The Frequent Flyer Elite

I haven’t seen or read “Up in the Air” yet, though I have every intention to do both.  For the purposes of this entry, the aspect of the story that captured my attention was the lead character’s quest for frequent flyer miles. 

Not unlike a Scientologist’s goal of reaching “Clear,” many have tried and failed in their attempts to achieve the seemingly-mythical highest level of air traveler status.  I know in my case it’s been a fool’s errand.

I travel enough for my status to be considered “regular,” though not nearly enough to be considered “frequent.”  Depending on need and cost, my travels are spread across a handful of dependable airlines. Because of my schedule and impossible-to-lock-in loyalty, I can never make it to the Clooney-esque ranks.  In fact, I’ll never make it out of economy.

The appeal of a higher status is made painfully clear when you fly United.  First Class and “Premier” members don’t merely preboard; they walk a roped-off red carpet to the jetway.  As my laptop-heavy, over-the-shoulder, Timbuk2 bag forces me to shift the weight back and forth between my feet, all I can do is stand and bitterly watch as the mileage masters march the goosestep of the privileged. 

Staying with United for the sake of example, according to their site, “When you earn 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) or 30 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) on United in a calendar year, you attain Premier status in the United Mileage Plus program.”

30 Elite Qualifying Miles means 15 round trips.  That’s more than one trip a month on United.  As it stands, I average 1 1/2 business trips a month.  In order to hit the Qualifying Miles goal, I’d need to make sure that every flight taken between now and December 31 was on United.  In doing that, though, I’d have to sacrifice better fares and departure times offered by other airlines (Southwest, for instance).  Not worth it.

Dismissing the frequent flights angle, the alternative route to United Premier status would be to fly really, really far on United a few less times. I exclusively travel within the U.S. and Canada, and my average distance flown is 500 miles.  In order to reach Premier status based on Qualifying Miles, I’d need to fly 25 round trips on United this year.  Impossible.

People who achieve higher status in airline affinity programs do so without even thinking about it.  Those of us who have time to think about it will never get there.  See you in the 27th row.




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