Frequent Flyer

One of things that I regret the most: I should have signed up for a frequent flyer program the moment I received my first international flight tickets. I flew with KLM and its codeshares. I had three layovers (Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, and Minneapolis), and spent 45 hours just to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. That would have given me a good number of miles, when I think about it.

I just started signing up for different frequent flyer program(s) two years ago, as I embarked on my first research internship in Germany and my exchange journey to the United Kingdom. I found out that there are three different airline alliances out there: Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam. Garuda Indonesia, for instance, is a part of SkyTeam. So, if you book an international flight through Garuda website to areas where Garuda doesn’t serve, you’re going to fly with other airlines within the SkyTeam group. Your miles with these other airlines will (likely) be counted towards your Garuda mileage, too (CMIIW); although it is not going to be ‘full miles’ like when you fly with Garuda.

As an economic flyer, I always go for the cheapest ticket available. I always buy a ticket from Skyscanner, Studentuniverse, or Expedia, depending on the price, the departure/ arrival times, and also the airlines 🙂 There is a well-known fact of ‘Which airlines are the best’, or ‘Which airlines have the best service, even for economy class’. Based on that as well, the frequent flyer program(s) I signed up to are airlines based in Asia, because their services, in my opinion, are the best in the world.

I used to keep all boarding passes I got from all my flights, until I realized that the printed-boarding-pass-from-check-in-counter has decreased a lot. The airlines try to push everyone to move to e-boarding pass. In the domestic terminals in the US, the smartphone boarding pass has become really common, that the check-in counters are only filled with international fliers, most of them with overweight baggage*.

*Because the business travelers have their own line/ only bring carry-on. So, at least in Boston, the people in check-in counters are tourists who pack their shopping items into their suitcases.

Why do I go to such a hassle of signing up to different frequent flyer program(s)? As of now, I am part of  5 programs, one of them is a low-cost local airline, and the other one is US-airline that I always end up taking. The other three are from each SkyTeam, oneworld, and Star Alliance. I always make sure that each and every flight I take, the miles do not go into waste.

The reason is simple, I want to get a benefit from these programs. My friend from Bulgaria (Simona, if you remember), always flies Lufthansa between Boston-Munich/ Frankfurt-Sofia/ Varna, at least four times a year. At one point last year, she got to go home for free, by exchanging all the miles she have collected. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to Indonesia for free from Boston in the future, instead of paying $1,300 for a round-trip ticket?

But, it hasn’t happened yet. My sporadic move of buying whichever-flight-is-the-cheapest hasn’t given me much benefit. All the miles are spread out in 5 different frequent flyer programs, and I don’t know when I will have enough miles.

Still a long way to go, I know.

However, I know for sure, when I go back to Boston this fall, via Narita and Chicago, I will have enough miles to be exchanged with free Wi-Fi on board. Don’t be surprised if I say hi from 30,000 feet above the ground, or publish a blogpost from there.

To close, here is a piece from The Seven Good Years, by Etgar Keret. I finished reading it today, and it was a good read in a while.

Flight Meditation

by Etgar Keret, from The Seven Good Years

A few months ago, I opened my rusty mailbox to find a blue-and-white envelope containing a gold plastic card embossed with my last name, and above it, in flowery letters, Frequent Flyer Club Gold. I showed the card to my wife in a pathetic gesture, hoping that this sign of appreciation from an objective, outside party would soften her harsh opinion of me, but it didn’t really work.

“I advise you not to show this card to anyone,” she said.

“Why not?” I argued. “This card makes me a member of an exclusive club.”

“Yes,” my wife said, smiling that jackal smile of hers. “The exclusive club of people who have no life.”

So, OK. In the discreet, intimate confines of this book, I am willing to make a partial admission that I don’t have a life, at least not in the traditional, everyday sense of the word. And I admit that more than once in the past year I have had to read the stub of my plane ticket, which was nestled peacefully among the pages of my stamp-tattooed passport, to find out what country I was in. And I also admit that during those trips, which often followed a fifteen-hour flight, I found myself reading to a very small group of people who, after listening patiently to me for an hour, could offer only a consoling pat on the back and the hopeful observation that in Hebrew those stories of mine probably make sense. But I love it. I love reading to people: when they enjoy it, I enjoy it with them, and when they suffer, I figure it’s probably coming to them.

The truth, now that I’ve launched into an inexplicable outburst of sincerity, is that I’m willing to confess I also love the flights themselves. Not the security checks before them or the sour-faced airline employees at the check-in counter who explain that the last empty seat left on the plane is between two flatulent Japanese sumo wrestlers. And I’m not really crazy about the endless waiting for luggage after landing, or the jet lag that digs a transatlantic tunnel through my skull with a particularly dull teaspoon. It’s the middle I love, that part when you’re closed up in a tin box that’s floating between heaven and earth. A tin box that is totally cut off from the world, and inside it there’s no real time or real weather, just a juicy slice of limbo that lasts from takeoff till landing.

And strangely enough, for me, those flights don’t just mean eating the heated-up TV dinner that the sardonic copywriter for the airlines decided to call a “High Altitude Delight.” They’re a kind of meditative disengagement from the world. Flights are expansive moments when the phone doesn’t ring and the Internet doesn’t work. The maxim that flying time is wasted time liberates me from my anxieties and guilt feelings, and it strips me of all ambitions, leaving room for a different sort of existence. A happy, idiotic existence, the kind that doesn’t try to make the most of time but is satisfied with merely finding the most enjoyable way to spend it.

The “I” who exists between takeoff and landing is a completely different person. The in-flight “I” is addicted to tomato juice, a drink I wouldn’t think of touching when my feet are on the ground. In the air, that “I” avidly watches mind-numbing Hollywood comedies on a screen the size of hemorrhoid and delves into the pages of the product catalog kept in the pocket of the seat in front of me as if it were an updated, upgraded version of the Old Testament.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the wallet made of rust-resistant steel fibers, material developed by NASA that guarantees that the bills inside will remain fresh long after our planet has been destroyed. Or the cat toilet that sucks out the smells and is camouflaged within a plant, providing your cat with full privacy while it’s doing its thing, and preventing unpleasantness for household members and guests. Or the microprocessor-controlled antiseptic device that inserts antimicrobial silver ions into tissue with a budding infection in order to avert the disaster of an open sore. I’ve not only heard of all these inventions but can also quote from memory the exact descriptions of each of those products, including the various colors they come in, as if they were verses from Ecclesiastes. After all, they didn’t send me that Gold Card for nothing.

I’m writing this during a flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt on my way to Bangkok, and I’m doing it with very uncharacteristic speed so that, in another few lines, when it’s finished, I can get comfortable in my seat again and browse through the in-flight magazine a little longer for an update on how many new destinations Lufthansa will be flying to soon. Then maybe I can catch the last fifteen minutes of The Blind Side, or go for some mingling on the line to the bathroom at the back of the plane. I have another hour and fourteen minutes till we land, and I want to make the most of them.

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