For a frequent flyer, a million–mile journey begins with a single flight. After earning your first few thousand miles, it’s not long before cities become airport codes, airports become second homes and home becomes a pit stop between mileage runs. Suddenly, you can identify an aircraft by the rumble of its engine and the airline by the paint on the plane’s underbelly. You’re able to have conversations consisting solely of abbreviations, and you find yourself frequenting online flyer forums at sleepless hours. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that you still get high from getting high – up to 42,000 feet in the sky.
What drives certain people to adopt this lifestyle? It comes down to milestones. “There are two dominant ways to think about what motivates people to achieve goals,” says Kristin Laurin, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who studies the psychological underpinnings of goals and motivations. The first is that “people will try hard to achieve a goal only to the extent that they expect they can achieve it,” she says. That is why it is no coincidence that frequent flyers tend to also be business travellers. Someone who travels for work is in a better position to collect miles. The more they can expect to collect miles, the more they will. The closer they get to their milestone, the more compulsive the chase becomes.