Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frequent Flyer Miles - the Only Safe Currency?

I'm back in Germany (for the very successful doctoral exams of Tomasz Berezniak (good luck in your postdoc in Munich!), Mithun Biswas (good luck in Frankfurt!) and Mai Zahran (good luck in New York!)). When I was younger I used to even enjoy long flights to distant lands, but flying across the Atlantic 48 times in the last six years (!) has been a right royal pain in the butt. However, a slight benefit has been that I have racked up Frequent Flyer miles.

Now, I have always considered 'miles' programs as close-to-worthless ephemeral, slippery corporate traps. (However, I admit I have occasionally used them to upgrade to business class in a usually vain effort to get some sleep on the West to East overnight leg.) So it was amusing to read in the latest issue of Der Spiegel that there is a class of person so hell bent on earning the top miles status that they will go to almost any lengths. The Spiegel reports accompanying a group of six people pointlessly flying round-trip from Frankfurt to Innsbruck on a special Lufthansa chartered plane just to get the miles - the plane just touched down in the Alps a few seconds then took off again to fly back. Another strategy is that of Wolfgang Reigert, who sits all night in front of his computer looking for the cheapest ticket with the most miles e.g., Frankfurt to New York via Amsterdam, Dubai, Rio and Panama then sits in the plane for two days. It seems that the break-even price is 13 Euros for 1000 miles: any more and it's not worth it.
Apparently hardcore miles-grabbing 'cartels' have cropped up - one hired a female student to check in at the Lufthansa machines with a pile of frequent flyer cards, the owners pocketing the miles while never even leaving their sofas.
Of course, it all ends in tears. One miles-hunter succinctly expressed his dilemma in a frequent flyer forum : "I was so determined to become Platinum that I'm now deeply in debt and can't afford to buy any flights. And, as far as I can see, most Platinum benefits can only be claimed by people actually flying. Seems somehow stupid, doesn't it?"

1 comment:

  1. Flew from Heidelberg back to Knoxville in first class from the "Happy B-day Smith" conference: was worth every penny I spent on my frequent flier-eligible purchases. Business class is not the real thing. The real real thing is first class. Took me about 12 years to accumulate enough points tho.. :~)