09.23.10

Miles to go before I sleep

Posted in Travel at 15:38 by RjZ

It’s not a question recreational travelers have to answer very often, but it begins to plague many a business traveler around this time of year. Should I try to squeeze a few more trips in just to get to the next level of preferred frequent flier status?

I may be spoiling things but, to spare you having to read the whole post, the answer is “no.” But, ask me again in a few months. For, chance are, I will be in the lofty United Airlines, is typical of many airlines with a basic level, “premier” which means absolutely nothing, an elite level, “premier executive”, which comes with a few perks, but means almost nothing, and finally, an elite level, cleverly named “1K” which is supposed to stand, somehow, for 100,000 miles flown in one year.

Frequent flyer programs are collapsing under their own success. I’ve been at the second (it’s actually the third, if you count just joining the reward program) level many years and, at least, I’ve gotten a taste of this luxury class. It’s not without benefits, but don’t expect too much if you’re new to reward programs. Practically everybody on the plane is a frequent flyer these days and, it seems, the majority have more miles than you. Typical rewards such as preferred seating, boarding, or being on the top of a wait list when you miss your flight, don’t amount to much when there are dozens and dozens of people filling those spots before you.

More valuable benefits such as business class upgrades don’t filter down to the lower levels of frequent flier status and are almost never available on domestic U.S. flights anyway. Ditto for red carpet admiral gold silver and platinum clubs, which are often noisier than the main concourse anyway because of all the well dressed business people who think talking loudly on their cell-phones will get them their next big job offer.

I do appreciate cutting past the long lines (only to wait in a shorter one for people with still more miles, but hey….) I actually like boarding sooner. People who don’t fly that much don’t get the point of this. They wonder why you’d want to get on the plane any sooner than you have to. What they don’t notice is how much baggage people take on the plane and how many places they find to stuff that roller or extra coat that aren’t under the seats in front of them, also known as “you’re primary luggage space.” If you’ve brought anything with you that you think needs to go in the overhead space, then getting on ahead of the cattle at least gives you a fighting chance at the spot you paid for in the first place.

I also don’t mind the delicious breakfast or snacks at various lounges I’ve visited, or even the perverse pleasure of pretending to be jetsetter and having a martini in the morning (it’s happy hour somewhere, right?) It’s free! (Frankfurt’s Lufthansa lounge has everything including a couple of different vodkas and campari sodas, all at a self service bar. Love that place, at least as much as you can love something in an airport.) Will any of this change when I hit 1K? Is there a secret, even better lounge with geishas? (answer: I hope so.)

Surely you’re asking “What about all the miles?” Yeah, about that. If you’re asking it’s because you haven’t noticed how hard they are to use these days? See, in addition to all the frequent flyers, everyone has these credit cards with miles, yet the reward programs don’t have any extra seats to give away. A tip from some reward savvy friends made me hip to booking with the maximum advance time (almost a year!) in order to get a flight that doesn’t include three or more different planes or is any where near the date you had in mind.

A certified 1K colleague of mine says he gets greeted by a flight attendant when he boards the plane. They ask him if he needs anything and offer him a beverage, regardless of whether he’s in economy or business class. He gets four system-wide upgrades per year; now that’s definitely worth something! Lay-flat seats! If only I were still flying international next year. I’ve only got two more international flights to go and one of them is already booked, so there’s a good chance I’ll experience the luxury class and reveal, once and for all, if there is a lounge with geishas, but I can already tell you, there are better ways to spend your time than up in the air, in a coach seat, for eight or more hours at a time. Not to mention the radiation danger!

2 Comments »

  1. tess said,

    September 23, 2010 at 21:36

    in the words of chris rock, “no sex in the champagne room”

  2. RjZ said,

    September 24, 2010 at 7:27

    No?! Damnit!

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