Sunday, March 24, 2013

Extra Miles and Points - How Far Some McKinsey Consultants Will Go to Earn Them

Image from travelforboomers.com
A previous post covered why airline miles and hotel points are so important to many McKinsey consultants.  In this post we'll go a bit deeper on the topic and look at the extent to which some current and former consultants will go to earn more of these miles and points.







There's no shortage of stories about McKinsey consultants going to great lengths to earn more miles or points.  Here are some examples:

Checking in and out of hotels every day

Some consultants - usually BAs - will check out of a Starwood property every morning and into another Starwood every evening (please see the previous post on why Starwood and SPG are so popular at McKinsey).  They do this to rack up more stays - SPG makes a distinction between nights and stays and occasionally run promotions that award one free night (at any Starwood property!) for every two or three stays.  If stays - not nights - are rewarded, it's in a participant's best interests to break up a multiple-night stay into multiple, single-night stays.  But if you check in and out of the same Starwood property, SPG will link them all together into one, longer stay.  However, that does not happen if you move from one Starwood property to another, even if you're just moving back and forth between two properties.  This is feasible because most larger US cities have more than one Starwood property, often within walking distance of each other, but it still means having to pack up and move every day.

Negotiating with hotels on behalf of the team

Consultants are usually lucrative passengers and guests - we book expensive, fully refundable airline tickets and bring entire teams (that spend a lot on room service and laundry) to hotels for months at a time.  Hotels will usually want a consulting team's business and have some latitude in offering benefits to encourage a McKinsey team to stay at their property.  A resourceful, proactive consultant (often a BA but as an EM I would do this to look out for my teams) can call hotels in advance of an engagement and negotiate benefits - usually in the form of bonus points - for their teams.  The more Starwood properties in a market, the better your BATNA and negotiating position.  This is usually appreciated by most current and former consultants who are trying to amass hotel points.

Developing "exchange rates" for problems or delays

Just as airlines and hotels want to attract consultants, they also have incentive to keep consultants happy.  When things go wrong, they're usually willing to give up some - for them, relatively inexpensive - miles or points to smooth things over.  One McKinsey colleague had developed a table of "exchange rates" for common problems and how many miles or points one should expect to receive as compensation for specific issues and problems.  For example, hotel laundry delivered late might equal 3,000 starwood points.  A flight delay due to mechanical failure equals a certain number of airline miles.

Booking sub-optimal flights and itineraries

It's usually in the best interest for a McKinsey consultant to concentrate their miles with one or two airlines.  As a result, consultants might book flights that a) leave at inconvenient times, b) include unnecessary connections, c) arrive at an airport that is not the closest to the destination, or d) cost more.  The Firm has rules (e.g., not being able to book a flight that costs $X more than the preferred carrier) that limit the extent to which cost can be an issue.  The consultant usually bears the cost of the other approaches in the form of lost sleep or less free time.  Because consultants usually have to be at the client site by a certain time, they have to leave earlier and/or spend more time traveling if they want those specific miles.  On the way back they have more flexibility, but it also means it will take longer to get home to friends, family, and sleep.

Driving longer distances and separation from the team

When consultants book flights to a sub-optimal location, it usually requires a longer drive to get to their destination - the client site, the team hotel, or home.  This also becomes an issue when booking preferred hotels.  Even if your destination city has a Starwood property, it might not be close to the client site.  Because teams work long hours at client sites, they often stay at a nearby hotel, but that might not be a Starwood property.  In both cases, it takes more time and isolates the consultant from their team, meaning less free time and potentially requiring more work getting caught up while everyone else is staying in touch at the team hotel or on the drive to and from the client site.

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