The useless Aer Lingus ‘Gold Circle Club’.

If you fly on Aer Lingus and are thinking of joining their so-called ‘Gold Circle Club’ – don’t bother. You will be completely wasting your time.

I am (supposedly) a member of the Gold Circle Club and so is my mother.

In the past year we have booked many flights with Aer Lingus, and apparently (in theory) have accumulated air miles from flights back and forth to places as varied as London (several times), Berlin, New York, Washington, Chicago, Southend and the Isle of Man.

However, the true nature of the programme is revealed when you try to:

  1. Register as a full Gold Circle Club member; or
  2. Claim air miles for flights taken on Aer Lingus; or
  3. Use accumulated air miles to book flights or to attempt to access ‘a range of quality services provided by our programme partners’ (Aer Lingus website).

First of all, you don’t become a full member straight away after registration – you are merely classed as a ‘Gold Circle Club Applicant’ (thanks for the privilege Aer Lingus):

  • Quote: Your account is currently at applicant status. Applicant Points cannot be         redeemed for awards either with Aer Lingus or its partners”

Next, when you try to claim air miles for certain flights (which you have already taken, or are about to take) – you are told that such claims are ineligible:

  • Quote: We are unable to action this as the flights in question were booked under a Sale/Discounted fare and do not qualify for points”

Thirdly, when you actually try to use the miles that you have accumulated, further conditions are introduced:

  • Quote: To become a Gold Circle Club member you need to earn 2,400 Application points within a 12-month period (excluding bonus points or non-air partner points). Gold Circle Club membership cannot be purchased. You have earned 800 points in the last 12 months”

It’s very enlightening to look at the language that Aer Lingus (@AerLingus) use to structure and manage their ‘Frequent Flyer Programme’ (the one that doesn’t allow most loyal customers to get off the ground in reality).

cannot be redeemed

we are unable to action

do not qualify

excluding bonus points

cannot be purchased

etc. etc. etc.

It makes you wonder why Aer Lingus bothered to set up the scheme (and it is a ‘scheme’ – make no mistake about that) in the first place, when it constantly requires the airline to give negative answers to its patrons.

Customers are frustated and confused by these restrictions and suspect that Aer Lingus does not give a jot about its regular flyers, but habours a bias towards business travellers (hence the 2,400 points required within a year to actually become a fully functioning member of the ‘club’.).

Futhermore, time has to be wasted by customers in seeking clarification on their entitlements (or lack thereof) AND by Aer Lingus staff who must reply with further negative answers.

One of the cardinal rules of business is to try to avoid saying no to customers if there is a chance to say yes and an opportunity to engage in a successful transaction or relationship.

Bearing this in mind, I’d like to say in specific terms, and directly to Aer Lingus:

Don’t set up a Frequent Flyer Programme if your heart is not in it and you really have no intention of using it to provide any additional benefits or bonuses to the vast majority of your customers; especially when your real intention is just to squeeze as much money as possible out of them. 

In this day and age people can see through such tactics and Aer Lingus would be better advised not to have a Frequent Flyer Programme at all (like Ryanair) – rather than finding it necessary to put restrictions upon, or make negative and misleading statements and claims to passengers.

Here are some other links, with comments from other consumers regarding the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Club. On the next page of this blog post I have included a reply I sent to John at Aer Lingus this morning. Safe flying people.

Am i alone in being completely bemused by how Aer Lingus’ gold circle works?

Aer Lingus Gold Circle – Useless?

fed up with gold circle customer services

Posted in Business, Marketing, Organizational Behaviour, Personal, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apartheid and Pragmatism

The prominent Irish economist, journalist and author David McWilliams penned a short tribute on his blog to the recently departed Nelson Mandela here, yesterday.

The title was: “His pragmatism was the key to building a new South Africa

Here’s my very brief response to that article, where I compare Nelson Mandela’s pragmatism in South Africa to Gerry Adam’s (continuing) pragmatism in Ireland.

Freedom Fighters

“Nelson Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa and won.

Gerry Adams fought apartheid in Northern Ireland – and won.

Both were brave freedom fighters who devoted their lives to a worthy cause.

It amazes me how people in the Republic of Ireland today, both old and young (some of the young being Che Guevara t-shirt wearing liberals – another brave freedom fighter) can’t say Gerry Adams’ name without getting a bad taste in their mouths.

Civil Rights in Northern IrelandIf you deny men and women a right to work and to feed their children (a prominent aspect of apartheid in both South Africa and Northern Ireland) they are going to fight back – they have a right to.

I wasn’t in favour of the IRA in my youthful innocence – now as a mature man and a father, I realise they were right to do what they did.

                                                                          There’s your pragmatism.”

Posted in Organizational Behaviour, Personal, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ICE Ireland ‘Currency Exchange’? – NO THANKS!

Currency Exchange

One of the worst things that a business can do is to say to a customer: “we don’t do that here sorry” – especially when it would take no extra effort or expenditure to facilitate a successful transaction and, more importantly, to enable a pleasant interaction which might lead to a future relationship of mutual benefit.

Case in point: I am waiting at Dublin Airport before boarding a flight to Southend in 2 hours time. I’m flying to the UK in order to attend the Bitcoin Expo at Brick Lane, London tomorrow.

Bitcoin Expo

Last month I visited friends in the beautiful Isle of Man and I still have 25 pounds sterling left over from that trip in my pocket (pictured below). It’s legal tender but it’s issued by the Isle of Man government with a Manx design on the notes.

I asked the lady at the currency exchange (pictured above) if she would mind changing it to regular British sterling because the Manx currency will not be accepted in shops in mainland UK (although most high-street banks will make the exchange).

Ten Pounds

However that was more than her job was worth (or perhaps it is company policy?) so she refused to help me. I’m positive that the firm in question – ICE Ireland Currency Exchange makes regular trips to their bank to change currency back and forth so why couldn’t they help me out with this simple exchange?

I won’t be using this firm again to change currency anytime I am travelling. I’ll take extra time necessary to find another currency vendor – for instance, their competitor Bank of Ireland, who also have an outlet in Dublin Airport.

Bitcoin

The sooner Bitcoin is the world’s currency of choice, and we no longer require the services of currency exchange parasites – with their unaccomodating customer service, lopsided conversion rates and hefty transaction fees, then the better for us all!

Addition: Moneycorp at Southend Airport – which is actually in the UK (!) would not facilitate this simple currency swap either – I guess they don’t understand the meaning of good customer service either!

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Looking forward to Kilkenomics 2013!

KilkenomicsTomorrow afternoon I will take a 2 hour journey by train from Adamstown station, near my home in Lucan, County Dublin.

I’m embarking on my yearly pilgrimage to the Marble City of Kilkenny in south-east Ireland, in order to attend the 4th annual edition of the ‘Kilkenomics‘ festival.

Me and David McWilliams, 2009

Me and David McWilliams, 2009

Kilkenomics is the brainchild of Irish “economist, broadcaster, journalist and best-selling authorDavid McWilliams. It has been running since 2010 and I’m delighted to say that I have been able to attend the event every year so far.

Kilkenomics “brings together some of the world’s leading economists, financial analysts and media commentators with some of our funniest, sharpest standup comedians”.

A total of 27 stimulating, entertaining (and sometimes hilarious) shows will be held at 4 venues across the medieval city from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th – bringing together an eclectic mix of renowned economists and comedians from Ireland and further afield.

The first show I will be attending on Friday evening is entitled ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY: HOW DO WE MAKE MONEY WORK FOR US AND WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?‘ and the main attraction at this show, for me and many others, will be the inimitable American broadcaster and commentator Max Keiser.

Me and Max Keiser, Kilkenomics 2012

Me and Max Keiser, Kilkenomics 2012

One of the questions on the agenda for this show is “Can innovations like bitcoin and microcredit eventually bypass banks altogether?” and given my current obsession with Bitcoin I am eagerly awaiting Max’s insights on this topic – for instance, does he still think that one unit of Bitcoin could rise to a value of $700,000 ?- a development which would make me a very rich man indeed!

.

As usual, I’ll be staying at the Castle Lodge B&B where proprietor Liam Hennessy is always a gracious host. The rooms are modern, clean, comfortable and warm, the WIFI is fast and free, and Liam always provides a hearty breakfast to assist with the inevitable hangovers (from all the economic over-stimulation of course – not the free flowing Kilkenny beer!).

For lunch I can recommend Ristorante Rinucci on The Parade – located just across the road from Kilkenny Castle for some delicious and medium-priced Italian fare, washed down with wine and Peroni.

Later on in the day – before, after and in-between shows, most of the earnest (and hard-drinking) festival goers will gravitate towards ‘Langton’s‘ – a gigantic and labyrinthine 75-year old establishment on John Street that hosts multiple bars, numerous restaurants, a night-club, a hotel and a state of the art venue called The Set Theatre in which 11 of this year’s shows will take place.

I actually had a meal in Langton’s while on my (first!) honeymoon way back in 1995 but didn’t remember this fact until I set foot in the place again at the first Kilkenomics festival in 2010 and got an immediate sense of déjà vu!

However, my absolute favourite pub in Kilkenny is Cleere’s on Parliament Street where a roaring fire and friendly atmosphere are always found. I’m looking forward to catching up with the charismatic Johnny behind the bar, who’s a good man to talk to if you are looking for a ticket for a sold-out show in the function room at the back of the pub (but keep that information to yourself!).

Every year David always manages to spare a bit of his over-worked time, usually on the Saturday evening, to meet up with some of the prolific contributors to his long-running blog on his website here. I’m hoping that this year will be no exception to that tradition!

To finish, here’s a video that anticipates the fun this weekend. Hope to see you there!

Posted in Bitcoin, Business, Economics, Kilkenomics, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Introduction to Bitcoin

BitcoinI have recently become interested and invested (on a small scale) in the crypto-currency known as Bitcoin.

Bitcoin was conceived of in 2008, by a mysterious individual (or, some say, a group of individuals) known as Satoshi Nakamoto, when he released this academic paper.

Irish readers might be interested to know that a post-graduate student of cryptography at Trinity College, Dublin, named Michael Clear was once identified as being the true Satoshi Nakamoto.

Many people find Bitcoin difficult to understand but there are plenty of links on the Internet which are useful when it comes to grasping the concepts involved.

Here is an enlightening video from www.weusecoins.com

As mentioned in the clip, Bitcoin can be generated in ‘blocks’ by anyone with a computer and this activity is known as ‘Bitcoin mining‘.

However, recently the CPU power required to mine Bitcoins has become prohibitive for smaller miners, meaning they are unlikely to be able to mine enough value in Bitcoins in excess of their computing and electricity costs, therefore Bitcoin mining is becoming the preserve of larger operators.

Nevertheless, by its nature, Bitcoin possesses a number of advantages when compared to traditional currencies, as issued by the central banks of sovereign nations (or federal entities like the EU, in the case of the Euro).

Bitcoin is the “first decentralized digital currency” – which means that it is not hosted on one central server, but rather it resides, and perpetuates itself, as a distributed currency on networks and nodes across the entire Internet.

Bitcoin can be used online to transfer digital cash from person to person (or ‘peer-to-peer’) without the need for a bank or clearing house, which means (for businesses and individuals) that there are no set-up costs, lower fees, no chargebacks and the ability to make instantaneous micropayments – e.g. for the equivalent of cents in value.

Nowadays, Bitcoin can be used to make purchases from many different online vendors and it is increasingly being accepted offline in more and more worldwide locations such as restaurants and pubs.

Indeed, one American couple recently set out to see whether it would be possible to “travel the world using nothing but Bitcoin” and you can read about their colourful adventures here.

Bitcoins are stored in accounts called ‘wallets’ such as provided at Blockchain and they cannot be frozen, because if a wallet provider goes offline, a user can simply restore his or her balance to another wallet by using an offline back-up of their transaction history.

To fund a Bitcoin wallet from a bank account or credit card, users may use a Bitcoin ‘exchange’. An example of a popular exchange in the United Kingdom is bitbargain, while Bitstamp has a reputation for reliability in the United States.

In Ireland, where I am located, Eircoin claims to be the country’s “only Bitcoin broker”, but this position is sure to be challenged in the near future as the use of Bitcoin spreads – and competition increases in an expanded market.

Eircoin, headed by the helpful David Fleming currently only allows its clients to buy Bitcoins and does not facilitate them to sell their coins peer-to-peer, although this may change soon.

Another very convenient option for Bitcoin users is PikaPay, which sends Bitcoins using Twitter IDs and is as “Easy as a Tweet“. PikaPay also gives away free Bitcoins to help new users get started.

In late October, Vancouver in Canada became home to the world’s first Bitcoin ATM which allows patrons to exchange cash for Bitcoin and vice-versa.

Currently, Bitcoin is trading at approximately US $200 per unit but American broadcaster Max Keiser, who visits the Kilkenomics festival in Ireland next weekend, has predicted that the price of one Bitcoin could rise as high as US $700,000 over the next few years.

Considering such guesstimates, it is not surprising that small-level speculators, and some larger ones such as the infamous Winklevoss twins have positioned themselves in Bitcoin and these investors will have had their hopes raised this week when news emerged of a Norwegian man’s remarkable enrichment to near-millionaire status from his almost forgotten purchase of 5,000 Bitcoins for a measly US $27 in 2009.

Putting speculation aside, the future viability of Bitcoin depends on it achieving widespread acceptance and adoption which might lead to less volatility in its exchange rate with the major currencies of the world.

Bitcoin has been (probably unfairly) connected with dubious and outright illegal online activity. However, when the price of Bitcoin recovered quickly from the closure of notorious contraband website, The Silk Road, in early October 2013 these associations were somewhat diminished.

Shortly after, when leading hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz recommended investing in Bitcoin and remarked that the crytpo-currency would “be worth a lot” in the future, it acquired additional credibility

From a libertarian perspective the appeal of Bitcoin is its freedom from the shackles of central bank interference – which currently includes, for example, the USA’s and UK’s fiscal policies of quantitative easing (which essentially involve a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich through inflation, as well as borrowing from future generations to pay for present excesses).

The relative anonymity of Bitcoin also makes its transactions difficult to tax, which is another attraction for those who wish to avoid government intrusion in their lives.

Additionally, because the amount of Bitcoins which will be mined in total is limited to 21 million, on a decreasing basis over time (approximately 12 million have been mined to date) it has a built in deflationary bias although this is not seen as a positive attribute in some quarters. In this regard a more balanced assessment of Bitcoin can be found on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, here.

Of course, no one knows what the future holds for Bitcoin, but with my small investment, I am personally hopeful that it will gain in popular acceptance and appreciate at a steady and sustainable rate.

In the meantime, I am accepting donations in Bitcoin, to help with my PhD studies which are concerned with the role of Social Media in Sustainable Business Development – I wonder can I shoehorn Bitcoin into my thesis at some point?

Please send Bitcoin donations to this address:

17mfBvRBK7KLc8E8sscumhQLvgAWwVnoms

Bitcoin QR Code

Posted in Bitcoin, Business, Economics, Marketing, Personal, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

TBEX Dublin, Day 2

The festivities continued today at the Double Tree Hotel, Dublin as the TBEX Europe conference for travel bloggers entered its second and final day.

Once again the venue was thronged with enthusiastic, good-spirited and friendly travel bloggers from all corners of the world – who all seemed to be revelling in the Irish hospitality and were perhaps nursing a few sore heads after the Expedia ‘Get Wilde‘ party the night before!

Arriving around 11.00 am I caught most of IZEA CEO Ted Murphy’s (Twitter quote: “It is wayyyy too early to give a presentation!”) ‘Bloggers, Brands & Dollars’ delivery in the Munster room. Ted’s slides were quite complex and analytical and it would be useful to review them in detail so here’s hoping that he will upload them to his profile at SlideShare (I tweeted him a request!) as they contained many useful points for travel bloggers and marketers hoping to optimize their revenue streams.

Ted Murphy - Key Takeaways

Ted Murphy – Key Takeaways

Next up was my favourite presentation of the day – ‘Best Practices to Grow & Nurture Your Community’ given by Natalie DiScala and Shane Dallas.

The lovely Natalie commenced the session with a very perceptive list of 10 points on how best to execute an engaging social network strategy. One of my favourite tips was the advice to commit to a limited (but flexible) number of social networks (e.g. 2, 3 or 4) and not to try to be ‘all things to all people across all platforms’.

Natalie DiScala

Natalie DiScala

Additionally, Natalie advised that metrics should not become an ‘ego game’ – a mistake she has seen enacted, when, for example, a business she is familiar with in Toronto, Canada became too focused on the number of Twitter followers it had – at the expense of quality content and real engagement with stakeholders.

Finally, Natalie insightfully pointed out that automatically scheduling tweets is not always the best approach (which goes against current social network canon) – because, for example, what happens if there is an international incident before a scheduled tweet is released? – could it make your business look insensitive?

Natalie’s partner-in-crime was the charistmatic Shane Dallas whose ‘The Travel Camel’ blog can be found here. Shane, reflecting on his experiences with TravelBlog poetically described a vivid analogy for the audience which compared bloggers, spammers and moderators to ‘Flowers, Weeds and Gardeners’ and offered many helpful suggestions on how to maintain a blooming relationship (free of weeds!) within the travel blogging community.

Questions and answers were expertly and humorously handled by Natalie and Shane, with Shane generously sharing his Trinity College-sourced Milk Chocolate Shamrocks with participants.

After lunch, I was delighted to meet up with my old friend Michael Connolly, owner of website design and SEO firm Marlton Media whose Dublin office is located just around the corner from the Double Tree at 31 Fitzwilliam Square.

Michael is the (as yet) uncrowned king of SEO in Dublin City (and in his picturesque home county, Wicklow) and has recently increased his Social Media presence, so as to offer his clients a fully integrated service which allows “businesses [to] create engaging content, optimise landing pages, measure campaign results and make more sales online!”.

Great to see you again Mick!

Me (on left), with Michael Connolly of Marlton Media!

Me (on left), with Michael Connolly of Marlton Media!

I’d like to thank Dublin City Council for giving me the opportunity to attend TBEX, and to especially appreciate the assistance of their gracious representative, Ms. Sarah Moloney.

Here’s looking forward to the next edition of TBEX – in whatever corner of the globe that might be!

Posted in Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

TBEX Conference at the Double Tree, Dublin

This is the first week of my 4-year PhD study program and it’s been pretty hectic.

I am affiliated to the School of Business at NUI Maynooth and am focusing on my chosen area of study, namely ‘The Role of Social Media in Sustainable Business Development’ (although the extended title of my proposal is far more officious sounding and (probably overly) wordy!).

I’ll reflect back on the first class I took, on Tuesday, (Organising and Managing Doctoral Research) in a later post but right now I want to focus on the TBEX conference that I’m attending today and tomorrow at the Double Tree Hotel in central Dublin.

The TBEX conference is promoted as “the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggerswriters, and new media content creators” and it is held periodically in different locations worldwide.

My supervisor, Professor Brian Donnellan advised me to attend and managed to obtain a registration pass for me through Dublin City Council (where Ms. Sarah Moloney was very helpful!), which I was glad about because the normal admittance fee for the two day event is US $997 – way out of a poor PhD student‘s price range!

I don’t know much about travel blogging, despite having travelled a fair bit over the last 25 years (and lived in 8 different countries) but Social Media is an important companion to blogging in general (in terms of promoting new (or old) blog posts) while conversely, blogging itself could be classified as Social Media activity insofar as user-generated content is the main output of both these internet-based phenomena. They are complimentary, co-dependent and synergistic (in my opinion).

The opening morning of TBEX kicked off with a keynote address by Californian ‘hotelier, author and speaker‘ Chip Conley in the large conference room. Unfortunately I only caught about the last 30 minutes of his speech (because of rain-congested Dublin city traffic delays) but he made some excellent observations related to travel blogging (and especially festival-going), spiced up with many humorous asides and genuine engagement with the audience. Many attendees found his words to be quite inspring and took to Twitter immediately to voice their approval – see here.

Afterwards, I attended two presentations in the morning session, both with a Social Media slant. I’ll describe them briefly below.

The first presentation was given by Ian Cleary of RazorSocial (who I could best physically describe as Aidan Gillen with fair hair) in the Munster Room.

21 Tools and Technology Tips to Dramatically Grow Your Following Online

21 Tools and Technology Tips to Dramatically Grow Your Following Online

Ian expertly schooled us on his “21 Tool and Technology Tips to Dramatically Grow Your Following Online” which are now available on SlideShare. His suggestions were very detailed and specific, and contained lots of useful recommendations replete with plentiful URLs to assist the intrepid travel blogger in getting his or her content ‘out there’. An example would be Triberr, a content sharing community which I overheard some of the experienced traveller audience discussing in a positive manner.

Curiously though, I thought Ian’s 21st tip should have been the 1st on the list – namely ‘Automate the sharing of content’ – a practice which I believe is the foundation of successful Social Media activity for firms and individuals alike.

After a quick cup of tea I ventured upstairs to enter (slightly tardily) a talk given by (self confessed geek) Mike Sowden (blog: Fevered Mutterings) which was entitled “All The World’s A Status Update: Using Social Media To Tell Good Stories” and focused on the story telling aspect of Social Media.

I was particularly impressed by Mike’s novel and innovative suggestions to bloggers in relation to how they should (or could) release their new content to multiple platforms. The normal procedure is to promote a new post to all those connected Social Media platforms that any given blogger might use, at the same time, so that content consumers might get an identical update on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. synchronously.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden’s Innovative Ideas For Blogging / Social Media Storytelling

However, Mike, being a comic book devotee has been inspired by an approach that was taken when American firm Marvel released their Civil War series in 2006.

Instead of a traditional linear story release, Marvel decide to interweave the Civil War narrative arc into a number of their stand-alone character stories (e.g. Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Ironman etc.) which had the effect of requiring the reader to familiarise himself or herself with different threads of the story across multiple publications, thereby showcasing what these existing titles had to offer while progressing the Civil War saga in itself. A very clever (and somewhat manipulative) marketing strategy it might be argued.

As applied to Social Media and blogging, Mike believes that a similar approach (see photo above) might engender greater sharing and engagement among readers as a story builds and propagates itself in a self perpetuating fashion across multiple platforms.

It’s a cute theory which in some ways reminds me of the (far more basic) ‘role playing books’ that we used to read in the 1980s (for example, the Lone Wolf series) in which we had a certain amount of automony (although leading to a limited number of conclusions – which would not be the case in blogging) in deciding which way the (our) story would progress at a number of key points (e.g. choose path A through the forest or path B to the castle, etc.)

I have a feeling that my forthcoming research into Social Media might benefit from keeping the enlightening ideas that Mike unveiled today in mind. I look forward to more stimulating presentations at the second day of the conference tomorrow.

Posted in Business, Marketing, NUI Maynooth, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments