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The Entire Office Suddenly Started Talking About Award Travel

The Entire Office Suddenly Started Talking About Award Travel

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Old May 5, 19, 4:32 pm
  #16  
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How's the saying go? When you hear from the bellboy or the shoeshine guy about how stocks are so great, it's time to sell?

I feel that way about the mileage game. I go all the way back to the early 90s on it with command lines and green screens and EAASY SABRE on CompuServe, with my first tickets from them as paper tickets sent via FedEx. I was the only person in the office to take 2-week vacations (others feared downsizing), and my second trip to Thailand was on 40K DL miles and they knew I did that kind of thing, but trying to explain it with the tools of THAT era was hopelessly complicated.

I basically invented the mileage run ('cept someone probably did it before, so I reinvented the wheel without benefit of that knowledge). It was very labor-intensive to piece together a 6-segment gem like AVL-ATL-CVG-EWR and v.v. and hit the discount fares on ALL segments to have it price out at $103 RT, but the earning structure at the time incentivized trips like that much more than today. I once did GSP-ATL-CVG-DAY with a one-night Marriott stay in DAY that earned 5K but still decided it was too boring and maybe NYC was a better target.

I didn't even share most of that with family members, it was so nerd-ish for the times. There was one time when people in the office were talking about a big game the Braves had played at Wrigley over the weekend with former Cub Greg Maddux on the hill (this during the Braves long championship streak), and I'd flown out to see that and the Monet exhibit that weekend but kept my mouth shut about it.

One of the travel axioms I've known since even before the great fare war of 1992 is that the easier the access is to a deal, the less generous it will have to be. I sorta had it in the back of my head that a day of reckoning would arrive.

And so it has, all these years later. Tools are much more automated and sophisticated, but airlines have consolidated and really ruined the deals for most people. Mileage earning by flying is effectively gutted except for biz travelers, and the other shoe that's dropping is the "variable pricing" ((i.e. no chart), which removes a key element of transparency and is going to be a 50% devaluation or worse, I'll bet. Sure, you'll be able to fly to Fargo in January for 13K RT sometimes rather than 25K, but on long hauls people WANT to take it'll be all negative and that doesn't even include worse effects for the premium cabins. It'll be harder to put a real value on miles but it won't be what it used to be.

So I've gone from too-complicated-to-explain to "You missed out" as far as explanations go. Neither are very satisfying, I know. I still do quite a bit of travel, but mostly with ULCCs domestically and deals like what you see on The Flight Deal internationally, and without much of a mileage game attached.
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Old May 5, 19, 9:55 pm
  #17  
 
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Originally Posted by Hawes7701 View Post
The other day a colleague of mine was logging in to his virgin flying club account whilst on the phone to them trying to book an economy flight. I was tempted to tell him to hang up and find a better use for his miles
Side note here. I do not know if using Virgin miles for Economy is (subjectively) a bad idea, but one of the most frequent mistakes people make who fall into hoarding miles habit (which is variation of gambling addiction) is not to use them.

Because with the exception of Venezuela's Bolivar and similar cases, points/miles have the highest inflation rates in general and miles earned need to be spent fairly quickly - they are not your retirement savings.

And here comes 'failure to notice' phenomenon - not noticing that miles/points lose value (in this particular case).

People do not notice certain stuff they should be noticing. This phenomenon was the winner of one of the best episodes of 'Tell Me Something I Don't Know' podcast. Highly recommended to listen.

Ready for a thought experiment? You have to pick between four investment funds: Option A outperformed the market by about 30 percent over the last 9 years. Option B outperformed the market by 45 percent with moderately erratic performance. Option C has outperformed the market by 65 percent with absolutely no volatility in performance. Option D outperformed the market by 70 percent with a lot of erratic differences across years. Which fund do you choose?

It’s a well-known fact of investing that it is impossible to dramatically outperform the market over 9 years with absolutely no volatility. And yet, most people are perfectly comfortable investing in exactly that (Option C, which effectively describes Bernie Madoff‘s ponzi scheme). Most people also admit that Option C is impossible. So what’s happening? Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman describes it in this episode of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know as a “failure to notice.”
Originally Posted by RustyC View Post
Mileage earning by flying is effectively gutted except for biz travelers
This is classical 'failure to notice case' mentioned above.

The main question people booking flights (or purchasing something else for purpose to earn miles) should be - 'how much would I pay (maximum) for this route/ticket (or item) if there was no mileage earnings'?

Originally Posted by RustyC View Post
So I've gone from too-complicated-to-explain to "You missed out" as far as explanations go. Neither are very satisfying, I know. I still do quite a bit of travel, but mostly with ULCCs domestically and deals like what you see on The Flight Deal internationally, and without much of a mileage game attached.
Same here, plus using miles when necessary. Just booked two tickets with UA miles SIN-SFO in Economy.

Last edited by invisible; May 6, 19 at 2:35 am
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Old May 6, 19, 11:54 am
  #18  
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Originally Posted by RustyC View Post
How's the saying go? When you hear from the bellboy or the shoeshine guy about how stocks are so great, it's time to sell?

I feel that way about the mileage game. I go all the way back to the early 90s on it with command lines and green screens and EAASY SABRE on CompuServe, with my first tickets from them as paper tickets sent via FedEx. I was the only person in the office to take 2-week vacations (others feared downsizing), and my second trip to Thailand was on 40K DL miles and they knew I did that kind of thing, but trying to explain it with the tools of THAT era was hopelessly complicated.

I basically invented the mileage run ('cept someone probably did it before, so I reinvented the wheel without benefit of that knowledge). It was very labor-intensive to piece together a 6-segment gem like AVL-ATL-CVG-EWR and v.v. and hit the discount fares on ALL segments to have it price out at $103 RT, but the earning structure at the time incentivized trips like that much more than today. I once did GSP-ATL-CVG-DAY with a one-night Marriott stay in DAY that earned 5K but still decided it was too boring and maybe NYC was a better target.

I didn't even share most of that with family members, it was so nerd-ish for the times. There was one time when people in the office were talking about a big game the Braves had played at Wrigley over the weekend with former Cub Greg Maddux on the hill (this during the Braves long championship streak), and I'd flown out to see that and the Monet exhibit that weekend but kept my mouth shut about it.

One of the travel axioms I've known since even before the great fare war of 1992 is that the easier the access is to a deal, the less generous it will have to be. I sorta had it in the back of my head that a day of reckoning would arrive.

And so it has, all these years later. Tools are much more automated and sophisticated, but airlines have consolidated and really ruined the deals for most people. Mileage earning by flying is effectively gutted except for biz travelers, and the other shoe that's dropping is the "variable pricing" ((i.e. no chart), which removes a key element of transparency and is going to be a 50% devaluation or worse, I'll bet. Sure, you'll be able to fly to Fargo in January for 13K RT sometimes rather than 25K, but on long hauls people WANT to take it'll be all negative and that doesn't even include worse effects for the premium cabins. It'll be harder to put a real value on miles but it won't be what it used to be.

So I've gone from too-complicated-to-explain to "You missed out" as far as explanations go. Neither are very satisfying, I know. I still do quite a bit of travel, but mostly with ULCCs domestically and deals like what you see on The Flight Deal internationally, and without much of a mileage game attached.
I was a teenager when Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were in their heyday, and I was definitely not into frequent flying yet at that stage, so I supposed I missed out myself.

However, I would stop short of saying that the miles/points game is totally dead just because certain aspects of it are now better known. You just have to keep learning the things that may not be that well known yet.

With regard to easy access, there's also still a high barrier to entry for some of the best deals. For example, as an AA EXP, on certain routes, I can fly transcon in J for 8,750 miles. To be able to do that, you have to know how to pick the right flights (to be upgraded), find a discount (milesaaver) coach ticket, have a Citi card that gets the Citi reduced mileage award discount (8750 vs 12500) miles, and also be an EXP or CK with AA to be eligible for complimentary upgrades on mileage tickets. The barrier to entry here is that you need the right credit card(s), plus minimum spend ($15k/year beginning this year) and minimum elite qualifying miles (100k) or segments (120).

To your point about devaluation, though, even my example above has recently been devalued. With the Barclaycard AA card, I could've gotten an additional 10% of my miles back, but that benefit literally just ended on May 1.

So, I wouldn't say that all the deals are gone. It's just a dynamic, fast-paced environment with regular changes to the rules -- those who have the stamina and motivation to keep up with all the changes will benefit the most. As others have suggested, it's difficult to have the patience to explain everything to those who seem unmotivated or under-motivated themselves.
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Old May 6, 19, 8:39 pm
  #19  
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Originally Posted by metallo View Post
With regard to easy access, there's also still a high barrier to entry for some of the best deals. For example, as an AA EXP, on certain routes, I can fly transcon in J for 8,750 miles. To be able to do that, you have to know how to pick the right flights (to be upgraded), find a discount (milesaaver) coach ticket, have a Citi card that gets the Citi reduced mileage award discount (8750 vs 12500) miles, and also be an EXP or CK with AA to be eligible for complimentary upgrades on mileage tickets. The barrier to entry here is that you need the right credit card(s), plus minimum spend ($15k/year beginning this year) and minimum elite qualifying miles (100k) or segments (120).

To your point about devaluation, though, even my example above has recently been devalued. With the Barclaycard AA card, I could've gotten an additional 10% of my miles back, but that benefit literally just ended on May 1.
Wow, thanks for sharing all that. I've never gotten to live in AA world (too thin in ATL), but things might be worse than I thought. It sounds like they want high status (with a spend component to requalify) and the affiliated credit card and maybe then you can can find something if you play it right. Sounds like the dues have really gone up.

With DL I think the complimentary transcon upgrades on paid tickets started getting tight around 2006-ish. As a gold medallion I had a pretty good batting average up to that point, but then the LAX flights tightened and then the SFOs and then SEA (to/from ATL) and finally PDX and LAS, to where even DMs weren't all making it (DM having been introduced some time in there).

My memory is fuzzier on being able to upgrade an award ticket...I think NW had it and DL resisted and then DL allowed it but only at the back of the line, or something like that. It wasn't a situation that came up very often for me because I was usually redeeming internationally for lots of Asia trips in Y or for sidetrips around Micronesia (CO) or the South Pacific (NZ via UA after the great CO-Amtrak-UA transfer caper of 2003).

Probably the best comparable situation I can think of was in the 90s or aughts when once or twice a year another carrier like CO or NW would hub-attack DL with an ATL-HNL fare at under $400 RT ($275 was the lowest I can recall) that lasted only a few hours. With 2X RDMs on gold-level status it could earn 16-20K RDMs, but the thing you didn't want was to fly a really long segment like ATL-HNL or EWR-HNL and get stuck in the back in a totally full plane. So I'd force routings through a west-coast gateway to be upgrade-eligible at least on that part and shorten the flight into HNL as much as possible. SEA and PDX had the best luck, as often the flights into there would be upgraded and the flight out might not be 100% full. This time of year (late April and early May) was the prime time to be able to score a ticket like that.
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Old May 6, 19, 11:45 pm
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It amuses me when some of my colleagues start talking about the mileage game. There's always one who starts holding forth as an expert because he signed up for a Chase Sapphire Reserve and "puts all [his] purchases on it for the points".

Me: You can earn way more points by 'churning', signing up for new cards periodically for the lucrative bonuses.

Him: I don't need to churn; I've got, like, way over 100k miles. How many do you have?

Me: 1.5 million across 3 programs.

Him: *jaw drops*
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Old May 13, 19, 1:54 am
  #21  
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Originally Posted by Hawes7701 View Post
The other day a colleague of mine was logging in to his virgin flying club account whilst on the phone to them trying to book an economy flight. I was tempted to tell him to hang up and find a better use for his miles but had to remind myself that is none of my business.
Why would this be a bad use of miles? Not everyone is interested in premium cabins. The value of miles should be measured against what you would have paid for that trip in cash, not the sticker price, which is often inflated.

I don't fly Virgin so maybe I'm missing something.
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Old May 14, 19, 5:55 am
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My family and close colleagues know that I do this, but I do not bring it up in conversation. Recently a niece got married and was going to Bali for her honeymoon. In the midst of other advice on her first international travel, I did mention to her about crediting her intl carrier miles to a US carrier, and oh btw get the co-branded cc and you will have enough miles to get you a second flight for free for your first anniversary.
So perhaps it is just more context sensitive in terms of the amount of info you give, and to whom you give it to.
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Old May 14, 19, 7:04 am
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I am based in the EU.

If my colleagues start bragging about award travel and saying sth. about collecting points via credit cards -> I would reply: "Airlines and banks are not in the business in giving out free gifts. They want to earn money. Hence, airlines/banks will earn money through the use of your credit card. Merchants have to pay fees and the merchant passes it on to the consumer (you). From these fees these miles/benefits are financed with."
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Old May 14, 19, 8:01 am
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Smile

Originally Posted by metallo View Post
Does it feel odd to anyone else when you run into people talking about frequent flying in your everyday life?

I mean, I expect to hear all about frequent-flyer related things when I log on to FT, but I rarely hear anyone talking about this stuff in my life otherwise.

Today at my office, there were about 7-8 of us chatting in a big circle at one point, and one person suddenly started talking about her new Chase credit card and all the travel points it was going to get her. Suddenly, everyone was chiming in about their travel-related secrets, and people kept asking me and one other guy questions, because they knew we traveled the most.

I don't know why, but I feel awkward talking about this stuff. Maybe because I feel like it makes me look like a huge nerd... but I do know a fair amount about it
I enjoy and am proud to be part of the savvy and passionate sub-culture of frequent-flying -- although I typically hold back when speaking to others, especially work colleagues. I work in a large company where many of us fly, so our travel experiences often come up in conversation. My family and close friends know I do mileage runs, maximize cc spend to earn hotel and airline miles but in general, I too feel a bit self-conscious talking about this in broader circles. For some time, my wife complained about my MR's but after a multiple upgrades (including LAX-SYD, several to Hawaii and Transcons), she has quieted down and been generally supportive.
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Old May 14, 19, 8:51 am
  #25  
 
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I've learned so much from FlyerTalk since I retired in early 2008. I was already a credit card churner for both me and my spouse, using miles and hotel points before that for personal trips, but it's become somewhat of an obsession since My excuse is that it's one of the ways to keep my brain from atrophying. But I also get a charge (pun intended) out of saving boatloads of money.

We've had the good fortune to be able to travel extensively in the past 10 years, and have saved $33,000 in airfares/baggage check/global entry/TSA precheck, and $28,000 in hotel expenses - yes, I keep a spreadsheet. I closed almost all credit card accounts when the 2nd year's annual fee came due. There are still good deals to be had, but it's instructional to see how the reward values have diminished over that 10 years, and there are now more credit card annual fees in the first year. To a previous poster's comments - the points and miles are not a "retirement account" - use them, even if the urge is to hold them because you got a much better deal previously! I've gotten between $.015-$.04/mi redemption values, with business class being worth the most, of course. Those are getting much harder to come by. We've also had the flexibility to plan our travel around the best deals.

It's very hard not to share my knowledge with family and friends, but their eyes do glaze over after a 5-minute "instructional" comment. I realized how boring it is to hear other people talk about their great deals without pause, when we had the misfortune of dining with a couple on an Oceania cruise who dominated all conversation with it. We couldn't wait to get up from the table. Plus, I had gotten way better deals than them. I did, however, convince my son and daughter-in-law to sign up for a couple of Marriott cards to pay for some of their wedding expenses,. They enjoyed the multiple free nights from points and anniversary nights!
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Old May 14, 19, 9:54 am
  #26  
 
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Slight tangent but in the same vein...

I work in the humanitarian field and we are all meant to feel "privileged" for what we do and where we work. When I started traveling extensively, people in the admin office would just cringe when I came into to request a travel authorization, because they knew I would come with my travel plan in hand. Even though we were supposed to let the travel agency "do the work" HA! It wasn't until I started talking with the TA directly, did they understand, this guy is just looking for the CHEAPEST ticket from A-B. Paying a little extra here in there... adding a stop (or two) and all of a sudden I'm getting top tier levels and the benefits that come with it.

There was a time when I would hide my face when boarding, as I was in the front and colleagues were in the back. No more. I don't give a $#7. Oh man I heard it once from a "friend" about how awful it was that I flew in First Class when on the organization's dime, I reminded her that the organization's dime had very little to do with me being in First. The organization got me on the plane, I (and my fearless FT partners) did the rest!

Occasionally I'll find a kindred spirit and can share a few miles anecdotes, but for the masses, it's a non-starter conversation. Just the thought of collecting miles, cross-branding, adding segments, just goes over peoples head. Especially internationally...

My two cents.
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Old May 14, 19, 12:19 pm
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I feel the opposite. I wish you people would talk more about it! I'm a novice. I have my own office as a health care provider, so I'm not taking flights for work or spending lots of time in airports. However, through credit card sign up bonuses and spending, I've been able to fly my family of four in round trip business class to Europe and back three times, and most recently to and from Asia (btw, was disappointed in our return HKG-JFK flight in Cathay Pacific)! That has been over perhaps an 8 year period. Perhaps not that frequent for most of you, but for my family it has provided great opportunities for higher end travel that we would never be able to otherwise afford. (I confess, my kids are now spoiled and complain about being in coach.)
I'd love to have someone start talking to me about tricks for upgrades, mileage bonuses, etc. So talk away! Someone else may learn something!
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Old May 20, 19, 6:00 pm
  #28  
 
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Originally Posted by bmholmes View Post
It's very hard not to share my knowledge with family and friends, but their eyes do glaze over after a 5-minute "instructional" comment. I realized how boring it is to hear other people talk about their great deals without pause, when we had the misfortune of dining with a couple on an Oceania cruise who dominated all conversation with it.
I don't find it hard to avoid boring people with stories of my wins working the travel programs. I'll mention something briefly, and if a person I'm talking to expresses interest, I'll elaborate. I'll go into a bit greater detail then reassess whether they're still interested. There's no point at which I monopolize the conversation for 5 minutes before looking up to see if they're still paying attention. But when there's mutual interest, I've seen these conversations go 30 minutes or longer a few times.

When I'm the one listening, the biggest bore is listening to people hold forth on their supposed mastery of travel programs who are not even half as smart as they think they are. "Oh, you bought a time-share for 15% below list price," I'll muse to myself. "How shrewd you must be."
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Old May 23, 19, 6:53 pm
  #29  
 
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Originally Posted by model_un View Post
... for the masses, it's a non-starter conversation. Just the thought of collecting miles, cross-branding, adding segments, just goes over peoples head. Especially internationally...
I identify with this. I can't begin to count how many times a friend or family member has asked me for tips on how they too can earn more points and upgrade credits, only to have them exclaim "Oh, that's too much work!" when I explain just a few things they can/should do.

Then invariably, the next time they see me, they ask where I've traveled lately, and upon hearing the answer, they ask the same question again: "How can I do that?" Only to give the same response again: "Oh, that's too much work!".

I've now gotten to the point where my stock answer is "It's a lot of work, but if you're willing to put in several hours learning it, you can do it too." That usually dissuades most people from wanting to hear any more.
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Old May 29, 19, 5:30 pm
  #30  
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When people find out that I "travel alot", they often ask "so you fly like once a month"?
When I told them "on average once every other day or so", they never believe it.
I also have stopped talking about, or helping others who ask for flying/travel advice because they just don't "get it".
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