Big Spender

Hi RIP fellows,

This post is about splurges. I’ve previously mentioned that I spend ~60K CHF per year, on track for the unambitious prize of the least frugal FIRE seeker of the world. So let’s show off how I burn my money by the thousands!

Actually no, this is not a story about me burning money, but about me spending money on a business trip. A lot of money according to my standard, few dust particles for Hooli.

hollandigansThe story is: I recently switched team and most of my new colleagues are not in Switzerland, but in Hooliland. Hooliland, which is not to be confused neither with Holland nor, definitely, with Hooligans (and not even with hooligans from Holland), is the headquarter of Hooli. It’s one of the most amazing place in the world and you’ll find there all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s in another continent, not hard to guess which one though 🙂

So I decided to go visiting the rest of my team to meet and greet them and to understand more about my project and people involved. So let’s go to Hooliland!

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: Andre de Grasse of Canada (L) and Usain Bolt of Jamaica (C) react after competing in the Men's 200m Semifinals on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

I’m writing the first part of this post while in the lounge of my favorite flight company (Swiss, of course) in an alien airport in another continent, waiting for the flight back to Switzerland to take off. The Hooliweek is over and it’s been useful and fun, as always. To give you more data points: while you, dear European friends, set your alarm clock very early in the morning to watch 20 seconds of Usain Bolt, here in Hooliland I watch him live right after work, with the sun not yet set. Anyway, I’m sitting on a comfortable chair in this elite lounge for people who paid tons of money for their tickets and I’m writing this post.

Flight

Yes, I flight business. Like Louis CK (well no, he flights First) says: “that’s simply the way it is”. Whatever you do, I do a better version of it.

Before you get angry, I’m joking. Obviously. I’ve never flown anything but economy before today. Yes, even for work. Never done it. I deeply feel that it’s simply wrong.

What happened this time? Well, Hooli has this policy about flights and hotels: you have a maximum allowance for a trip, if you spend less than that you accumulate credits. If you spend more you either pay extra or use credits (or ask for extra manager’s approval). I’ve been traveling quite a bit in last 4 years, always economy, so I accumulated a lot of credits. This time I wanted to try it. I had to fight the feeling of guiltiness associated with flying Business. I can’t explain, but it never felt right to me. Anyway, I told myself it’s fine, I have credits, I’m doing an actual business trip… so I did book my business flight, but only the return trip. I’ve flown economy, as always, last Sunday to come here in the fairy woods of Hooliland and I’m sitting in the lounge waiting for my Business priority boarding. I’ll then jump on board earlier than the poor economy passengers and I’ll sip my champagne glass while they wait patiently in the veeery long line. Life is awesome, life is amazing, this is totally worth it. Isn’t it?

Let’s take a closer look: the price difference between economy and business for this very long flight, operated by Swiss, with departure from an expensive Swiss airport is in the range of 2000 CHF. I’ve paid 5K CHF for both legs (economy + business). If I flew economy I would have spent less than 3K on such a short notice.

[Fun story: if you want to spend half or less and you want to visit another continent from Switzerland, just buy the same ticket but from Milan. You’d get half the price for the very same flight, but you’ve to start from Italy. We discovered this trick too late. We would have saved tons of money for our trips to Japan, California and New York of last 2 years…]

So Hooli paid 5K for my flight. I consumed something like 500 credits out of the ~5000 I have. I can safely fly business every time in the future for Hooli, maybe even both ways if tickets are purchased in advance or if I accept flying with intermediate stops (no, sorry, I hate it).

Am I bragging too much? Are you disgusted? You should, cause I am too. I really feel like being in the wrong place! Is this thing worth its price? Would I ever pay for an experience like this one? What a question, RIP, are you joking?

Let’s break down the benefits of flying Business:

At purchase time:

  • You get way more miles on your frequent flyer program if you flight Business. And Hooli lets you take advantage of these benefits on your private account. That’s the actual single best reason to fly Business on other wallet’s money!

At the Airport:

  • Priorities everywhere: priority check-in is useless, just to show off and create a not-necessary envy-driven need in the heads of economy passengers. Priority security screening. Useless too, unless you arrive very late at the airport. And, btw, quicker checks here in Hooliland’s closer airport are slower than the regular ones in Switzerland. Just sayin… Priority boarding, uber-useless. I usually sit down until I’m the very last one boarding on economy. Or just exploit this arriving at the very last minute to the gate. I’ve never understood those who wait in a line at the gate. Sir, your ticket is numbered! Ok, maybe with ryanair or easyjet you need to fight for a seat, got it. Anyway, having to board before others is a factor that kind of forces you to arrive earlier making all these priorities less useful. Priority luggage delivery. Ok, this saves time at the arrival airport in the order of… few minutes?
  • loungeThe Lounge: this is the most elitists of all benefits. You get exclusive access to this special place where you get free food, wifi, cleaner toilets, comfortable seats, etc. I arrived very early at the airport. today. The flight is scheduled for 7.40pm and I arrived at 4.15 and by 4.45 I’m sitting in the lounge. Note: there’s a Silver lounge for Business passengers and a Gold lounge for First class… you always have to envy someone else. You always have to desire something more. Btw, was the lounge worth? Well, a little bit. Yes, I got free food and some relax time. Have to say that the lounge was full and noisy, because rich people demand to be able to do all the noise they wish. It’s a shitty world.

On the plane (I’m writing this section 30 minutes after takeoff):

  • Welcome drink. They claim it’s champagne, I don’t buy it. It’s a prosecco, not even the best quality.
  • Way more space for your feet. A lot. This is actually useful. I’m 1.80 and I can’t fit in economy seats. Extra space is a good thing.
  • Extra lateral space. I didn’t do the online check-in so I didn’t chose my seat. I thought anyone would be ok. Bad thing, I got the worst seat in business class. Still amazing though, but the worst one. On aisle, shared with another person – that turns out to work at Hooli. Actually half of the business class of this flight works at Hooli. Anyway, extra lateral space, no elbow-to-elbow fight happening. There are individual seats though. Next time…
  • The seat become a fully horizontal bad. It’s fully flattenable and I guess it’s amazing for sleeping (EDIT at landing: it was!).
  • There are plugs to recharge your devices. I can blog the whole 11 hours, awesome! EDIT: turns out I didn’t use it. My laptop battery lasts for 6 hours and I wasted another 6 sleeping!
  • You get gadgets you can take home and collect: toothbrush, earplugs, eye mask and a small bag.
  • Dedicated staff. It’s full of hostess and they are coming frequently to serve you. That’s obviously good, but not worth that much.
  • Better food. Yes, it looks like a restaurant. You get “a la’ carte” menu and you’re served several times during the flight. It’s nice, the food is high quality, like a real restaurant. It’s awesome, but how much would I pay for it? Probably no more than 20-30 CHF.
  • Most important of all, you get to watch the envy faces of those poor economy passengers that walk by while you’re sipping your champagne. I don’t mean I enjoyed it, I just want to report that’s one of the benefits.

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In the end, was the Business flight worth it?
Totally yes, on Hooli’s money!

Would I pay that amount for a business flight like this if it were on my budget?
Absolutely no.

How much would I pay for it if I had to set a price?
Nice question, thanks for asking. I would say no more than 15-20% of the economy price. Let’s say that if 1500 was the economy price, I’d pay 1700 for a business upgrade. But I wouldn’t even pay 1500 per leg for such a flight, I’d find ways to pay less than half. So my actual economy price would be 1500 total both ways and my bet for business would be 1700. Ok, make it 1750.

Would the business class be sustainable with people like me willing to pay 15% more for it instead than more than 2x?
Absolutely no. Let’s do the math. There are 38 seats in business class for this flight. 8 rows of 4.5 seats each, plus an aisle extra row with 2 seats. If this area would be arranged to host economy class seats there would be 10 rows (less space between rows) with 8 seats per row = 80 seats, more than double. Given all the other benefits, this business is sustainable with a ticket priced between 2 and 2.5 times the economy price, right where it is now.

What would happen if every client were like me?
They would simply dismiss this area and fill it with economy seats. If they couldn’t (thanks to some safety rules like limited maximum passengers allowed on the plane) either they’ll make seats more sparse, with global benefits for the everyone, or prices for the business would be way lower.

Ok so you said you’d be ok with paying 15-20% more for a trip in business class. You’d pay 1750 instead of 1500 for business class. Is it correct?
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure anymore. in case I and Miss RIP would do an intercontinental flight together like this one, I signed in to spend 250 per person more, i.e. 500 CHF to simply improve the flight experience. 500 CHF are a lot of money. I used to do weeks of vacation for that amount. I’ve been biking in French Riviera for a week with a budget of less than 100 Euro! So no, let’s take a step back: I wouldn’t pay a dime more for a business class flight on a regular basis. Yes, not even 1 CHF. I’d only accept free generous upgrades. I’m willing to splurge once or twice in life for very very special occasions, like honeymoon or other one time celebrations. Of course I’ll keep taking some business flight when actually flying for business reasons.

Why did you change your mind so quickly?
Because there’s a hidden cost here that would mess everything up and it’s hard to see at first: Hedonic Adaptation. I don’t want to adapt to this new normal. I want to feel the uniqueness of the experience.

Don’t let luxury becomes your standard!

Hotel

Hooli Hotel caps for Hooliland area are pretty high. Hooliland is uber-gentrified and lodging is crazily expensive.

I picked an hotel just below cap that was somehow sufficient but not extraordinary. Must admit that all the credits I accumulated so far are due to flight savings, not hotel. I always try to book hotel just below cap but not super cheap.

Nothing much to say about hotel spending, no comparison with “would you spend that much if it were on your money” makes sense, since I’d never ever ever go there, in such a crazily expensive area for leisure.

I’d never spend more than a third of what I’ve spent here on Hooli money.

Car

I don’t own a car since 2008. I’m proudly getting close to the 10 years mark of car freedom (come on, FIers, who beats me on this? Eh? Where’s my prize?). Last few times I’ve been to Hooliland I took a cab from the airport to the hotel. Sadly there’s no acceptable-quality public transportation available, it’s Hooliland country. A shitload of Tesla, Porsche and Self Driving Cars but not a 20th-century-or-above train or bus. Last time I took a taxi to reach the hotel it was a 120 CHF equivalent for a single ride of 40 minutes. Crazy. I rented a car for the week for less than 200 CHF. Hooli covers for these costs, obviously.

Anyway, I didn’t want to rent a car, I don’t like to drive. I’m actually getting unskilled at it, after years without practice. And driving for the week, even though we’re talking of ~4km between hotel and Hooliland, was an horrible experience for two reasons:

  • I’m lazy and since I had a car I didn’t ask for a visitor’s bike at Hooli. I used to take the visitor’s bike and bike to work along a creek, getting lost in the noise of nature, birds, squirrels and sun on my skin. Taking the car to go to work was boring and senseless.
  • Hooliland is traffic intense. On one morning it took me 40 minutes to drive for 4km. It’s an average speed of 6km/h. Walking would have been as time efficient as driving. That’s… unbelievable. And in the evening is not getting any better. I spent a typical day waking up (early, jet lagged), driving to work, working at a desk, driving back to the hotel, going to sleep early. Is this life? Do people who commute by car live like this? Never using their muscles? This life would kill me in a month, I’m glad I’m coming back to bikeland!

So the car experience was something I’d rather avoid at all. I was kind of forced in, due to the lack of better alternatives, but I’d rather not drive for leisure. I’m not a big fan of road trips, I’d rather go on bike or hike trips!

It was fun though to see a lot of fancy cars. Teslas and other versions of electric cars are everywhere. Hooliland is equipped with hundreds of free recharge parking lots. As I said so many times, I’m not a fan of cars anyway but I do sympathize with Elon Musk companies’ missions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, revolutionize public transportation, use solar power and duplicate humanity on mars.

Anyway, goodbye Hooliland! See you next time!

2 comments

  1. Nice post about Biz class.

    It’s a slippery slop from “oh cool, a new experience” to “OMG, I need this”. I fly frequently enough in biz for biz but when it’s out of my own pocket, I’ve never ever once paid out of pocket (nor have I ever used my frequent flyer points for upgrades). The only one time exception I did it was for my honeymoon – where I burned up almost all the points for an unique experience for my wife and me. For me, it was something familiar, but for my wife it was like stepping into a new world of luxury she didn’t think was possible in an airplane. She thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and was too excited to even close her eyes for a second on a 12 hr flight.

    Agree with you that experiencing the uniqueness is the pleasure, not it should not become the norm!

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for stopping by 🙂
      I see you have more experience with biz and you went along my same road: only do biz on my money if it’s ultra-special like honeymoon. Good point about using miles to get free upgrade! It seemed to me that sleeping was a waste of time too, I was disappointed that my 11 hours flight lasted so few!

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