White Collar Travel: Three perspectives on business travelers and their miles

What would you do with 300,000 frequent flier miles in your account – not to mention enough hotel points to get you 10 days in the blissful destination of your choice? Your imagination is probably running wild, as mine did when I got my first travel-intensive gig a decade ago. I had visions of southern France: soaking in the Mediterranean sun, roulette in Monte Carlo and smoking Cuban cigars from a balcony overlooking the ville.

Six months later, I fantasized about sleeping in my own bed for three nights in a row, in a one bedroom apartment I shared in a suburb of Boston. Eventually, I did burn most of my miles, some of them to Nice and Monaco, but not under the circumstances I expected. Along the way, I saw three major attitudes that business travelers had toward the points and miles they’d collected.1. Points are to be amassed, not used
Among the hardcores, this was the norm. We were all engaged in an unspoken race, the point of which was to make the numbers ever higher. Strangely, this exercise was separate from status. Points are for “winning,” status is about comfort. As far back as 1999, a client mentioned to me that he’d overheard two guys in a restaurant swapping astronomical numbers. He asked me, “Will they ever use those miles?” I just shook my head “no” and let out a mouthful of smoke.

2. My day will come
Road warriors who have plans to leave the life at some point think about consumption. In a few years – when they get “normal” jobs – they’ll take a few mind-blowing trips … in style. Exotic locations, first class seats and unimaginable luxury are the salient objective, and there may be plans for the girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse who tends to materialize shortly after life on the road comes to a close. The major risk is burnout: these folks need to get off the road before they find the prospect of travel under any circumstances utterly loathsome.

3. Go away instead of getaway
I ran into a few people who had but one dream: watching it all expire. They miss their families and crave a normal life. I remember one of my bosses reflecting, “The only thing better than watching ’em get higher will be sitting back and watching ’em expire.”

Be sure to check out Episode 5 of Travel Talk TV, which features a Santa Cruz beach adventure; explains why Scottish money is no good; shows how to cook brats the German way; and offers international dating tips!