I would like to make it crystal clear that I have nothing against money. It is to be loved and cherished, saved and savored.
Nor do I have anything against people who play the angles financially. It is admirably American.
Nor do I mind competitors vying for a larger share of a market. Business is business.
But there's something about these half-fare airline coupons that's rubbing me very wrong.
For instance, a friend showed me the miscellaneous section of the classified ads the other day. Among the gold shag carpets and air conditioners was nearly half a column of airline coupons for sale -- at an average price of $50 apiece.
But the price wasn't even the most suspicious part. Half the ads had been placed by travel agencies.
If I recall correctly, travel agents are the people who turn up their noses in moralistic horror if you suggest that they "make a call" to get you into a sold-out resort at the height of the season.
But when big bucks are on the line -- theirs -- here are the same agencies, dealing as heavily in the airline coupon gray market as they can.
Then another friend told me about a teen-aged boy he knows.
The kid, a high school senior-to-be who lives in the Virginia suburbs, knew a good thing when it presented itself.
He played hooky last spring during the time the coupons were being passed out and spent a week meeting United and American Airlines flights at Dulles International Airport. He was doing so well that he spent a second week at O'Hare International, near Chicago, where there are three times as many arrivals.
The kid would offer each deplaning passenger as much as $20 for his halffare coupon. For operating captial, the young entrepreneur used all the birthday checks his grandmother ever sent plus everything the tooth fairy ever left -- about $6,000 in all.
Since June, he has been reselling his inventory.
He has already made a profit of $11,000 free and clear.
He's still going.
He has absolutely no intention of filing a return with the IRS.
He will own both United and American -- or a Lincoln Continental at the very least -- before either you or me.
Now, many would argue: What's the big deal? Who's really being hurt by all this? Why is this any different from scalping tickets to a Redskins-Dallas game? If buying or selling airline coupons isn't illegal -- and apparently, it isn't -- what's the problem?
The problem is that the coupon system invites abuses and painful misunderstandings.
For one thing, very few people who buy these coupons understand all the ins and outs of what they're doing.
Did you know, for instance, that the coupons are not good for travel to Hawaii on United, or for travel to the Caribbean or Mexico on American during the week that includes Thanksgiving?
Did you know that the coupons are only good if applied to a roundtrip, full-fare ticket?
Did you know that neither American nor United will accept a coupon that doesn't have a piece of tape affixed to the side that displays a serial number?
And did you know that the coupons expire on Dec. 15?
Then there is the matter of buying or selling "hot" merchandise.
That's no exaggeration. According to police reports, thousands of half-fare coupons have been stolen or counterfeited.
Do you want to be arrested for inadvertently presenting one of these to a ticket agent, or be denied a space on a flight, all because to tried to save a few dollars?
Last, consider what the steadily increasing gray market price of the coupons is soon going to mean.
California or Don't Bother, that's what.
You see, if the per-coupon gray market price runs up to $100 or so, the only way a coupon will be worth buying is if your destination is the West Coast.
And so many half-fare travelers will have beaten you to the reservations operator that space may not be available. Selling tickets is, after all, the whole idea from the point of view of American and United.
I can easily understand the battle to fill seats in the sky. But I doubt whether United or American foresaw the battles on the ground that their coupon carousel has created. Or is it that they didn't care?
Bumper sticker spotted last week near Chesapeake Bay:
"God Bless America -- and Please Hurry!"
Realisitic Graffiti Award of the Week to whoever climbed a billboard in Hillcrest Heights the other day.
The billboard bore one of those Maryland lottery ads that screech: "You Gotta Plan to Win."
Our editorialist scratched out the "L".