Sounds Like A Cult - The Cult of Airline Miles

Episode Date: August 8, 2023

For an episode spicier than an inflight bloody Mary, Isa and Amanda are joined by comedian and frequent flyer Fumi Abi (@TheFumiAbe) for a conversation on the unexpectedly cultlike nature of airline l...oyalty programs. From spending countless hours chasing elusive miles to believing you're just one step away from flying on a golden unicorn, these programs can be as delusional and deceptive as a New Age compound in Hudson Valley. But just how cultish is the Airline Miles system? Prepare for turbulence, laughs, insights, and a few jaw-dropping revelations.  To support Sounds Like A Cult on Patreon, keep up with our live show dates, see Isa's live comedy, buy a copy of Amanda's book Cultish, or visit our website, click here! Or follow us on IG @soundslikeacultpod @isaamedinaa @amanda_montell Thank you to our sponsors! Go to for 15% off your first purchase of $50 or more plus FREE shipping Go to  for 15% off your first purchase  SKIMS Fits Everybody and more best-selling essentials are available now at Go to and download the Zocdoc app for FREE.

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Starting point is 00:00:00 New York City, it's Esa here. I am back in town and I'm going to be headlining Union Hall once again on, wait for it, Friday, September 22nd at 7pm. I am so excited to be back in New York. This show is going to be so special, so fun. I'm going to be joined by very special guests and I have a lot of new material. I have a lot to talk about. It's going to be a really funny show. You do not want to miss it. You can get tickets at the link in episode description or at my website, which is slash shows. That's ISA slash shows. And if you're not in New York, you can go to that same website to tell me where to perform next. That's slash shows babe. And if you are in New York, I will see you at the show September 22nd. Zockdog is a free app. You can find amazing doctors and book appointments online with thousands
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Starting point is 00:02:19 of $50 or more plus free shipping. That's slash cult. The views expressed on this episode, as with all episodes of Sounds Like A Cult, are solely host opinions and quoted allegations. The content here should not be taken as indisputable facts. This podcast is for entertainment purposes only. To keep it real, I am being hyperbolic,
Starting point is 00:02:38 but at the same time, it's good to look at this late capitalist, extremist polarized world with a slightly more critical eye than you might naturally because the airlines, like they're these huge, huge companies that started out with a certain promise. And then they're going back on their word year after year. Airlines could just generally be so much better to their customers, but they're so shitty that when they give you a little bit more because you remember than you feel so special. This is Sounds Like a Cult, a show about the modern day cults. We all follow. I'm Amanda Montel, author of the book Cultish the Language of Fanaticism. I'm Esa Medina, I'm a stand-up comedian and you can catch my tour dates on my Instagram. Every week on our show, we analyze a different fanatical group from the
Starting point is 00:03:26 cultural zeitgeist, from Elon Musk stands to ballet dancers to try and answer the big question. This group sounds like it cult. But isn't really... Janna! Shit! Who was that? Who is this? Who is a man?
Starting point is 00:03:41 I like, we're like, you just like, poof you into the video. This is very like a Nickelodeon vibe. It's right in the eye, I like it. You guys, it's me. I know you're like the little brother from Lizzy Maguire. Like, Matt, get out of my room. Ha ha ha. [♪ OUTRO MUSIC PLAYING [♪
Starting point is 00:04:01 So yeah, this week we have a very special guest, a friend, a comedian, give it up. I'm like performing. You did a boomy oven. Hello, thank you ladies for having me. Super excited to be here. Boomy actually has a podcast himself called Cash Qtis. A lot of people's finances. Yes.
Starting point is 00:04:21 And then we look at their credit card statements and we judge them with love. Esa's done it. I have done it. So youa's done it. We saw. We saw which is spending our money on. So definitely check that out. I forget what episode number it is. I actually really like the podcast. Like, Fumi is a comedian who actually travels.
Starting point is 00:04:34 I'm like, I actually traveled all over the country. I'm like, I do travel doing stand up. So you fly a lot. I do fly a lot. Yeah. For, you know, college gigs, random stand up gigs, and other comedy related stuff. Yeah, I think I've flown more in the last couple years
Starting point is 00:04:49 than I've ever before. Probably because my career is getting a little bit better, but for sure, airlines and stuff like that, that's something that I think I've always been interested in, but really been tuning in as of recently, because of work travels and stuff like that. And I know for a fact, Amanda is in Italy right now. I know for a fact.
Starting point is 00:05:06 And she flew their business class all on points. Oh, this is true. This is true. I spend every last one of my chase points on a business class Delta One flight. Okay, you're the perfect guest for this episode because not only have you been traveling a lot, but you do have this credit card point, centric podcast. I acknowledge that it might sound
Starting point is 00:05:29 far fetch to call airline miles a cult. And we're glad that you're here for me to help us talk about it because we do sometimes get ourselves all worked up analyzing these various culty groups. So you can help us come back down to Earth if we get to dramatic here. But we have always wanted to cover this topic because there is just something so glamorous and yet so tedious and us versus themi and false promisey about the whole system of airline loyalty programs.
Starting point is 00:06:00 So we're curious to figure out today how bad of a quote unquote cold it really is. This is one cold that I am definitely in myself. I have to say. I mean, I spent every single last one of my chase points on this business class flight. Dude, that's insane because I don't even know how many points that is. There must be a lot, but good for you for being able to save it, you know, because I can never save the points to the point where I can... Because if you add up all my points, of course I could get one business seat,
Starting point is 00:06:24 but I've never been able to do that. I feel like I always just spend it once I have about like $300, $400 worth of credit, you know, because it's so easy to, like I love just not paying for flights, so if I have, if you have 30,000 points on like Chase Sapphire or whatever, that's like a $300, $300 flight, if you're going to New York, or you could save twice that and then go to Italy, I guess. I use my points if I am in a pinch, York, or you could save twice that and then go to Italy, I guess.
Starting point is 00:06:45 I use my points if I am in a pinch. Like if the flight is cheap for the time that I'm buying it, like if it's low according to like the average cost of the flight, then I'll just pay for it. But if like the price is 80% higher than it normally is, that's when I like use point. Oh, I see. Because I'm like, I need to get there anyway, you know? Right, right, right.
Starting point is 00:07:05 Yeah. I think I just use it every time. Like even if I only get $40 off the ticket, I just, it just, he loves to save. I love it. I love to save. This purchase was me defecting
Starting point is 00:07:16 from a more specific airline cult that I'm in, which was the cult of United, and we'll get into it. But like part of the cult of airline miles is that these individual airlines will lure you in with love bombing and promises of glamour and Attention by being like united is the best airline of them all and if you stick with us and ever united is actually the worst airline of them all But I grew up in like a united family. It was our religion.
Starting point is 00:07:46 Like I grew up with the belief that unite was the best. And so like one of my first major band cards was Unite of Cards. So that's what I wanted to talk about is that white people like literally start off with their mileage from when they're born. Like something that I learned recently, is that kind of like Roth IRAs,
Starting point is 00:08:07 they literally open a United account for their baby so the baby starts accumulating miles. Yes, I literally swear to God. Not obviously not all white families, but like, it's like generational wealth, privilege of mileage. That's what the baby's born. Like the baby is born.
Starting point is 00:08:25 They did an apgar test and they fucking sign you up for you. Yeah, and they sign you up for United. And so like you immediately get put into like this airline Colton, like that's where you've been accumulating miles your whole life. So that's where you continue to fly. So you say there's generational airline wealth. Oh, there he is.
Starting point is 00:08:41 Oh, 100%. I really believed until very recently, even when I bought this Delta 1 flight, I was afraid to tell my parents that it was not a United flight. No way. Somewhere to God. I mean, this is positive and not sponsored, but I recently flew Delta the other day.
Starting point is 00:08:58 I actually was listening to your podcast while I was flying it. And it is so nice. Delta's great, you know, I feel like headphones. I feel Delta maybe you should not be great. Nowadays I really judge the quality of the airline before I even get on by the app, you know, and the Delta app is far superior. United is the worst one.
Starting point is 00:09:18 United is so bad. Delta American jet blue kind of fell off a lot. I'm in Alaska Airlines, which I know is like so random and like kind of boho. That's not the reason I'm in it. It is that very Coltie thing where like the first time I flew to California, which was two move here. I flew Alaska and they were like, oh, like if you sign up now, you get 60,000 miles and I never had a credit card before.
Starting point is 00:09:43 So I opened my first credit card. With Alaska Airlines. With Alaska Airlines. With Alaska Airlines. That's incredible. That's incredible. That's your first credit card. And so then I've just been like Alaska. I'm not even kidding. But they get you with sunk cost fallacy from the start.
Starting point is 00:09:59 Because you're like if they got me with my original credit card, and I signed my name in the devil's book to be in Alaska Airlines girlly with the credit card in the rest, now I can't endure the embarrassment of admitting that that wasn't the right choice. That was me, I'd never even realize how far deep into the skull I really was into this very conversation.
Starting point is 00:10:21 Also something that keeps you in is the benefits. Like, I know that with Alaska, you get a buddy pass every year. I have literally never used it in my life. What does that mean? You can bring a friend for free. You can bring a friend for just taxes and fees. To wear anywhere. Wait, that's incredible. I know we should use it. Wait, you still have the card? I think it's just like domestic flights, but yeah, I still have the card.
Starting point is 00:10:44 You're saying if you flew to New York right now using that card, yeah, I just have to pay like a hundred dollars and I could go to it. So technically, you and your friend could just split whatever. Yeah. Yeah, I'm going to hit you up. Well, it's very interesting that first of all, I've never heard of anybody having like loyalty to one specific airline. That's fascinating to me. Like I travel a lot as a kid. I'm not sure that my parents necessarily was like a United Stan, you know, I travel a lot as a kid. I'm not sure that my parents necessarily was like, a United Stan, you know, I think there were airlines that we wanted to fly.
Starting point is 00:11:09 Like, we fly back from Japan a lot. So, the two biggest Japan airlines, like, it's Japan Airlines or ANA. ANA is known for their food. I guess their food is better, and it was like slightly more expensive, so we never flew that one. But, like, domestically,
Starting point is 00:11:20 like, I just feel like we just always go for like, whatever the... Sheep is one was, so it's interesting to hear, like, no, like, it's we just always go for whatever the cheapest one was. So it's interesting to hear, like, no, like it's kind of like people who only get shell gas or something, I don't know if you're like, a lot of old white people do this shit. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:11:33 They only fill up BP or whatever. That's like a blue collar version. No, the airline mile thing I recently learned and it reminds me of when I and my friends from like backgrounds with like not rich parents learned about golf, you know, people just go golfing. It's a subculture. It's kind of the same thing.
Starting point is 00:11:53 Yeah. It is this robust, gate-kept subculture that you don't know exists until someone ushers you in because they don't even realize it's a cult, like me right now. So we wanted to cover the cult of airline miles, I think first of all, because of the whole points and miles system, people really do remain zealously faithful to individual airlines. They call themselves loyalists. They're these loyalty programs so that they can access these amazing experiences ostensibly, but actually these airlines just get scammy or every single year. American Airlines launched the first frequent fire program in May of 1981, and then United obviously was like,
Starting point is 00:12:37 I want to get in on this and they followed just a few weeks later, which begs the question, were they already prepared or did they launch it in a rush? It feels like they were like, oh, we need to get on this. And then they've kind of been like playing catch-up for their whole life. But I don't know, I think airline miles have really created a whole culture of their own. I started to learn about how deep the points go when my friends from college became obsessed with them. Like they, they, you can sell them to each other. There are blogs about it. Like, you can sell your points for cheaper to a friend so that then they can use those points to like buy a more expensive flight. Wait, I don't understand that.
Starting point is 00:13:13 Isn't the point worth the same no matter who has it? You don't choose the price, but like, my friend, he has 300,000 points. And he's like, I could sell you my points, but the economy of the points fluctuate, so like you can sell them for cheaper. Oh, I see. It's like crypto, but then it literally is. I think that's why like, I obviously, like I'm part of all these freaking flyer miles
Starting point is 00:13:35 for memberships for all the airlines. I just have it in case I fly with them. Yeah. But I never really checked because to your point, like I feel like sometimes I'm like, oh, 14,000 points, on Chase, that's 160 bucks. Right, that's pretty good.
Starting point is 00:13:47 But on Delta or whatever, it's like, sometimes I can buy a flight to Columbus Ohio, sometimes it's literally not even enough to pay taxes. Because they can just determine the value of the point. Exactly, exactly. And I think in the beginning, there was this very transparent, a mile equals a dollar kind of set up.
Starting point is 00:14:05 And now the value of your allegiance to these airlines is not just based on how much you travel, it's based on how much you spend. So it's not just about frequent fire miles, it's about elite qualifying dollars. It's just gotten very, very scammy and there's nothing that we can really do about it. I also actually think it is scammy on the surface.
Starting point is 00:14:27 That's what I think is so interesting about it is that like every airline makes it seem like you have to fly with them to get those points, but then there is the loophole of getting the points through a credit card company. And credit cards entered the game in 1987. They shook everything up because you can transfer points from one credit card to another. And then there are a lot of loopholes, which is why blogs like the points guy exist. And then you kind of enter this whole other cult or subculture of the cult, which is like a community blogging and responding to one another and being like,
Starting point is 00:15:04 I did it this way, try and check if you can do it that way because then the airlines and the credit card companies, they continuously change the rules of the game so that people who are finding the loopholes don't know how to keep up. It really, it's a world for people who want to get lost in something that's less insidious than QAnon, but who just won a bond with people over shit. And the whole like points hacking universe can be very all-consuming. In fact, I not long ago stayed up until 3am watching YouTube videos from this one guy named Trek Trendy, who has made his entire living making YouTube videos, reviewing different airlines,
Starting point is 00:15:44 and comparing the first- class flight on all these different providers and he literally doesn't live a life. He just lives in a tube. He lives in an airplane making YouTube videos about it. And I watched that shit for hours. Out of roommate when I was 23, he was a little bit older than me. He was so into airline points. I didn't exactly understand what he was doing, but something about how if you've like the more the distances you cover, the distance you cover, the more points you get, like for example, if you go to Miami, if you go direct, that's X amount of miles, but if you have a
Starting point is 00:16:12 layover, you're probably flying more miles. So he would do this thing where sometimes he would just book these like fake layover flights and just take the train. This is from Brooklyn, he would take the train and JFK, spend the whole day there not flying because the way he bought the tickets was a cheaper way to attain those points than to actually buy them from the website or something like that. Oh, so like he would buy a flight with a connection at JFK and he would skip the first leg. Yeah, something like that. Like he would just go to there, he would just spend the whole, he would work out of there, but he just did it for points. He was super super into it and then that's how he like, he did a bunch of those and him and his wife went to like Tokyo for like his honeymoon.
Starting point is 00:16:47 So that's the type of hacking that exists for people who are deep into this cult. There's this whole phenomenon called mileage runs and just like participating in a cult on a compound, they are time consuming, exhausting and totally irrational. There was this one. He was a today's story that we found that defined a mileage run as a trip booked specifically for the purpose of earning frequent flyer miles, not for the pure and unadulterated purpose of traveling. I actually, I have a friend who did this just the other week,
Starting point is 00:17:19 you know, and they don't even realize they're in a cult, they don't realize how nuts they sound, but they're like, oh yeah, no, I had to be in Europe, and then two days later, I had to be in Europe again, but I just decided to fly back to LA for the points. I'm like, it is a big deal. And yeah, yeah, yeah.
Starting point is 00:17:34 They would do this, they would do stuff like this. Yeah, that's crazy. It's so crazy, because I feel like many people don't like the airport, I would never go. I would never go just for the points. I was literally just about to say that. I hate flying.
Starting point is 00:17:47 I truly gives me so much anxiety. But also even if I didn't get flight and anxiety, like time is money, baby. What are you doing? I'm spending all that time on a flight. Well, I mean, I can't help but think of the movie up in the air about the guy played by George Clooney who fired people for a living, which
Starting point is 00:18:06 is obviously like a soul-sucking borderline sociopathic profession, but he loved his job because he didn't have a home base. He was just in the air all the time and he was trying to meet this abstract goal of earning a million points and that's like all he was working toward in life. But then in the movie, he meets the goal and it just, it means nothing to him. He's like a shell of a man and totally dead inside but his character really seems like he's just like running away
Starting point is 00:18:33 from an authentic life. Like that's why he likes to be in the liminal space of an airport and I mean, that's a motivator for a while. A lot of people join cults, right? It's like they're running away from themselves or their roots or something on some level. So you could take it to that conceptual place.
Starting point is 00:18:48 I feel like with airline points specifically, it's culty, but a lot of cults don't have like a quantifiable goal, right? And I think the point, it's so easy to like get people at being like, don't you want to meet gold status or premium status or whatever it is? Like that's such like a, you can manage that. You can manage to get there.
Starting point is 00:19:08 And that feels good for people. That's so true. And I mean, Colts do have golds, Nixie, I'm famously had like their sashes. But I do think something that is funny here, you mentioned the goals and how like, you can get gold status. I have a friend who has the highest status you can have with United. And I'm another friend who has like the highest status
Starting point is 00:19:27 you can have with Delta. I know people, okay. Okay. She says friends. And so, but the funny thing is the way that they talk about it is they're like, like I was on a trip with one of my friends with the Delta connection. And he was like, if I call, like they will do anything for me.
Starting point is 00:19:45 And I needed to change my flight and he was like, let me call and change it for you. And I was like, oh, so they literally treat people with this gold status. That's correct. Better. They treat them more like humans because you know how like airlines treat you like literal trash. I think maybe they do that strategically so that when you do get gold status and they treat you like just and equal, you're like, I have a special connection.
Starting point is 00:20:09 I mean, when you're describing exactly is the cult like break you down to build you up, attack therapy. Like attack therapy. Yeah. You have a teal swan. You've been getting attacked at Gate B24, dude. Yeah, I mean, I just want to change my flight.
Starting point is 00:20:25 And I get it. Dude, it's like, it's actually so true because when you're waiting in one of those teardelines to board your flight, right? Like, whether you're in group one or group four, the experience is exactly the same. Like, you're waiting in the literal same line. It's just you might get to board 20 minutes earlier to what? Sit on the plate, who cares? You literally just took a longer flight. Yeah, like who cares? Exactly. But there is just something about the amazing marketing of this cult, this like totally false religious promise
Starting point is 00:20:57 that says like if you board with group one, sir, welcome. Like you are in, like you are superior, but why? Nothing about the experience is objectively superior. It's actually, I think the only thing that's objectively superior is, for example, like flying L.A. to Italy first class where it like lays you down. Yeah, I mean, I've never done, but you have, like that. I've walked past it.
Starting point is 00:21:21 I know it's different, but I think taking like a business class with just like the bigger chairs, it's like, dude, you're still on a plane. I know. It's, yeah, it's weird. I mean, I just can't imagine someone like getting off on like boarding right after the US Army or whatever. You know, that's really, that's really the part.
Starting point is 00:21:40 She's like, boarding after moms with kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I know. Irland seems like, you know,, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like,
Starting point is 00:21:48 he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like,
Starting point is 00:21:55 he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like,
Starting point is 00:22:01 he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like, he's like,. I went to Hawaii for like, it was so cheap. A hotel was like $100 a night. And this is before vaccines. So like, you had to get tested there and before. But anyways, I like sign up for the card
Starting point is 00:22:10 and they had like had up the rewards points because nobody was flying. So I got like, I sign up for the credit card. Sometimes when you sign up on the flight, it's actually more than what you'd get online. Yeah, that's why I signed up on the Alaska flight. So I got to go to Hawaii like twice after that using those points. I think the second time I had to pay a little bit of money.
Starting point is 00:22:26 But then I got the credit card and then I tried to cancel and they tried to really keep you using the cards. They're like, I don't want to pay for the fee anymore so you can just cancel it. They're like, well, what if we waived the fee and you can just keep the card for one more year and see? And I was like, okay. So I guess I might forget and they might charge me again.
Starting point is 00:22:41 But if I get out, I feel like I didn't really get sucked in. I just kinda got what I wanted out of it and then left. Yeah, it's like credit cards. I mean, you get that huge bonus in the beginning. I just opened an American Express like a gold card because I wanted to buy a new couch and I was like, okay, this couch is a minimum. It's my first new couch of my life.
Starting point is 00:23:03 And I was like, I'm gonna carry this couch with me for the rest of my life. It is my first new couch of my life. And I was like, I'm gonna carry this couch with me for the rest of my life. It is my child. People are like, do you wanna get a dog? I'm like, no, I have a couch. That's, I don't need more from life. So I open to credit card just to buy the couch. And then I hit the minimum.
Starting point is 00:23:18 Now next year, I have to remember and I already put it in my calendar to cancel the card. So I just get the points this year so that I can go to Europe for free with those points. Dude, all of the hacking is such a mind-fuck because, and this is the other thing about this cult in particular, and with credit cards as well, is that I do feel like it is like crypto in the sense that it is slightly more masculine leaning. And I feel bitter that the culture of airline points hacking is such a boys club because I love those three points.
Starting point is 00:23:53 And like, I want to learn how to do that shit. Why do you think that is? Well, I don't know. I mean, I also think there's like some overlap with gamers. It's somehow techy and Matthew. It's STEM. I think it's because like historically men were businessmen. Yeah, yeah, businessmen.
Starting point is 00:24:11 And so they were salesmen and they were in consulting and they were traveling in a lot of like mileage and accumulation of mileage happens with people who travel for work. And so it really is like the generational wealth. The generational points were there. The generational airline points wealth that has been passed down for men.
Starting point is 00:24:32 100%. I never, I never even thought about that. That's crazy. We can't forget that technically, it wasn't until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in the United States, that women were given the right to open a bank account on their own.
Starting point is 00:24:47 1974. But what year was this? 1974. And when did bank accounts become a thing? I mean, since the history, since like, Jesus belt. Well, when you have to change bank in like, Jerusalem or Bethlehem? Definitely had banks in Jerusalem. I would say like before before the gold standard, pre-industrial revolution,
Starting point is 00:25:10 currency, monetary currency dollars and cents were not universal. And so the bartering system was really predominant. And even the women came with a dowry, right? It is true that the history of women's rights corresponds to our ability to this day to really feel like we can culturally access the airline miles called. Women literally weren't even allowed.
Starting point is 00:25:34 I've mentioned this in many episodes, women were not allowed to go to UVA until 1970. That is five years ago. This is five years ago. I think some of the joke about the university, oh no, that's segregation, that's different. But yeah, that's also crazy. That's also like the 70s or 80s.
Starting point is 00:25:51 Like it's like, it's a number. It's a year that you totally, wait a second, my parents were like totally alive that time. Yeah, I think an issue with the way that history is taught in like US schools or especially US history is that we talk about it as if all these things were like a trillion years ago. And it's like, this just happened.
Starting point is 00:26:09 I know it's like, that guy's still alive. Yeah, I mean, not in jail. Well, okay, so I want to bring it back because we were talking a little bit about exit costs. You know, Fumi, you were saying how it was fairly painless for you to get out of these individual airline cults. And like a lot of the cults that we discuss on this podcast, it is true that technically,
Starting point is 00:26:32 you will not be physically harmed, psychologically traumatized, et cetera, if you leave. However, there is, if you're really, really deep in the forums and if you're in a united family Leaving feels like a loss like who are you if you don't have your points anymore? I think about the character from up in the air like when he realized that he might not be able to travel anymore And like be on that hamster wheel of getting points and points and points and points It's like what life purpose did he have there is some of that going going on. I feel like in this cold. I mean, I totally agree with you, but it's like,
Starting point is 00:27:08 it's so insane to like have points be your entire personality. Like that's such a crazy like thing. Well, I mean, it makes sense for people who like don't have a personality because everyone has a personality. My personality is in the United Alliance or whatever. I mean, I do like find it like, okay, if you meet a person and they don't have a personality and you're not interested in them, they're interested in you and then they're like, I can fly you out to Hawaii for free on my points. I'm like, okay, all of a sudden,
Starting point is 00:27:42 you have a sex appeal to you. Mm, I'm tripping up on it. Okay, no, you're all of a sudden you have a sex appeal to you. Okay, no, you're selling me, you're selling me. Have you ever been on the hunt for a new doctor and you ask literally everyone you know for their recommendation? You know, like a doctor who actually gets you, listens to you and makes you feel super comfortable. And then, finally, after weeks of searching, you find the one, so you call the office,
Starting point is 00:28:11 and you get an appointment, and they have one available. But then, the receptionist tells you that they don't even take your insurance. Okay, that has literally happened to me so many times I cannot even count. Well, that will never have to happen to you. So wipe your tears away and head over to ZockDoc to find and book a doctor who is right for you
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Starting point is 00:32:16 Right now, Cosa's is offering our listeners 15% off your first purchase of $50 or more when you go to slash cult. Go to slash cult for 15% off your first purchase of $50 or more when you go to slash cult. Go to slash cult for 15% off your first purchase of $50 or more plus free shipping. That's slash cult. It can be a sort of subjective red flag that when something is your main personality trait, you might be an occult. I also like the idea and I think this applies to multi-level marketing, like so many of the cults that we've
Starting point is 00:32:50 covered on this show that like if you meet someone and you can't get a sense of their authentic self, but they are really, really interested in you for some inexplicable reason. They very well might be trying to recruit you to something. Yo, that's so real. What's like the cultiest thing that you think has happened to you in relation to airline miles or airlines in general? I guess like in a weird way, I know that I described the leaving process as quite painless, but like when I tried to leave, they did keep me by offering me like another deal. So I still have that car. Actually, that's really funny and ironic that you were like, it's so easy to leave, they did keep me by offering me like another deal. So I still have that car.
Starting point is 00:33:25 Actually, that's really funny and ironic that you were like, it's so easy to leave and you were like, I actually didn't leave yet. I actually lied. I'm still a Hawaii Palao member when the fuck it's gone. So, yeah, I think it is hard to like. When you, but that's how Coltie is, is like, I thought I was in line,
Starting point is 00:33:44 but I was like, wait a second, I'm still part of the club. I think it is hard to kind of cancel your credit card or whatever, because they'll try to like offer all the things to try to keep you. And they're like annoying you. So like, okay, fine, like keep it for another year, you know, but who knows, maybe I'll forget to cancel and they might charge me again and you'll let me back hands. Jim memberships and airline miles have got the, you may never leave upsell on lock. Like they are better at it than any other cult, like industry. A lot of it is tied to credit cards. So like it is annoying to cancel a credit card.
Starting point is 00:34:15 I will say that because that's, I think, and it can fuck with your credit. It does the credit, and it can fuck with your credit. Yeah. If I should credit score and some people like, like me, I have like a lot of budgeting apps that, you know, that sort of like aggregates all my credit confirmation
Starting point is 00:34:27 and if I cancel one, it's like annoying to update it and stuff. So like, it is just like annoying. And I think a lot of times companies can get a lot of stuff by being a little annoying and the average person just being like, okay fine, just, well, I think at best they're annoying and at worst they're threatening
Starting point is 00:34:42 because some people can't afford a dang on their credit. You know what I mean? And like that can feel really high stakes. It's actually like really predatory because they get you in with all these points and then credit cards like American Express which is why I literally put it on my calendar to cancel mine.
Starting point is 00:35:00 They have like 15, 20% APR. I don't know what really what that stands for, I have no fucking idea. Now, Colt, he is that. It's like really pretty much like they charge 20% interest on your debt. And so if you don't, if you start like accumulating all your money on that American Express credit card
Starting point is 00:35:22 and you didn't set up auto pay, it's not that you don't have the money to pay it off. Like you forgot to pay it, you literally have to pay 20% on that money that you owe them. That is so fucking high. I do wanna talk a little bit more concretely about the airline tiers and how they rank people's literal value as a human being.
Starting point is 00:35:43 So at most big airlines, there is something called Elite status, which is giving illuminati, when a traveler flies 25,000 elite qualifying miles in a calendar year. Higher elite thresholds typically earn 50,000, 75,, $100,000 miles a year, though the details vary by airline. And because the timeframe for qualifying resets each calendar year, every December, these airline cult members will often take those mileage run trips at the end of the year in order to get to that next tier. So in December, people are like flying all over the world for no reason, just so that they can maintain
Starting point is 00:36:32 the league. Wait, is that why flights are so expensive in December? Or is that because of the holidays? I think it's all of it. It's probably a combination of both. A little bit. That's crazy. We all thought it was because of the holidays,
Starting point is 00:36:44 but in reality, because people were scrambling to finish their journey. First of all, I gotta say, I love the way you two look at the world. You just look at this point and like, they're devaluing our human world. Because... How do you live like this? This is crazy. It is like stressful sometimes.
Starting point is 00:36:58 I mean, they say that like, to keep it real, I am being hyperbolic, but at the same time, it's good to look at the world this late capitalist fucking Extremist polarized world with a slightly more critical I then you might naturally because like I mean the the airlines like they really are they they're these huge huge Companies that started out with a certain promise and then they're going back on their word year after year You're qualifying miles they they lose their value, they expire. Like, yeah, I also think like it is that thing that you mentioned earlier, like break you down to build you up.
Starting point is 00:37:33 It's like airlines could just generally be so much better to their users or to their like customers in general, but they're so shitty that when they give you like a little bit more because you're a member, then you feel so special. What is the solution do you think? Do you think we should just not do it? I have a friend who was a touring musician, and he's very unorganized, and he toured for
Starting point is 00:37:57 years. And I was like, oh man, you must have a lot of points. And he's like, nah, I just forgot about it. But he was traveling every week in New York. And I would have all like, nah, I just like forgot about it. But he was traveling like every week in New York, and like, whatever, you know, all over the place. He just didn't do it. And that also doesn't seem right to me, you know? Yeah, it's true.
Starting point is 00:38:11 I feel like there should just be like one that is like for all airlines. But then that would defeat the purpose. I don't know if there is a concrete solution other than just to like be mindful of whether or not something is taking over your life and if you feel like it is maybe diversify your hobbies. I also think it's maybe kind of what you do where like I started doing that too. Like I open one with like airlines that I fly and I just
Starting point is 00:38:40 have all the numbers in an email that I sent to myself. So if I do fly Delta now, I like use my Delta number and I'm accumulating on there. And if I fly United, I'm accumulating on there. But I'm not only flying one airline with the purpose of accumulating points because like, I mean, I went to Canada earlier this year and I was trying so hard to go on Alaska. Yeah. Because I had the points, and I also got to check a free bag, and I went skiing, and so I was like, oh, this would be so convenient. The Alaska Airlines flight was like 10 times more expensive
Starting point is 00:39:10 than the Air Canada. And then I just was like, what am I doing summer salts for? Fucking Alaska Airlines right now. Totally. I just bought Air Canada, and I was like, it's not that big of a deal. Yeah, I relate to that so much.
Starting point is 00:39:24 Like I really feel like for me, buying this Delta one flight was like, it's not that big of a deal. Yeah, I relate to that so much. Like I really feel like for me, buying this Delta one flight was like the first time when I was ever like fuck you to United and it felt dirty. And it's kind of, it does relate to something we talk about on the podcast all the time, which is like kind of do your research. It's like, I literally just pulled up my calculator app on my phone, we all have access to that.
Starting point is 00:39:45 And I did the math. I was like, oh, checking a bag is $30. Check two bags, that's $60. And then I literally just was like, oh, if this flight is $200 cheaper, I'm still saving money with checking the bag and with all of that. People love a loyalty program. I think it's the point. I mean, the fact that you were even considering flying Alaska for $1,000 opposed to like a couple hundred dollars with air Canada. Just that thought process means they're already in your head. I know. That's a crazy, that's a crazy thing to think about. Yeah. Remember when Hooters had an airline? Oh, what happened to that? What happened to that? Their boobs got too big. They were like the weight distribution. It's not working. We have to move some women up to the front of too big. They were like the weight distribution. It's not working.
Starting point is 00:40:26 We have to move some women up to the front of the flight. They do that on Southwest. They are like, you know that. Really? I've never I flew Southwest for the first time and it's so relaxed because there's no seats. People obviously sit in the front because they went on the earlier. Wait, there's no assigned seats on the test. I don't know this. You just just show up and there's like groups like okay You're a group on you can just go in and sit wherever you want and just do something like group 40 or whatever And then because everybody sits in the front Southwest airlines they typically can't leave as soon as possible because everybody's in the front
Starting point is 00:40:55 And they have to be like all right Can you guys sit towards the back because it's fucking up the the plane like weight distribution? So maybe this happened hooters. I think that Southwest has the cultiest culture. Yeah, like when you go on Google flights or on like any website, like you can't buy Southwest. You can't buy Southwest. That's right. You have to go to Southwest Airlines. Yes.
Starting point is 00:41:16 Yes. Why is that? Is that an exclusivity thing or like? I don't know. And it's not that cheap. Like I was looking at flights to go to Austin, Texas. And I obviously ended up going with Delta, my new homies sent me miles because it was nicer and cheaper. It's such a budget airline that I'm like, if it's only $20 cheaper to me, that's not worth it. Right, right.
Starting point is 00:41:39 Like I'm gonna still fly Delta for $20 more because it's like 10 times a better experience. It needs to be like $100 cheaper. I do feel like Southwest has this very sort of like blue color, every man, relatable, kumbaya sort of branding, like without the assigned seats. And there are flight attendants basically do stand up
Starting point is 00:42:00 on the PA system, like they're known for being funny and like cheeky. And then when I think of like people on the PA system, like they're known for being funny and like cheeky. And then when I think of like people on the airplane, I think it was like everyone just like sitting in a circle and like having a party. So for me, how many communities do you think exist like around freaking flyer miles? Like do you think that they're like a huge part
Starting point is 00:42:20 of internet culture or the zeitgeist or like do you think it's like a micro? I mean, I'm familiar with like, I've heard of the point's guy, there's another one called like Nerd Wallet, which is kind of more on credit card territory, but they do cover a little bit of points and stuff like that. I do think it is a big community, but like,
Starting point is 00:42:37 yeah, I don't know, I do think it's like, maybe smaller in terms of other like, sub-micro-cultures, yeah. I don't have a number for you, but. Okay, so there's an online community called Flyer Talk where die hearts talk about all things points and that one has over 800,000 members. That's so crazy.
Starting point is 00:42:54 Yeah, and it has more than 1.8 million threads. Did you think that like that many people existed and like do you think they're like threading with each other and meeting in person? Like how do you think that helps? Yeah, how culty do you think it helps? Flyinging with each other and meeting in person? Like, how do you think? Like, how? Yeah, how culty do you think it is? Flying to each other, some might even say.
Starting point is 00:43:09 It's so crazy because if that many people are involved, the part of me is imagining like, you know what people got into like Pokemon cars and shit and they were like, meet up and like, show each other their collection. Like, is that what they're doing? Because like, at least with Pokemon games, it's like cool to look at and there's like game to be played,
Starting point is 00:43:24 but with current card points, like if you meet up, like, what the fuck are you guys doing? You know least with Pokemon games, it's like cool to look at. And there's a game to be played, but with current card points, if you meet up, what the fuck are you guys doing? Just showing each other? I guess, I mean, so this flyer talk forum has a mileage run deals discussion board, which has over 700,000 posts. And I have to wonder, like, are these members of this discussion board
Starting point is 00:43:43 just like in cell types, or are they be getting together to go on their mileage runs as a group, like as friends. And then- Oh, that's really nice. I like to think it's that. I don't, you know what?
Starting point is 00:43:59 I don't think, don't quote me this. I don't think whoever's people who are part of this are like in-selly. I'm not really getting that vibe. I do think- I don't think whoever's people who are part of this are like, incelly, I'm not really getting that vibe. I do think. I don't think so either. They're like a different version of me because I love to save money and like just like,
Starting point is 00:44:12 keep track, love numbers shit. I just think it's like a variation of a guy like me who just fell into the wrong hands. Oh, they're like, the incellors don't matter about who there is airlines going out of business. Yeah, I was gonna say like like there is kind of a sexiness obviously to airlines and travel the mile high club like the lounges are sexy the lighting. Yeah, yeah, yeah, lounges. Here's a kind of extreme story. There's a guy named Ben Mutzabach. He wrote that USA Today story
Starting point is 00:44:42 that we quoted earlier. He's hardcore in the cult of airline miles himself. There was one year when he went to these extreme lengths to reach American Airlines newly created Platinum Pro status. Or at the end of the year, he realized that he was 355 elite qualifying miles short of reaching the status. So he jumped through all these expensive time-consuming hoops just
Starting point is 00:45:06 to make up for that deficit of 355 miles. I mean that reminds me of when people are like, oh yeah, like I have access to the lounge and like the lounge has a free buffet and then you get to the lounge and it's like, stale fucking. That's not exactly it. What are you talking like you're literally paying like $300 a year to get shitty food where you can just get yourself a pot belly sandwich or what foome does. Yeah, I packed my own lunch. My fly. My boyfriend Casey and I are so proud of our lounge access, but it's completely true that it's literally just for this like actually really ugly kind of evil sense of elitism.
Starting point is 00:45:52 Yes. And it's also like late stage capital elitism, which is like if you're not in the 1% of the 1%, it's no longer elit. Like it's like, have you ever been to like a lounge where it's literally so packed, there's nowhere to sit? Yes.
Starting point is 00:46:08 Like, it's like, I've done that before when I went in with friends and I'm just like, why are we here, dude? Like, we just be at Starbucks. No, it's such a lie. Here's another far more extreme example of a mileage hack. There's this guy named Steve Belkin who goes by the mileage maniac.
Starting point is 00:46:26 According to an interview with the points guy, he has racked up more than 40 million frequent flyer miles since the 80s, the dawn of frequent flyer miles programs. He is most well known for hiring, I can't believe I'm reading this right. He hired 20 disabled masseuses and rice farmers in Northern Thailand to fly a 30 minute $8 route to earn a few million arrow plan miles. Whoa, that's kind of smart. Can you still get points if you buy tickets? Wait, why would they just leave?
Starting point is 00:46:58 Can we get more points? Wait, do you still get points if somebody else flies on behalf of you? Is that how that works? Or maybe it's simply just a credit card. Like, if it's... Maybe it was just the credit card. If it's being charged on my card, I still get the points.
Starting point is 00:47:12 If you want airline miles through an airline point system where you have like your airline number, you have to, it has to legally match your name. But your credit card, you can, like, I bought a couch, but I got points that I can use to reflect. As we know, I have a nice couch. Here's another whack thing that Steve Belkin did. So basically, he raised investor money, $750,000 worth of it to create a mileage pool of 40 million miles by having 80 semi-employed improwd actors.
Starting point is 00:47:47 So who are just... I like how it's specific. I know. Like, it's like, you can just say improwd actors. Like, they are all semi-employed. They're all semi-employed. He had fly back and forth between LA and Vegas in first class to earn a 25,000 point promotion bonus per trip.
Starting point is 00:48:10 That's huge. That took. Okay, so what's 80 times 25,000? I have a calculator. Yeah, is that calculator? Yeah, is that calculator you like so much? Does that pay back the initial investments? 1,875,000 points.
Starting point is 00:48:23 Wow. Wow. Wow. OK. It is very much giving multi-level marketing scheme and another version of this, which I have had a friend do in our college group chat. And everyone called him out and removed him from the group chat. He was like, if you sign up for my united bonus mileage credit
Starting point is 00:48:41 card, I will send you a Nutrigena lotion on Amazon. So if he got everyone in the group chat to sign up, he would get 15,000 points for every person that signed up. But then the credit card that you sign up or it does have a hundred dollar fee a year. So it's not like it was like a free. The person, if they did spend the minimum that they needed to, they would get like 50,000
Starting point is 00:49:06 points. But again, you're you're pretty much asking someone to sign up for a hundred dollars subscription. Yeah, some of his pain for his right. Yeah. 2000 points. Well, and then he was removed from the group chat. I mean, that makes me think like, Fumi, you asked before it's like, what is there to be done about it?
Starting point is 00:49:20 And I guess the thing that there is to do about all of this is that you have enough awareness that when someone is trying to fuck with you, you can notice it and remove them from the group chat metaphorically. You can cut them from your life. I said, like, yeah. We are no longer friends. You listen to this podcast and you know when it's time to get the fuck out. He did get added back into the group chat ultimately, but like sometimes you got a shake people, you know? You're like totally like this. So we alluded before to Southwest having this
Starting point is 00:49:52 culty corporate underbelly. Basically at the end of 2022, Southwest Airlines pilot known as Swapba, wrote an open letter that called out the very succession like super-profit-driven culty culture that Southwest's fairly new CEO Gary Kelly had introduced and grown. He took over in 2008 and basically like really fucked the airline ever since then. So basically during Kelly's time as CEO, Southwest had returned approximately $12 billion to shareholders, so big, big payday. And Gary Kelly, the CEO, increased his own annual income by more than 700%. And meanwhile, Southwest was canceling thousands
Starting point is 00:50:47 and thousands of flights between December 19th and December 20th, 2022. Southwest canceled over 16,000 flights. Oh, I remember when that happened. Yes, leaving people stranded. Many of the Canadians got stuck in Milwaukee. Oh, no! Basically, all these people were trying to give feedback to Southwest for cutting corners
Starting point is 00:51:08 in various ways. And this guy just didn't give a fuck. He turned Southwest into his own personal checking account for him and his shareholders essentially, even though the staff and the customers were really suffering. And what he did, sort of hacking all of the money this way, kind of reflects all of the scheming and finagling that seems to go into mileage hacking in general. All of the energy, all of the vibes feel really in sync there,
Starting point is 00:51:38 just the inherent scaminess of it all. Yeah, I feel like, it comes back to what we always say on the podcast, just like, there's like, it comes back to what we always say on the podcast is like, there's always like one leader at the top. And so obviously like, there's gonna be one person in all of these airlines that's like benefiting the most from people suffering or flights that are canceled or airline credit cards that have a really high fee and like don't really give you any benefits is at the end of the day. It's usually these CEOs who are making so much money. Even that story told earlier about the guy who spent some $50,000 on whatever, whatever.
Starting point is 00:52:15 Yes, he that guy made money, but at the end of the day, this was a crazy thing that probably got a lot of press. If you think about the equal system of the airports and airlines and stuff like united or whoever Company that was that was doing that Bobby ended up making more money than that guy who spent some 50 you know what I mean like in terms of Totally it's like free press basically. Oh, yeah That's why like you can do all these things like you can be a points guy And you think you are sort of getting one on the system, but you're really not. The house always wins. I'm glad we're critiquing this airline miles cult the way that we are because a lot of
Starting point is 00:52:50 the cults that we cover are more female skewed, like whether we're talking about like mom influencers or essential oils or some kind of parenting cult or skincare, whatever. And a lot of the people who are committing wrongdoing in various ways are really profiting off of other people suffering in various ways, they are very like forward facing. And so they get roasted and they get canceled. And it's this whole dramatic thing. But when you're the CEO of an airline, like, you're not going to get humiliated the way that people in like entertainment get humiliated.
Starting point is 00:53:23 You're just a businessman and you're in your high tower and you just get to step down gracefully and live your life. You know what I mean? And that's like really shown in the fact that Kelly stepped down this guy who like royally fucked the company's step down in January 2022. And like I never heard about it.
Starting point is 00:53:39 I don't know, like fucking people are still fine Southwest. Nobody's like, oh my god Kelly Equit Well since we had a guest let's ask our co-host of the day, what he thinks about the Cult of airline miles, Fumi, is it a live your life? A watch your back, or a get the fuck out level cult. Oh, you're right. I guess you're really the fundamental level of involvement, but after having this conversation, I could see how you could get really sucked in.
Starting point is 00:54:18 I guess this kind of like a watch your back, you know? I think it's kind of like, there's people like us who kind of like know how to use it It without getting to involve but then there's people like the people you're talking about earlier who spent like some 50K on this stunt Or whatever so yeah, I mean, I don't know I will say like I good or bad I don't know but it does feel damn good when you book a flight with points. I'm sure it did for you a man Our answers because I think it's a live your life. God, I love when people who aren't us
Starting point is 00:54:48 use this live your life, watch your back and the fuck out, Terminal. It's like so satisfying to me. I, yeah, I gotta say, it's a live your life. Yeah. We tricked you. I know, you really, you came in here thinking it was a live your life
Starting point is 00:55:03 and then you were like, wait, well, this is what we're doing. well, you scared me with the facts, man. You scared me with the facts, like back out a little bit. And now you critique me. What the hell is this? This podcast is a gaslighting podcast. We're here, girl boss, gaslight, and Gatekeep, it is so easy to get caught up in the fake effects. But we ultimately do great on a curve. And I think compared to all of the other cults that you can totally drown in in 2023, it's got to be a little bit of your life. I will say, like, I think you're saying that because like the earlier described, like, you're not going to get physically attacked, you're not going to get mentally tormented.
Starting point is 00:55:46 Yes, on those criteria, I agree. But two Esa's story, people are mad annoying when they get into this kind of stuff. So if you're waiting the annoying factor a little bit, I still think my- Yeah, it's a linear life sun, watch your back, moon. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But you know, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:56:05 But you know, but you know for a fact that like that friend is gonna be annoying about what he's doing. That's true. That's true. That's so true. That person is gonna find anything to be annoying about. Right, it's not about Delta. So he could like, this is the thing.
Starting point is 00:56:20 It's like he could be annoying in the airline miles cold or he could be annoying in Q and on. And so I'd rather be annoying in the airline miles cold or he could be annoying in Q and on and so I'd rather him He would be in the airline miles cold, you know, that's true. So he can fly away Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast foomey if people want to find you or join your cold Where can they do that? I feel like follow me on all the social media, you can find me at the Fumi Abe, that's T-H-E-F-U-M-I-A-B-E. I also have a personal finance comedy podcast
Starting point is 00:56:50 called Cash Cudys, which ESA was a guest on. So please check us out wherever you're listening to this podcast. Yay! That's our show. Thanks so much for listening. We'll be back with a new cult next week. But in the meantime, stay culty.
Starting point is 00:57:03 Buh-uh-to! Buh-uh-to! Buh-uh-to! Buh- stay culty! Buh-bye! Toon-cold-y! Sounds like a cult was created, hosted, and produced by Issa Medina and Amanda Montel. Our theme music is by Casey Colt. This episode was edited and mixed by Jordan Moore of The Pod Cabin. To join our cult, follow us on Instagram at SoundsLikeAColtPod. I'm on Instagram at eSumadina, I-S-A-A-M-D-I-M-A, where you can find tickets to my live stand-up comedy shows or tell me where to perform.
Starting point is 00:57:35 I'm on Instagram at Amanda Under Square Montel and feel free to check out my books, Cultish, the language of fanaticism and wordslet, a feminist guide to taking back the English language. We also have a Patreon and we would appreciate your support there at slash sounds like a cult. And if you'd like our show, feel free to give us a rating on Spotify or Apple podcasts. And if you don't like our show, rate other podcasts the way you'd rate us. Oh my God.
Starting point is 00:58:01 Thank you.

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