Thursday, February 03, 2011

Myths & Cults (Mostly Travel-Related)

Even as a kid, I don’t think I ever believed the “alligators in the sewers of New York” legend. And that was in the day when rumors traveled slowly – word of mouth; an obscure newsletter; a letter from a friend that took a week to arrive.

Everything today is instantaneous – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, online news. Yet some myths, legends, and cults continue to thrive in this world of openness and transparency. Here are a few of what I consider to be myths, and sometimes the cults that spring up around those myths.

Apple Computers
I’ve used Macs and PCs for decades – PCs by preference and Macs when necessary. Obviously, that makes me a little biased. But the belief that Apple products are faster, better, less buggy just has never been proven to me. They certainly are more expensive, and to my mind actually less intuitive to use than most PCs. Yet Apple has built a cult among the so-called cutting edge, the artists, and the tech elite that is unshakable.

Harley Davidson
The motorcycle manufacturer loves to pretend that Harley riders are (nearly) all doctors and dentists and lawyers. The company claims this exclusivity based on the price of a new Harley – “only doctors and lawyers can afford them.” Maybe only doctors and lawyers can afford a new Harley; maybe they are the most common first purchasers of the bikes. But anyone who has attended a motorcycle rally or even seen a group of Harley riders on a summer highway knows that those people are not the same folks who work on their teeth.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest built a reputation in its early years as fun, cheap, and convenient. The only thing that still stands is convenient, with lots of destinations and flights. In many, many comparisons in recent years, Southwest has been no cheaper (and frequently more expensive) than the competition. And does anyone really think that the cattle-call boarding is fun? Still, Southwest continues to thrive on its loyalists – even if they pay the same, travel on flights with multiple stops, fly to obscure destinations, and endure Southwest’s boarding indignities.

You Lose (Pick Your Percent) of Your Body Heat from Your Head
“Put on a hat or you’ll catch a cold.” “You lose 75% of your body heat from your head.” We’ve all heard it for decades. Yet the prescription to cover your head to stay warm is based on flawed science. Simply put, the research behind this did not also measure how much body heat was lost with an uncovered leg, or torso, or extremities. The experiment consisted of fully clothed people with their heads exposed. Turns out, we lose a lot of our body heat from ANY uncovered, un-insulated, part of our body that is exposed to the elements.

The Credit Card Companies Value Customers Who Pay in Full
No. The credit card companies call customers who pay their monthly bills in full “deadbeats.” The companies make enormous sums in interest, penalties, and fees from the average consumer who makes the minimum payment each month. The only thing the companies get from those who pay in full are the merchant fees from each transaction (still not a bad fee for carrying us deadbeats). For travelers, this means that unless you pay your bill in full each month, reward cards (miles, points, cash) cost you a lot more (in higher interest rates on reward cards) than the rewards you gain.

Dress Nice and Get an Upgrade
Maybe in 1972. Maybe when “Mad Men” were flying around the country to see clients. Today, dressing nice and asking nicely for an upgrade will only get you a blank stare, and a question as to whether you’re an elite member of the airline’s frequent flyer program. It still doesn’t hurt to always be polite – there are other benefits – but don’t expect to get a seat in the pointy end of the plane because you are. Corporate CEOs now dress in jeans and sweaters. But then they don’t have to worry about upgrades – they’re already booked in first class.

Your room is ready, sir.