What Exactly Is an Expert — and Is There Really Such a Thing?
“W hen bloggers refer to themselves as ‘travel experts’ or ‘thought leaders,’ who are we to question them?” asks Christopher Elliott in this article pertaining on how to spot tainted travel advice for USA TODAY. “Part of the problem is us. Somewhere along the way, American travelers lost their healthy sense of skepticism and began believing anyone with the word ‘expert’ in their title. They didn’t bother asking themselves how much these experts really knew or how they earned a living”
Aside from what I consider to be an obvious dig at Gary Leff of View From The Wing — whose weblog is one of the few discussing miles, points and travel which has been around longer than The Gate — has Christopher Elliott actually read some of the comments left by skeptical readers of that weblog questioning and critical of Gary? Thankfully, Gary and I have at least one policy in common: neither of us censor comments on our respective weblogs.
Regardless, Christopher Elliott — would he be considered an expert? — does have a point. Neophytes to miles, points and travel may indeed take every word of those who deem themselves experts as gospel — even when the information dispensed may be incorrect or misleading — and that could lead to unwanted consequences…
…and George of TravelBloggerBuzz — from whom I found out about the article written by Christopher Elliott in this article — has been adamantly on a campaign against whom he calls “titans” in an effort to protect unsuspecting readers of certain weblogs from blindly diving into debt in an attempt to take full advantage of maximizing miles and points by using and exploiting the supposed benefits of affiliate credit cards.
Frankly, I know little about affiliate credit cards; and — as I have indicated in this satirical article — I have no interest in being involved with any of that. What appears to be in question here is what exactly is an expert.
What is an Expert?
According to the Oxford Dictionaries in terms of English used in the United States, the definition of an expert is “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”
With regard to experts, the Internet is in and of itself a dichotomy: on one hand, anyone and his or her grandmother can create their own weblog, post information and call himself or herself an expert; whereas on the other hand, many more people have access to criticize what that said expert posted and hold him or her accountable.
Who is the Expert Here?
I am reminded of the debate back in May of 2013 between Carol Sottili — a veteran travel writer for The Washington Post for greater than 20 years — and Dia Adams of The Deal Mommy. The debate centered around a deal posted by Sottili but criticized by Adams:
Pleasant Holidays is offering discounts on trips to Hawaii. The offer is valid on packages of three nights or longer at participating resorts on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii (the Big Island). Prices vary. For example, a mid-September package on Oahu including round-trip airfare from Washington Dulles, seven nights at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and one-week rental car from Hertz is $5,071 for a family of four. Priced separately, the package would cost $6,459. For the best prices, travel through June 6 or Aug. 14 through Dec. 18. Book by June 30. Info: 800-448-3333, www.pleasantholidays.com.
To be fair, I read all of the deals posted in that article by Sottili and Andrea Sachs; and — quite frankly — none of the deals interested me.
That is not to say that none of the deals are good deals. For example, airfare between Washington Dulles to Istanbul for $525.00 round-trip including taxes and fees is a decent deal — if you do not mind paying slightly greater than five cents per mile and traveling to Turkey during the winter months.
Why not ask those FlyerTalk members who traveled from Washington Dulles to Istanbul earlier in 2013 and paid $442.00 round-trip including taxes and fees if $525.00 is a good deal? The ones who were not already laughing probably muttered “meh”, as some of them paid as little as 3.85 cents per mile.
Does the fact that Carol Sottili has been writing for The Washington Post for greater than 20 years deem her an expert? Is she more of an expert than Dia Adams of The Deal Mommy because she is employed by a respectable publication?
What I care about are the facts:
- Families with children old enough to attend school are not going to travel to Hawaii in mid-September — unless the deal happens to be irresistible, as in free or almost free.
- Dia Adams found what is arguably a better deal by searching, complete with illustrations and links to sources to back up her arguments — but her suggestions are certainly not for everybody.
Sottili argued that had Adams “compared apples to apples and not changed the dates and the hotels around, you’d see that my deal was totally accurate. Your declarations of better hotel, better dates, better airport are all subjective. And whenever you switch all the specifics around, prices change.”
That is the whole point, Ms. Sottili. No one disputed the accuracy of the deal about which you posted. Rather — in order to get a better deal — one needs to be flexible in their planning of travel. Gone are the days where we relied solely on a travel section in a newspaper to highlight specific deals every week. Every person with Internet access has the capability to use a combination of powerful travel tools at his or her disposal to secure deals customized to how they prefer to travel. Granted, it does take time and patience to research — time which some readers may concur is worth more than the money on which they would save — and therefore might book that trip to Hawaii highlighted by Sottili because it is quick and easy…
…or perhaps they just do not know any better.
Guess what? There are those who read the debate and disagreed with both Sottili and Adams — and, if so, hopefully they will at least learn from the debate to conjure their own customized travel, possibly using the information provided by both Sottili and Adams. What better outcome can you have than being part of the impetus of assisting readers to get the biggest bang for their bucks?
I personally do not believe that there are really true “experts” when it comes to travel, miles and points. In fact, credible people who are knowledgeable and experienced and are regarded as experts will be the first to tell you that there is always someone who knows more than they do. Randy Petersen — the founder of BoardingArea — comes to mind as an example.
It is healthy to challenge what may be perceived as the status quo. Technology can be quite disruptive. I know — I have had to personally adjust and expand my own “toolbox” over the years to embrace the changes. However, there have been discussions in a minimum of four different areas on the Internet pertaining to the aforementioned debate — including here — which hopefully will result in a smarter consumer who will be empowered to customize his or her travel while saving money in the process…
…and if someone takes the time and effort out of his or her day to offer feedback on something which you have written, consider it a compliment and a gift — even if that feedback may not be ideal. All of us — whether we are “bloggers” or veteran journalists — need to be kept on our toes at all times and constantly be held accountable to ensure that we provide the best, most accurate information to our readers.
I can tell you one thing that is for certain: I would rather have readers criticize what I write and leave negative — and hopefully constructive — feedback than the alternative, which is simply to ignore what I write altogether because they cannot be bothered and feel that leaving comments is not worth their time…
…but what do I know? I may not have lost my healthy sense of skepticism — but I will be the last person to admit that I am an “expert”…