I've been thinking long and hard about what I want engraving on my tombstone when I finally slip off this mortal coil, and I've decided on ‘here lies a man who never ever got to grips with air miles'
It's absolutely true! I've been flying regularly for a few years now with Taiwan's EVA Air. At the time of writing, I am categorized as a ‘silver status' passenger. Or is it green status? Actually, I think I need to fly another 20,000 miles to achieve silver status. Or is it 30,000 miles? But when I am finally a silver status customer, I can then use the business lounge at Bangkok Airport for free. Actually, I'm not entirely sure. Oh, what am I like?
It's in the genes
This is an annoying trait that I seem to have inherited from my father. If a process or system can't be mastered and learnt inside out within five minutes, then I lose patience and give up. And while air mile aficionados circumvent the globe in lie-flat business class beds for a pound and a song, I'm still trying to fathom out if I have enough ‘points' for a teddy bear key-ring.
But what's most annoying is that I know full well if you can be bothered to read the fine print and details, collecting air miles can secure you some incredible deals and save you a fortune. And this is why I hate myself. On the one occasion I could be bothered, my wife and I flew business class return to Hong Kong (with Emirates) for less than 2,000 baht each - plus a few air miles of course.
Collecting coupons, carrying around customer loyalty cards and accumulating points have just never been my bag. It's always felt like too much hassle. Supermarket checkouts in Thailand are a prime example.
"Do you have a member card, Sir?'
"No I don't. Just put my bunch of bananas and small jar of peanut butter in a plastic bag (the same plastic bag if you don't mind) take my money and then give me my change so I can f*** off home"
This is of course a world apart from the woman in front of me at the checkout queue. She's got four items in her shopping basket that come to only 275 baht but this is one shopper who's determined to squeeze every ounce of entitlement from the transaction. "Yes, I do have a member card. Let me give you the convenient 12-digit number. What do you mean it doesn't work? Let me give it you again. And which of my ten credit cards should I pay with in order to get the most Happy Shopper points? Well, OK, maybe you could call the supervisor to check?
And by this time, there's a mad foreigner behind her about to bounce a jar of peanut butter off her head with all the strength he can muster.
It happened again to me today in Boots the Chemists, where I bought four bars of soap for 72 baht. "You haven't got a Boots customer points card?" said the shocked cashier.
"It's somewhere at home" I lied.
The cashier reached for what I could see was a rectangular piece of card with the words ‘tourist discount' printed on it. Fearing what was to follow would probably involve revealing personal information and having to put signatures and dates in ridiculously small spaces, I plonked the correct money on the counter and ran from the shop.
I hate myself for being this person, I really do, but I've spent years and years searching for the answers to an easy life.
My wife by and large has always had the same attitude. But she's changing. Oh boy, is she changing.
No one pays that price?
Several months ago, I was having a casual conversation with a Thai friend and we got on to the subject of movie theatre tickets. I hadn't taken the wife to see a film at the cinema for ages. We used to go every week but it became a habit we just got out of. That I guess, plus most of the films are pants these days!
In complete contrast, my Thai friend takes his girlfriend to the movie theatre almost every week. I can't begin to imagine some of the rubbish they've sat through!
"So how much is a movie theatre ticket these days?" I enquired.
"The lowest price seats are about 180 baht" he said "but no one pays that price"
He'd piqued my interest. "What do you mean no one pays that price?"
"Well, there are so many promotions and special deals these days" he said, "You can download a movie app depending on which company owns the movie theatre and you receive a special ID number to quote to the ticket seller. That usually qualifies you for half price tickets at least. Or you can pay with a certain credit card and the size of the discount will depend on which bank issued the card and what their current promo deal is"
Deals and promos all over
I didn't need to ask him how he gets to hear about all these wonderful deals because I see them everywhere. They are promoted on cardboard stands of all shapes and sizes, placed on the counters of every coffee shop, information desk and ticket booth you care to mention. I just don't pay any attention to them that's all.
Whether it's a free soft drink at Dunkin Donuts or a membership upgrade at that swanky new gym, the special offers are only ever explained in Thai and I can't read Thai - so it always feels to me like a game that foreigners can't play. But there's no doubt that the Thais (and probably those who can read Thai script) are getting some amazing deals.
Did my wife know that we were the only couple in Thailand who paid full price for movie tickets?
"Oh sure" she offered without hesitation, "everybody else takes advantage of the promo deals"
In the mood for a movie
Fast forward to last weekend and lo and behold, I was in the mood to see a movie. We have a brand new cineplex on our doorstep that's been open since early 2017 but shamefully we had never been. A quick peruse of the cinema listings and now showing was the latest animation offering from The Walt Disney / Pixar Studios. Good reviews on the internet. I laughed at the trailer - ‘Coco' it is.
"Let's see how cheaply we can do this?" said my wife, with a mischievous glint in her eye.
On arrival at the movie theatre, we had an hour to kill before the film started. Whilst I amuse myself watching trailers on a giant TV screen in the foyer, my wife gets busy downloading apps to her smartphone. I watch out of the corner of my eye as she enters into conversation with the staff on the ticket counter and I amble over just as the ticket seller is checking a promo code on my wife's phone and printing off a couple of tickets.
My wife's managed to buy a pair of ‘deluxe' seats - normally priced at 180 baht each - for just 70 baht. All thanks to a special offer from DTAC, her mobile network provider. That's 35 baht each for a couple of hours at the movies - an incredible saving of over 80%.
But I got the feeling she wasn't done yet. She had spied another promo poster, this time with an offer from Krungsri Bank if you held a prime account credit card.
Who's top dog?
Nowadays, Thai banks are in fierce competition to attract what they call ‘prime customers'. The amount varies from bank to bank, but if you have between one and three million baht to stash away in a savings account or to invest in mutual funds, etc, there are all sorts of juicy benefits to be had.
According to my wife, the SCB Prime account is the cream of the crop. Benefits include use of the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge at Bangkok Airport (if you book flights with Thai International) You can also get one free domestic return flight on TG once a year. And for the coffee lovers out there, free coffee at Starbucks once a month for a whole year.
As my Dad would say - ‘better than a kick up the arse'
Let's return to our afternoon at the pictures and of course what's a movie theatre experience without anything to eat or drink? But thanks to my wife's Krungsri Prime card, the yellow bank has done us proud. Admittedly the process took longer and at one stage there were four cinema staff gathered around my wife's phone - but mission accomplished! Here she comes now with a huge bucket of caramel popcorn and a monster-size 7-Up (the kind you see American people drink) And all absolutely free!
So let's have a recap. Two deluxe seats, big popcorn, big drink. A grand total of 70 baht instead of the 550 baht+ that I would gladly have paid had I been in charge of operations.
And that's probably why I am no longer in charge of operations.
Oh, and the movie was great fun too!