I just watched a 20-minute documentary online called Frequent Flyer (streaming free on Vimeo). A friend linked to it on his Facebook page, so I checked it out. The film is about folks who try to accumulate as many frequent flyer miles as possible, and then reap the rewards of platinum status, get upgrades, free trips, etc -- and because the counter starts fresh every year, they need to constantly make sure they're doing what they can to maintain status and keep flying. I'd never before heard the concept of "mileage runs" where people find cheap flights just for the purpose of getting miles. One guy paid people to fly back and forth on an $8 flight in Thailand, multiple times a day, just to get miles.
While I suppose there is some appeal to the idea of having enough miles banked that I could go anywhere I wanted and not have to worry about the cost, and get upgraded to a bigger seat, I really just don't get it. To get to that point in the first place would cost tons of money, but the bigger issue for me--
I hate airports. I'm not afraid of flying, I don't really mind the actual on-plane experience-- but the hours spent sitting around waiting for a flight, the trudging around with your bags, the constant underlying worry about whether the flight is really going to take off on time, and whether you're going to get wherever you're going and won't have to start figuring out other plans, the overpriced and terrible airport food matched only now by the overpriced and terrible food on the plane itself, the rationing of reading material so that I don't end up with three hours to go and nothing to do. Packing, unpacking, repacking. Picking the right security line. Feeling trapped. Having no control at all over whether or when I get anywhere.
Maybe if I liked traveling more, I wouldn't dislike the airport experience so much. I actually like being in a new place. I like exploring things I haven't seen before. I just dislike the drudgery that goes along with it. Having to schedule every minute of the day, because you can't just sit in a hotel room on vacation, there's nothing to do, I don't like sitting by a pool or on a beach, I like doing and seeing things-- but there's only so much sightseeing worth doing, there's only so much time I can spend in an art museum-- although I'll certainly admit that my art museum threshold is much lower than most people's.
I did much too much flying over the past few years, with the TV-related meetings in LA, and constantly flying back and forth. Even what's in my mind as constantly flying wasn't really constantly in the sense that people who fly a lot fly -- I was on a plane like 20 times in 2007, and probably 20 more in 2008, and significantly fewer times in 2009. I suppose if I had been methodical and organized about it, I could have accumulated some real amount of frequent flyer miles. Instead, I flew Southwest most of the time, because it was cheap, and it gave me the flexibility to cancel and change without fees. The few times I flew on another airline, because it was cheaper, a meeting would get moved, or a meeting would get added, or a meeting would materialize out of nowhere, and I'd find myself having to call up the airline and search the web for a decent fare, and pay a change fee, and agonize over whether it was worth it, and should I commit to the change, and will the meeting really happen or am I wasting money. After a couple of times of that unpleasant game, I just started booking Southwest flights when they were cheap, knowing that I could at least try and make my meetings work around some constellation of flights, and then cancel the ones I didn't need and use the credit to rebook future ones. And it worked. And I ended up with like two free roundtrips over two years, which was probably nothing compared to what someone who thought about miles would end up with.
My wife is slightly more conscious of this stuff than I am, and had been accumulating miles on her credit card (I'm doing that too now, and trying to charge whatever I can in order to get those miles, instead of never thinking about it), and so our honeymoon flight was basically free, combining both of our miles and credit card points. That was cool I guess, except what's been even cooler is that I haven't had to get on a plane since my honeymoon. It feels silly, since I'm not elderly, I'm not incapable of going places-- but I really like not traveling, I like not thinking about getting to the airport and packing a suitcase and dealing with taxis and guidebooks and things that cost money that I don't want to pay for.
Maybe that's more of it than I'm giving credit to-- the money, I mean. Maybe if I had some amount of money that made me feel comfortable, and I didn't worry about every time I spend anything, traveling would be easier and more fun. If I didn't try to decode the public transportation system to avoid taxis wherever possible. If I didn't try to comparison shop water in the airport (in LA, I discovered that orange juice at McDonalds was the cheapest beverage there-- cheaper than water at the newsstand-- thus on a $119 flight, I consoled myself with the idea that I was being frugal by saving 79 cents on a beverage). But I'm not wired that way. I think even if I had no reason to be worried about it, I'd still be worried about it.
On my honeymoon, we booked our hotel at hotels.com, and we didn't pay a ton for it -- not the high tourist season, I think it was like $109/night or something like that. A few days before we left, I did a stupid thing and rechecked the price online. And it had gone down significantly, to something like $69/night, since I guess they had a lot of rooms free. And hotels.com had some sort of guarantee, but only up to some number of days before the trip that had already passed-- I was too late. Called and tried to plead a case, but no dice. And I was really annoyed at myself for not checking the details and not realizing I could have been checking all along and if the price had gone down earlier (and I don't know that it had), I could have gotten back the difference-- and even though I knew we weren't paying some crazy amount of money, and the flights had been free with miles, and all in all we were being pretty smart about things-- it still nagged at me that I'd possibly "lost" a few hundred dollars.
I think this is why gambling holds no appeal for me. The thought of a loss hurts more than any potential gain. I went to Las Vegas twice-- once when I worked in Texas before law school, the company flew everyone to Vegas for a weekend to celebrate the end of our training-- I won $7 in a slot machine, decided that was enough for me, and treated myself to ice cream-- and for a friend's bachelor party, where I lost $12 and, again, decided that was enough.
I must be in the mood to ramble this morning-- anyway, the documentary was interesting, and totally worth watching. 20 minutes is a nice length for a documentary-- feels like a TV episode, not so short as to say nothing but not so long as to bore. Recommended.