Richard Quest: So, just how far would you go for that golden status?
Something to Declare
August is nearly over and I am getting worried. Will it be gold by the end of the year? Or will I have to settle for silver? Or, heaven forbid, bronze?
This has nothing to do with the Olympics. It is a competition in its own right, known and celebrated by road warriors and frequent flyers. During the year we count the miles we've flown and calculate just how many more journeys we need to reach the milestones required for top-tier status in the loyalty programmes of the airlines we fly and the hotels in which we stay. Everyone wants to get to the top, because with that top tier comes status. Upgrades. Recognition.
Don't scoff. Everyone does it one way or another. We all like to be recognised and to feel special. Being gold does exactly that.
On flights there are subtle reminders of one's elevated status. Other passengers probably won't notice, but golds are usually asked first about their choice of meals. Their bags have special tags on them to make sure they come off the plane first. And they are earning miles at a higher rate than other people, too. In hotels there are special check-in desks. Upgrades to suites just seem to happen. There's fruit and wine in the room, and private lounges where you can have breakfast, sip happy-hour drinks, or arrange your late check-out.
But just like Cinderella, whose time at the ball ran out at midnight, so the clock resets on elite status at the end of a year. If you haven't got the requisite number of miles, points, or overnight stays, the gold card disappears along with the perks.
It has me wondering: what is it that I actually prize? The perks or the prestige? Both, of course. Everything about these programmes is designed to ladle on the status, which in turn puffs up the ego. For the frequent traveller, extras rapidly become the norm. They make a working life on the road fun, enabling us to enjoy experiences our wallet wouldn't normally allow. For a while you are rich and famous. And you don't mind who knows.
Which is why as the year moves on, my worries start to grow. Will I make gold? My anxiety will be exacerbated if a programme has upped the numbers needed for qualification. Most frequent flyers have more than enough miles for free trips to the Moon and back. We don't worry about our mileage balance; no, it's the annual mileage accrued that's crucial.
Finally, there is now a new level to which we aspire, the "lifetime" status given if you consistently hit the highest levels for a number of years. In many ways this is even more prized than the private and hushed "invited" levels, which are spoken about in whispers but which can be removed. Lifetime status is yours forever. As one airline exec said to me: "Even if you never step foot on our planes again, you have it for life."
It's a silly game and one I have played for years. I count the annual mileage; I work out cost-efficient ways to earn extra miles if I'm a bit short in any one year. After all, it's about status: who's got it, and who hasn't. Sorry.
Richard Quest is CNN's international business correspondent and presents 'Quest Means Business'. Follow him on Twitter @richardquest
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