THERE is a fascinating story in Rolling Stone this month. It is the tale of Ben Schlappig, a professional air-mile collector. Mr Schlapping spends his days finding inventive ways to harvest points, and then jetting off around the world in first-class cabins. He is part of a group called The Hobbyists. Its raison d’etre is to outsmart airlines; members compete with one another to harvest the most air miles. They do this in a variety of ways, for example by taking advantage of errors in airlines’ pricing algorithms, or by deliberately booking flights they expect to be full, and claiming rewards when they are bumped. Most lucratively, they exploit the points that come with credit cards, forever signing up and cancelling with different issuers. In a stroke of genius, Mr Schlappig once signed up for a card that rewarded him for every purchase, and then bought a bucketful of dollar coins from the US Mint on credit, with which he paid off his debt immediately. Such is his skill at finding new ways to beat the airlines, that each week he collects more new air miles than he could possibly hope to use.
Mr Schlappig caught The Hobby bug early. According to the article:
Exceptionally bright and equally motivated, Schlappig saw a way of convincing his parents: by showing them how they could visit family in Germany paying less in first class than flying economy. From there, his parents grew to fully indulge his obsession. By the time he was 15, they were delivering him to the airport on Saturdays and retrieving him Sunday nights at baggage claim.