Identity and Frequent Flyer Status

Enjoyed reading this article: The Madness of Airline Élite Status.

In the article, Gary Sernovitz writes about United Airlines' "Global Services," the secret elite-of-the-elite tier level within the Mileage Plus program. This is an echelon which blows away Silver or even Gold status with perks like Mercedes Benz conveyance to the airport and real, live, human agents who will take your support calls, to a such a vaunted priority status when it comes to overbooked flights that rather than merely place you first on the wait-list its rumored they will actually throw someone off the flight to make room for you.

And I thought United 1K was a big deal. 

On one hand "Global Services" appears to appeal to task-oriented people who "get stuff done" and naturally seek rational payoffs. These folks come back because the return they receive for all the inputs ($, loyalty, opportunity costs by declining to travel on cheaper flights or more direct routes offered by other airlines) makes practical sense, right?

See what Sernovitz has to say:

So there is something a little wonky going on. What gives? Who knows what the algo will determine? And wait a second... How am I supposed to calculate my expected return?

Sernovitz goes on to say:

Eventually, Sernovitz will conclude by saying he doesn't quite agree with all the psycho-babble, that he figures people chase things like "Global Services" (and engage in seriously un-economic behavior like taking year end "mile runs," whereby frequent flyers run up sufficient miles and/or flight segments to guarantee one makes their frequent flyer tier level for next year) because these perks are fitting "consolation prizes" for busy flyers who spend way too many hours hurtling through the air cocooned only by wafer-thin aircraft aluminium.

I dunno though. The "endowment effect" makes sense to me. I reckon, even more basic than that, when I used to fly all the time, there was something about "being Gold." Maybe it wasn't the tonic water and pretzels and the wonderfully un-putrid urinal at the lounge, but the very fact I could go to the lounge. It was the entitlement. And when I wasn't gold status there was something equally gratifying about being not gold, "forget these airlines and their statuses and their nonsense, cattle-herding artificially scarcity-manipulating ways," green is good. Green is rebellious. Green is fine by me.

Traveling forces us to question a lot of assumptions we make about ourselves and about the world around us. Yes the airline may screw up our bag logistics, or they may bungle your Vegan meal or compel you to slink through the terminal after an abrupt gate change; let's face it, all kinds of crazy shit can happen to you when you travel, from terrorism to air rage to weather to bird strikes. But no matter what, no one can take that "Gold" from you, 'cause heck, that's who I am, no? It's my identity. I am <insert status>.