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Rudy's View: Hooked on Frequent Flyer Miles

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I can remember exactly when I figured out I spend way too much time in airplanes. It was the day I realized that every time I washed my hands - whether in my own home or in a public place like a restaurant - I wiped down the entire sink. It's a habit I can't break. And while I don't always reach for a seatbelt when I sit down, I figure I'm only about 50,000 miles away from that, too.

And speaking of miles, this month marks the 20th birthday of the single most successful marketing tool ever invented by the airlines: frequent flyer programs. Started by American Airlines on May first of 1981 - United followed with its own five days later - the mania started slowly. The concept was so new that many passengers ignored it. Not any more. Today, we're a nation of mileage junkies. And even if the airlines wanted to stop their programs, they couldn't. We're hooked . . . they're hooked. 210-billion miles are awarded every year for everything from flying to buying cars to playing the slots at particular Vegas casinos.

A clever piece of American marketing has created a new currency that has caught on around the world. Happy birthday, frequent flyer miles. Now, if only I got bonus miles for wiping down sinks.

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