Big thanks to Scott Mayerowitz for his AP article, which appeared in a number of places today. A quick snippet:
There are people who grew up wanting to be Mickey Mantle. They go to Yankees fantasy camp. Others dream of playing Carnegie Hall. They join the summer orchestra at the shore. Then there are aviation geeks like Mueller. People like him — and there are more than you think — charter a commercial airliner and hop across the country visiting the Meccas of the aviation world.
The camaraderie was part of the trip’s appeal. Sure, it was really cool to walk inside the first 747 ever built. But it was also fun to gulp down gin and tonics midair with other guys — three out of four passengers were male — who have the same passion for flying. How much fun? Well, American stocked the plane with four times the liquor of a normal flight.
In each row, stories were swapped of amazing meals and opulent hotels in faraway lands — all paid for with frequent flier miles. These travelers don’t just love to fly; they are obsessed with collecting frequent flier miles at the cheapest possible cost.
The fliers, who ranged in age from 20 to 81 and hailed from as far away as Chile, India and Italy, know the ins and outs of the programs better than anybody else and share pointers in online travel forums such as MilePoint. One tip: prevent miles from expiring with a tiny online purchase at Target, Macy’s, iTunes or another retailer that’s part of the airline’s shopping portal.
Such expertise led American Airlines and several other travel companies to help set up the trip and use it to pick the brains of these veteran fliers. They wanted to know what these travelers like and hate about the loyalty programs. Airlines need to keep their most-frequent customers happy. The top 20 percent of American’s customers generate about 70 percent of its revenue.