How to give gifts without a side of offense
November 29, 2017 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I have a group of online friends I've become close with recently, and we're planning a meetup in person in January. A few of the members aren't able to come due to financial reasons, but I'd really like to see them. I have airline miles I could give them (or just cash for a flight) but I'm not sure how to offer without offending them/making it weird/offending others (or if I should offer at all).

I'm in a group of about 25 women and nonbinary people (in our 20s and 30s) who met through a common interest group online and have grown very close over the past few months. A little over half of them live on the east coast, so we decided to meet up in a big city on that coast in January. Many people are making it work to attend for at least part of the weekend, but some people who live on the west coast aren't joining for budget/time/other reasons, as well as some people who live closer but can't make it work for money/time/other reasons. 3 of the members who aren't going to come in particular are people I have met already or spent a lot of time talking to previously, and I would really like to see them at the meetup! I also have a lot of frequent flyer miles (some of which are going to expire in a few months) and a budget for travel that I'm not going to use up entirely. In general, giving gifts is one of my love languages and I have sent small birthday presents previously without concern (and that's something the group often does, collect money and send folks gifts when they are having a hard time). However, I'm concerned that this bigger offer of a flight could lead to weirdness because:

1) I can't make this offer for everyone, so will folks who couldn't come for money reasons find out and feel bad that I didn't offer it to them?
2) I know from discussions in the group that I make a lot more money than most (I'm not exorbitantly wealthy or anything, but I work in tech and don't have any debt, whereas many of them are living on student loans/minimum wage/1 salary with kids/etc), and I already feel a little bit like a weirdo when they are complaining about bills/costs/money and I just don't say anything because my money problems are so much less serious. I worry that making this offer will make it seem like I am lording my money over them. Prior to this group of friends I've mostly been close with people who grew up upper/middle class, went to college, and got a professional job (like I did), so I'm admittedly feeling a little out of my element and worried about stepping on toes.
3) In addition to not wanting to come across as overly frivolous about money, I also worry about my relationships with the specific individuals - I don't want them to feel like I am treating them as charity case, or make them feel like they owe me anything.

I may be overthinking all of this (a known specialty of mine), but I really like these people and am often intimidated by how smart and cool and kind they are, and I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable. My main questions are:
A) Is this a good idea to offer, or is it too fraught with potential downsides?
B) If I do offer it, how do I ask them?
C) Do I tell other people in our group proactively, don't say anything but let it come up, or ask the folks to keep it quiet?
posted by jouir to Human Relations (10 answers total)
If you can't extend the offer to everyone, the potential for drama is high.

If there's anyone you are particularly close with and trust, you could discuss the potential for the offer with them, with the caveat that both of you would need to understand that it would be super awkward if the rest of the group found out you'd given that gift. But know there's ALWAYS the potential that people's feelings are going to be hurt and there could be some group dynamic issues because of it.

I've been in a similar situation -- I travel a lot for work and I'm allowed to keep my miles, and I've been able to offer flights to come visit to far-away friends. In order to not make it awkward, I just honestly said that I had expiring miles I wasn't going to be able to use and I would love to use them to have my friend come visit.

When I was young and broke, if there was something I couldn't attend because I couldn't afford the flight and I found out later that someone could have offered me a free flight but didn't because they were worried about offending me... I would have been more offended by their cluelessness, because when I was young and broke, I would have given anything to be able to travel.
posted by erst at 7:37 PM on November 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

What about instituting a group scholarship fund for meeting up? It can be open for anyone to apply on an as-needed basis, and perhaps it would subsidize travel sometimes instead of always fully funding it, to help spread the help around to more folks. You could be the primary donor starting it up, but make your donation anonymous if you like. And maybe others will be able to donate as well.

We do this in my singing group, where folks travel nationally to and from various cities to sing together in the context of a very particular musical tradition. My city has a travel fund. People donate, anonymously or publicly as they wish. Anyone from our city or who is traveling to visit our city to sing can apply for a travel grant. Travel grants subsidize expenses but don't fully cover them, and preference is given to folks who haven't used the program before. Your community could set up their own rules to suit the community culture. You wouldn't get to pick on your own who gets the help under this system, but maybe that in itself would remove some of the potential for awkwardness.
posted by cnidaria at 7:47 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, in my group, anonymity is not really a super big deal. Some give, some don't, some can't, and everyone loves singing this music together.
posted by cnidaria at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Consider also that some people may not want to attend and are using their financial situation as a logical reason to say no to the meet up. Not everybody likes being in large groups, or traveling. The flight is also not the only cost associated with a trip, and they may not be able to cover meals or incidentals depending on their situation.

Introducing money into friendships is always a gamble. I would say that if you were offering to help one friend, and it was your bestie in the group and they would keep it on the down low, that would be one thing. But choosing 3 people that you really like and offering to pay their flights only opens up the door for lots of unhappiness.

The truth is that all social groups have hierarchies, but highlighting those hierarchies and attaching finances to them is playing with fire. Not everyone is always able to do everything. Maybe instead try to plan to go visit these friends one on one.
posted by sockermom at 4:43 AM on November 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

One way to do this would be to offer up the expiring air miles to anyone who is interested.

Don't offer cash, don't pay expenses just offer out this resource that would otherwise go unused. It then becomes part of the common resource of the group and if someone needs it they can contact you directly, once it's gone, it's gone, no favourites, no foul.

Other people might have other stuff to contribute to the pool of 'kick-ass week of meetup' - a spare bed or a gig spot, or an amazing cake, who knows.
posted by freya_lamb at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I would just offer the miles and I would offer to everyone and let them work it out. I'd just say in the group forum, "I have extra miles and they will expire soon. Would someone who wants to come but can't swing tickets right now please take these off my hands?" and let them come to you.

I wouldn't offer to pay money for their tickets as it is too awkward at this stage of the relationship.
posted by latkes at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I see a lot of potential for drama and awkwardness in the group, and some people may be using financial reasons as a plausible excuse and may not want or be able to come for other reasons.

What if you used the money/miles to go to them instead? Maybe a mini meetup on the west coast, or closer to wherever your 3 "favourites" live? You'd get to see them without any risk of harming your friendships, and it would be much cheaper to fly one person over than 3 or more.
posted by randomnity at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2017

It's easier with airline miles that are expiring, cuz they're not something that "cost" you anything now, so if I were one of these friends for whom the airfare were the hurdle, I'd happily jump on the airline miles. If these are people you talk with individually outside the group I think it would be fine to offer them up to them in private conversations. If they're receptive, you can then back and forth about something like "we can share rooming costs" or other cost-sharing ways you could be generous without it being weird. Especially if you're open to their saying they still can't make it (and make it clear up front that you will be), I think y'all will be fine.
posted by ldthomps at 1:00 PM on November 30, 2017

At y'all's suggestions, I posted in our group forum that I had expiring airline miles, available first come first serve. Everyone was very sweet about it and I'm gonna be able to help 4 more people come to the event! Thank you everyone!

Only 1 of the people who is using the miles ended up being one of the people I was thinking of asking, so I suspect the other 2 had other reasons for not going like sockermom said, and it was probably for the best I didn't put them on the spot.
posted by jouir at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't offer to pay money for their tickets as it is too awkward at this stage of the relationship.
I have no advice to offer on the interpersonal/emotional line, but I thought I'd mention that most airline programs have a deal-io where you can buy frequent flier miles, so if you wanted to cast the cloak of plausibility over an act of charity, you could launder cash into miles. Knowing airlines, this would work out to cost three times as much, of course...
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2017

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