With millions of miles in the bank, Ryan Bingham could live off his frequent flyer accounts for months. Others, must resort to more desperate measures.
There are two kinds of business travelers. Those who have a goal in mind when collecting hotel and airline points, and those for whom collecting as many points as possible is the point.
Then there is Jim. Jim uses his points in a way he never would have imagined two years ago…
He was a road warrior, hopping from one city to another. Airplanes, hotels, meetings, all part of his work. This was his way of life. Like most of his fellow business travelers, he took advantage of the perks — racking up points and gaining elite status at hotel chains and airlines.
So far, so good.
It all ended 2008 when he was laid off from his job. Used to being recruited for his skills, Jim was at a loss when he was unable to find new employment right away.
"I lived off of savings and unemployment for a while," he says, "but that all ran through, and I lost the house about two months ago"…
Eventually, Jim started to use the points he’d accumulated as a corporate road warrior for basic shelter….
Hopefully not at the Four Seasons.
"I found after a while I could use United and Delta points on a sliding scale — for example, one hotel is 6,000 points a night. But if you throw in $20, you can get the room for 4,500 points a night. At 170,000 miles that would last me a little over 30 nights," he says.
The factors he takes into account when deciding where to stay are everything from high-def television channels to free breakfast.
170,000/month + $600/month for rent hardly seems like a wise allocation of miles to me.
Here’s how I would work things if I were in "Jim’s" situation. First, I would use the miles to construct elaborate award booking that included as many connections as possible. This would increase the chances for VDBs, which could fund future trips, and also allow for free airport shelter overnight, instead of wasting money and miles on hotel rooms.
If you’ve read my trip reports, you know what a stingy traveler I am when it comes to overnight accomodations. I have had the pleasure of sleeping in airports across the United States and around the world in order to save a few bucks and I always recommend overnights at airports to student travelers who don’t want to shell out the $100 for a hotel room or even $30 for a hostel.
Second, I would deliberately "miss" each connection on my award trip, if volunteers were not needed, in an effort to turn a one-day SNA-SFO-SEA-DEN-ORD-LGA trip into a five-day trip. Miss the SNA flights and stay overnight at SNA, miss the SFO flights and stay overnight at SFO, and so on.
Once the miles run out, Jim could theoretically "live" at his home airport, SNA. I concede this would be harder to do than to live at a larger airport like LAX (where you can transit between terminals 5-8 without having to re-clear security and thereby better avoid scrutiny by LAX cops), but its possible. SNA will begin offering free wi-fi this summer so if Jim used some of his miles for Red Carpet Club membership he could theoretically eat, sleep, and get his work done at the airport for $0/day. Granted, a crackers and cheese diet wouldn’t be ideal.
I hope I never find myself in the position that Jim is in, but if I do, I think I could stretch my miles a lot further than he has!