Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I (like to) fly

Once again having been in the air. Once again having hopped over to Europe. Once again feeling fairly refreshed after a short night at 33,000 feet. So, how (and why) do I do it?

Well  folks, I’ve heard this question quite few times: Why don’t you just stay over there if you’re going back in 10 days anyhow? Let me ask you this question: Why don’t you just stay in bed in the morning if you’re going to hit the sack in the evening anyhow?

A lot of people I know dread travel by aeroplane these days. They feel hassled, they feel inconvenienced, they feel all pushed around by the airlines. I don’t. I really like to fly. And I do a lot of it. In the past two years I’ve logged about 250,000 BIS miles—that’s Butt In the Seat. 

Obviously, that’s a lot of flying. So why do I still enjoy it?

The answer is quite simple: Once you fly a certain number of miles—and do it with the same airline—you’re no longer handled like cattle on the way to the market but rather you are treated like an important individual. It starts out with the airport staff in Lubbock, who for the most part know me by sight and name. (There are a
few newcomers, but we’re breaking them in.) On the Eagle to Dallas I sit in the exit row, with all the legroom I can use it; the flight attendant addresses me by name; and my Bloody Mary and almonds do not cost the $10 you would pay but are free. I get to Dallas, and the staff in the Admiral’s Club know me by sight and more often than not by name. I board the flight to Europe ahead of the Kettle family, and I get to stretch out in my business class seat. Food and drink are complimentary, and the flight attendants treat me nicely. When I get to Frankfurt, my bag (for which I never pay a surcharge) comes off the carousel as one of the first because of the special tag. I’ll take a shower in the arrivals lounge before heading by train to my final destination.

AA Flagship Lounge in Chicago
 So why would I not enjoy this? Wouldn’t you?

Of course, the question always is, “What’s the catch?” Or more frequently, “I couldn’t pay for all this.” Well, I can’t either. A Business Class ticket to Europe runs around $5,000, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a little less. I can’t (and don’t) pay that. I don’t have that kind of money to burn. But I do have something that the airlines like: loyalty. I’ve been flying American Airlines for about 27 years almost 100% of the time, and as someone who is a 4-million miler I am being rewarded for the figurative calluses on my butt. Still, to be given all those complimentary domestic upgrades (in two years I have been relegated twice to the Economy section of the plane, in about 100 upgradable flights) and Business Class upgrades on international long-hauls (14 total last year, 12 for 2011) I have to continue to give my business to AA. Frequent fliers are categorized by their level of flying; for example, Gold logs 25,000 miles a year, Platinum 50,000, and Executive Platinum 100,000 miles. I’ve held the black card that comes with the top-tier level for a few years, and I am lifetime Platinum. (There’s no LT status above that—only annual requalification.)

Because of my frequent race-related travel, I fly quite a bit every year, but certainly not enough to qualify for EXPLT. That’s where my personal trips come into play. With my dad and bro in Berlin, I obviously am going to have the occasional flight to TXL. (See, we FF types like the abbreviations.) And suddenly my expected annual flight mileage looks as if it will be somewhere in the 60,000 mile range, with most of it being paid for through my work. So, I invest another few thousand dollars (hey, we all decide where our money goes—I NEVER EVER go out for lunch, for example; this is my vacation money) and book myself into another few hops to Europe, on convoluted schedules, to make sure I re-qualify for top-tier status. When I make my bookings, I look at the cost for the flight on a cents-per-mile basis, not just overall price. For example, my recent trip to Berlin cost less than 6 CPM, which is pretty damn good. And it yielded more than 16,000 qualifying miles (and because of my status, more than FF 32,000 miles , which gets me a free flight to anywhere in the US and Mexico and the Caribbean.) My last three flights in 2010 cost me $80 total in taxes to fly First Class to CA, NV, and Mexico. Not bad, eh?

So that’s why I have several of those European trips scheduled right now. In March, I’ll have three work-related trips that will yield another 10,000+ miles, and then the racing season really starts. I will be traveling in comfort, get fat because I can’t stop the flight attendants (no, Henrietta, they really don’t have stewardesses anymore!) from bringing me Gin & Tonics, and enjoy fancy lounges when I’m not in the air.
I like to say there is reason to the madness. I hope you can understand a little better my reason(s) for traveling the way I do.

PS: I posted this after arriving safely in Frankfurt and taking a quick shower in the Admirals Club before heading for Aachen to see the first of my buddies.

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