Where On Earth Is The Mainstream Media Finding These “Travel Experts?”

Filed Under: Media

I can appreciate that not everyone’s life revolves around airlines. I can also appreciate the value in providing generalized advice and trying to keep things simple. That’s a balance I struggle with daily — on this blog I want to provide enough information so that it’s useful for longtime readers, but not get into such detail with every post that it loses those who may be newer to a topic.

Anyway, that’s only tangentially related to this. This post is about my general frustration with how horrible of a job the mainstream media does with covering everything related to travel tips. For example, a few days ago I shared a Bloomberg piece suggesting that the two words that will get you an upgrade over the phone are “revenue management.” By saying you know who they are, they’ll open upgrade availability for you. That’s complete hogwash, but I had a countless number of people ask me if that was true. After all, you’d assume that if a tip like that is published that there’s some merit to it, but in this case there simply isn’t.

I just stumbled upon another travel piece that’s so bad that I can’t help but share it. I only saw this piece because United Tweeted about it, thanking Harper’s Bazaar for ranking their business class product the number one of any US airline.

There are a lot of poorly written stories out there, though this is one of the worst airline ranking lists I’ve seen in a long time. The story is titled “The Best in Business Class Airfare,” and under that it says “These are the best ways to upgrade.” The problem is that the story doesn’t say a single thing about upgrading, and it makes no mention of value or airfare, other than saying that Norwegian is cheaper than the rest.

Perhaps what irks me the most about this story is that it’s written by a self proclaimed travel expert. It’s one thing if a story is written by a staff writer who doesn’t claim to know much about travel, but this story is by the founder of a “luxury and experiential travel platform,” who travels around 200,000 miles per year, and “shares his knowledge of the world’s untapped airlines,” among other things.

So, are you ready for the world’s top 10 business class products, or best business class airfares, or best business class upgrades, or something (we don’t actually don’t know)?

  1. Emirates Business
  2. United Polaris
  3. Finnair Business
  4. Delta One Suites
  5. Turkish Business
  6. TAP Portugal Business
  7. LATAM Business
  8. Air France Business
  9. South African Business
  10. Norwegian Premium

I get that a lot of “travel writers” are basically just copying and pasting the marketing bullets from airlines. Anyone who calls United’s cuisine “seasonal” is clearly just copying a press release. I also get a lot of travel writers rank airlines based on the ones that have given them press trips (I’m not suggesting the author has taken any comped trips — I don’t know), but at least do a basic level of fact checking.

I mean, I don’t even know where to start, so let’s just look at a few parts of the story. Here’s part of the section about United Polaris:

United Airlines has rolled out a fantastic new business class experience on all intercontinental flights called Polaris. On these flights, the central focus of booking business class is sleep. If you’re traveling on an overnight flight, you can expect a completely lie-flat bed that can fit even the tallest of the bunch, at 6 feet, 6 inches in length.

This makes it sound like “all intercontinental flights” have the new seats, and it shows the picture of the new Polaris seats as well. A vast majority of United’s longhaul fleet features their old business class seats, featuring up to eight seats per row. It’s deceiving to suggest this is reflective of the Polaris experience on all flights, and frankly even worse for United to promote this story, given the basis on which they’re supposedly being ranked is flawed.

Number three is Finnair, and the author says the following:

Flying from one of the airline’s U.S. gateways like New York, Chicago or Miami gives you an opportunity to sit-back and enjoy the large cabin of the Airbus A350 XWB, which delivers you to your destination flawlessly–without feeling like you’ve been on an airplane for hours.

The problem is that Finnair doesn’t fly the A350 on any of their US routes.

Then this is described as one of the best aspects of Delta One:

What is special about Delta One is the airline’s relationship with Delta Vacations, which has expanded at an incredible rate to offer luxury-minded travelers a wide array of hotel and activity choices to pair with your seat. New hotels in Polynesia, London, Rome, Ireland, Paris and other popular destinations can be built in as a vacation around your seat for a good deal of savings. The goal, it seems, is allowing you to continue your business class journey on the ground once you reach your destination.

Oh my…

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my points. We all get facts wrong sometime, but:

  • Why do major publications keep publishing travel stories that are completely baseless?
  • Why don’t they have the authors disclose which airlines have given them free trips, since clearly that happens a good percentage of the time here?
  • Why publish rankings when there’s absolutely nothing indicating what makes one product superior to another?

Am I off base in feeling this way?

  1. Quite funny how Qatar didn’t even make it on the list but Norwegian premium did?!?! Travel expert, huh.

  2. I’m sure some of these airlines pay to have their names in there and copy/paste their press releases. Norwegian? TAP? THY? SAA?!?! Laughable list, and those “explanations” are corporate drivel.

  3. Agreed. Anytime the press does a travel story I cringe to see what 5-minutes of “crap we need one more filler story” research produced. It is crazy that in those newsrooms there aren’t at least a couple of frequent flyers who enjoy points/miles/industry news enough to produce a well-informed piece.

  4. You are annoyed because you are actually correct and care about this area. If you want real info, you come to blogs like this.

  5. It’s all marketing, naturally. Notice how Emirates tops the list? I’d challenge that, any day of the week. Norwegian over Qatar, ANA, China, Korean? Untapped airlines my backside. I’m at least 99.99% sure this so-called travel expert is bogus.

  6. companies have agendas and the truth doesn’t matter to them. how many times are you going to re-write this same article?

  7. A real basic is have you tried the products you’re writing about?

    I just saw a piece on a mainstream travel magazine’s website listing the best barbecue in Austin. If you’re going to write about a city you’ve likely never been to, or at least restaurants you haven’t eaten at, a good place to start is an authoritative source and copy their ranking, maybe reversing one or two places for controversy (and so it doesn’t look like a straight cut and paste). Instead this list included a Japanese restaurant — that is well regarded and where some of the items are barbecued. Nope. Wrong. But thanks for playing.

    And EMIRATES THE WORLD’S BEST BUSINESS CLASS? I get it sometimes there’s pay to play even if not directly, an advertiser gets positive editorial, but the Emirates A380 seat is flat but not great and there are more 777s in the Emirates fleet than A380s, most of those offer angled seats still.

    Norwegian Premium isn’t even a business class, it’s a premium economy…

    Of course I’ve long thought there ought to be some sort of test, including for bloggers, voluntary certification independently administered. Wanna start one? We could turn it over to a neutral third party or just have Tiffany administer it.

  8. what would be the surprise re. their competence? It is free for anyone to start calling themselves Luxury Travel Guru without any credentials.

  9. Because the mainstream media is not supposed to inform, it’s supposed to be mild entertainment. Presented in print format, stories like these are viewed by people flipping through the magazine at the hairdressers, or on the train or bus on the way home. Online, its viewed by office workers scrolling through the pretty pictures as they wolf down lunch at their desk, or people on a smart-phone during a commercial break on TV. The vast majority of people reading it will day-dream for a few minutes about how nice it would be to travel like that, then promptly forget about it and move on with what they consider to be more important in their lives when the commercial break finishes, or their lunch break finishes, or the train reaches their stop. You need to remember the vast majority of people do not have the interest or energy to invest in properly researching what is the best product, or the best way to actually book and fly it. Its light entertainment for the masses, not expert detail for the few (like OMAAT is).

    There’s a famous quote: ‘never underestimate the stupidity of great swathes of ordinary people’

    These ‘travel experts’ don’t write these articles because they are passionate about the world’s very best products like you are, they do it because it gets their company’s name in a major publication which will drive business to them.

    PS – hilarious that QR and EY don’t even make the list (which are the 2 best J products I’ve flown), yet SAA and Norwegian do.

  10. “Travel Expert” is relative. Does the author have more experience than the general public? Yes, so he/she is an expert to them (the public).

    Does the author have more experience or flight time than you? Well, certainly not doing 200k/yr.

    You’re an expert too but as far as the media is concerned, they just need someone to come to the office, sit in that seat, pump out a few blogs/articles, call them self an “expert” so the general public takes their words as solid advice, and pay them enough money so they are able to pay rent. Everyone wants to feel special and I’m sure the author feels really special telling all of their friends that they are the executive publisher in residence (or some other fancy title) for the travel section of blah blah blah media group. The media group pays someone peanuts, but they get clicks and advertising, and the public feels like they know that Tuesday at 3pm is the best time to buy airline tickets….everyone is happy! 🙂 hahaha

  11. Ben, this is exactly why I read your blog instead of some worthless rag like Harpers Bazaar. Keep up the good work!

  12. I’d add that you are way off base because you consistently have strong opinions on operations of Airlines, often rebuking pilots and opining on what went wrong in incidents/ accidents. You are sometimes wrong and best case you are extremely speculative while sounding 100% sure.

    You slammed air traffic control at least once.

    You offer so so many opinions on the running of Airlines at the executive level. Perhaps wrong, perhaps correct but you are not qualified to know how Airlines work at that level. I’m an experienced jet pilot and I ain’t either.

    Sorry… but what I do know is that you think you know way more than you do, especially from an actual aviator’s perspective.

  13. I agree totally! It’s astonishing that major publications aren’t held to a higher standard on travel advice and reflects poorly on their journalistic practices as a whole.

    I know they need to fill space but surely even a cursory glance by any editor at Harper’s Bazaar could have warned them what a piece of crap that article was, composed of copy-and-pasted press releases.

  14. In an age when communications were more difficult, this was always a problem but it was not nearly so bad, and it was more excusable. But now, with bloggers providing free to the user advice, publishers can no longer afford to employ people who are competent to write this stuff. It’s just like TripAdvisor which has killed off authoritative advice – so many people won’t pay, therefore it no longer becomes viable to employ people to provide, and we take another downwards spiral. Want authoritative advice on hotels? Forget it.

  15. Apparently asian airlines do not exist. Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class can’t hold a candle to Norwegian’s Premium Cabin for “the best in business class experiences.”

    I agree with Gary that some certification should be required for competency, and I would also add perhaps “moral fortitude.” Mainly to keep Logan Paul, Justin Lee, Przemek Jaroszewski and their ilk from ruining a good thing.

  16. The problem is the “news” is no longer the news or just the media. Its 24/7/365 talking heads and opinions. Hence President Trump’s use of the term fake news, because most of it is opinion based an not factual based.

  17. •Why do major publications keep publishing travel stories that are completely baseless?
    ——This is news in 2018 facts don’t matter just clicks

    •Why don’t they have the authors disclose which airlines have given them free trips, since clearly that happens a good percentage of the time here?
    ——Because news is a business why would they tell us who pays them to rank them higher

    •Why publish rankings when there’s absolutely nothing indicating what makes one product superior to another?
    ——-See two answers above

  18. LOL even the cabin bar shown for Emirates in the article does not belong to Emirates. Does he even fact check his points?

  19. Let’s cut to the real the bullshit and get to the real issue here folks.

    It’s an advertisement.

    I live in a state where a certain car dealer routinely pays fines, many of which are over $100,000 for ethical and legal violations in his advertising. However, no news source, radio, or TV channel will cover this as a viable story. I can only assume its because this dealer is their top advertiser.

  20. I am selfish. When I see articles like this, I think: 1) so happy most people are clueless about best airlines; 2) so happy that most people don’t know enough about using miles and points to “upgrade”; 3) so happy there is less competition for my preferred award seats.

  21. So, not to point out the obvious, but a general theme of news journalism is writing by people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. The examples are simply too numerous to list. My absolute favorite is the paywall messages that populate certain newspaper websites, suggesting that a subscription would “support QUALITY journalism” [emphasis mine].

  22. Haha. You guys are crazy.

    It was an opinion piece. You don’t have to agree with it.

    Certification for writing? I think bloggers should have to first pass an ethics class then, including the “poop king”.

  23. One aspect of these articles that I don’t mind is that it diverts uninformed and stupid people from the travel products that are actually superior. It’s not that difficult to do more substantive research on the web, and if people won’t do that and rely instead on a 1000-word article in a non-specialist publication, they deserve what they get. I actually do not travel that often — one major international leisure trip per year — and when I do I’m spending hard-earned cash on a week or ten days to visit someplace new and interesting. Part of the fun of these trips is planing every aspect (and of course recognizing that nothing in life ever unfolds according to plan…), including airlines, equipment types, seating charts, upgrade options, etc. etc. If other people are willing to part with their money on ill-informed choices, I hope they enjoy their flight in Norwegian “business class” or, God forbid, in a United premium cabin…

  24. In an era when information is available at the fingertips and sharing opinions is simple as logging into wordpress or tripadvisor, the emptiness of usual travel advice became blatantly obvious. The image of “research” and “quality” we associate to journalism pre-internet era could be just that – an image. 150 professional journalists investigating/writing for 30 different publications can’t possibly have the same breadth of coverage as 200.000 people visiting Tripadvisor every day. The flip side of that? Among all the noise, finding true, well researched and properly written review is akin to locating the needle in biiig haystack. I love crowdsourcing, but I’m naturally skeptical, so sifting through a plethora of opinions is fine by me. Majority of the population will read the most accessible thing and stick with it and this shift toward amateur publishing is not serving them well.

  25. In the author’s description of United Polaris, “Expect delicious and decadent options like lobster mac and cheese and make-your-own ice cream sundae bars,” I’ve never seen make-your-own ice cream sundae bars. From this description, I should be able to go up to the galley where several flight attendants are loudly complaining about benefits and/or their hotel and find all the sundae ingredients just waiting for me, like at Sizzler.

  26. Also, not one Asia Pacific based airline on the list? No Singapore, no Cathay, no Japan Airlines?????

    This list is total BS. Everyone that travels internationally somewhat regularly knows that Asia Pacific based carriers offer a superior product to most on this list.

  27. Norwegian Premium is nowhere near the top of “best J”, but I can honestly say it’s the greatest bang-for-the-buck type of deal.

    Just flew a transatlantic segment on it that blocks in at 9hr35 for just $140 original ticket (inc tax) plus $200 for the upgrade bid. It’s a 46″ pitch barcalounger that’s far ahead of typical premium econs, more akin to the old biz class from the early 90s.

    Sure, it’s no flat bed, but on most airlines you can’t even get P/E for $340 a.i. one-way.

  28. LMAO, I am glad this piece brings the highly divided frequent flyer community together

    I can’t imagine they skipped Qatar, Qantas, Oman, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, EVA, ANA, JAL, China or maybe even Swiss, Lufthansa, China Eastern, KE or Asiana before putting SAA, Norwegian, United, and TAP in the top 10….

  29. I feel very confident that the author of that piece has never actually flown in a premium cabin. Well, maybe they’ve flown premium economy on Norwegian and that’s why it made the list. Even more sad is that United actually tweeted about this garbage and lent it some legitimacy.

  30. “Why don’t they have the authors disclose which airlines have given them free trips, since clearly that happens a good percentage of the time here?”

    speaking of which, I don’t recall ever reading about Lucky’s disclosures of which airlines and hotels gave him freebies …..

  31. The classic definition to a profession( or trade or craft) is that there is a standardised qualification to entry.this acts as a barrier to stop the uninitiated staring they have an expertise they do not have. Mostly over the decades this entry qualification moved from early freemasonry grips,tokens and signs to craft and university courses leading to post nominal letters after your name( or before as in doctor). Even then this marks competence not experience or more expert status.
    Now we have social media and a hatred of experts.
    Folk go to Doctors with sheets of wiki and Google.
    Influencers and other self styled gurus hold sway.
    Snake oil- get your snake oil here.
    Retirement beckons but the wheel shall turn.
    Knowledge will yet again hold sway.

  32. @ henry LAX — I’ve always very clearly disclosed the few instances where I got anything comped. That constitutes less than 1% of my travel. When it comes to airline reviews, off the top of my head the only thing I ever got comped was a trip on British Airways Club World London City and OpenSkies about a decade ago, and I don’t think anyone will claim that I’m unfairly biased in favor of British Airways. 😉

  33. Most laughable at the moment is this 20-years-old, self proclaimed ‘aviation analyst’ kid. Buying 25000 fake followers on Instagram (same on Twitter) and restating press releases seems to be enough to get an ‘expert’ gig at BBC. SAD!

    Make Aviation Great Again! #MAGA

  34. I once read a story where somebody who claimed only fly First Class flew Premium Economy for the first time. The big BS indicator that he had never flown First Class was in the title.

    Etiquette expert William Hanson slums it in a BA cabin where you have to pour your own wine and your steak isn’t cooked to order.

    Hmm… a steak cooked to order on a plane. But it goes on…

    In business or first class, passengers can have their steak cooked to their liking.


  35. I’m just staggered at the list Harper’s Bazaar published. You would think they would do some background research prior. I’m also shocked they haven’t included Lufthansa’s brand new Skytrax 5 star Business 😉

  36. SHH…don’t bring these stuff to light and let the public fight over Emirates and UA business while I enjoy my Qatar and EVA business seats.

  37. This writing is pathetic exceeded only by the wine and food “experts” of this genre. And people believe this garbage because they read it in a magazine or newspaper over the advice of true professionals. Worse yet, my older relatives would be exactly the ones to book United or Finnair Business Class tickets to Europe and expect to find what they read in stories like these.

  38. The incentive behind such articles should be clearly stated.

    For travel and destination articles, I follow CNT, NatGeo and the lonely planet.

    For hotels, I like trip advisor.

    For airlines I come here. The author is clearly inexperienced as if paid to fill some space on a page. Their airline review is analogous to destination reviews on OMAAT – poor (just being straight).

  39. I agree, thanks for raising it.

    That list looks like such a random list of all the airlines they may have flown once, some of which may been freebies, with such cheesy commentary!

    Australia’s Traveller website (whose reviews are often featured in major publications such as The Age) gives honest airline reviews, good or bad, and discloses that the writers travelled courtesy of the airline. http://www.traveller.com.au/reviews/airline-reviews

  40. Lucky,
    I don’t think those “travel experts” will ever recognize a jargon like “Apex suites” or “reverse herringbone.”

  41. Hey Lucky,
    I’m totally with you — its a badly written article. I was a freelance writer for 10 years all through my 20s at magazines just like this, and when I read this article it sounds like a lot of this came from bad editing.

    Magazine editors like to gloss over minute details and include hyperbole to shape their article to make it sound like they know what they are talking about. That also leads to bad lines like “Delta Air Lines has an incredible route network and their Delta One cabin is available on many of them.” and “Leave it to Finland to design one of the most visually stunning business class experiences in the world (and the clouds)”.

    That also explains the bad pick-up photography (note: Air France, South African). Who knows what the actual writer put in the piece.

  42. They probably get them from the same place as they get any “expert” they choose to use. It’s laughable across several categories.

  43. I’ve never flown business class in my life and even I know that list is a joke. United Polaris? Hasn’t opened a lounge in 18 months and hasn’t rolled out their seats for, well, most of their routes. Norwegian? Aren’t they a low cost carrier? Why are the majority of the airlines listed either American or European? I wouldn’t call myself a business class expert but even I know that list is hogwash.

  44. Many answers but at the end of the day nearly all media outlets have completely eliminated fact checking employees that used to be required/common. I’ve been interviewed 100+ times over the years by almost every major newspaper/other media outlet in the US and only been fact checked twice. Once by the NYT and once by a trade publication. Very sad situation.

    I’m also a travel expert contributor for NPR and while I know my sh*t I’m definitely not as qualified as many other folks. I do at least get my facts straight and present info in a more professional/researched way than 99% of the BS travel tips articles out there. I feel your frustration Ben.

  45. Well done on calling out these fakes. Funny no South Pacific carrier mentioned not even an Asian carrier. What a joke!

  46. PS: and the clown who wrote the article you highlighted lists US carriers … which never make the legitimate world ratings.

  47. You should start an association for legitimate travel writers and take the anagram of a one time airline… Travel Writers Association TWA.

  48. @EmilyM ~ The writers at traveller.com are known for regularly publishing howlers, generating mirth on specialist blogs. “Another gem from xxxx at traveller.com!” precedes an amusing inaccuracy oh so often……..
    Also the vast majority of airline reviews follow comp flights, which in fairness are prominently disclosed. This guarantees that a luke-warm review will be the worst it gets.

  49. For me, Lucky is the expert on business class and credit cards. If he reviews hotels, I read with great interest, but I would consider it more as entertainment.

    Keep up the good work, Lucky!!!

  50. Lucky, we are on your side.
    Articles are written in favor of those who advertise in the publication.
    Just like the Virtuoso magazine.

  51. Someone just wrote:
    “So…why do most of you still believe all the trash written about our President?”

    I trust your are referring to the reports and commentary that appear on Fox News (regarded by many as Trump TV).

    I’d like to believe that most of this readership actually pays attention to more serious fact and evidence based reporting.

  52. A few points
    1. You are also part of the “mainstream media” now. Blogs may have been alt 10 years back. They’re now mainstream
    2. You are also guilty of what you accuse the media for, namely very forceful commentary on airline operations, which I don’t believe you’re qualified to speak of. You have tripped on ATC as well.
    By your own logic you should refrain from commenting on those aspects.

  53. Just one more thing. You’re series of posts about Qatar, eg, “will Qatar redefine economy class” seemed a little puff pieceish. But that’s understandable considering your experience in Q suites

  54. This is why blogs like yours are so useful. The majority of travel journalism I read is either: (a) paid for by an airline and so not reliable; (b) poorly researched; or (c) stupid clickbait.

    The biggest problem I have noticed lately is clickbait. The articles are often nonsense but the worst thing is the way some sub-editor will slap a headline on a piece that manages to exaggerate even further. That “revenue management” piece appeared online in Melbourne’s Age (which is supposed to be a proper newspaper) under a headline that was something like “The two words that will guarantee you an upgrade”. As if the initial story was not stupid enough in suggesting mentioning “revenue management” would make any difference at all to your chances of an upgrade, they run it with a headline that suggests it totally guarantees you’ll get an upgrade. Ugh.

  55. @ Glenn T +1: @Emily M – Traveller has disappointing (simply pointless) trip reports. They are accompanied by stock photos provided by the airline and say almost nothing about the trip. Most read like they’ve been cobbled together from press releases and provide pretty much the same information you’ll find on an airline website.

  56. @Emily M it seems you work for Traveller as you are trying to promote when really we all know that it is pretty useless they(you) don’t evne have real photos just airlines photos.

  57. Condé Nast Traveler published an article online by a travel guide who wrote that Fettucine Alfredo was actually an American invention, and she knew that because an Italian told her so. I don’t know who’s editing things for these publications these days, but it seems like it must be people who don’t travel much, don’t know how to fact check or both.

  58. Guys! This is really good for us. Let them aspire to fly Emirates and Finnair biz… knock yourself out with that. I love that Asian carriers didn’t make the list.
    Whenever my friends ask me about this, I give them the most basic info, they get their one roundtrip in economy to Paris or Hawaii, and we both feel like we won.

    I know it’s Lucky’s job, but the rest of us don’t need to bring people into F.

  59. @MsNomadica – I always thought it was American, it seems like more of an Italian-American thing, at least when it has cream and peas and whatever else Americans put in it. The internet says it was invented by an Italian who subsequently moved to New York, so that would explain the confusion.

  60. Harper’s Bazaar isn’t know for its in depth journalism. The magazine is about escapism for people bored with their lives who will never have the opportunity or the financial ability to travel in Business class. For anyone who takes an interest in aviation the list is funny but for a person on the street they wouldn’t have a clue.

    The worst for me is Alex Macheras who the news seems to have absorbed his “expert status” a guy who never has worked for an airline in his life.

    But, I think that also goes the same to you! Have you ever worked for an airline in any capacity? You’ve been very lucky to travel a lot and you say your opinions but does that make you an expert in the field? Not really!! If you were asked to list the best business class (while it maybe fairly accurate) it’s still just your opinion. Which it would be for anyone as it’s such a subjective area.

    You’ve made it known your frequent dislike for British Airways Club Class, and while the food and seats have their flaws (though the new Do&Co JFK food is very nice and your feet aren’t squashed in front of you which is a plus) I see it as a good business class because they have been able to use their dominate position in the worlds largest premium market and be able to charge high amounts of money for a low cost base and make a nice tidy profit which other airlines can only dream of. Why should they change the cash cow which is currently milking? They also get a percentage of money from American and their business class due to the joint business so it’s a win win! All aisle seat access is nice, but do you really need it? And do people really need to be totally private? I don’t personally get this obsession of being private in business and first class, it’s driving people to become hermits.

    Anyone can become an “expert” in this day and age. If someone is really interested in the field they would undertake their own research. The main stream media is going for a totally different audience who never will bother to research further. Unfortunately I don’t see it changing in the near future.

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