Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gringo discount!

Poor Otto. He laments that his 97-year tenure in peerless Peru isn't enough to gain him cheap tickets on LAN Airlines because they automatically charge more for those with "gringo credit cards." Well I don't know about credit cards any more, but this is a great chance for me to inform you all how to fly to Venezuela for about half of list price. It only works if you have some dollars or Euros, a relatively wealthy friend in Venezuela, and some money in your bank account.

Let's say you want to visit here from New York for Thanksgiving. Mmm, guacharaca instead of turkey! American Airlines says "Holy cow, an economy class ticket will set you back $968.70! You sure you wouldn't rather just buy a nice TV and watch Venezuela from a distance?" To which you say "Don't worry pal. Just give me a reservation number." And she says "OK!" And you call your pal in Caracas and say, hey pal, you got VEF2,082.71 you can spot me?" Your friend says, "Sure, just wire me $473.34 and we're cuadrado." And you say "Deal! God I love currency controls!"

Your friend goes to the bank and pulls out 2,083 bolivars -- 2.15 for every dollar of ticket price, an exchange rate set by federal law in Venezuela. Goes to the American Airlines ticket counter, conveniently located wherever you find the globetrotting rich, and buys the ticket.

Then you wire $473 to your friend's U.S. dollar bank account -- something many if not most rich Venezuelans have. She is happy to have those dollars, as the exchange rate you just gave her was 4.4 to the dollar. According to our trusty Internet, she would have had to buy them at 4.5 on the open market.

Why does she want dollars so badly? Unlike bolivars, greenbacks lose their buying power at a single-digit rate. For her, Venezuela's inflation rate means that 2,000 bolivars now will be worth about 1,700 a year from now, even if she has them in a savings account at the mandatory minimum 15% interest. And regardless of disappearing value, there is the issue of imports -- if she or her pals want to import anything from perfume to airplane lubricant, they need dollars, which come slowly if at all from the central bank. Hence their willingness to pay 4.5 for a dollar that at the central bank costs 2.15.

The best part is that you can get off the plane, visit the beach for a day, and then take another equally discounted trip to anywhere you want. Like, say, Peru. As long as Venezuela is on the itinerary, this scam is legal. Sure beats Otto's lament!

When Venezuelans ask me how I like it here, it's always hard, because I want to empathize with whatever hardships they are facing, even while my life here is very good. My quality of life in this insanely expensive city is thanks in large part to this currency-conversion weirdness. My sense of comfort and ease here contrasts with the stress felt by most of my friends.


Otto Rock said...

you have friends?

Hedgehog said...

That's what I call them, though when I take them out and talk to them in class the teacher always tells me those are supposed to be called "lint balls" and that they are "asco."