I Booked an Etihad First Award. Now Do I Belong?

Ok, so it was actually an award for a Canadian friend flush with Star Alliance miles and no OneWorld, but I did book an Etihad business award for myself for Maldives-Abu Dhabi-Casablanca.

So now do I belong in this hobby?

I often feel an outsider in the miles and points world. Flying does not enchant me and so-called ‘aspirational travel,’ really aspirational transport, does not arouse me.

Some people mistake that for me being anti-premium cabin travel. Far from it. The best flight awards I have are putting my wife in premium cabins on trips we take, which pays off for the entire trip.

For me, I came of travel age commuting between the US and China in economy. Anything under 6 hours I see little value in premium cabin travel, and anything under 10 I hesitate to pay any kind of premium. I have not redeemed for premium cabin for myself since I can remember.

Aeroflot Economy

There are three reasons for this:

  1. I take lots of trips. Every mile I earn goes to travel primarily to destinations where economy tickets are exorbitant (Africa, South Pacific) and my main goal is to get there without breaking the bank.  Other than AA with OneWorld’s limited footprint and the BA problem, my balances are all low.
  2. The ‘earn and burn’ mantra focuses on ‘burn’ to inoculate against future devaluations while ignoring that ‘earn’ can change drastically. Two jobs in a row travel has been cut drastically for the rank and file. The limited manufactured spend I do has cratered with the demise of Target’s prepaid products. Revenue-based Delta and United mean I earn status but few redeemable miles on my cheap economy ticket. For what it takes for me to earn a mile, I generally do not want to pay additional for premium cabin. Call it the Walmart Lie-Flat Ratio: hours in Walmart needed per hour earned for an airplane lie-flat seat.
  3. I don’t value the premium cabin flying experience all that much. A better rest is great to have. The experience, though, is among the most superficial and transactional of travel. I can’t think of a single trip I have taken where the flight is among my top lasting memories. If there ever is such a trip it won’t likely be for good reasons!

Many in this hobby have the opposite situation for 1-3. By necessity or choice they take few trips, they earn more than they can burn, and they value premium cabin travel a lot. That’s great and the flexibility of this hobby is their goals and my goals are both attainable.

Now that I have finally earned my premium cabin award merit badge, will you accept me? 🙂

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  • Shannon

    This article remindes me why I like this blog. Original, honest and dare to be different…Keep up with the good job 🙂

  • Brenton

    My first real trip with miles was in economy to Berlin in order to see Prague, Salzburg, Venice, and Munich, with a little in between. My first premium booking was British airways ord-lhr on my way to Milan and mad-ord on my way back with iberia. Then about a month ago I did a solo trip with 16 hours in cathay first, 6 hours in singapore suites, and 12+ hours in JAL first. In the lap of luxury I was pretty bored after the novelty wore off and then just really lonely.

    I’d rather fly in economy to all the places I want to explore than waste a few days trying to experience all the lavishness that the best first class seats can offer.

  • LarryInNYC

    Dear Mr. Chai:

    We hear at Premium Travel Bloggers of America are happy to receive your application for admission to our organization. We wish to commend you on your recent decision to fly in business class and yet we are required to remind you of certain additional qualifications which are not mentioned in your application.

    1. You must agree to patronize only hotels from a list of 2,375 establishments around the world. It is not permitted that members of our organization publicly discuss visits to any destination not covered by this list of hotels.

    2. You must familiarize yourself with an extensive database of hotel chains, sub-chains, and brand standards and agree to rate each hotel experience according to the brand standards. Towards this end you are required to demonstrate ownership of, and ability to use, a smileometer, a device intended to measure the degree of smile curvature observed on the faces of hotel employees.

    3. You must agree to spend 25% of your waking hours (and eat at least two of every three meals) inside your approved hotel. For your convenience, the meals may be taken in the club room.

    4. You must agree to limit your contact with locals to members of the hospitality industry. In certain cases you will be permitted to meet local people in their places of business but only when mediated by a licensed, English-speaking tour guide.

    5. You must demonstrate general knowledge of at least six brands of champagne (actual ability to differentiate among the brands by taste is not required).

    6. You must agree that coffee is properly consumed only from troughs of one quart or more and that any other presentation is silly and inferior.

    7. While you are required to make an extensive photographic record of airplane and hotel interiors photographs of sites, cities, nature, or people are strictly prohibited.

    But please do not be discouraged, Mr. Chai. Many of our members find that they save considerable time and effort by following our guidelines. If you, too, decide to adopt them there is every possibility that you will be ready to become a Premium Travel Blogger of America with all the fame and access to revenue streams implied by that title.

    Finally, Mr. Chai, on behalf of PTBoA, may I indicate our deepest and most genuinely sincere thanks for your interest in our organization.

    With most genuine sincerity I remain,

    Mr. LarryInNYC

    Blogger Outreach Officer (Night Shift).

  • Karim

    So tell us how you booked the trip and how many miles it cost you.

  • John

    I have always enjoy reading your blog. While I understand your position about economy travel, you might feel differently 20 years from now about a premium class seat or you might not.
    It is funny but I always viewed going to the Maldives as the supposed “badge of honor” in the Game. I refuse to call it the hobby as it make me feel like I am 12 years old collecting coins. We ‘Game” the system to travel. The rules change we adjust our Game. I do agree and like how you describe the whole Walmart experience.
    The Maldives does seem like an awesome place and I applaud your willingness to forgo the over water bungalow in order to stay in the town/city.
    Anyway, happy travels my friend and keep blogging….

  • Kate

    You are young and energetic and seem to really want to see the world. Wonderful! I think you should take your economy travel as a badge of honor! Clearly it is about the destination for you. When I was a little younger than you, I took a trip around the world. The airplane was nothing more than a. way to do it. Do you even want to join this other club?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Karim – my friend wanted the A380 for a simple AUH-JFK, that is 90k AA miles one-way. My ticket is not elaborate either, MLE-AUH-CMN for 45k in business. One reader mentioned if I had wanted to experience the Apartment I could have bought a ticket to Europe and for less and then connected to CMN by an Avios ticket, albeit with more of a cash component and a lost day.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Shannon – my biggest fan and toughest critic, it’s an honor to win your approval.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Brenton – I hear you on the time waste part especially. It has never appealed to me to take extra connections when a nonstop works. I would rather be in economy for a 12-hour nonstop than two 6-hour segments in business.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @LarryInNYC – a steep climb ahead! I know a Martinelli Sparkling Apple Cider when I quaff it, that’s a start.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Kate – tongue firmly planted in cheek!

  • LOVE this post!

    I agree, so many bloggers focus on the in-flight experience and I am also not one of those enthusiasts. I am a travel enthusiast and want to experience the destination as much as possible.

    While I certainly enjoy and appreciate premium cabin travel and book it whenever possible, I will not go out of my way to fly a certain carrier just to experience their premium product. I have no travel plans to the Middle East for example, so passing through on my way somewhere else is not worth it. Also, ANY in-flight experience is not as good as you can get on the ground…better food, bed, etc.

    I also agree with you on the earn and burn mentality. That strategy certainly doesn’t work for family travel at all.

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  • Robert Hanson

    1) ” I have not redeemed for premium cabin for myself since I can remember.”

    2) ” I don’t value the premium cabin flying experience all that much.”

    Number 1 is most likely the reason for number 2.

    How can you “value” something you haven’t even experienced? My wife was sure the experience of flying SQ Suites was exaggerated. Until she experienced it. Then she was bowled over by the quiet and stability of the A380, the gracious service, and the excellent food. We still talk about how delicious the lobster and roast pheasant were, and having both Dom and Krug to choose from didn’t hurt either. Finally, she normally is unable to sleep on a plane, even in an exposed lie flat first class seat. But in the peace and privacy of the enclosed double bed suite she slept like a baby, and arrived at the end of our combined 19 hour flights quite rested and relaxed.

    We would never fly in SQ Suites if we had to pay cash for the tickets, but only because the price is way beyond our means. Using miles got us a wonderful experience we would otherwise have missed. Over the past few years we have been able to amass more miles than we can currently use, since when we get off the plane we still have to pay for our living expenses at our destination. With continual devaluation of our miles accounts clearly ahead, we are going to burn those miles in FC while they still have value.

    So I totally understand if someone says they don’t have enough miles to fly in premium cabins on all of the trips they can otherwise afford to go on. But it makes no sense to me to say you don’t “value” something you haven’t even experienced. Just my two cents….

  • Theresa

    Great post!

    I am fine with economy on an international day flight. But on an overnight flight, a lie-flat seat is heavenly. I remember that horrible feeling in the middle of an economy overnight flight, when I’m trying to sleep but can only nod off for a few minutes at a time. I feel SO much better when I can get in some real sleep on the flight. Are you able to sleep sitting up?

  • Jon

    Love this post! I have a full time job and 3 small children. To be able to travel in economy IS a luxury that braving Walmart semi regularly makes possible. I can’t afford to blow hard earned points on premium cabins, no matter how much “value” per point it gives me.

  • airgypsy

    I got a kick out of the “Walmart Lie-flat Ratio…” this should be an additional component of cpm.

    My equation for premium cabin is directly related to my age and travel time needed (or lost). Wonderful post!

  • Tom

    Love this post. I recently did a 16 hour flight in Y rather than flying the next day in J with miles just to get an extra day at my destination. It was just fine and I would make the same decision again. People get too caught up in the premium cabins and often take ridiculous routings just to have a better seat for some of the way. I always value my time more. If I can get the good seat on a direct routing, great, but if not, I’ll survive.

    @LarryinNYC – Love the dig at other bloggers. Totally true, but I also love reading OMAAT. Lucky has his niche and he is very good at it, even if the way he travels is not the same as the way that everyone else would.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Robert Hanson – thank you for the thoughtful comment. For my part, I probably should have included the context that while I have not experienced international first class or the ultra-premium experiences, I have flown enough paid business class for work to have a sense of how much I value that over economy.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Theresa, hit or miss for me, if I am really tired, sure, if not, sometimes I take a half an OTC sleeping pill, others I just work through it and plan to rest on arrival.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Theresa – for the opposite, I rarely rest as well in business class as I would like, waking up hot, disturbances, etc

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Jon – wading into the parenting thing, I don’t have children, if I did, I would sit in the back with them on principal to not have them more entitled than need be.

  • James

    Agree with the post 1000%. Rather see more places. I “get” the math on a premium ticket vs. Miles redeemed is the best value but honestly all those premium tickets at 4-5k are vastly over priced anyway. Content to modestly play the game, ride economy and enjoy the destinations!

  • I just came to say that I think LarryInNYC posted the funniest comment I’ve ever read on a blog, ever.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Points Lifestyle – and he makes a mean latke.

  • JustSaying


  • Marriott Marty

    Loved the Walmart v Lie flat ratio. I describe the difference of business/first lie flat to coach as starting your vacation when you get on the plan vs arriving at your destination. Also earn more miles than I can burn – going to Europe summer and Middle East Xmas business/first and still treading water on point balances. On the other hand when your 12 year old child asks ” where’s the lounge” when we fly on southwest you have to worry about over entitlement (the next stage was being disappointed that we were not flying first!) but business was at the front of the plane lol!

  • Haha! I argue with my girlfriend all the time about this. She always says how she values the destination more than the journey, but I’m an AvGeek and love nice stuff (since I spend a lot of time in economy traveling for work). When I do travel for pleasure, I want it to be classy!

    Welcome to the club!