Anyone who travels by air frequently has probably seen the film Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, perhaps even as an in-flight movie. The film offers a fairly accurate – and fairly comical – account of many aspects of life as a frequent flier. Clooney’s character, frequent-flier Ryan Bingham, appears to have one aspiration in his career: to reach ten million miles on his mileage account. Fellow business traveler Natalie Keener, played by Vera Farmiga, seems baffled over this goal, and wheedles Bingham into explaining:
Ryan Bingham: I’d be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon.
Natalie Keener: Do they throw you a parade?
Ryan Bingham: You get lifetime executive status. You get to meet the chief pilot, Maynard Finch.
Natalie Keener: Wow.
Ryan Bingham: And they put your name on the side of a plane.
While airlines may not actually name a plane after a passenger, they are increasingly offering more perks to travelers who fly hundreds of thousands of miles each year. Granted, some of the rewards are simply new tiers of status. Delta Air Lines awards Diamond level for those who travel 125,000 miles each year. Continental Airlines grants Presidential Platinum for those flying 100,000 miles and spending $30,000 a year on tickets. With the new status, however, there are, indeed, substantial perks.
Access to airport clubs gives members the opportunity for a shower, free drinks, massage chairs, work stations, and in the case of Delta Air Lines, the occasional putting green. Still, the most valuable of these perks may be the intangible gift of added convenience. Priority seating, automatic check-in, fees for extra baggage waived – all can save executives time and hassle. The new tiers offer the most value when things don’t go as planned. Access to special hotlines means escape from interminable hold times, and members are given preferred treatment when it comes to rescheduling flights.
Even Southwest Airlines, not known for amenities, has their A-list, members who are allowed to board first, are not required to check in online, and earn passes allowing them to bring along a guest. With revenues from first-class passengers falling about 20% since pre-recessionary levels, all the airlines are eager to court executives in any manner they can. For businessmen and women whose work entails a substantial amount of air travel, now may be the best time to upgrade your status.