“I certainly don’t want to go there just because we can fly in first class. That’s literally the worst reason to go anywhere.” So spake my precious, precious wife, who tolerates my obsession with points and miles because no one doesn’t like traveling in first class, even though she could probably take it or leave it.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, but I haven’t gotten around to writing it, because I’m lazy. However, I had my worst day of viewership on the blog since late in 2016 yesterday, which tells me my ten(s) of loyal readers are hungry for new content. So here you go.
To kick things off, if you’ve never read this article on The Deal Mommy about “Vendoming,” you definitely should. Basically, she defines Vendoming as the points and miles blogger check-off circuit: Park Hyatt Vendome, Etihad Apartments to the Park Hyatt or St. Regis Maldives, Hilton Conrad Koh Samui, and of course a first class product where you get to choose between Dom Perignon and Krug. Criticizing Vendoming has less to do with a specific criticism of any of those things; it’s more an indictment of the way certain travel experiences get elevated via groupthink to become the supposed pinnacle of global travel.
I’m ambivalent about this: on the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, but at the same time, I’m guilty of it. I really wanted to stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome, because I love Paris and had never stayed at a hotel anywhere near that fancy before. As I’ve said many times, the #1 reason why I bother with points and miles is to unlock travel experiences like this, since it’s very unlikely I’d ever be able to afford paying for them outright. The underlying conceit of that justification, however, is that luxury travel matters to me in the first place. On the other hand, to many people, a Motel-6 equivalent is fine as long as they get to see a new place.
While the teenage punk rocker in me sometimes cringes at what a yuppie wannabe I’ve become, I don’t think any one style of travel is right or wrong. Personally, I enjoy travel more when I can do it in luxury, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from traveling to places where the luxury travel industry doesn’t exist (like the Faroe Islands). But if someone else doesn’t ever want to be out of range of a 5-star resort, what’s really so wrong with that? I mentioned this in a past post about WOW Air, but there’s definitely a budget travel corollary to the luxury-only yuppie: the masochistic “we took 17 connections and overnighted in five airports in order to go to Ghana and back for $175” person who wants everyone to know how hardcore they are.
The issue here is speaking truth to power about the Vendoming circuit, since (speaking from experience), it’s definitely true that the points & miles blogging community does seem to prize the same products and experiences above all others. And even if these experiences are among the best in the world, too much time spent in the blogosphere can cloud your judgment, the same way reading Boarding Area blogs every day for a year will make you want a Rimowa suitcase.
With all that in mind, I want to come back to my wife’s contention that being able to fly somewhere in first class is literally the worst reason to go anywhere, since it definitely ties back into the issue of Vendoming. For instance: if you have no desire ever to go to Abu Dhabi, it would probably be dumb to spend a large chunk of your hard-earned miles on flights in first class on Etihad’s A380 just because many consider it the world’s best first class product.
However, for me the line between wanting to go somewhere and not wanting to go somewhere isn’t that cut-and-dried. In fact, while there are a number of places I really want to go, there are many more places I really haven’t put all that much thought into one way or another. Here’s an example: despite hearing good things now and then, I’ve never really thought about whether I’d ever want to visit Korea. In the course of my blog-reading, Korean Air (and Asiana) first class comes up a lot, and while they aren’t generally considered among the absolute top tier of first class experiences, they’re pretty close. I also happen to have a bunch of Korean Air miles with no immediate plans to use them, and Korean Air first class availability is fantastic.
In other words, I could put together a week in Seoul with very little effort – 80k for Korean Air one way, some hotel points for one of the many Hilton/Hyatt/IHG options, and 90-120k for Asiana back to the US (depending on whether I booked with ANA, Aeroplan, or United). Because availability is wide open on both carriers, I wouldn’t have to dick around with ExpertFlyer alerts and whatnot; I could just pick a week and book the entire thing in 15 minutes.
Okay, so let’s say I do that — I pick Seoul as a destination simply because it’s easy to fly there in first class, and I have the miles for it. What’s so wrong with that? Ever since that switch in my brain that causes me to be obsessed with something was flipped, I’ve been doing all this research about Korea, and it sounds amazing. I’ve never been to Asia; in fact I’ve never been anywhere where the alphabet wasn’t the same one I’m used to. At this point, I really, legitimately want to go to Korea, so is it something I should be ashamed of that the impetus for this desire happened to be how easy it was to fly there in first class? Pushing this line of thinking further, the whole luxury travel thing could even be seen as a net positive when it comes to me seeing the world, since my aversion to long-haul flights in economy would normally cross most of the other side of the Pacific off my list just because the idea of flying there and back would stress me out too much.
I’m not sure how much my newfound desire to go to Seoul dovetails with Vendoming, since it’s not like blogs breathlessly talk about how great Korea is… although one of the ads I saw ALL THE TIME on Facebook when the Chase Sapphire Reserve came out was a picture of The Points Guy sitting in Korean Air first class, touting it as a great way to spend the six-figure sign-up bonus. So while it may not be a level-1 Vendoming destination, it’s still definitely in the constellation of experiences exalted by the points and miles blogosphere.
I’ll give another example, this one involving Emirates first class. Everyone knows Emirates first class, thanks to their huge ad campaign, and it sometimes feels like you can’t call yourself a legitimate points and miles enthusiast until you fly Emirates first. Given the relative cost and difficulty of booking Emirates first after Alaska’s no-notice devaluation, I figured I probably would never get around to it (well, that and I didn’t have any immediate need to go to Dubai).
I forgot about Emirates’ fifth freedom flights, though, including their flight from Milan to JFK that can be booked for 85,000 Emirates Skywards miles (Amex transfer partner) and around $300 in fuel surcharges. Given the way the devaluation winds have been blowing lately, that’s around what you’d pay to book Air France’s shitty angle-flat business class through Delta. United would charge 70,000 for Lufthansa business (57,500 for their own flights, but let’s be realistic – United doesn’t release space on their own flights). It’s not like it’s a screaming deal or anything, but it’s still within the realm of what I’d call reasonable.
So, here’s the opportunity to check Emirates first class off my list – I just need a reason to go to Italy. Justine and I both have a list of dream destinations, and when we go on trips, we look for places we’re both dying to visit. One of Justine’s top trips is to go to Venice, although for one reason or another, it was never at the top of my list. Nothing against Venice, there are just too many other places I want to go.
In this case, the Emirates angle gave me the push I needed to go ahead and plan a trip to Venice over Justine’s birthday next year. She doesn’t know I’m planning the trip (don’t worry, she doesn’t read this blog), so I’m going to try to keep it a surprise as long as I can. It should be a really great trip, capped off with what hundreds of blogs have promised me will be the most amazing flight home. Dream trip for her, fun plane for me (and I’m sure I won’t mind Venice either).
Anyway, I guess my point at the end of all this is to make sure you’re not traveling just to fulfill some frequent flyer checklist… but I also don’t think it’s insane to let aspirational travel experiences influence your trip planning. Maybe it starts with you picking a particular flight or airline, but hopefully it ends with you getting to visit a great destination that you hadn’t really thought much about before.