I want miles. Give me more miles!

Was it S&H green stamps that started the craze? Get something for nothing just by spending money where you ordinarily do. In seventy years this has spiraled into coffee, pizza and sandwich stamp cards, hotel points, air miles, and credit cards that earn points for almost everything (pet supplies anyone?). The tail end of my childhood included collecting the green stamps for my mom from the FoodFair grocery store down the road.

Our miles obsession began fairly innocently. When Brian and I bought our tickets for our first big European adventure we enrolled in the Delta SkyMiles program. Didn’t really see any point to it, after all this was a once in a lifetime trip, but it couldn’t hurt either, we reasoned.

We shook up our lives when we came back, both of us quitting our jobs and moving to Somerset and Brian going to work for his old friend Andy in an entirely travel-based position. We still didn’t really recognize the miles bonanza awaiting us. But at some point Brian got a Delta SkyMiles Platinum AmX to pay for rooms, food and gas with, and I followed suit with my own (owing to the big fat bonus it came with for signing up). Then here and there Brian stayed at some Hamptons and enrolled in their program.

He continued traveling and accruing miles, and we kept going to Europe n Delta. We finally amassed enough miles for two free business class tickets in Delta to Europe. It was intoxicating. I love perceived value, and I especially love free (if it’s worth something and I want it). Two tickets valued ay $7,000 each made me nearly delirious. Who cares that almost no-one would ever actually pay that much – I had $14,00 worth of tickets for free! That started the full-fledged obsession.

We returned to Europe a couple months later on last-minute bargain airfare, and that was my re-induction to coach. To pay hundreds of dollars to squeeze into a middle seat next to a 6ft4 snorer on a nine-hour flight was insult upon injury after flying free in la-la world at the front of the plane two months earlier.

For our next trip we had enough miles to fly free again (though in coach) and this time hotels occurred to us as a place to use points. Over the last three years Brian had been quietly and sporadically earning HiltonHonors, but he wasn’t loyal to any particular hotel chain. We surfed around online and found that Vienna – the most expensive city on our Eastern/Central Europe trip – had a Hilton property we could stay in for three nights, free. These were 300-500 euro a night rooms, free (our normal budget is less than $100).

We got serious about hotel points after that trip. Brian also started spending longer stretches at a time in the same city working and we discovered Marriott TownePlace suites. He enrolled in their program and quickly reached “Platinum Elite” status – the golden egg they entice business travelers with to make being away from home at least 75 nights a year seem an attractive proposition. Free welcome gift! Upgrades! Bonus points!

They upped the ante with a Marriot credit card – earn points not only on your room but also on paying for it! This joined the Hilton AmX and Delta card already in his wallet. Complicated analyses of the merits of each card ensued as we juggled the need for points with miles as we planned our next trip. It came together as the nearly-free trip. Flights to Europe – pay for one of our two tickets. Ten hotel nights, pay for two. The ultimate dream of a points junkie is a totally free trip. We’ll get there eventually.

I’m swearing off miles though. Delta is making it increasingly more insanely difficult to snare free tickets. For our trip next summer we had only enough miles for one of our tickets. It took a combined six hours of Brian and me on the phone or on Delta’s Web site to get the free one. And it’s the most ridiculous routing home from Paris imaginable. So we’re on a waiting list for a better flight – which will entail more hours on the phone later. I’m turning my serious hunter’s eye on the hotel programs. With prizes like two free nights at the London Waldorf Astoria and four nights at the Paris Marriott Hotel Champs Elysees on our trip next month completely hassle-free, the Delta AmX is soon to bas much part of my history as those old green stamps.

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