My Review of FTU Advanced San Diego and Tacos el Gordo

Good morning everyone, I hope you all had a great weekend.  Myself and approximately 200 other miles and points “collectors” gathered at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay in San Diego this past weekend.  We had several speakers from Boarding Area (Greg @ Frequent Miler, Ben/Lucky @ One Mile at a Time, Gary @ View from the Wing, Scott @ Travel Codex, and Stefan @ Rapid Travel Chai) along with Mathew @ Upgrd.  The event began Friday night with a cocktail reception out on the lawn and it was my first chance to meet the other attendees.  I must confess, I had appetizers in the Regency Club before the reception and went back afterwards for some dessert.  The food in the Regency Club was very fresh and the desserts were delicious.

The following morning, we had breakfast at the restaurant (compliments of FTU) which consisted of a standard buffet style arrangement.  The Fruit Loops and orange juice were very good.  Then we met up for the introduction from Ben and Gary.  After the intro, the group divided into 2 rooms depending on the topics that interested them the most.  Here is the full FTU San Diego schedule:

FTU SAN Schedule

These are the presentations I went to:

  • Manufactured Spend (Greg @ Frequent Miler) – since I don’t use ExpertFlyer, I listened to Greg’s presentation.  He covered Redbird along with some lesser published MS tricks.  All I can say is that I wish I had a Visa Buxx Debit Card.
  • AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Frequent Miler – a continuation of his MS talk but less structured and informal.  Nothing surprising there, but a few good questions were asked by the audience.
  • Lunch – boxed lunch with sandwich, apple, cookie, chips, potato salad, and water.
  • Advanced Credit Card Strategies (Stefan @ Rapid Travel Chai) – most people who read RTC probably have no idea how much credit card expertise Stefan has.  He rarely talks about credit card sign up bonuses, spending categories, or churning, but he knows quite a bit.  In this session, he showed his credit card strategy and shared PedroNY’s credit card churning strategy, which is very extreme and not for beginners.
  • Hacking United Airlines (Mathew @ Upgrd) – I’ve listened to Mathew’s presentation a few times, but it is always good to have a refresher.  Great tips if you have United Airlines miles and need help finding award space on Star Alliance airlines.
  • AMA with Rapid Travel Chai – Stefan shared some of his exotic (does not mean tropical) travel plans and trips.  If you want to travel to third world countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkmenistan, talk to Stefan, he is the expert.  He also shared some more tips about advanced credit card strategies.

After Saturday’s sessions were over, we went up to the Regency Club for more appetizers and watched as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  Beautiful view from the 17th floor.

Sunset View from Regency Club in San Diego

I then went down to the Hyatt Regency lobby to meet up with everyone interested in my San Diego Meetup at Tacos El Gordo.  After a few minutes, we had a group of 14-15 people.  Luckily, there were a few local attendees who offered rides to everyone, so we weren’t stuck with a $35-$50 Uber charge during a 2.1x surge.

After a short drive to Chula Vista, we arrived at the very popular and busy Tacos El Gordo.  The line was literally out the door when we arrived.  The menu at Tacos El Gordo is quite simple.  Most tacos cost $2 and you can purchase a few other Mexican dishes and soft drinks.  The ordering process is a little strange.  There are 3 different lines, where you can only order certain things.  Since we wanted to try almost everything on the menu, we had to order tacos in 3 different lines.

After waiting in line for 45+ minutes, we finally had out tacos.  On the left, is the famous Tacos De Adobada (spicy pork) and on the right is the less famous Tacos De Asada (steak).  It was a family feast with close to 40-50 tacos ordered for our group.  We ate a few, passed the plate to someone else and tried a few other tacos.  I talked to almost everyone and the general consensus was that the Tacos De Adobada was well worth the 45+ minute wait.

After dinner, we all headed to Stone Brewery which is very close to the airport.  You can hear airplanes taking off overhead well before you see them fly over.  After a few beers, we headed back to the Hyatt Regency with full bellies.  That was the end of Day 1.

Day 2 began with an early start due to Daylight Savings and everyone looked very tired at breakfast and during the first few sessions of Day 2, myself included.

FTU SAN Schedule

These are the presentations I went to:

  • Future of Miles & Points (Ben and Jerry Gary) – the audience asked them several questions about award space, elite status, manufactured spending, and just about anything else to do with travel.  Since they have 20+ years of combined experience in the industry, they have a wealth of knowledge that they shared.
  • Leveraging Miles for Exotic Travel (Mathew @ Upgrd) – we learned how to add a stop over at Kabul, Afghanistan on an award ticket to India (I’m never going to do that, but it is good to know that it is possible).  He also shared some tips on how to get to exotic/tropical places too.
  • Lunch – same as Saturday.
  • Hidden City Ticketing and Fuel Dumps (Scott @ Travel Codex) – no secrets were given, but he showed us how to search for fuel dump routes on our own.  Very interesting concept that takes a bit of time to discover.  I added my warning about hidden city ticketing, which you can read about here: US Bank FlexPoints to the Rescue when Throw Away / Hidden City Tickets Backfire
  • 101 Tips to be an Expert Traveler (Stefan) – he shared more than 120 short tips and tricks to get the most out of travel.  Some of these tricks are very obvious and some are very easy to pull off (use a local shopping bag and carry a local paper when you travel so you look like a local).  Great advice!
  • Event Wrap-Up (Ben and Gary) – they thanked everyone for coming and told us that a surprise was going to be announced at the next FTU DFW next month.

After the event ended, most of us headed to Ballast Point Brewery which was a few minutes away from the airport.  It was my last chance to get a drink and talk to everyone before we began to depart for the airport.  It was a great weekend and I hope to see you all sometime soon, whether at a local meetup, travel conference, at an airport lounge, or travelling the world.  Safe travels everyone!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

48 thoughts on “My Review of FTU Advanced San Diego and Tacos el Gordo

          1. Marc

            I had to go find my Visabuxx card, activated the cash withdrawal on it, $200 a day per 7 rolling days……so if you load 1k to it, how do you liquidate it? $200 per rolling 7 days makes for 4 withdrawals per cal month? right? so your constantly running a $200 balance? What am I seeing wrong here?

  1. chrisflyer

    @Grant, didn’t Greg say you can still get the Visa buxx card from Nationwide bank?

    I noticed you didn’t really review the lunch. The “three-course lunch” that was advertised was bag of potato chips and an apple with a rubbery sandwich with a cookie for dessert. We certainly didn’t go to FTU for the food, but that was pretty lame.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Haha, I was running out of time in the morning so I skimped on my review of lunch. I have learned not to expect much from lunch and be pleasantly surprised (usually my low expectations are met).

      Reply
    1. Grant

      After this weekend, I decided to be more of a credit card churner and less of a MSer. Time to start closing some old cards and reapplying in a few weeks/months.

      Reply
        1. Grant

          Technically I can do both, but the payoff is bigger with churning than MSing. I can only do $15k-$20k per month MS, if Redbird credit card reloads die, then that number will go down dramatically.

          Reply
  2. JEM

    ‘Leveraging Miles for Exotic Travel’ was Matt’s presentation, though Stefan would have been a natural alternate.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      My bad, I updated the post. I think they both travel to very “exotic” locations very often, so it slipped my mind. Nice catch!

      Reply
  3. Jeanne M

    I was very impressed with Matthew@upgrd . I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation and hope to see more of him in the future.

    Reply
  4. jediwho

    Agreed on churning vs. MS. Any suggestions on which cards are easy to churn? I know Amex is almost impossible to Churn. I have Alaska, US AIr, Virgin Atlantic, AA Gold, Delta Gold and CSP.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      All Citi credit cards I think, the Alaska Airlines credit card, and all Chase credit cards after waiting 2 years from the sign up bonus.

      Reply
  5. Grace

    I was wondering if I should close my first Alaska Airlines credit card before applying for the next one. Or if I should apply for number 2 then close number one and transfer the credit line? My first card has 18,000 credit line and I don’t necessarily want to lose it. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Grant

      You can downgrade/convert to a Better Balance Rewards credit card. Then apply for a new Alaska Airlines credit card. If you get instantly approved, great. If not, call the reconsideration department and have them move some of your $18,000 credit line over to the new Alaska Airlines credit card. That will do the trick!

      Reply
  6. chrisflyer

    Do you know if canceling and/or downgrading your alaska card will affect your companion fare discount code? If you haven’t used it yet will you lose it immediately if you cancel the card ?

    Reply
    1. Grant

      I think the Alaska Airlines Companion Ticket is yours to keep, regardless of what you do with the credit card. Downgrading or cancelling the credit card should not affect the discount code.

      Reply
  7. Joey

    I went to the complete opposite of all the workshops you went to! I’m planning to buy my own place in 2 years so I actually don’t have plans to churn CC’s this year or next but am planning on moderately MSing. Greg is amazing and I read his blog but I’ve found it’s much better to attend the local DOs to learn more about MS in your area.
    Lunch sucked both days hence on Sunday I just went to In n Out which is 5 mins away from the hotel (I rented a car). I’m from the East coast so it’s rare for me to eat there.
    I agree about Matt. Very knowledgeable and helpful.
    As always, the best way to hear about tricks/deals is to simply talk to fellow attendees and ask what their miles/points strategies & goals are for the year.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      I was tempted to ditch lunch on Sunday, but I was lazy and had box lunch #2. I’m glad you enjoyed the presentations and were able to connect with attendees.

      Reply
  8. Brant

    Hey Grant,

    I sure wish I had been there for all the fun!! One question for you regarding churn. I recently got the Virgin Atlantic BofA CC. After MS and bonus miles with additional users I ended up with just over 90K miles. I am will convert to HHonors 1/1.5 points for 135K Hilton. I know HH is lame, but I have a specific trip in mind. Can multiple VA BofA cards be had just like Alaska Air CC’s? I have two of those that I did within two weeks. I have found some hidden “90K” offers that still linger and I want to grab one.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      I’m not sure if BofA Virgin Atlantic credit cards are churnable or if you can have more than one at a time. If you are feeling adventurous, I would go for another Virgin Atlantic credit card. You might want to create a new Virgin Atlantic account before.

      Reply
  9. Mike W

    Hey Grant, good times this weekend. I still think you need a good accountant :)

    Question — do you know if there are any data points of people successfully doing a double browser application for the US Air Barclays card? Obviously hoping for auto-approval. Do you have any experience with this working with Barclays? I know they’re notoriously difficult to churn, so hoping for 2 up front if I can get it.

    Bonus Question — for Redbird, do you know if you can get authorized users on your account? My wife actually likes to shop at Target, and I want to give her a card to use, but I manage the loading. Would a sub-account be the best approach for her? With the sub-account, she can’t load it, right?

    Reply
    1. Grant

      I don’t know anything about Barclays, they have never approved me for a credit card.

      The authorized user on Redbird Cards can only spend money, not load money. Does she already have a Redbird Card in her name? I use my dad’s Redbird Card to buy stuff at Target and they never give me any problems.

      Reply
      1. Mike W

        I have one in my name, and she has one in her name. She never intends to load the card(s). That’s my job. So I could just make her a sub-account off of my card that she can use exclusively for buying stuff, and I can just keep mine and her real card on me to do the loads, right?

        Can I make a sub-account off of her real card as well, in her own name? This way, I keep her real card for reloads, and she has her own sub-account on her card just for purchase?

        Reply
        1. Grant

          I like your second idea. Just add her as an authorized user to her own Redbird Card. Just make sure you don’t mix up the cards :)

          Reply
          1. Mike W

            Hey Grant, in case you’re wondering, you cannot add the same person as a sub-account on their own account. For that matter, I cannot add my wife to my account either since she has a card of her own. The issue is her email address and phone number. I could in theory create a new email address and use a different phone number to do it, but if you try to use the same email or phone, it’s blocked right away.

            I remember it coming up at FTU, but can’t find any verification — if I use the Amex Old Blue Cash at target for a direct load to Redbird, will I (not) get the 5% (my Target shows as grocery store)? Or will Amex recognize the load and not pay the reward? I can’t find any data points one way or the other to verify. I’m considering signing up for it, but it only really makes sense if I can directly load it at Target.

          2. Grant

            AMEX doesn’t code Target as a grocery store, only Visa does. You can use an AMEX credit card to earn points but you won’t earn any category bonuses.

          3. Marc

            I just got my Redcard yesterday, well not mine, I put it in my gf’s name, so my question is, can I load it without her being there? and is it best to go to CS or a cashier, I’m in Sac, so I know it’s a ymmv on if they know how to load it yet.

          4. Grant

            You should be able to load her Redbird Card with your credit card. I go to the customer service / returns department every time.

  10. alex

    Grant! So glad you guys liked the tacos. Sorry to hear the lines were so long …. next time try the fries at the H street location :) Hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to join you at one of your meetups! You are by far the most legit, social / friendly of all the bloggers out there from what I can see!

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Thank you Alex, I appreciate the compliment. Shawn (Miles to Memories) said that there are 2 Tacos El Gordo restaurants in Las Vegas, have you been to either of those locations? I hope to meet you some day too :)

      Reply
      1. Alex

        Hi Grant, yes I have been to the location in Las Vegas. It was on the strip at the time I went in September, but apparently it has now moved about 15 minutes north on the freeway now according to yelp. The food is virtually identical in taste and quality, and they also had fries :)

        Reply
  11. PedroNY

    Great write up! I didn’t realize my strategy is extreme, but maybe Stefan put some extra English on it. Glad to hear you will use some of tricks learned. And yes you can get 2 VA cards at a time + 2 Alaska at a yime, if you wish.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Thank you Pedro, Stefan did a great job of explaining your credit card churning strategy. I recently closed my BofA Alaska Airlines CCs, so I’m ready to apply for more.

      Reply
  12. Marc

    Hey grant!!! Question, can you use the same address for your Redbirds? or do you need to do different addresses? Thanks!

    Reply

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