Miles to go before I sleep

When Robert Frost famously wrote, “….and miles to go before I sleep”, he certainly did not have in mind the treacherous task of earning and using air miles, aka frequent flyer miles, from various Airlines.

Even for the occasional traveler of today, the pressure is on to belong to the club of seemingly select individuals who form a family of supporters for each brand/airline. And, since no one airline is effective or appropriate for any two successive journeys that you make, you soon find your wallet or purse (even keychains) bulging with airline cards occupying pride of place alongside your credit cards, insurance cards and a host of other ‘essentials’.

Enter the world of online accounts to manage your activity. Some airlines require you to enter the set of hieroglyphic characters that constitute your member number, others force you to create a user name (with embedded non-English characters of course) followed by secure passwords and other details. If you are like me and forget your credentials, you end up creating a multitude of membership numbers. Then, in order to combine the 3 airmiles that you have in each of the 20 duplicate accounts, you attempt to merge these into one – easily a year-long project.

Of course you forget to mention your member number when you are super excited while booking a low fare that you found on the Net at 2 AM. “No worries” you tell yourself, a week after completing the trip. The system promptly tells you that it is too soon to request credit for missing miles. “Oh, well” you say to yourself and come back to do the same job after a few months and you are promptly told, “sorry – too late to claim that credit”. You grind your teeth and decide to be more vigilant in the future.

Depending on your expertise, you may play the miles game with a higher handicap and try to earn miles while renting cars and booking hotels. You now have a multi-dimensional (insert your favorite puzzle / game here) to solve. The crowning glory usually comes in the form of ‘magazines for miles’. While the enticing offer supposedly tries to help you use your miles before expiry, you invariably end up with three copies of Golf Digest, Whiskey Advocate and Coastal Living – the only magazines that fit your budget, I mean, miles.

Some airlines tempt you with a ‘family’ account and you scramble around and enroll all your kith and kin and since they will have none of this nonsense, you become the de facto editor for their airlines membership accounts. You keep track of all their travel plans and exercise hawk like diligence in entering their member numbers into all their bookings. This also means keeping track of a complex algorithm of first-in-first-out and other Operations Research models to ensure that every airmile is used before it expires – which might also mean egging on a family member to travel by that airline soon, to prevent the corresponding miles from expiring. You are, by now, under constant pressure to keep the system operational to the point where you feel that you are the extended family’s in-house travel agent – and you start getting travel booking requests via email.

When you do try to book the so-called award flights, you are rudely hit with the fact that the only flights you are eligible to book are connecting flights with 2 stopovers for a distance of 200 miles (actual distance to be flown is around a thousand miles), taking off at midnight on a Tuesday and returning within 10 hours (you may as well not get off the plane).

You do get to celebrate when you actually travel (proudly, I suppose) on an award flight and sit next to a soul who has paid a fortune for the same journey. And, as you disembark with a justifiable sense of achievement, you start the planning for your next award flight!

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