We had dinner last night with a friend for whom we had helped get two Business Class tickets to Asia for MUCH less than AMEX wanted him to pay. He wanted to know how I gained all this information and it made me think back over the last ten, wonderful years. So here goes my rather long answer to his rather short question! My wife and I purchased a Marriott timeshare in 2003 - an emotional purchase that was clearly a mistake on many levels. We were staying in an attached Marriott hotel. Now my wife, God bless her, can sleep while I tend to get up very early. In this Marriott hotel, I got up about 6:30 AM, couldn’t fall back asleep and ended up taking a pillow into the bathroom, sitting on the floor and reading so as not to have to turn on a light and wake up my wife. The fact that timeshares have at least one bedroom and one living room meant a whole lot to me. When the deal was signed, we got over 500,000 Marriott points and really, that’s how it all started. I would drive by the local Marriott and feel that I was a true stakeholder in the brand. I still felt there was some merit in the timeshare model - just that we had made the wrong purchase. Truth be told these 10 years later, I still feel that it can be a wonderful and viable alternative - especially at the prices now available on the resale market. But I digress! I had a patient who went to the Westin Mission Hills, loved it, and agreed to sit through a timeshare presentation. They decided to push the idea of him buying TWO weeks. He’s a pretty successful guy and smart enough to not succumb to much pressure. When he told them that he and his wife wanted to discuss it over lunch and then come back, they panicked at the thought he was just bolting. But he did, in fact, return after lunch and told the salesman that two weeks just wasn’t right for them. He told them that they decided to buy EIGHT weeks! The salesman probably fainted, recovered and gratefully wrote up the sales contract. For a number of reasons, we decided that we wanted to purchase a week at the Westin timeshare at the Kierland resort in Scottsdale, Arizona and I was able to negotiate a deal where I ended up with over 150,000 Starwood points when there was no Level 7 and when 10,000 points could get you most wonderful hotels. I immediately became a Starwood guy (albeit with a huge stash of Marriott points!). Then got the Starwood AMEX and I never looked back. A year or two later, someone I’m cordially friendly with mentioned that he had just gotten the AMEX Centurion card and raved about the Elite level memberships that included, but none more than Starwood Platinum. He went on and on about the suite upgrades he was getting and I was hooked. Called AMEX and discovered that the requirements back then were much more defined - $150,000 per 12 month period. I was a bit short but moved much of my office expenses to AMEX and within 3 months, we got the card. Hard to fathom what the benefits were back then (they have sadly retreated considerably) but it included Continental Gold, Delta Platinum, Starwood Platinum and even Hyatt Diamond. I got hooked not only on the free stays that my points got me but also the upgrades that status got me. Looking back, I can truly say that it was like an addictive narcotic. Once you’ve been upgraded from a regular room to a suite, once you’ve gone from Coach to First, well, don’t like to sound like a prima donna but it’s hard to go back! I found myself having hotel stays that even a successful dentist would not pay for! We then decided we wanted to travel to Europe and go back to Paris for the first time since our honeymoon. My late father had imported men’s slacks for many years from different part of the globe and convinced us to bypass a week in the Caribbean that most of our friends were doing for their honeymoons and go to Europe - and he said we could do it cheaply. So with Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day (really) we spent 45 days in Europe for a total (including flights and a car for 3 weeks ) of $1800! I had found FlyerTalk. There were no blogs back then. I knew that we could move miles from Starwood to a host of airlines. On FT I learned that it would take 150,000 miles per ticket to get First Class, NY to Paris, if we transferred the miles to BA, but back then, it would only take 90,000 Cathay Pacific miles for the very same seat. This did not make sense and didn’t seem possible but what the hell - called Cathay to confirm it was true and reserved two seats on BA. They said I had 30 days for the points from Starwood to post in order to ticket the reservations. Starwood gives a bonus on airline transferred and in order to get the total of 180,000 miles we needed for two FC tickets, we need to transfer on 145,000 Starpoints to Cathay. I actually did take almost the full 30 days but we got ticketed. I was ecstatic and could not believe my good fortune. I was no longer a virgin in terms of booking partner awards and we have never looked back. Nowadays, read the blogs and the postings on MP and FT and people talk about the benefits of various FC cabins and express their upset if their flight is not on a plane with the newest variation. I can also get caught up in this but I can also tell you that this flight in what is now considered the old BA First was the one that created the monster - I LOVED IT!!! It was clearly something I could never have paid for, most friends refused to believe this could really be done and we felt like the cat who swallowed the canary! All of a sudden, First Class airfare was within my reach and regular hotel stays, even free ones, were now spent in suites rather than rooms. As I wrote in my opening paragraph, having a living room to go to when I woke up really made a big difference in my life but not one I could have or would have routinely paid for! FT was my go-to source for a number of years and while the site can be very unfriendly at times, it was worth it back then for the information I was able to gain. Nowadays the user-friendly Milepoint and the many blogs make it much easier. While years ago, my friends felt that these lessons did not apply to them since they did not have businesses that could generate as many points as mine did, the generous sign-up bonuses we have seen in the last few years have made some of these experiences open to many people. That said, it still surprises me that so many of these friends refuse to take advantage of this and still feel it is a scam! Since that wonderful trip on BA to Paris in First, we’ve been fortunate to experience numerous Business Class long-haul flights and some wonderful First Class flights on BA, Swiss, Lufthansa, Air France, United and, in the last month, Cathay Pacific and Thai. We have experienced ridiculous suites in Starwood, Hyatt and Ritz Carlton hotels around the world. It still seems unfathomable that with a little effort, we are able to live Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous! As a friend, I tend not to broadcast these things too much since those who want to know about it already do and I don’t want to seen overbearing to the rest. However, I do get to help friends who ask (and very few who don’t!) and I find it almost as exciting as working it out for me and my wife. I’ve compared the process to my passion for the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle and the satisfaction I receive from completing a puzzle and an itinerary! Like so many of you, I do have friends who call me before making any big travel moves and consider me to be a genius! And like most of you, I know it’s no big deal! I am personally grateful to so many on this board who I may never meet and yet who I consider to be friends, generously sharing their knowledge and warmly sharing my triumphs! We know that this stuff is really something that is easily accessible to anyone who cares enough to learn some basic stuff. But I guess we should also be grateful to the masses who consider it to hard to master and, perhaps, a scam since they are the ones who don’t take up the seats we so value! It has been an amazingly rewardable road and it makes me laugh to realize that it all began with a timeshare purchase we wish we had not made! You just never know!