Everest as a metaphor for Aspirational Travel

Back in February, I saw the movie Everest while flying back from Iceland (in economy of all things). I found the movie to be the right level of background, plot development, and emotion. You see, Everest is based on a true story of the 1996 hiking season, and a Rob Hall led expedition to make it to the summit of Mount Everest.

Interestingly enough, there has been a good deal of discussion of Everest over the past few weeks, primarily because the primary climbing season is April/May, and I hate to say it, but the news isn’t so good. Many, many attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest, too many have not made it home.

Back to the movie: There were two parts of the movie that I found quite impactful, and thought it meaningful to share. The first, was the briefing by Rob Hall, who said something to the effect of: “If I don’t think you can make it, I’m going to tell you, and you’re going to turn back. Your life matters more.”

The second section in the movie, was where a reporter, who was part of the group—and ultimately did make it to the summit—asked his compatriots the question: “Why hike to the summit of Mount Everest?” he was implying the danger and cost involved, but I think it really came down to the psychological side.

Here’s a clip:

I found some of the responses interesting: A Japanese woman, Yasuko Namba, said that she had climbed the other 6 tallest mountains in the world, so this was the one to finish the top 7. Another shared that he had a quasi-depressive state when he was at sea-level at home, for others, it was the adventure of a lifetime.

I found this interesting, because climbing Mount Everest is aspirational, much like for some, some of the aspirational travel awards we in the miles and points game seek (like Emirates First Class, Lufthansa First Class, the Park Hyatt Tokyo ). I know, it’s apples and oranges, in that climbing Mount Everest takes more than just money or miles or points, it takes perseverance, hardship, and the possibility of death. Flying the Emirates A380 in First Class doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have any higher possibility of hardship or death than driving on your daily commute, but it does take perseverance and risk.

You have to make the commitment to accumulate enough miles (and if it includes Manufactured Spend or credit cards, you’ve got to make sure you don’t carry balances and undermine the benefits you accumulate), then you need to search for the award availability, and plan your trip around this aspirational component. Of course, the journey is only part of the trip, so you need to identify where it is you want to actually go, is Bali on your list? What about Myanmar or Vietnam? Now you’ve got to mold your travel to accommodate the destination. Again, this takes perseverance, planning, and commitment.

Aspirational Travel – The Psychological Perspective

I mentioned earlier that there’s also that psychological perspective. Because something is aspirational, it sometimes leads us to be irrational. I used to fly crazy routings, so I could maximize my awards. I used to (and sometimes still do) fly United Awards from Asia routed via Europe, because I felt I got more value (and I got to visit the Lufthansa First Class Terminal). I used to fly an extra stop, so I could experience a cool new product, or fly in First instead of business class.

Simply put: Aspirational goals can sometimes make us throw common sense and logic to the wind.

It can get even worse. Noah posed the question of whether we in the miles and points game actually save any money by playing the game. Would you fly Korean First Class , if you were paying out of pocket? Perhaps not. But, I tend to prefer Matt’s approach, that being, there are times that you save, and there are times that you don’t necessarily save. Personally, if the words “Lufthansa First Class Terminal” come into play, well, I’m gonna do what I can to take advantage.

Losing True Perspective

I think the key point that I got from Everest the movie though, was that you can lose perspective. I think we all talk about how you shouldn’t get into the credit card churning game (what’s left of it anyway), if you carry debt. The reason being, is that those miles can often make folks lose perspective, and suddenly you go deeper and deeper into debt, and that First Class flight isn’t nearly as exciting when you have to deal with such a reality when you get home.

Wrapping Up

It all comes down to establishing thresholds and goals. Yes your goal may be Lufthansa First Class, but if that goal means you have to go into debt, then maybe you need to adapt your goals. In the movie Everest, those thresholds and goals are even more dire, because it is the difference between life and death. Luckily the miles and points game isn’t the life and death, but, you can find yourself living with bad decisions for quite some time.

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