When the Orange County Register recently broke a story about a former road warrior who is using his hotel and airline points to put a roof over his head, fellow frequent fliers quipped in an online forum that he's living out a "curiosity" for many -- on how long and well they could live off their well-tended collections of points.
Then CNN picked up Jim Kennedy's story last week, underscoring the harsh realities of prolonged unemployment, and prompting many who are away from their homes more often than they are in them to reconsider why they are saving those points anyway.
With airlines and credit card companies offering more ways to earn more points, racking them up has become somewhat of a national pastime in some circles. As documented by George Clooney's road warrior in "Up In the Air," more often than not saving as many points as possible becomes a sort of game unto itself.
But for travelers like Kennedy, who lost their six-figure jobs during the ongoing economic downturn, the game is now to spend those points wisely in order to survive. Kennedy, who tweets about his struggle to find a job using the screen name HomelessThomOC, lost his job as a corporate developer in 2008.
Since then, his Newport Beach condo's been repossessed and he's moved all his belongings into a storage unit in Orange County, Calif. Today, instead of jetting off to meetings and staying in upper-class hotels, Kennedy now finds himself shopping around for lodging that requires the fewest amount of points -- and offers free breakfasts.
He tweets about his unending quest to find a new job, traveling in his BMW from the latest hotel room to interviews and visits with recruiters. Since his story was published, fellow tweeters have even offered to donate some of their points to his cause.
Kennedy isn't alone, say experts who follow frequent flier trends. In this unprecedented economic downturn, more travelers are finding themselves dipping into frequent flier stockpiles for everyday living expenses.
"I know many people who have ended up on the unemployment line and who have resorted to similar situations," said Randy Petersen, editor of Inside Flyer Magazine and founder of flyertalk.com. "For many of these road warriors, they have pretty good nest eggs. They have far more miles and points then they have money actually."
Petersen recounted how members of the flyertalk.com community rallied around several fellow travelers -- who they had never met in person -- when they shared online that they were without work and living off points. The frequent flier expert said he even learned a thing or two about stretching points to pay for everything from meals to new Dockers khakis for a job interview.
"I helped someone out in Northern Virginia who lost everything and was in shelters after he burned through his points," Petersen said, adding that the flyertalk.com community pooled points for their fellow traveler. "He went for a year and a half and we as a group spent close to 200,000 points on him."
The former road warrior eventually got a new job -- minus the benefits of frequent travel.
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