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As he delved deeper, Schlappig learned about a third level, a closely guarded practice called Manufacture Spend, where Hobbyists harness the power of the multitudes of credit cards in their pockets.
Airline-affiliated credit cards award points for every dollar spent, so over the decades, Hobbyists manipulated the system by putting purchases on credit cards without ultimately spending anything at all.
There, Schlappig found a global community playing a massively complex game set upon three basic components.
They're mostly empty now, save for two men in their twenties who seem even giddier than the flight attendants. This sort of thing happens to Schlappig nearly everywhere he goes.
With wide ears, Buddy Holly glasses and a shock of strawberry-blond hair, Schlappig resembles Ralphie from if he'd grown up to become a J. Back beyond the curtain in business class, a dozen jowly faces cast a stony gaze on the crescendos of laughter and spilled champagne — another spoiled trust-fund kid, they've judged, living off his parents' largesse. They're self-styled competitors with a singular objective: fly for free, as much as they can, without getting caught.
In the past 20 years, the Internet has drawn together this strange band of savants with an odd mix of skills: the digital talent of a code writer, a lawyer's love affair with fine print, and a passion for airline bureaucracy.
Posting as often as six times a day, he metes out meticulous counsel on the art of travel hacking — known in this world as the Hobby.
It's not simply how-to tips that draw his fans, it's the vicarious thrill of Schlappig's nonstop-luxury life — one recent flight with a personal shower and butler service, or the time Schlappig was chauffeured across a tarmac in a Porsche.