The battle for your frequent flyer mile loyalty: Flyertalk versus milepoint

For the last several years, frequent flyer nerds have had one place beyond their choice airline’s website to call home. That place was Flyertalk, a simple, web-based forum where users from around the world could get together and chat about various topics, from how to drop fuel surcharges from international tickets to the best way to earn miles for basically free by buying and depositing dollar coins. Founded by Randy Petersen, Flyertalk was the mecca for budget travelers around the planet, and Mr. Petersen, their golden calf.

As the the web medium matured and the dot com tidal wave surged, the offers started rolling in, and with a pull so strong, Randy Petersen sold out. The buyer? An innocuous sounding company called Internet Brands – that was purchasing communities left and right. Of course, the transaction involved a hefty sum of cash.

And this is where things get sloppy. Whether it was contractual misinterpretations or failures to uphold one end of the bargain (you can read some details about the lawsuit here), things turned south between Mr. Petersen and his owners, and at the end of the day, the fledging founder of Flyertalk left for greener pastures.Enter: milepoint.com. Currently in its beta stage (but openly accepting users here), milepoint has all of the virtues of Flyertalk (including the same forums and most of the same users) but it’s published on a different, more aesthetic platform.

So what’s the core difference? Technology is a key component to any website, but in a public forum, it’s the users that make the site function. And if the same users are using Flyertalk and milepoint then there’s no way to tell them apart. A legacy post in the American Airlines forum of Flyertalk, for example, is similarly covered over at Milepoint, while numerous threads at the latter have links back to the former. Asked about the difference over on twitter, Gary Leff, Mr. Petersen’s right hand man had little to reveal, so it’s possible that the brass at milepoint are hiding some new fancy tricks up their sleeves.

Other people involved in creating milepoint come from the FTawards – which were created after Randy Petersen quit organizing the Freddie Awards in 2009. End result – even though Randy Petersen gave up Flyertalk and the Freddie Awards, he didn’t waste time getting right back in the game.

The world of online communities is a relatively small one – which explains how milepoint ended up running on a brand new community server called XenForo. This new platform was developed by the programmers of VBulletin – which powers Flyertalk. VBulletin was purchased in 2008 by – you guessed it – Internet Brands. Still with us? But the lead programmer for VBulletin was unhappy with his new overlords and left Internet Brands to create a new company – which just so happens to be the one that powers milepoint. As we said – it is a small world. Of course, in keeping with tradition, Xenforo is involved in its own lawsuits with Internet Brands (at least according to Wikipedia).

Whether the current hardcore group of Flyertalk members will find enough value to switch to milepoint remains to be seen – but when we spoke to some of the new members, they were already unhappy to see previously banned members of Flyertalk happily posting on milepoint. In its current state, milepoint is little more than a smaller clone of Flyertalk, with a gregarious – some say eccentric – leader at its helm. And can one single person an entire community make? Maybe so. But like Joseph Smith led the Mormons away from Christianity, there’s no telling how divergent the community may grow.

[flickr image via garybembridge]