What the impact on wealth accumulation has on playing the frequent flyer mile game.
I’ve been collecting frequent flyer miles for years now. I started collecting US Airways miles almost 20 years ago, but the idea that I would somehow collect enough miles for a free flight seemed laughable to me.
Fast forward to today, and while my stash of miles isn’t infinite, I could very easily take a trip around the world right now if I wanted to, and have plenty left over.
And yet, as my personal balance shifts from debt toward wealth, I had a vision of the future, one that shocked me.
Eventually, we won’t care about frequent flyer miles at all.
The eventual pointlessness of miles
The goal of collecting frequent flyer miles is to use them for free flights. (Don’t waste them on magazine subscriptions, people!)
You can get some serious deals with frequent flyer miles. The trip I took from the US to Ireland, which took as many points as a domestic trip but would have cost hundreds more than such a trip, is just one example. Flying business class from Europe was another one that was pretty memorable to me.
But let’s fast forward the wealth clock, shall we? Let’s think about a future in which you have no debt, you own your home, and your retirement accounts are getting seriously taken care of. In short, you have some money to spare.
In that case, are you going to care about frequent flyer miles?
No. When you have wealth, and you want a flight, you’ll just buy a flight.
The equation shifts when you have more money. Do you want to be on the phone with the airline wrangling about partner availability to Paris on Air France? Of course not. You’ll just buy the ticket.
The same could be said of elite status.
For those who don’t know, elite status is something you earn by flying a certain amount on an airline in a given year. Most airlines reward based on amount of money spent, but some, like Alaska Airlines, reward based on miles flown.
I have been an Alaska MVP Gold every year for the past five years, and I have no immediate plans to let that go. I love getting free upgrades, priority boarding, a special phone line to a human for when things go wrong, and all the other little amenities that come with being recognized for spending a lot of money.
(To steal something I read somewhere, airline elite status is like a pie-eating contest, where the prize for winning is more pie.)
But again, let’s fast forward the wealth clock. Picture yourself with some serious money. In that environment, are you really going to care about free upgrades?
No, of course not. If you want to sit in first class, you’ll just buy a first class ticket.
Does that seem unrealistic? It shouldn’t. Remember, you’re working toward wealth. This is in your future. Don’t be afraid to think big in your future. If it’s important, you can spend real money on it. If it’s not important, why not just sit in coach?
Million miler status
Almost every airline offers something like a “million miler” status, where if you earn a million of so miles with the airline over the course of your life, you’re rewarded with a kind of lifetime status.
On Alaska, I’m about 20% of the way there, so it’s actually not unreasonable to think that I might make it all the way eventually.
However, here’s the irony: I am almost certain that by the time I earn “million miler” status with any airline, I won’t care at all about the benefits that come along with it.
Play the game, but know when to stop
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to stop playing the frequent flyer mile game if you don’t want to. (Though I highly suggest you don’t do the thing everyone else seems to do, which is to put everyday spending on a credit card.)
I’m just saying that as you build wealth, the benefits of frequent flyer miles start to wane. And eventually, when you have a certain amount of money to go around, you won’t need frequent flyer miles at all.
And as our goal is to build wealth, then that necessarily means that the goal is to stop caring about frequent flyer miles entirely.
Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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