 2nd Chicago seminar. For my next credit card, I’m debating on Chase Sapphire Preferred or United MileagePlus Explorer Card – leaning toward the Sapphire because of its greater flexibility.

    Both seminars I attended, most of the people seemed to know several others, and formed their own groups. This gave the seminars a cliquish feel and made it hard for others, who have no personal connections, to meet other people. 2 possible ways to deal with this:
    1) Similar to the spouses reception, have a Solos reception for people who come to the seminar not knowing anyone. That allows solos to meet each other in a smaller setting.
    2) Have the hotel/airline breakout sessions at the start of the seminar, to allow people with common interests to meet each other.