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  • Writer's pictureMark Stefan Reinoso

"The Lifestyle"

I have a friend who loves to plan fishing trips. He loves fishing, and he loves talking about fishing. When we would go together on trips, he would pore over maps, plan routes, read and re-read reviews of charter boats and fishing experiences. He would exhaust me with his dry recitations of lure and pole specifications, water temperature, fish habits, anything related to fishing. Plotting locations to fuel up at gas stations where the fuel is $.07 cheaper, combined with bathroom breaks, seemed to be his proudest accomplishment. He's still the biggest nerd I have ever known, and I'm not talking about cool nerds, more like the weird nerd you try to avoid. What's even more weird was the fact that he got violently ill within 5 minutes of the boat leaving the dock. When you are on your own boat, its one thing: you can turn around and go back home. But when you book a deep sea fishing charter for 8 hours....that's a lot of homemade chum. What's even "weirder" than the fishing fanatic that gets violently ill on the calmest waters? A fishing fanatic that FORGETS he gets sick, year after year. After the first episode where he got so sick that he threw up on anything and everything and looked positively miserable and collapsed in the galley, I figured he wouldn't want to do it again. NOPE. 8 months later, came the excited email request for yet another fishing trip! I was a little skeptical, but he seemed determined...we went through the planning stages, and drove the 10 hours to the coast. On the boat we went, and the grossly familiar happened again: he got sick, just as badly. On the drive home, he didn't talk, he just slept. I figured this was the end of it, but a year later, we did it again. 5 years in a row, we went on trips, and 5 years in a row he puked his guts out. It's still amazing to me, just thinking about this, how anyone could do this, spend all this money and not realize how it was going to end, every stinking time. After the first few times, I finally figured out what his deal is. He loves fishing, but he loves talking about fishing trips more. He loves planning trips even more than that. It's almost as if he gets 95% of his enjoyment planning a trip down to the most excruciating detail. By the time he gets to the dock and gets ready to get on the boat, there's very little fun left, he's extracted all the enjoyment out of the whole experience. It's all downhill from there. What's left to do but vomit and take a nap? I guess that works for him. I think the reason he and I get along is because I understand him. I'm a bit like him, not with fishing or vomiting, or even saving money at the gas stations, but with planing trips. Specifically, I like planning flights, transportation and hotels using cash, points and miles from my travel and daily "spend" on credit cards. Excursions, activities and fun on the trip all take a back seat to the most glorious minutiae in my life: plotting, scheming, and cajoling maximum value on transportation and lodging from points, miles, and airline agents. If this makes me sound seedy, creepy or just plain weird, I happily accept that designation. I don't know how many people in the world use points and miles to book travel, but I don't think its that many compared to the people who use debit card. There might be a lot of people that use hardware store cards, or cards to their favorite department store, and I'm sure they will use some points for 5% off. But nothing can compare to redeeming points on travel, the place you get maximum value....up to $.20 cents per point, and regularly $.03 - $.05 per point. In fact, airline miles and credit card points count as legal currency, and are actually divisible in a divorce. Yes, it's that big of a deal. The majority of people who do have points and miles redeem them horribly, they usually go for the low hanging fruit: the portal on the website, where they usually buy toasters, magazine subscriptions and movies. Or they book flights or hotels on it, which isn't a horrible redemption, but its only .01 per point. To them, these piddling prizes are all they think about when I talk about points. The cool part is there is so much more to the "lifestyle". Like an iceberg, the portal is just the top part, the part you see, the EASY part.. All the good stuff, the incredibly lucrative redemptions and fantastic experiences are there for the taking, but you gotta dig deeper...WAAAAAAAYYYYY DEEPER. The people that can take the time to learn and apply this are part of an exclusive club, with our own secretive, paid subscriptions to alerts and chatrooms, our own terms and acronyms. I kinda feel like there should be a secret handshake too. It's not a club you necessarily pay to join, or get in because of your race or lineage. It's purely meritocratic, where your membership can only be earned by the work you put in, reading and re-reading charts, flight codes, availability algorithms, aircraft types, seat placement etc. Malcolm Gladwell famously discerned that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something....well, I don't think he ever researched the points game, because he might have re- thought that chapter.

If you see someone take out their wallet, and they have 4 AMEX cards, 3 Chase Cards and maybe a few CITI cards, they are are part of this club. If you hear people ask proprietors what their "merchant code" is, they are part of this club. If you hear someone speaking about the "metal"(plane type) on different routes in a completely esoteric manner, they are part of this club. I'm certainly not an expert, but I am part of this group, if only a junior member. I feel pretty cool, being this knowledgeable. I feel awesome booking flights for pennies that people pay thousands, or tens of thousands for. For the first time in my life, I feel edgy, like a punk rocker in England in the 1970's. It's glorious. Of course, the downside to this fascination that I have is that very few people understand or tolerate my enthusiasm. The majority of people book flights with cash, with nary a thought about seat placement, degrees of pitch, legroom, seat configurations. They don't think about perks they can enjoy or the time it takes to transfer in airport internationally, or anything else that can significantly improve their experience while they are going on vacation. When I talk about points/miles/flights for more than 30 seconds to a mildly interested party, I see the majority of my information going over their head. Their eyes glaze over about the 45 second mark. It doesn't bother me much, I see it in my wife all the time. I get slightly irritated when she dismisses my hobby, especially when she benefits greatly from it. So maybe next time I book a flight, I can fly business class and she can stay in economy with the kids, and when she complains, I'll just tell her that she never seemed interested in it, so I assumed it didn't matter to her, hehe. In reality, it's actually fun to have a "hobby" that benefits me and my family. I've got a lot of planning to do for my 4-5 month trip....its going to be exciting and fun. I actually don't know where to begin, just because its such a monumental undertaking for me, in addition to everything else I have to do.

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