Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happiness Over Hotel Rewards

When I first got the consulting gig, one of the most popular conversations with my new colleagues surrounded the topic of rewards programs. With the industry standard being 80-100% travel in the consulting world, it quickly becomes exceedingly interesting to discuss which airline a new hire is choosing – or which hotel family; car rental company. There are suggestions reflecting personal preference; advice of “sticking to only one” company for each of these expenses; the possibility of a credit card whose own rewards would mirror – and amplify – those of my Chosen Few.

And as much as I’d like to say that I enjoy this system… I don’t.
Because, quite frankly: rewards bore me.

Upon hearing that I’d become a fellow Marriott Rewards member, J commended the choice with: “you’re going to earn so many points! You’ll have free nights before you know it!” (And the guy should know. I think he travels more than some of the flight attendants employed by his chosen airline.)

And as great as that sounds – and it does, in theory – it also just kind of really bores me. I don’t want to structure my lifestyle so that I’m spending my time earning the privilege to enjoy it at some point in the future. I definitely don’t work simply to earn a vacation – that’s the exact mindset I’m trying to avoid in the way I’m building my career and my lifestyle. I don’t want to suffer Monday through Friday for 50 weeks just to enjoy the benefits for 2. So why would I prioritize my time outside of work in such a way?

 Now, my stays at the Marriott Courtyard aren’t horrible – perks like a freshly-made bed and free wifi certainly aren’t as bad as a loathed job – they’re also not necessarily the stuff of dreams.

(When J himself saw my Courtyard, he noted that the hotel restaurant alone was one of the most depressing he’d ever seen. (And again, the guy should know.) Who wants to come “home” to “one of the most depressing” environments every day? No hotel in the world has a free night nice enough to make a year of that worthwhile.)

I value my lifestyle and my environment. I obsess over tiny things – like the specific street-level retail neighboring my apartment building, the width of the sidewalk, the walking distance to a decent grocery store – and I feel strongly that it’s these details – not the week in Belize – that create happiness. No matter the discount on the latter.

The Courtyard is my home three nights a week. Your home should make you feel pleased. Monday through Thursday, mine doesn’t. No amount of vacation vision-boarding will change that.

And for me, here’s the kicker: it would be one thing if I kinda liked hotels to begin with. Then maybe I could get over the whole Courtyard thing and get into the whole Caribbean payoff… but to be totally honest, I don’t even like hotels when I travel. I’d rather be surrounded by energy than comfort, and I think there’s no greater disservice you can do to yourself while traveling than hole yourself up in a “nice” hotel (except, perhaps, eat every meal there.) When I travel, I want to fully experience the local lifestyle. My favorite foreign accommodation while traveling? A rented apartment. And not even a “nice” one.

Which is, incidentally, my innovative and alternative plan to staying at the Courtyard and dutifully earning my points. I want to find a little apartment in the area, maybe a roommate or two. (I’m happiest with roommates. What rule says I can’t have one at my home away from home?) All this, and also expense my “lodging” costs to my client at a fourth of the current amount.  

Why deliberately spend time racking up points to earn something I don’t value? While free nights at hotels may sound like a terrific bargain to most people, I personally think it sounds a little bit more like: sacrificing something that makes me happy, to get something that doesn’t for free.

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