Searching for California Casual Chic

A note from Greg the Frequent Miler: In November 2017, Barclaycard offered to send me on an all-expense-paid first class trip to California to learn about the new Uber credit card. Their goal was clearly to butter me up to write good things about the card. Conflict of interest? Absolutely. Was I interested anyway? You bet — it sounded awesome. Plus, there were no explicit strings attached. In other words, there was no requirement for us to write about the card or the trip, or anything else for that matter. Since we had already written good things about the Uber card, I figured that the conflict of interest issues were actually pretty small. But neither I nor Nick could go since it overlapped with FTU Chicago. So, instead, I forwarded the invite to author and photographer J.M. Hoffman. To-date, for Frequent Miler, Joel has published several destination guides under the heading “You’ve gotta see this”: Australian Wildlife, Melbourne and Sydney, and the Florida Everglades. Now, Joel adds a few lighthearted stories about his all-expense-paid Uber-adventure. 

And, for the record, I would have been equally at a loss for how to dress “California casual chic,” but at least I know who Katy Perry is…

I was told to dress in “California casual chic,” so right off the bat I had a problem, because I’d never used those three words together.

My destination was Los Angeles, for a three-day weekend of tier-one experiences highlighting the vast rewards at the finger tips of Uber card members. (Yes, I lifted that misleading phrase directly from the promotional material sent to me by Uber and Barclaycard, who paid for my extravagant trip to announce the launch of their new Visa card.) I suspected, however, that those top-notch experiences were designed for people who know how to dress in California Casual Chic, not for people like me who wear New York Whatever’s Convenient.

My All-Expenses-Paid Suite at the SLS Hollywood

And that was before I knew that I’d be joined in Los Angeles by such elegant “influencers” as Christie Ferrari, PhD, who reaches hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram; and Kimia Kalbasi, who is going to win a prestigious award one day for her innovative photographic sense. I, on the other hand, didn’t even know that “influencer” was a job.

Even my hotel, the fabulous SLS Hollywood, reminded me of where I was, with a mirror-shelf in my room displaying an SLS-branded fan next to a solitary die (for luck). I bet that was California Casual Chic. I bet Snake Girl watching over the hotel billiard table was, too.

Snake Girl in the SLS Hollywood

And let’s be clear about something else: When Uber throws a party, they go all out. Our first cocktail hour — just one of many, and longer than an hour — featured drinks crafted with liquid nitrogen. And you don’t want to be ill-dressed at a magic-potion party.

Magic-Potion Cocktails at the Uber Launch Party

Then it was off to the exclusive Catch LA for dinner in a private dining room specially redecorated with prominent branding.

In fact, it turned out that our program offered a well-rounded, careful balance each day of breakfast, lunch, and dinner (roughly two hours apiece), plus copious drinks, of course, including cannabis cocktails in at least one spot:

Cannabis Cocktails at Gracias Madre

That kind of grueling schedule leaves precious little time for other events, so our only true destinations were a wine-tasting “safari” (outdoor zoo) in the stunning Malibu hills and a show by LCD Soundsystem at the famous Hollywood Palladium. (“LCD Soundsystem” is the name of a band, not, as I first thought, the technology they use.)

Lauren Bowling at Malibu Wine Safaris

We also had an afternoon pool party at Katy Perry’s old residence in the foothills overlooking Los Angeles, where stars like Kevin Hart and Laz Alonso dropped by to see and be seen, and the singer Wrabel dropped by to sing. (And by “dropped by,” I mean they were paid to show up.)

Pool Party at Katy Perry’s Former Residence

Wrabel Gives a Private Sunset Performance

So there I was, spending thousands of dollars of other people’s money on dozens of hours of eating and drinking, of seeing and being seen, and of acting like a VIP:

My Ride for the Weekend: A motorcade of these custom-decorated SUVs drew stares as Uber brought us to each new destination.

On one hand, this weekend clearly wasn’t for me. I’d never heard of LCD Soundsystem. I didn’t know who the stars who dropped by were. I didn’t even know who Katy Perry was. (Turns out she’s pretty famous, at least to judge by her 68+ million followers on Instagram.) When I go on safari, it’s not to Malibu wine country but to the African bush. I’m not a big drinker. And I had never used Uber!

On the other hand, I did have a blast, in spite of my I-go-on-safari-in-Africa snootiness. And while I didn’t sign up for the Uber card, I have started using Uber from time to time.

Still, the finances of the card nagged at me. Why did they spend so much promoting it? How could they offer 4% cash-back on dining without charging an annual fee? Wouldn’t they lose money on each dining transaction? And why didn’t they offer 4% cash-back on Uber rides? I’m still working on those. In the meantime, Harvard’s Scott Kominers has a few thoughts.

And as for California Casual Chic? Well, it turns out the SLS Hollywood has some samples conveniently painted right there on the elevator wall. So I took a selfie with them.

I blend right in, don’t I?

Selfie With Pretend People who are California Casual Chic

About J.M. Hoffman

Author and avid photographer.

More articles by J.M. Hoffman »


  1. HILARIOUS. Thanks for the laughs. I live in L.A. People can be very pretentious in this city. I gagged at the influencers’ sites peddling all sorts of products. It all looked so authentic. 😉

  2. I often wondered why so many of the blogs and articles that I find on the internet when I research credit cards, etc are seemingly so biased and often misleading. I think some are heavily influenced by the perks.

    Thanks for this blog and the info that you provide. This was a GREAT story!

  3. Great write up!!! It looks like Uber is flush with cash and paid everything?

    Did Barclay have some reps at the events? Did they suggest or provide talking/writing points to help spread the propaganda?

    • All of my expenses were covered. I didn’t even need to provide a credit card when I checked in to the hotel.

      At first I felt awkward ordering a $48 breakfast of eggs, coffee, and juice (though the eggs were worth every penny of someone else’s money — truly outstanding), but only until I found out that another blogger charged a $350 massage to his room!

      I don’t know whether it was Uber or Barclaycard that covered the expenses.

      Barclaycard had reps at the event, and both they and the Uber people explained the card, but at least in my case they didn’t tell me what to write. And I wouldn’t call anything “propaganda.” The card offers 4% back on dining, and doesn’t have an annual fee. I think that’s a good deal for a lot of people, and I wrote a quick piece about that here. The card also offers less cash back — variously 1%, 2%, or 3% — on other categories, and even though that might be worth it for some people as well, I chose not to write about those other categories. But I could have. The event gave me all the details.

  4. Loved it! Even though there’s some amount of jealousy going on here from someone who will never attend such events, it’s great to read about it written by someone who shares similar views of such events.

    • Glad you liked it!

      This was my first time attending an event like this, and I have to say that I loved it, even as a cultural outsider.

      Even more, I really enjoyed meeting the other people on the trip.

  5. Funny post. Definitely makes me dislike Uber more though. And BarclayCard a bit too. Hate the cali culture.

    Influencers = marketing pawns. They probably don’t even realize they are the pawns being “influenced” by their corporate “partners”.

  6. Sad to see this product-placement series continues, but at least the disclaimer is now at the top of the article. The title is also not misleading like the previous installment.

    • I was very critical of the first post (first comment complaining about it!), but my take on this one is very different. It gives us insight into how the industry pampers “influencers” and speaks in a tone that does not take any of it for granted. It does not “teach me stuff” the same way most FM articles do, but it helps me with a perspective on where some of the big bloggers may be coming from when they relentlessly blast certain credit cards. At a minimum, I find this post as transparent as possible with what was going on, and funny to read.

  7. A good movie to pair with this post would be “Ingrid Goes West.” It’s a film about a depressed social media addict who heads to Los Angeles to stalk a social media “influencer.” Good stuff.

  8. I think I should have been clearer that I really enjoyed meeting the bloggers, influencers, and organizers that were with me in LA. It’s true that I felt like I was in a foreign culture, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love my exposure to new ways of doing things.

  9. A $350 massage? Wow! Of course we would all like to know who the jerk is that milked that trip to that degree. Might it have been a blogger we all know? Shameful in my mind.

    The over-the-top nature of this trip was beyond what I could imagine a company would create. The budget would feed the homeless in a city for a year. Yipes! I am happily living vicariously.

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