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The Madness of Airline Élite Status (newyorker.com)
236 points by ohjeez on Feb 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 246 comments

I liked the article. This madness is real.

I used to fly 110 times/year for work, internationally. I had gold status with several airlines at once. I did this for about 8 years (although the last two years I went down to about 80 flights/year).

I live in SF and, of course, I have to fly United if I don't want to make one connection every time I fly somewhere in the US. And I am a Premier 1k member.

I can confirm that the perks are almost useless; that this absurd race loses any meaning when everybody else is racing with you. How can Premier 1k be good, if I'm not among the top 1% (the only case in which automatic upgrades and such would actually be useful)?

All in all, I hate United. And I'm not the only one [0].

By the way, why does Google NOT provide this link when I search for "Untied"? [1]

[0]: http://www.untied.com/main.shtml

[1]: https://www.google.com/search?q=untied&oq=untied&aqs=chrome....

Former 1k flyer here. The perks used to be nice. I'd show up at Logan and they'd already have me rerouted if my flight was delayed (and of course, upgraded to 1st class).

OK, so that was the one perk. That and the red carpet clubs used to actually be nice. I remember spending some miles on my wife's membership so she could enjoy a drink while waiting for me at the airport... then a month later the security lines being moved in front of the club so she couldn't get in.

All my miles were spent on other people. It's surprising how many people will hit you up when they need to fly somewhere but can't afford it. For the longest time I was saving up for a trip to Asia on one of those lay-flat seats in a private suite. I was close when my wife mentioned to me that she sent her brother, his wife, and their kids to Kansas. Freaking Kansas... oy. They might have said thank you.

In all the years I did it, I had one proper "free" vacation. It included a suite at a crazy nice hotel in Manhattan well above anything I could afford.

All that flying and being a 1k made me bitter. I hate traveling now because of the way they treat the no-ks. I'm bitter with the casual travelers who don't understand how to get through security with any efficiency at all. I'm bitter with security for it's intrusiveness that provides no security at all. I'm bitter with the airlines for putting their most jaded and customer service averse flight attendants on the planes that go wherever you want to vacation. I'm bitter with the guy who puts his bag in the overhead 3 seats back and has to swim upstream when we're departing the plane. The list goes on. Don't even get me started on the "$25 extra for a bag or a seat upgrade" I'm an angry old man in airports.

For anybody still putting in the time in the air - look into surfair. Chartered flights out of private airports for a monthly membership fee. No TSA, No lines. No last minute $2500 tickets. It's awesome. Limited range of cities though.

Not even having to fly nearly that much I can relate. Mostly to the "swimming upstream" and "efficiency at security".

Mishaps happen (I forgot I had bottled water with me in security on my return flight last time). But simple things like pulling out your belt early, having your electronic devices at hand, having your boarding pass at hand and so on go a very long way in making sure, that everybody will be through security faster.

I also am amazed about how lots of people treat these security persons.

I learned being a decent human being will get you a very long way in most cases. For example my mishap from above. Security allowed me to drink from the bottle, while I went through (not in the scanner though). So I only had to dump a nearly empty bottle in the end, not a totally new one.

I just was friendly, made clear, that it was my mistake and apologized for the inconvenience to the sec person. he rest ist the story told above.

I'll disagree that the perks are almost useless. But they can be a bit subtle. In comparison to people's typical experience flying, as a United 1K:

When I call the 800 number, a real human being picks up right away and helps me. If I'd like to catch an earlier or later flight, if it's within 24 hours, I can usually make the change with no charge. I use this perk dozens of times a year, and it even enables me to book cheaper flights because I'll usually be able to make adjustments on the day of travel. If I end up on the standby list, I'm put at the top (because it goes in order of highest status before first come first served). If I use miles to book a flight, I can cancel or change the flight at any time. This lets me speculatively book a vacation flight to Maui months ahead of time when availability is good, even if I'm not sure I'll be free then. My entire family gets free bags and free extra legroom seats when they travel with me. I get to sit in fancy lounges when traveling overseas. And the first class upgrades are a nice bonus.

Arguably, United is intentionally providing a lower class of service to those that haven't reached your level. It's all relative - but you're not getting "good"; you're getting "not bad."

This is the way I always phrase it: "Airline status simply means I'm treated like a human being."

Airlines make no money. They can't afford to treat everyone like that.

Actually, that is a popular misconception. Airlines have been highly profitable for the past few years. It is directly related to the degraded consumer experience. More capacity discipline and new ancillary fees have really boosted margins. Also, the cost of fuel has plummeted.

United's average quarterly profit margin over the last 5 years is 4.37%.They've dipped into quarterly losses three times during that period. They're not "highly profitable"--they're just not losing money for once.

I don't know, I'm BA gold and I've honestly seen the quality of service go way down as my status rose.

You can't make free changes anymore, their new point redeem costs are too high, I only got an INVOL upgrade once and honestly haven't had one single flight experience with them that warranted handing my golden ticket to a crew member in the last year.

In fact, just a few months ago we were neglected pretty badly in their flagship A380 LHR-MIA in club world (business).

The lounges are still pretty good, plus I get to go to the Japan Airlines lounges in some airports, those toilets are a palace.

By the way, why does Google NOT provide this link when I search for "Untied"?

Because Google has (reasonably) understood that it was likely a incorrectly spelled request for united.com, which is clearly evident from just looking at Google Trends[0]. Note that they do offer a "did you really mean" link which will force the search for untied.com and then it's the number 1 hit.

[0] - https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=untied.com%2C%20unit...

> I can confirm that the perks are almost useless

I don't know anything about United. But my status on SouthWest and Delta is absurdly useful. On SouthWest they gave me a companion pass, so any time I fly somewhere, my wife comes with me for free. For a consultant, usually flying every week Monday-Thursday, this let me skip a couple weekends from the rat race, since if my wife is there, why go home anyway.

On Delta, I can fly standby on any flight the same day. It's so handy I got in the habit of just booking the last flight of the day and just come to the airport whenever I feel like it. Even when I don't do that, I often land at airports early enough to hop an earlier connection than my official one, and I end up getting home half a day earlier than expected since I can standby on normally not permitted connections (airline regulations require a certain amount of time to make your connection, but if you can walk up to any gate and ask to standby, a lot more connections are available).

And of course there are the free upgrades to first and free extra legroom seats people normally have to pay for and the free flights using earned miles.

The only perk I need: my wife and I get round trip tickets anywhere in the CONUS once a year. That's a vacation half paid for already.

Man, United is so bad flying them should be against the Geneva Convention.

Last year I flew to Japan on an United flight, and for the first time in my life I felt more like livestock being handled than an actual human being.

Maybe Google figured it out from the activity your link provided in the last 8 hours, but when I click on [1], the top result is [0], and there is a prompt asking if I meant "united.com".

The main perk is not getting bumped off an overbooked flight. I have to say I share your hatred of United, but I hate American more ever since they put me on the SSSS list [1] for having a round the world ticket. Morons - don’t they know the world is flat.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_Security_Screening_S...

I've been Executive Platinum (top published tier) on AA since the merger (came in as Chairman's Preferred with US Airways).

AA similarly has a "secret" invite-only level above that -- Concierge Key -- and rumors about how they decide who to invite into it (not so secretive: people who spend lots of money, and probably people who have influence over the travel contracts of large companies). Never been a CK, likely never will be. The game was interesting for a while, but now I just have a harder time caring.

Personally I look at it as a cyclic thing. When the economy's in the tubes, airlines lavish benefits on frequent business travelers because the rest of the country isn't flying. When the economy picks up again and people start buying flights to Disney for their vacations again, the benefits get slashed.

Right now we're in a slash/devalue period. Last year I "only" put a bit over 50k miles to AA, which will drop me to Platinum with them at the end of the month when 2015 status expires, picked up Platinum on Delta as a hedge, and went on a spending spree using up my system-wide upgrades. Flew myself in business class to Europe and back multiple times, flew myself and someone else to Hawaii in first, gave a co-worker a business-class upgrade on JFK-SFO, etc.

Irony is, of course, that last month I moved and now work in SF, and UA is the only one of the big three I don't have some kind of useful status with. But living near where I work also means less need to travel, so I'll probably just buy tickets by schedule/price from here on out. DL in particular is nice about cheap first-class fares since they want to fill the front cabin with people who paid rather than people using frequent-flyer perks.

You can contact most airlines and do what is called a "status match." Basically, you say that you have top status on some other airline and would like to switch to United, would they match you? If you haven't done it before, they'll typically offer a challenge (we'll give you gold and if you fly X amount over Y period you get platinum).

United probably spends a good deal of money on SEO to prevent United from matching Untied. I've worked for a company that spent a great deal of marketing time/energy to hide a similar type of search result on a news article and its comments section.

It works fine for me though, so maybe it's based on your location or something


    > By the way, why does Google NOT provide this link when I
    > search for "Untied"? [1]
Top result for me. Maybe you visit united.com a lot (I maybe never have, I'm in the UK) so Google assumes you meant "United"?

Google shows untied.com as the first result for me:


I get untied.ca. That honestly debunks that Google thinks this is an irrelevant use of the word untied.

It's pretty smart how these loyalty programs are designed. Much of the behavior hinges on flights being expensed, while it's the individual employee who reaps the benefits. It causes people to constantly overspend on flights because they aren't the ones paying.

As part of the UK civil service I’m not allowed to keep airmiles accrued during business flights: they have to be declared and donated back to the government.

Honestly, it's crazy this isn't true for all governments and businesses. Frequent flier programs are just transparent kickbacks. I'm not too worried about the redistribution (since ultimately people will count it as a perk when they are comparing jobs, so it's priced in), but there has got to be significant deadweight losses from inefficient compensation, and from the person booking the travel being insulated from various incentives.

Yeah, I generally look at it as legitimate compensation rather than a kickback. Like: "As the sales manager for across the country you have to spend half the year away from your family, and we're not going to pay you any more than the guy that sits next to you, manages sales on this side of the country, and travels a lot less. But at least when it comes time for you to go on vacation, you'll get to fly for free."

Also, anecdote: I have a friend who works for an organization that employs many frequent flyers, and they have an organization policy of all flying the same airline for all flights because the benefits in terms of better rebooking in the event of flight problems for their frequent fliers are worth the added cost of not shopping around. They actually all switched, collectively, from United to American last year or the year before in response to changes to United's program.

Yes, I think big companies especially tend to view it that way. Governments have passed some of these rules about employee travel having to use the miles/points for official purposes mostly because it's politically popular to hammer "government waste", even using tools that aren't very efficient hammers. Companies tend to take a bigger-picture view when they're worried about travel budgets, instead of the relative penny-pinching of going after airline miles. For example when there's internal pressure to cut corporate travel budgets, two common policies are: 1) direct managers to reduce unnecessary travel, e.g. cut out 10% of trips entirely, and 2) institute a rule that employees have to book through the corporate travel agent and normally must pick one of the routes that's within x% of the cheapest business class fare.

The miles themselves, yeah, I think they just see as a minor compensation to employees for travel, since they don't pay them overtime or anything. Plus in some cases it's not precisely a kickback. Sometimes it is, but other times it's intended to incentivize the traveler to stick with their main airline even when the airline has worse routes to some cities. For example, you usually fly United, but today you want to fly to a city where American has a nonstop and United has only a 1-stop, for similar prices. Absent any kind of loyalty program, you'd pick American's nonstop for convenience. United's perks are supposed to encourage you to take the United 1-stop, even though it's a bit less convenient. This isn't precisely a kickback in the normal sense, because they aren't incentivizing you to buy a higher fare, and it's basically a wash from the employer's perspective. Instead they're incentivizing you to accept being personally inconvenienced with a worse flight, in return for receiving some personal perks.

I know people who do a lot of crazy routings to stay with their preferred carriers. As you suggest, it's not necessarily about spending more money but taking a less direct route. Personally, I won't do it for shorter trips; I spend too much time in planes as it is. But there are a couple more distant destinations where I could fly non-stop but usually will take my regular carrier with a stop instead.

>I know people who do a lot of crazy routings to stay with their preferred carriers. As you suggest, it's not necessarily about spending more money but taking a less direct route.

That generally doesn't work anymore. Almost all airlines now use a revenue model for milage awards, not distance.

With oneworld airlines (BA and AA, amongst many others) mileage doesn't affect status, it works on a different point system (tier points) that doesn't depend in cost, but largely can be gamed by breaking up a direct flight into a few stops in different "zones".

For instance, I flew LHR-CDG-DOH-KUL-PEN last year, business class, for less money that I would have spent in a more direct flight, but I got a lot of tier points for it.

Then I realised I was addicted to my BA gold status, and that I wasn't getting that many perks anyway. This year I'm opening myself up to other airlines.

AA's switch to a revenue model is already under way.

That's only for award miles, but not for status-qualifying miles, at least on United (and I think also Delta). And like the original article says, people trying for status pretty much never use award miles because you don't earn status miles for those flights, so they don't really care.

>Yeah, I generally look at it as legitimate compensation rather than a kickback.

But, to the extent that it's a way to circumvent taxes, it's not so legitimate -- it's a way of providing a private gain [1] that works as compensation but which isn't taxed. When you have marginal tax rates on high income workers hitting ~50% [2], that's a pretty big incentive for tax-free compensation! (And, IMHO is also an argument for reducing them, since they cause such distortionary collateral damage.)

[1] Don't know the specific jargon the tax code uses for "something that really ought to be taxed if we want to be consistent"

[2] https://www.jcfny.org/effective-top-marginal-income-tax-rate...

Why not just have travel compensation? $X per day for being away from home? It's almost certainly more valuable/efficient.

One issue is that it's at least as much about the status perks as the actual miles which some reasonable $$/day can't replace for frequent flyers unless the company is going to suddenly give them upgraded flights everywhere.

In law school I learnt that thanks to the doctrine of trusts, a lot of the time these perks nominally belong to the employee but beneficially belong to the company or government which paid for them.

This is a legal, administrative and tax-payment mess so most employers simply assign the beneficial ownership back to the employee. Doubly so since they're not transferrable in almost every case.

Of course the details have changed, things vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I last studied this more than a decade ago, I'm not a lawyer and by god this is not legal advice.

>Honestly, it's crazy this isn't true for all governments and businesses

I'm pretty sure my entire firm would rise up and put management's heads on pikes if our frequent flier miles were taken away. Points are one of the few joys in life that we consultants are afforded.

This can be said about almost any inefficient transfer program. Even if the agency has to burn 50% of the value in order to move to people, and could instead just give it to people in their paychecks, they have a special attachment to it and feel something is being taken from them.

I have a special attachment to things like free drinks, more comfortable layovers, and seats that recline into a bed

Life, uh, find a way (to respond to incentives)

Same business model behind high hotel wifi prices.

Not really even if both are largely based on the fact that the person doing the purchasing is often not the one paying for the purchase.

The business model behind high WiFi prices and $9 bottles of water is more that they're opportunities to sell high-margin add-ons to price insensitive customers. Thus business-oriented hotels charge for these things while they're free at the Holiday Inn down the road.

(With respect to WiFi, this does seem to be changing as WiFi is increasingly viewed as more or less essential by those traveling for pleasure as well as business. The trend I see increasingly is free WiFi being used as a perk to encourage behaviors that the hotel chain wants to encourage--such as booking directly online.)

The only thing better than business-class upgrades on your work-related travel is not having work-related travel.

I couldn't disagree more. Work-related travel means seeing the world on someone else's dime, and getting paid to do it.

Indeed, I have seen beige conference rooms and business hotels in every city from Tulsa to Charlotte. I eagerly await the time when I can captivate my grandchildren with reminisces of Renaissance hotel breakfasts in Omaha and days spent in the exotic exurban office parks of Evanston, IL.

"Sit down, little Timmy. Grandpa wants to tell you a tale, a tale of yogurt parfait in tiny cups as far as the eye can see, a tale of padded deluxe banquet chairs and Starbucks coffee pods from worn hotel percolators..."

Haha. I was running around to datacenters all over the world for a while many years ago. I eventually told the folks I worked for that I was going to start staying at least a few extra days because I couldn't tell any kids I had in the future "Yeah, I've been to London/Paris/Wherever and all I saw was a datacenter." It was a lot more fun then.

You are doing it wrong then.

Go out at night.

Spend the weekend.

Neither are hard to do.

That really depends on where you have to go to. Some destinations really just don't offer much to see.

>Work-related travel means seeing the world on someone else's dime, and getting paid to do it.

Thats the problem. You don't "get to see the world" in most cases. You're shuttled back & forth between some hotel and some office block. e.g. I was in Paris the other day & the only sightseeing I got to do is seeing the (far away) tip of the Eiffel tower from a fkin boardroom window. That kind of "seeing the world" gets old fast.

I went to London for work. I got to walk around an unfamiliar big city, go drinking in traditional English pubs, meet people from around the world, etc. My evenings were free, just like they are at my local office. Unless you are working 24 hours a day, traveling to exotic places for business can be great.

Yes, in London that would work great.

Now travel for work to an office in a suburban business park in greater Oklahoma City & report back on the experience.

My comment above yours specifically mentioned Paris. The one I was replying to initially didn't mention any city, and implied no work-related travel is better than any, full stop.

Where are you getting Oklahoma City from? You're moving the goalposts.

I agree that "traveling to exotic places for business _can_ be great".

Don't know why you think I'm arguing with you, just having a conversation. I'm not moving any goalposts, I'm talking about my own experience from work travel to less exciting places, that are sometimes not easily explorable in a couple free evenings without a car.

In places like Paris & London it should be easier to have some fun. Although still you might not always be able to - sometimes you only travel for a few days & want to get the most of that work session, or e.g. want to go back home as soon as you can so you can spend the weekend with your spouse/kids.

For example I had a colleague visiting here in Berlin for one week, that required 16h of travel either way. When he came on Sunday (flight took off on Saturday morning in his original time zone) he was tired from the long flight and his flight back home was the Sunday afterwards. During the week we worked like mad in order to get the most value from the visit, so he had some evenings and one Saturday, in which I think he got to see some of Berlin, but not much (simply due to not really having a lot of time + being tired).

In a city less accessible he would have seen next to nothing. When I did the reverse trip to a small Canadian town with a metropolitan population of less than 100k people & no transit, I've not managed to do much sight seeing.

Benefits of being in a job with only moderate travel requirements - you have enough time left over that you can usually extend your stay over at least a weekend and have a bit of time for sightseeing while still benefiting from company-paid flights.

(Also helps that I'm not in a relationship - business travel is way harder on those with spouses or partners.)

In my experience, it's somewhere in-between. Yes, for the consultant, spending their weeks in $BORINGCITY (I'll avoid insulting anyone's hometown), it's pretty awful. And travel can be tough wherever you're going when there are snowstorms and other travel problems. But I usually also get time to experience places that I visit to at least some degree. YMMV of course, but I can't complain too much.

> Work-related travel means seeing the world on someone else's dime, and getting paid to do it.

LOL I once went to Nairobi, Kenya for work... Didn't see one god damn animal. No time. Who goes to Kenya and doesn't see ANY animals? This guy on a work trip.

I don't mind a bit of work travel, but I am also picky about the routes I take. Anything in Europe, it is SFO to "somewhere in Europe, not Heathrow" and then from there. I've usually had status (Gold) but my wife and I also travel enough privately where taking advantage of a travel credit card that gives you status (and extra miles blahblah) helps.

I've not done a milage run, nor will I do multiple hops just to get a few hundred (or a thousand) extra miles. The only exception to that is if the alliance I prefer (Star Alliance) doesn't have as direct as say One World, I'll still take the Star Alliance route for the miles.

About the only airline I travel with more than UA/other star alliance partners is Alaska because I head up to the Pacific Northwest frequently.

Why not Heathrow? I just flew there last month and it didn't seem particularly bad. Was I lucky?

It's a large airport and when transiting to other parts of Europe, I've found it more painful than smaller airports. When I've had to go through customs there (US national) the lines have been incredibly slow and tedious.

In terms of time/distance, some hops at Frankfurt are just as bad or worse than Heathrow (US -> FRA -> Tel Aviv being a really really nice not walk).

Given a choice, I prefer Zurich or Munich first, Frankfurt second, and surprisingly my experience with CDG hasn't been bad compared to horror stories I have heard.

I fly yearly or more to many of these airports.

LHR is down to what you are flying. If you are flying BA, you land and take off in T5 and it will be quick and painless, leaving you time for a nice meal at Plane Food. In one instance, I turned left out of the aircraft, went through empty security (as the only transferring passenger) and had a quick chat with the immigration officer about whether Plane Food was open yet (no :( ), and literally 3 minutes after deplaning, I was next to my gate. Make that 20 minutes if you have to go back to A gates (or whatever the ones with the restaurants are). Last time I got bored and decided to walk between A and C gates, which was a fun if eery experience down an empty tunnel several km long; sort of beats the crowded gate train.

If you are flying not-BA, then, you're not LHR's priority and it might suck, especially with a terminal change. I haven't done this in years for precisely that reason, but I remember cramped terminals, impossibly complicated options to get between them, and generally bad service throughout. Somehow there are always works at LHR, just like with the tube in London, where you check not to see which lines are down but which are up today. Last Christmas, the inter-terminal transfers were done via a free shuttle bus that used the motorway...

I hear you on the FRA walks. But Lufthansa reliably flies A380s internationally, even if the food sucks. And that's a guaranteed quiet flight vs the 50% chance of a crummy old 747 on BA... still, it must be at least 1-2km! And this time you have no time for the much better food options, and a lot of people are walking with you.

ZRH is reliably halfway between those two - the big plane and small plane buildings are separated by a medium length walkway which is always the same. However food is so damn expensive!

I would fly AF if I could just for the better food (and free flow champagne, even if it's bottom shelf) and guaranteed A380 again. But every single of my CDG experiences has indeed been a horror story. The place is like a study on how to screw up an airport. In one case, the only airside toilet was blocked for cleaning, which wasn't ongoing because the cleaning lady felt like taking an extended break, reading her paper and insulting those like me enquiring about whether we could possibly use the toilet before immigration queues...

For Americans living in New York or Washington, I'd recommend having a look at GVA. It's a small, very efficient airport with a lot of connections all over Europe and the Middle East (including cheap ones as an EasyJet hub) and has decent lounges. I think both United and Delta fly direct from these cities. Plus, if your layover is long, you can always get out and take the (free) 6 minute train to the city.

I'm not sure why you are big on the 380. To me it is a long load/unload and (unless you are in one of the airlines that flies a nice F ... spending $10K+ on your seat) it is just like anything else inside. I'd take a 777 or better yet 787 any time. Even the newer LH 747-8 to India is better than the 380 hard product IMO.

What airport depends on what airline alliance you fly with though. I'm StarAlliance so not much CDG or AMS unless it is O/D.

For * A I personally love FRA, but I've been through it 40+ times and know it like the back of my hand. I don't mind the A-B-C pier walks really, and most of the time landing in B and going over to the Schengen gates at A is not that big of a deal. MUC is much nicer to navigate than FRA but the connectivity is not as good.

If you are sticking to * A the new terminal at LHR is not bad, but most of the good connectivity in on BA and taking a bus to T5 and re-clearing security is terrible.

Instead of GVA or ZRH, whose connectivity is pretty mediocre on Swiss, someone flying * A should really look at IST. The Turkish lounge is excellent and the connectivity to EMEA is far superior, and lots of NA airports have a direct connection.

All this just reminds me I have to fly to EWR tomorrow :(

I'm big specifically on the 787 and the A380 in this order (perhaps reversed if I can get on upper deck on the A380, which almost never happens) because of the noise levels, humidity and pressure, which are MUCH better than the 777 and 747 and earlier aircraft, even renovated.

Most airlines flying into SIN have old IFE on the older aircraft which means 1 in 2 seats has a massive metal box taking away half your foot space, and my knees and the sides of my legs really do not appreciate this. Next generation (e.g. new BA 773s) is a flat thin black box, or nothing visible. For some reason, a 3-4-3 777 is also a guaranteed trolley-shoulder bash every time they serve food, another good reason to avoid airlines that like to fly it (including SQ); my shoulder doesn't stick out as much from a newer aircraft seat but this could be psychological. Also, the A380 upper deck window seat has massive amounts of space on the window side which feels somewhat more private (you can practically stash your bag there).

One side effect of how quiet the 787 and A380 are is that you can hear babies from much further - perhaps 10 rows vs 2. So, it can be harder to sleep if you're seated too close to a baby cluster in Y.

I don't mind taking ages to deplane or board. It's a fraction of the flight anyway, and the actual walking is quick and the rest seated. I used to care about the crowd/volume when flying to SYD because SYD customs used to be highly inefficient, with LHR level of queues for foreigners. They made recent changes and now it's faster than for Australians using e-gates, so I'm not as bothered by a slow deplaning for that either.

I do mind less noise in my ears for the 22h of flying from Australia to Europe on 3 legs. I'll fly budget over SQ if the budget airline has a 787... sandwiches are cheaper than lost sleep!

My ex and I went to Britain 20 years ago (honeymoon trip) Beforehand everyone warned us how bad going though customs was going to be. But we for some deranged reason flew into Glasgow. Got off the flight, walked down to the customs counter (singular) and the agent looked at our passports, smiled, stamped them and that was that. Reminded me of flying into John Wayne International before they wrecked it. The difference in cognitive load between John Wayne and LAX was night and day.

Best customs experience was flying into Reykjavik. Walk down empty hallway to customs agent, they flip open your passport, flip it closed, and hand it back.

Speaking of LHR, I was amused when I flew there 6 weeks after September 11 2001 (remember, air travel took quite a hit), on a BA 747, and they offloaded us with a stair car and a shuttle bus. I couldn't believe they couldn't even find enough terminals for their own national airline.

My last trip to London, single person at customs, about 40 people in line ahead of me, took almost an hour to get through. I've always found MUC/FRA/ZRH to be way more efficient.

Upcoming trip to Dublin, I opted for going via Frankfurt instead of Heathrow. Silly, yes, but experiences and preferences play into planning.

My wife is Australian, and when we arrived in London from Sydney, I'd pop through the e-gates with my biometric Shenghen passport, and then settle down in the cafe opposite arrivals, and took my time reading the paper and enjoying a (not so) fine English breakfast. Usually had time for a third of a book as well. Then she'd finally get out.

I never understood why LHR had to have such long immigration queues. The solution is pretty simple: add more officers. Those booths were never fully staffed. I suspect some kind of labour dispute is involved.

Not sure about GP but I avoid Heathrow because the UK requires me to have a transit visa just to fly through. Most other EU countries don't.

I'm in Heathrow now, I can confirm... it's fine.

Your experience will depend very much on which Terminal you're at (there is a big difference in age and layouts of individual terminals) and, in particular, whether you're forced to switch terminals when transiting.

A good airport for transiting into Europe, and in my view usually more pleasant than London, Frankfurt or Paris, is Amsterdam Schiphol.

Agree on AMS. The construction there has been going on for a couple of years and it'll be nicer once that's done, but even with that, it's my preferred airport to connect in EU.

For better or worse, this just locks you in to crappy airlines.

I spent 7.5 years in a full-time travel job. The perks (other than occasional upgrades on redeyes) did very little for me. I wound up using miles just for last minute flights.

I did used to get a big laugh out of people (usually junior consultants) who confused airline status with real social status.

> I did used to get a big laugh out of people (usually junior consultants) who confused airline status with real social status.

I see this a lot among consultants - they love to talk about airports, airport lounges, "horrifying" delays, rude customs agents, free upgrades, and seat pitches. Bizarre.

I'm not sure it's so much about social status as shared "war stories" and experiences.

I've viewed some ghastly behavior, even worse than this -> http://www.bigtimeconsulting.org/wp-content/uploads/cartoons...

Fun article, and one which shows the dark side of gamification. If you provide points, levels, and leaderboards, people will sacrifice their lives to leveling up for stupid little perks like jumping the line, slightly larger seats, and liquor and snacks that you probably shouldn't have anyway.

I was one of these people years ago. I was doing a lot of international business class flights on behalf of a public software company, and had 1k and global services status. Then I burned out and quit, and spent the next several years barely making premier silver. It's no big deal once you get over your sense of entitlement. And United has put all the perks up for sale anyway, so you can now buy whatever perk that you can't live without.

A couple of months ago, I finally made million miler status, which is a kind of "emeritus" status: you (and a designated companion) get star alliance gold status for life. This is actually kind of awesome since now I don't have to worry about getting miles every year to make premier. I still accumulate points so that I can get free tickets, but being retired from the elite status rat race is very relaxing.

My old boss discovered that there is a class higher than first with British Airways when he found himself on a flight with the research analyst from Goldman Sachs that covered the airline sector.

There actually is a formal version of "extreme status" on BA, in the form of a Black Card [1] [2]. Basically, you need to be something like "the guy responsible for the travel spend at big corp" and each membership is approved by the board.

Benefits supposedly include delaying an entire airliner by up to half an hour if you are running late, and it's so rare many lounge staff will deny you entry, not understanding what the card is.

[1] http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-clu...

[2] http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/re...

Regardless of the hearsay posted on FlyerTalk, I find it very difficult to believe any Big Corp would allow a purchasing manager to accept any kind of personal kickback from a supplier, period. Maybe a small corp like the principal of a small consulting firm that does a lot of travel, but no publicly traded company would allow this.

>I find it very difficult to believe any Big Corp would allow a purchasing manager to accept any kind of personal kickback from a supplier, period.

Why not? Lots of big corps allow their staff to keep stuff like loyalty points so its not too big of a jump. Plus big corps run on policies...and there is rarely a policy in place to cover 1 head honcho.

Because most of the Big Corps have complete internal policies about exactly what's acceptable and what isn't, to the level of actual values of any gifts. This means for example giving someone a spare gift card would be violation of the policy if the receiving party was the user or a potential buyer of some product. It's not that there would be a policy to cover 1 head honcho - there's usually a policy for everyone, with maybe only potentially exceptions for the head honcho.

Yes I know - I'm in one of those Big Corps, so I know the whole spiel about gift registers etc. In practice "indirect" benefits like these fly under the radar. Its just too much hassle & admin to catch everything.

Obviously if there is a direct link between say a contract given and an airline upgrade that would just be fraud. Thats not the scenario I meant.

Whenever I try to imagine nilth class travelers, all I come up with is Hedonism-Bot from Futurama, giggling and eating grapes. Surrounded by giggling gynoid party-bots. In a solid gold hot tub filled with champagne. Entertained by a live string quartet. Plus Bootsy Collins on electric bass. As flakes of 99.995% pure cocaine gently fall from the ceiling, like snow.

As I don't ever get de luxe accommodation, I simply have no basis for imagining plus luxe.

Prior to deregulation, American Airlines used to lug around a grand piano in their first class lounges on 747s.

Not a grand piano AFAIK (which might be difficult to get into the first class lounge on a 747--not sure what sort of access there is besides the staircase), but they did have a piano bar: http://unroadwarrior.boardingarea.com/2010/07/21/the-747-pia...


Obviously, nilth class passengers would have a five hundred grand piano (4.5m long). In addition to the regular 88 keys, it has another 14 (C0-Ab0, C#8-F8), to play the notes that only rich people can hear.

Who wouldn't want their own armrest?

Sounds good, where do I sign up?

I imagine you're referring to high-roller passengers, who spend so much on a given airline they get extra perks like complimentary chauffered limo service and high-end hotel stays around all trips. For actual travel though, they still have the same seating arrangements on the plane as other first class passengers.

Pfft, limo service (more like an S-Class, not an actual limo) is available to anyone on Virgin Atlantic flying Upper Class.

Technically speaking, it needn't be a longer-than-usual-wheelbase to be considered a limousine. (Though if strictly defining a limo, it should have a partition between you and the chauffer.)


FWIW, stretch limos are really only appropriate for larger parties of more than 2, for conducting business.

Not that anybody today should care, and I can't remember where I learned this, but effectively, a limo used to just mean "car". Business people and big execs would use limos so that they could continue working while in transit, and not have to deal with the distraction of having to talk to cabbies and whatnot.

Stretch limos were employed to conduct business on the go with larger parties, again, so that business would not be interrupted despite the need for travel.

It wasn't until hollywood and prom-goers decided that limousine effectively equated to stretch limousine and started using them 'inappropriately' that the connotation became what it is today.

Sorry - it was not a formal extra class, but clearly his name had been flagged on the BA systems so he got extra special service compared to everyone else in first class.

He was treated like a high roller, as his comments in research notes would directly affect the BA share price.

Are we talking service level or seats? Off the top of my head nobody but Etihad has real 4-class seat configurations (Not counting economy+).

Edit: I'm curious as to what was downvote-worthy about this comment?

Concorde Class

In the early days of train travel (1840s), they quickly realised that the first class passengers arrived no faster than the cheaper passengers, somthey did the only sensible thing. They took the roof and Windows off the third class carriages and made you share them with cattle.

This way people paid extra to avoid the weather and cow shit

There is a hard upper limit to how good flying in a tin can at 35,000 feet can be made (1)

If airlines could strap economy class passengers to the wings they would

(1) actually an ad exec made an excellent point in a ted talk - instead of spending 4bn on reducing the time the high speed train went from London to Paris, spend 2bn on half naked super models handing out free champagne and no one will care how long the journey is. This is of course what airline stewardesses were supposed to be before all those pesky lawsuits.

I have traveled some for work over my career, but I never paid any attention to any of these programs or miles or anything like that. I probably missed out on a free flight at some point, but the thought of keeping track of those things seems tedious and dreadful. The whole culture of travel is like that really, parsing the tiny differences between anonymous airports and roughly-identical airlines. People become obsessed with checking in online exactly 24 hours in advance, etc. Expending effort for the tiniest, tiniest morsels of difference and succor in an overall terrible experience. It's understandable of course, but I just accept that it's all bad and try to forget about it as soon as it's over.

You really don't have to spend hours min-maxing your miles like described in the article. Just spend two minutes creating an account online, and ten seconds inputting your member number when buying tickets or checking in. Then two years later check your balance and you might have a free ticket worth $500+. That's a huge return given the amount of time invested.

It's like credit cards. There are entire websites dedicated to min-maxing the hell out of credit card points, sign-up bonuses, etc. But you don't have to do that. You can just spend an hour getting a good credit card (assuming you can :/) and then reap massive benefits compared to the amount of time invested.

Until your points expire or the T&Cs change - thanks Qantas.

I didn't do anything but sign up for club access on a website, link my number to my credit card, and tell them at work my number. Everything else is done automatically. I have 4 free return flights saved up now, ready to go.

> I then asked my wife for permission to spend five hundred and sixty dollars for a flight that I already had a free ticket for.

Why would this make sense? Surely there wouldn't be a benefit worth more than $560?

If elite status results in a free upgrade on 20% of your flight segments, and you fly 50 segments per year: 10 upgrades to business class > $560

One upgrade to business class is already going to be a few hundred dollars. 10 exceeds it by a wide margin.

20%? What airline you're with, for "elite" statuses it's generally less than 20% of the flights that do not get upgraded. Obviously depends on availability on the specific flights though.

On a long haul international flight ? I doubt it. It's hard to find even mile redemption availability.

Depends on what you fly. I always used to fly first flight out of Newark preferentially compared to anything else out of Newark/LGA/JFK simply because I always got upgraded without fail. First flight out of Newark leaves before the mass transit gets running. So you can game the system to make sure there are seats to be upgraded to.

It depends on how you value the perks - many of them (access to the GS lounges, for example) can't actually be purchased so there's no "real" value for them besides how much they are worth to you.

If you're flying 50 times a year for business, lounge access may be worth substantially more to you than if you only flew a few times a year. Not to mention if you're going to be flying 50 times a year, that $560 means ~$10 per flight to make your experience substantially less awful.

I've occasionally gotten to a lounge access tier, but I've never used it. What's the benefit? I typically don't want to get to the airport earlier than I have to, and once you're at that level, security and boarding are a breeze.

I don't fly internationally much, so most of my flights are direct. Is it mostly for layovers?

The biggest benefit for me internationally (flying long haul once or twice a month from SIN) is absolutely being able to take a shower between two long-haul flights and, if the lounge is not airside, shave (e.g. The Haven by JetQuay at SIN).

Peace and quiet is a second benefit. If you're waiting a couple of hours whilst sleep deprived (often the case for business travel or when booking budget flights that leave at 1:30am), those loud, constant announcements are very annoying. Bonus points if the airport has terrible seating and the lounge has comfortable sofas. If you need to work for a bit, it's a great place to do so, especially in airports that don't have free WiFi (increasingly rare these days).

The food is rarely good in Asia (at least at those lounges I have access to). Reheated noodles and some meat if you're lucky and flying at the right time. It's convenient, at most, saving you the trouble.

It really varies by city. HNL and NRT have terrible lounges for PP card holders - basically a room where you can sit for a while, sometimes with a free beer (but there is a great sushi-ya just opposite the NRT lounge). GVA has my favorite ones - nice view on mountains, usually empty (except if Aeroflot is flying soon...) and a decent breakfast with muesli and fresh bread and pastries. SIN lounges often have free massage chairs. Which are available for free in T3 as well, but it saves having to take the monorail there.

On timing, if you are flying long haul you can face serious delays (like a huge queue at check-in and security) and need to pad it by a couple hours. Most of the time, you don't face these delays and have a spare hour to kill, and in most airports the lounge is a better place to do so. Sort of applies to short haul too; I once missed LHR-GVA check-in on BA by a single minute and they were very annoying about it despite the empty airport (had to book another flight).

The food in the Singapore airlines lounges in Hong Kong and Singapore are great.

I used to skip the lounge access also, but its a nice perk. It has decent internet, some snacks until I eat on the plane, and foremost comfortable seating. I don't like a lot of noise around me as well, so its a break from the rest of the airport bustle. I fly business when available because many of my flights are 13hrs-ish. I'm oversized, so I literally have to fold myself up to fit within my space in coach. That's fine for 2hrs, but not more. I can't sleep sitting up. That's a long 13hrs staring at the seatback display of the plane going around the world.

I scored a mid-level membership once. I didn't go out of my way to do it. Nothing super good about it.

Oh, your luggage gets a priority tag and comes out first. In certain airports that can save an hour of your life.

But mostly its about accumulating miles on trips I'd be taking anyway. Essentially free upgrades, or entirely free flights. Just for joining their silly program. Why not?

I do the same with hotels.

It's nice for layovers and delays. It's also nice if you've just gotten off the plane and it's a long enough flight that you want to freshen up in a nicer, less crowded bathroom and then have a complimentary soda and cheese plate. That's how I've used it when I've had it.

It's terrific for layovers, and a lot of times you can find a shower if you want one. Having decently comfortable chairs, a more private and cleaner restroom, free snacks (sometimes real food, like in the Amex Centurion Lounges), good wifi and power outlets everywhere, and in some cases even business services (printer, phone rooms, etc).

Last time I flew, I was flying out late-ish from SF. Knowing the Amex lounge was near my gate, I was able to go surfing for a while rather than worrying about eating before my flight. I got there and was able to relax in decent chairs and tolerable wifi with some free drinks and dinner. Then on the way back, I took my 80 minute layover in Dallas as an opportunity to get a decent breakfast and have a nice place to sit, since my first flight that morning started at 5:30 AM eastern. Each time, the lounge just felt like an escape from the many filters and crowds of airports. I certainly wouldn't pay for access, but I appreciate the improvement in experience it affords me.

A single business-class upgrade on a long-haul flight way exceeds that.

It costs that, but I've yet to be convinced that it's worth that. A cattle-class ticket and a Valium gets me to my destination in just as much comfort as that business class ticket would.

Valium will get you through most of life with as much comfort as any other way, but still...

Until you run out of Valium ;)

Serious (and weird) question: does valium help with flying that much? What is it like flying on valium?

Mainly, if you don't take valium much, on the rare occasions you use it, you pass out within minutes. And it feels like you go from stone sober to completely lit in those few minutes, which is quite pleasant. For one to a few hours you will sleep like the dead. With luck you'll sleep through the flight, or through the night, or whatever.

The next time, it won't work so well.

The next time, it won't work so well.

The next time, it won't work so well.

And down the path you go. Up the dose, etc, etc.

Don't use valium unless you have a real and only very occasional use for it. And try to keep that in mind: it's a use case. Not a need. You never need valium. You need food, and shelter from weather. But you don't need valium.

I fly long-haul more than most people, albeit mostly in business. I started taking valium for flying 7 years ago for a fear of flying when I was flying mostly economy. I started with 2mg, which was completely ineffective for anything, and then went to 15mg.

At the higher I didn't notice any effect, until the plane started bouncing, and then I realized I didn't care, which was perfect. I didn't notice any drowsiness at that level, which may have been due to adrenaline.

Over the course of 6 years, my regular dosage approached 50mg as I kept upping it whenever I started to get nervous flying. If taking it while I got on a plane, I didn't feel drowsy. It became not always effective.

About a year ago I made a conscious effort to wean myself off it over the course of 12 weeks, by flying a return business long-haul flight every week, and taking a little less each time, practicing the principles in Dr Claire Weekes "Freedom from Nervous Suffering" (essentially breathing exercises, although it's a little more nuanced), which is in fact a book for agoraphobics which someone had suggested to me. I got down to zero, but found under 10mg then turbulence still had fairly heavy emotional and physical effects on me.

Now I take 0-10mg when I fly. I don't notice any effects, other than I am less sensitive to turbluence. However, I exclusively fly business class rather than economy, which I suspect helps a massive amount.

During this time I also tried Propanalol at some high doses. I found it ineffective for fear of flying, but very very effective for giving presentations. However it started to make me short of breath, so I ditched it.

In terms of intoxicating yourself for flying, I have found Ambien to be highly effective. However, it seems many many people have bad side-effects from it - sleep-walking, etc - so unless you're totally certain you can handle it well, I don't know that I would recommend it. These days I'll settle for 10mg of valium and some alcohol.

Depends, different people respond differently to benzodiazepines. For myself, a 5mg valium relaxes me but does not induce sleep. Similar to having a glass or two of wine, really. For others, they'll basically be knocked out. I'm not convinced it's necessary for flying myself, but if you have any sort of flight anxiety it can be a game-changer.

I was on vacation when a trip to Beijing was planned for me. The secretary, for reasons I don't expect I'll ever know or understand, insisted on flying Eastern China Airlines. Complete with an extra stop in Shanghai... It might be different now (this was like 6 years ago) but it was very much "the people's airline" then. It wasn't just very tight seating with limited recline capacity, but there were some strong odors as well. Not sure a valium would have got it done. It's the only time I attempted to buy an upgrade mid-flight. The American flights to and from L.A. on the American side were delightful.

Maybe the idea was to help with the culture shock in the same way "getting jumped in" helps you adapt to gang-life.

It's nice to have the choice of using those hours for work. 10 hours of uninterrupted time in a comfy seat with snacks at hand and laptop in a good position can be great. In a middle-middle-seat in the back not so much.

Well that's kind of the core of the article, no? In dollar amount alone, yes, there are benefits worth more than $560. But are they worth the money?

I have resigned myself to never taking a first class reward flight because I can get at least two economy trips with the same amount of miles. I just can't justify that to myself, despite the (more than 2x) dollar amounts attached.

I had to do early morning flights to a city about an hour away pretty frequently for all days meetings, flight back same day.

With security this meant getting up at 4 to catch a 7:30 flight, to get to the meetings by 9:30, all day in a conference room, leave at 5 to get to the airport for a 7:30pm flight to get home by 9:30 or 10:00pm.

Flying business class changed the whole dynamic. I was fed a real breakfast in the morning instead of getting the shakes from a relatively empty stomach and too much coffee. I got a hot towel to wipe my face with and feel human when I showed up at the meeting.

On the way back a light dinner and a glass of wine with a little elbow room.

The extra 30% for business class was well worth it.

If I was staying overnight, perhaps not.

You aren't 2 meters tall.

I'm not far off. Whenever possible I pay the $50 or whatever for an exit row seat on top of my economy reward.

But god help you if you accidentally choose either a bulkhead seat or an exit seat that doesn't recline. SeatGuru is your friend.

(am also nearly 2m tall.)

About 6'6" for the Americans here (myself included).

Here is an alternative algorithm: fly with whichever airline is the cheapest, having a frequent flyer account on each airline. Accumulate miles separately.

It won't get you a elite status, just a status slightly better than the normal flyer -- and free tickets too.

It will prevent you from reaching the extremes of this mile madness, like spending money just to maintain your status.

Bonus: when airlines merge, you get a really nice status. It may not be that interesting now with so little airlines in competition, but around year 2000 that was something regular

If you are a frequent flier, you want elite status (at least equivalent to Gold), because the perks (especially priority access, Lounge, preferred seats etc) actually make travel better and more convenient. So not putting all eggs in one basket then simply does not do the job.

I'd argue that most of those who reach the extremes of mile madness actually love it, even if they sometimes might seem to be irrationally stressed due to pressure to maintain their status.

It's a hobby, and one that can get you to unexpected places of the world - even if the initial motivation might have been to chase some miles.

>the perks (especially priority access, Lounge, preferred seats etc) actually make travel better and more convenient. So not putting all eggs in one basket then simply does not do the job.

For $1067, you can get a year of TSA Precheck, Economy Plus and United Club lounge access, which is about how much you might save by comparison shopping on just half a dozen flights. And if you are a "frequent flier" you are probably flying more than that.

If you're a frequent flier you will save a hell of a lot more than $1067 on the free upgrades alone.

TSA Precheck is rapidly becoming worth less and less, if it continues at this rate it will be the regular lines in a year or two. When grandma who flies once every 2 years can get it, it ruins the entire point. I've switched back to regular priority lines at some airports these days as they are faster.

The #1 perk any frequent flier will tell you matters the most is having competent people who pick up the phone instantly during IRROPS (e.g. weather/flight problems). Simply using this once a year trivially pays for itself by putting you so far ahead of the regular queue I still get amazed sometimes. Plus having them available for wonky changes/etc. due to rapidly changing schedules is great - 90% of the time they simply waive change fees for me.

I agree that the programs are becoming pretty gutted, but still barely hold enough value for me to keep "loyal" to my main airline. The experience flying Elite with them vs. plebe on other domestic carriers is night and day.

Pre check, and the TSA experience in general, depends a lot on the airport. Some are run quite well and others are a total train wreck.

At some airports pre check is fantastic. At others they have a bad habit of sending "normal" travelers over to the pre check lane which just slows everything down. Infrequent travelers don't understand what's going on and start dumping their bags and stripping down then get all confused when they're told to put everything back in the bag.

> The #1 perk any frequent flier will tell you matters the most is having competent people who pick up the phone instantly during IRROPS (e.g. weather/flight problems). Simply using this once a year trivially pays for itself by putting you so far ahead of the regular queue I still get amazed sometimes.

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but I get better service than you even when I don't have status. I can and do rebook my flights on my phone, with my preferred routing and timing before the rush for seats begin as other people go try and call someone or god forbid, walk up to a desk and stand in line to do it in person.

No status needed. Delta's app will definitely automatically recognize a delayed or diverted flight and allow you to rebook. It even allows you to browse flights to alternate destinations, so I have totally switched from a plane going arriving at OAK to one arriving at SFO while taxing at SLC.

Oh, I also regularly switch to better seats in the days before my flight. I switched from middle to window on my flight leaving tomorrow this morning and moved up seven rows on the return flight, all without needing to make a phone call.

I have had Delta's highest tier, and the last year was back to being a regular old Joe. Currently back at Platinum.

The difference is that when you have status, you get priority. When you call the Diamond reservation line, someone picks up _immediately_. When you're not, you can wait in a queue for hours. They do the thing where they take your number and then call you back, but still.

And while this may not always matter, other times, it can. One time, weather meant that my flight from Newark got canceled. There was still one flight out of JFK. They immediately put me in a cab they paid for, drove me over there, and put me in the front of the line so I could make the flight. It was the difference between making my appointment and not.

Late reply, but I also am a Delta flier.

What you describe only works during regular operations, and it's spotty at best. 50% of the time the Android app fails at loading the seat map, for example. While Delta is considered the best IT in the business, it's still pretty atrocious - I use it multiple times per week.

You will never beat a Plat/Diamond for a confirmed seat during irrops. The problem isn't "can I rebook myself onto a plane with tons of open seats available" it's "can I bump the regular fliers from standby and get a seat on that entirely full aircraft".

Even when the app functions - it's still slower than calling the elite desk many times.

What you're describing is just normal access everyone gets. The elite fliers get even more options in the app (block the seats next to you, switch to economy comfort for free, etc.), but I guarantee you it's worthless when it all goes to shit :)

I've used it when ATL shut down. I don't know if there's a way Delta's routes can go to shit more than losing ATL and diverting flights to other entirely different airports.

And you're right. I am describing the normal access anyone can get. That's the point, elite status offerings just don't do as much as most people seem to think.

I don't know why every flier with status on this thread wants to insist to me that "it's worthless when it all goes to shit" when it clearly isn't. But I'm not surprised, 90% of fliers I know with elite status are incentivized to think they're getting something out of it that regular people can't access, even though they're saying things like how awesome it is to be able to call a phone number. Gag me with a stick, I'd rather use an app.

Y'all got it pretty bad.

(I have status sometimes too. It's nice when I have it, but I don't and won't do anything extra to get it, for me, flying without status is not that much different. It's certainly not worth being loyal to a domestic airline. The airlines we have in this country just suck. If I lived in SG or JP or even ID I'd totally go ahead and give some loyalty to an airline, SQ, ANA and Garuda are all great.)

What you don't have is priority when things go pear-shaped. That's when status matters—status passengers go to the top of the list when rebooking and have priority over others.

Flight is cancelled and there's one more nonstop that night? The platinums and 1Ks are getting that. Everyone else gets scraps.

Maybe. I usually have a confirmed ticket and seat before other folks even begin their rebooking arrangement.

I agree without status I'm totally not gonna successfully standby anything, but I successfully rebook seats all the time when the whole timetable becomes a disaster because an airport like ATL closes and incoming flights land at completely different airports. (I watched the seats fill in realtime on the app, it was nuts.)

Also while I fly in and out of some small airports now and again, for most of my destinations there's just usually gonna be a spare seat for me to hop into, especially since I'm happy to go to either SFO or OAK, never check luggage and if I ever had to, would book to either SJC or SMF in a pinch.

tl;dr: For the most part I do about as well without status as with it. Maybe you regularly encounter more problematic weather delays than I do?

> TSA Precheck is rapidly becoming worth less and less, if it continues at this rate it will be the regular lines in a year or two. When grandma who flies once every 2 years can get it, it ruins the entire point. I've switched back to regular priority lines at some airports these days as they are faster.

Funny, this reminds me of when they tried the 3-tier security lines, for business, regular, and families, IIRC. I usually travel by myself, and have my stuff together enough to go through the security lines fast. I found the families one was actually the fastest, since everybody thinks they're fast/business and skips that one.

Even better, just get an American Express Platinum Card. It'll give you Global Entry (with Precheck), Priority Pass membership, and $200 in airline credit.

I'm actually about to let my Amex Platinum Card lapse. It's no longer worth the $450/year fee, despite free Global Entry ever five years.

Their points are becoming worthless (Chase has done well in this regard, partnering with United and Southwest), travel booked directly with Amex is usually simple more expensive than other travel aggregators, Costco is dropping taking Amex, etc.

I signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and its far superior. Its rental car insurance is first tier/full coverage; I have no need to file a claim with my own insurance ever if I use the card. The rewards are much better, and the yearly fee is only $100.

I put most of my spend on my Chase card as well (they have some great transfer partners, especially for international award flights).

However, for me the $450 fee is easily worth it. The airline fee credit drops it down to $250. And $250 for lounge access + precheck + Boingo + SPG/HHonors Gold is worth it to me. Without those benefits, I'd be tempted to pursue loyalty to an airline and I save well over $250 a year by price shopping.

> And $250 for lounge access + precheck + Boingo + SPG/HHonors Gold is worth it to me.

I guess that's the crux. Its becoming a very niche card. You have to fit a very specific profile for the fee to be worth it.

I'm going to get a Citi Prestige as my next card, which to me works better than Amex Plat - 4th night free on paid hotel stays, Admirals Club access, Priority Pass Select for primary & authorized users (with access to 2 guests free vs. none on Amex Plat), Global Entry and 250$ in flight credit that can be redeemed for airfare vs. incidental charges with Amex. Not to mention, it's easy to get an in-branch offer of $350 a year plus the fact that there's no bonus for everyday spending on Amex Plats.

Depending upon your requirements, some of the other Chase cards are pretty useful as well. Currently you can use their United Club card to get a qualifying dollar waiver on status levels. It's otherwise not as good as the Sapphire but, if you fly a lot of domestic economy on relatively inexpensive routes, the waiver can be good to have.

You can also just pay the $100 fee for Global Entry, which is good for ten years. $10/yr is a pretty slim benefit.

$100 for 5 years [1]

[1] https://www.dhs.gov/comparison-chart

If you are near (or travel to) the Canadian border, Nexus is a better deal at $50/5 years (and includes Global Entry).

Unless you have very high status, you're paying for TSA Precheck and (domestic) lounge access out of pocket. I'm not sure what exactly the status of Economy Plus is if you don't get it with status. I know you pay for it but you may not be able to pick preferred seating on United at the time of booking.

Just BTW, you can book refundable 1st class tickets for free lounge access.

One could argue it's immoral, but lots of people (including many airlines) seem to think these things are just a part of the game.

It won't get you a elite status, just a status slightly better than the normal flyer -- and free tickets too.

The lowest tier on the major US carriers is 25k qualifying miles/year. So to maintain the lowest-level status on two of them requires 50k miles/year, and to maintain that on all three requires 75k/year (and remember these are qualifying miles -- you can't get them from pudding cups or other promotions, and while there are ways to get more qualifying miles than you've flown, you either have to actually put your butt on a plane or spend a lot of money on a credit card).

Coincidentally, 50k is the next tier up on all three airlines, and 75k is the third tier up on two of the three (American is the odd one out, with only three tiers instead of the four at Delta and United). And to be frank, the "benefits" of the lowest tiers on all three are garbage. You might, if you're lucky, score an extra-legroom seat a few times a year on Delta, for example, or maybe once or twice get an upgrade on a domestic flight (but only if it's not on a busy route).

So if you're going to fly enough, you really should aim to get worthwhile status on one airline before spreading miles around to others.

(I'm currently Executive Platinum on AA and Platinum on DL, and know whereof I speak on the worthlessness of the lower tiers, since I've had to put up with them in the past)

When you have a 1k or global services status, almost all your seats are automatically upgraded to business or first class. It makes spending your life in an airplane seat tolerable. For that reason, it's best to focus. If you haven't spent months of your life in a plane and away from home, it's hard to grasp how valuable an upgrade is.

Fat chance on that if you mostly fly out of hubs. Most 1K's will still be stuck in 20 and 21.

Line 1 is 3 times longer than any other line at SFO, EWR, LAX, ORD, etc.

You would only need one per alliance.

You still need to fly quite a lot to get even first level status if you are flying economy and spreading around in multiple airlines. That won't get you much, not even lounge access which is a big benefit. Also on some airlines miles expire.

Also if the airline does have a frequent flyer program, you should always register as they will bump up frequent flyers (even when brand new) before other people.

This worked out for me twice so far, one airline bumped me to business on my first ever flight with them.

I think you are forgetting the fact that most people who fly around for work don't really care to pick the cheapest flight. This means they are free to stick to the same airline to accumulate status for themselves.

> Absent posted guidelines, road-warrior message boards are filled with speculation about why certain travellers receive Global Services. Is it a measure of dollars spent? Segments flown? Behavior?

The fact that he actually tried to redeem his points for a free flight probably made him a target for infection with GS-MAD :)

I've never been a business globe trotter, but I travelled every 2 weeks in 2014 between Ottawa, Toronto and Washington DC. That equalled about 10,000 "air" miles or about $50.

Whoopety doo.

In the mid-90's I was travelling about once a month between the midwest and the coasts. That was enough for a couple round trips in "air" miles.

These days it's barely worth it to be part of the programs (I am, but the "perks" are way less than they used to be).

I flew two extra trips to Asia last year to get American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

After a year and getting all the nice lounge access and international long-haul upgrades, I think it's worth it!

Take my girlfriend and family around the world using a combination of miles / money and everything things I'm rich, when really I'm just a wannabe travel hacker.


There is no overlap between Global Entry privileges and airline status benefits.

Obscene surcharges on awards are really only an issue for a handful of airlines like BA. I've redeemed over two million miles and the highest surcharge I've ever paid on an award was $350 for Singapore first class from Singapore to Tokyo to Los Angeles. I was fine with that.

It's almost as if humans are primates, and so are inclined to pursue markers of social status all out of proportion to actual utility in a civilized setting.

Casey Neistat of Youtube fame has a video illustrating the perks and perils of flying Executive Platinum with American Airlines. The perks seem pretty damn nice if you're already going to be flying that much anyways.


I've never understood why airline miles follow each individual person rather than the company that's paying for the weekly business class seats.

Seems like the Senior Manager who just joined the firm should be bumped up to first class in front of the Junior Consultant that's been flying out weekly for a year.

They're designed as incentives for individuals, because at most companies individuals have a significant degree of leeway in booking flights. You might have to book through the corporate travel agent, but typically you can still choose that you want flight X instead of Y. So United (or whoever) giving the specific individual status/perks is designed to encourage them to keep choosing United tickets, even when sometimes a competitor might have a better or cheaper route.

It'd be possible to design a loyalty program aimed at entire companies, and there's a little bit of movement in that direction, especially targeting small and medium-sized businesses (e.g. United PerksPlus). The goal of those would be to encourage the whole company to standardize on one airline. Big companies tend not to want to do that, because their travel needs are too varied for it to make sense to require all their employees to use one airline. So the main target of the programs is the corporate traveler who is being reimbursed for travel: they have a choice in their travel arrangements (within reason), and since they're spending someone else's money, they're also relatively price-insensitive, which makes them especially lucrative. Hotel loyalty programs work similarly.

You guys may want to try this (haven't released anything yet, but looks promising): http://www.pointimize.com/

For IT professionals, completely ignoring all points systems (hotel, flight, car rental, and credit card) will remove enough clutter from your mind to earn more than the points provide.

Might have been posted before, but there's a rather interesting documentary on this madness:


I can't stand that you can buy your way out of security with this status. Real security doesn't work like that.

GS doesn't bypass security. It bypasses the line of people waiting to start the security process. At every major United hub airport I've seen, the GS passengers get dropped at the front of the TSA precheck line but still go through the regular exercise of x-rays and magnetometers.

The agents working those machines and implementing the security protocol see that. And, they treat you differently.

If you care about your 'status' with a business, then you don't have much of a status.

The only winning move is not to play.

Moxie Marlinspike's advice comes to mind:

"... whenever I get on an airplane and walk past first class, I inevitably go through a familiar mental process. First, I’m envious ... then, I register who is sitting in those seats. It’s usually almost all predominantly unhealthy looking ... men, who it is clear from a glance have spent literally hundreds of hours of their lives over the past year in these airplanes ... the bulk of the first class passengers resemble each other, just as there’s a reason prison guards tend to act the same. I know that by making choices designed to land me in the first class cabin, it would be difficult to avoid also inheriting the dreariness associated with its current occupants."


I like Moxie, but I think he's a little off base here. I exclusively fly first class and I'm not a doughy businessman. I don't even fly for work-just pleasure. I see the flight as the beginning/ending of my journey and I see no reason to cram my legs into a seat in front of me. I want to have a pleasant flight-not flight designed to cripple me. Also, free alcohol and snacks.

In my experience, flying first class is not a 10% premium or a 50% premium over coach, it is a ~2x-3x or more premium. I wouldn't call the alcohol and snacks "free". If you look at it that way, then flying coach gives you a free meal at say, the French Laundry.

Unfortunately the word "free" has lost all coherent meaning in modern usage.

Amazon Prime has "free" shipping, costs $100/year. Your cellphone plan has "free" text messaging, costs $79/month. Your postage has "free" tracking, costs $11.

Why, in particular in American, has the word "included" seemingly been vanished from the popular vocabulary to be replaced with "free?" Now what word do we use when something is ACTUALLY free?

"Buy two at half price" doesn't have the same zing as "buy one get one free".

I mostly fly between Hong Kong and London.

Return flights are usually something like:

* economy 900USD

* premium 2000USD

* business 6,000USD

* first 10,000USD

So, I always go economy.

Not sure it's ever worth a month's wages (after tax) to have a bit of free champagne.

It comes down to the marginal utility of your money vs. the upgrade.

For example, I fly Singapore to Tokyo about once or twice a year, sometimes more often, always on Scoot, a budget airline run by Singapore Airlines. Upgrading from economy to ScootBiz costs as little as $80 with their "bid for biz" program. I always "bid for biz" and it's absolutely worth it: early boarding, free food, much more space (for yourself and your carry on), etc. So the marginal utility of the upgrade for me is worth more than $80.

At some level of net worth, flying First on a legacy airline to Tokyo, maybe Japan Airlines which I had to take in economy once for $1,500 vs the $200 or so Scoot can go down to, would have more utility to me than the $10,000 extra I'd have to fork out. I don't know what that net worth would be (probably north of 50 million), but I know that past perhaps a few million dollars in liquid assets, I would always fly business even at 3x the cost, and I know plenty of people in that situation doing exactly that. And there's people for whom flying SQ Suites [1] for $30,000 one way is a "discount" from flying the same route privately.

[1] reposting because such a fun read: http://dereklow.co/what-its-like-to-fly-the-23000-singapore-...

One issue is what your time is worth. Few of us can travel long distances in Coach (say, Phoenix to Europe) without losing at least one day to physical recovery. If I can arrive rested and ready to get to work, that's worth money.

I never got this either. Then, once I had a first-class upgrade. I'm kinda tall, so I'm usually pretty cramped in seats.

When I woke up at my destination, significantly less jetlagged and actually rested, I said "now I understand."

I still don't pay for it, but it's certainly worth something.

However, while dollar cost to move between classes of service is exponential [1] the number of points required is approximately logarithmic [2].

Even using American's post-devaluation chart (one-way):

* economy 35,000

* business 70,000

* first 90,000

So, buy miles when on sale, fly first at a significant discount subject to availability.

[1] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=quadratic+fit+%7B1,900... [2] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=log+fit+%7B1,35000%7D+...

> ~2x-3x or more premium

Sometimes you get lucky. I booked 1st class for my xmas trip home last year, and it was only $100 more than the comfort seat upgrade and 1 checked bag that I was going to spend anyway.

> it is a ~2x-3x or more premium

This is only my experience on long flights. In 2007 I had a $600 coach seat from NYC to Ireland (may have been a connection I do not recall). The first-class seats were in the upper $4k range.

My wife and I fly from the northern east coast of the US to the southern east coast once a year, the tickets are roughly $650 total for coach (including $50/person for the "Comfort +" seats). First class has never risen past ~$950.

Part of it is that there's a huge delta between international economy and international business/first while the difference in domestic is mostly wider seats, free drinks, and maybe a meal. Hey, I'll take the domestic upgrade but it's not as big a deal as on a long international flight.

Business tends to be ~5x over Coach, and First is 10x more than Coach.

I'd fly business every single flight I ever took if it was only 2x. IMO the airlines are missing a huge business opportunity to provide all-business-class travel.

I solve this problem by being short. Other than EasyJet, I have yet to find an uncomfortable flight, especially in the US where there's more legroom than in Europe. I assume for the same reason that cars are more spacious.

Transatlantic flights are downright luxorious. They also give free everything, I assume it's a law somewhere.

The one thing being short is a superpower for :D

You can't be serious. You just said you fly first class (meaning you pay a big premium), then you say free alcohol and snacks.

That just seems like an excessively uncharitable way to interpret his comment, I'm sure he's well aware of that.

And he's not even factually incorrect. You do not have to pay for drinks in first class, whether you're paying for your ticket or not.

Also noteworthy that on some airlines you can easily consume $1k+ worth of alcohol on a first class flight.

You get free alcohol & snacks in the economy+ section now, too, btw.

Depends on the airline.

On some airlines the food/drinks assortment is identical between economy and economy+. Just get more legroom/width, sometimes an included checked bag (of $25-50 value), sometimes earlier boarding, and sometimes included access to entertainment/WiFi (a couple of airlines charge for seat-back entertainment).

ok but then you are describing a snobbish spoiled wealthy-guy attitude, something i personally would hate to become, no matter what amount of cash would come with it.

I am 1.88m tall, long legs and all, and have absolutely no issue travelling in tourist class around the world. true happiness and lifelong experiences come from different places

> I am 1.88m tall, long legs and all, and have absolutely no issue travelling in tourist class around the world.

I too am 6'2 and find travelling any distance extremely uncomfortable, and if the person in front reclines they're literally laying on my knees, bouncing up and down. International travel in economy is extremely uncomfortable as a result, and I routinely take painkillers before flying economy.

I pay (often 50% more) where I can to upgrade to "Premium Economy" (or exit rows, or anything to provide more legroom without bankrupting me).

>ok but then you are describing a snobbish spoiled wealthy-guy attitude, something i personally would hate to become, no matter what amount of cash would come with it.

I might be reading this wrong, but it sounds like you find not worrying about spending money somewhat deplorable. Why?

>I am 1.88m tall, long legs and all, and have absolutely no issue travelling in tourist class around the world.

I'm 197cm, I can't sit in most economy seats without my knees getting killed by the seat in front of me.

I noticed the same as moxoe recently, and it feels different from the past ... Maybe because First is giving way to relatively Lowe priced Business class. There are fewer obviously rich people now , and more obviously wide people.

I usually dress in all black, hoodie, beanie, jeans with holes. I had a mohawk. I also had Delta's highest status.

One of the small pleasures in life was watching other first-class passengers give me a "WTF" look. One time, when a gate was crowded, I had to tap this guy in a blazer on the shoulder and say "excuse me, I need to board" and he said "They're only boarding first class," to which I replied "yeah, I know. That's me."

The look on his face? Priceless.


What you so maturely call "pussy whipped", others call "respect for one's SO". I can't recall the last time my wife said "no" to a large purchase. I also can't recall the last time that I had so little respect for her that a discussion of the allocation of finite resources wasn't on the table.

> What you so maturely call "pussy whipped"

See now there you go. I say "back in the day this would be called..." and automatically I get downvoted as if that is what I call it (either now or back in the day). And yes I purposely said it in a way knowing that this might be the reaction (as an experiment).

In typical fashion, pitchforks for free speech. Walking on HN eggshells.

See now there you go. Being offensive on purpose, even claiming the guise of an experiment, and still claiming 'pitchforks for free speech'.

Phrases like 'pussy whipped' have absolutely no place in a civilized society or on a civilized message board. They never have and they never will.

> Being offensive on purpose, even claiming the guise of an experiment

Once again wrong. Not what I meant. By not padding it in an apologetic way, [1] I knew it would get a certain reaction. In my book, nothing wrong with that. I am tired of people always having to apologize when no apology is necessary. Also consider that people of different age groups who were raised differently might see things differently as well and that is ok.

[1] Meaning "I apologize deeply if anyone finds this offensive but.."

> In my book, nothing wrong with that.

Your book applies to what you do alone on your property.

When you act in a social context, other people's books also matter. That your philosophy treats other people's opinions as somehow irrelevant to your interactions with them is definitely of a piece with your "pussy whipped" framing.

Note also that you're creating a false choice between a disingenuous "apology" and speaking the truth. A fake apology isn't actually respectful of other people; it's just a way to camouflage your disrespect. The choice you're eliding is for you to actually understand why people object to that phrase and respect their views, whether or not you agree with them.

The reason you don't, of course, is because you'd sound ridiculous if you actually expanded your implicit views. E.g.: "I understand that most people today see men and women as equals, and I respect their right to believe it. But personally I disagree, and I think their mistake is not seeing that things were better back in the day when men had both legal and social dominance such that wives had neither control over family assets nor even the expectation that they might have a voice in the decision. I hope everyone comes to see the merit in my views, and that we together return to the legal and social structures that held prior to the adoption of the 19th amendment."

No, it is not okay. The phrase 'pussy whipped' has no place in civilized discourse. It is wrong and it has always been wrong. Even if you pad it in an apologetic way, it is wrong.

In a civilized society, we have respect for our significant others and run all major decisions by them. Basic human respect does not deserve to be disparaged.

Ah, the ol' "I was just trolling" defense. Didn't work at Nuremberg...oh, sorry, wrong analogy. Now quit whining and take your down votes like the bastion of free speech that you are.


Please don't post unsubstantive comments to HN.

I don't feel that that's an unsubstantive comment. Because it seems to me that if people value karma points, and some people certainly do, then there would be a market whereby someone would pay a dollar amount to purchase a HN account of somebody with high karma.

$560 seems like a large enough amount of money to talk over.

Well then that depends on the relationship that you have as well as who you are married to, doesn't it? I didn't need my wife's permission to buy real estate or an expensive car for example. And she has no problem with that. Nor does she ask me permission to spend her money either.

And do you really think that $560 is "a large amount of money" and needs to be talked over?

> Nor does she ask me permission to spend her money either

This indicates you have your family's assets set up so you separate categories of money that you can exclusively spend from. Many people don't do that and, if you don't do that, it makes sense to ask before spending a significant amount of money from the join category.

> Do you really think that $560 is a "large amount of money"

That is more than half what we pay for rent, so yes.

   "Well then that depends on the relationship that you have as well as who you are married to, doesn't it? "
Absolutely true. But it doesn't make other peoples choices in this wrong or inferior.

I don't need to ask either, but I find the idea that someone would be considered "pussy whipped" if they have a different arrangement to be, well, moronic.

Yeah, at least mention it and give the other person a chance to raise objections even if it doesn't happen often. Someone told me about a $100 rule, and that seems like a good cutoff to me. And you're right, it would be different if we had "her money" and "his money".

> at least mention it and give the other person a chance to raise objections

You are not considering the downside of all of this. (Since I get paid for negotiation let me give you my thoughts.) By "giving the other person a chance" you are giving them power over you. Which they could use to extract something from you in exchange for your agreement. Now this may or may not matter depending on the person you are with, but I will point it out so you know that in some cases there could be a downside by "running something by the other party". And yes, there is negotiation in relationships as there is in business.

I'm really happy to say that I don't see my marriage in such adversarial terms. One of the tenets of marriage is that you share and cooperate. I don't spend my time trying to get the upper hand and maintain power, and nor does my wife. That's certainly not something I'm ashamed of. On the contrary. You don't need to be Donald Trump all day.

People and relationships change over time. Keep that in mind. Don't know your age (maybe you have been married for 40 years for all I know) but it's quite possible that your attitude might change later on.

You didn't make that distinction in your "pussy-whipped" comment. Perhaps rather than pussy-whipped, he just hasn't had his marriage degenerate into a state where he feels the need to cling onto every bit of power he can get. I've not been with my wife for 40 years, just ten, but I hope I never reach the stage where I feel the need to avoid discussing things with her in case it means I have to cede some power.

After 20 years together ... I gotta say, our relationship just isn't wired that way. There's negotiation when it's needed, but it's from a position of mutual respect and not adversity. That is, we both recognize each other's needs/wants in the discussion as legitimate and go from there - there's no assumption that one of us is trying to gain power or the upper hand.

It's largely been this way from the start, and has only become more so with time. I couldn't fathom wanting to spend my life with someone I was in a constant power struggle against, or who felt she was in such a struggle against me.

Presumably that power is reciprocal. My wife and I have shared assets/cash flow; there is no way we could have made our budget balance earlier in our marriage without it.

Yes, if you're in a terrible marriage then asking one's spouse about a big purchase could lead to trouble. So what?

Well if such a situation comes up I just won't ask :p The only point of this thread is that it's not unusual to talk about large purchases when it might affect another person, especially when the other person is your spouse.

Even though you are being down voted, I agree with the sentiment, perhaps it could have been put more diplomatically.

I really don't understand why someone would publicly admit that they don't have control of their own money. I see people admitting to it regularly as if it's something that can't be helped, but it just makes them look weak. Like they are lowering their social standing on purpose.

In my marriage, all accounts are shared. The only money that I could call "mine and not hers" is the cash in my wallet.

This arrangement seems extremely sensible to me. I know it's not for everybody, but in our case we trust each other completely and share a similar outlook on financial things, so it makes perfect sense to just share.

Since we're in it together, we run big purchases by each other just as an additional check. This helps soften irrational impulses, lets us suggest alternatives to each other, and just keeps us up to date with what's going on.

Please tell me, how does this mean that I "don't have control of [my] own money"? In what way does it make me "look weak"? Why should I keep this a secret? And why should I care about my "social standing" in the eyes of people who think this means anything important?

Both things can be true. That is, your arrangement sounds reasonable enough, but it remains the case that you have to get permission from somebody else to spend your money.

Sure. But the person I'm replying to thinks this means I don't have control over my own money, that it makes me look weak, and that it's the sort of thing I should be so ashamed of that I should keep it a secret. That's what I'm asking about.

Many married couples have joint accounts, into which all/most funds go and from which all/most funds come. For them, there's no "my money vs your money"... it's "our money". The idea is that their marriage joins them into a unit, and the money is spent on the unit. For many people $500-600 is a lot, and such a couple would want the decision to be a joint decision.

The crux is to understand that other people don't think exactly the same as you do. Many people will not actually see this as a sign of weakness. I am frequently able to understand why people do things that I would not do, and I'm no kind of genius.

> perhaps it could have been put more diplomatically

As mentioned in my other comment I was relating a phrase that was quite common "back in the day" for editorial purposes. This is what I don't like about the current world. There is no difference between saying someone yourself and relating either history or what someone else might say.

You didn't call out any difference, and you strongly implied that you agreed with this old-fashioned term. And I'm quite confident you did this on purpose, just so that you could come back and whine about how oppressed you are afterwards.

THat's one way of looking at it.

The other way of looking at it (and the way your comment came across) is that you're using 'back in the day' as a means to say what you feel, under the veneer of not actually saying it yourself. After all, if it didn't reflect what you thought, why would the phrase come to mind - and why take the trouble to call it out?

Underscoring this is that it's not actually "back in the day" at all. It's still a term that's commonly used.

It's nice being a United Global Service member--that "secret" level among 1K. It really helps when there's irops.

Zero comments about ethics of contributing to climate change due to flying so much? Feels like people are missing the elephant in the room.

What elephant? Airplanes are insanely efficient, relative to cars...

Airplanes are not "insanely efficient" when it comes to greenhouse gasses. A plane emits roughly the same amount of greenhouse gasses per mile per person as a car. Maybe 50% if we assume an efficient plane and an inefficient car. And the number of miles travelled by plane is typically much more. Even one round trip flight from SF to europe is 10,000 miles, which is comparable to a year's worth of driving for one person.

> roughly the same amount of greenhouse gasses per mile per person as a car

I see. How much non-human cargo are these cars carrying? More to the point: how else do you propose one go from SF to Europe?

Reading between the lines, you're either suggesting people stay home or that they take a boat, both of which are absolute crazy talk.

EDIT: moreover, wikipedia's numbers suggest jetliners get roughly 70 to 110 passenger-miles/gallon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport...). I have yet to come across a car that gets that kind of mileage period, let alone per passenger.

Besides, gas turbine engines are pretty much the model of efficiency when it comes to hydrocarbon-consuming engines. I don't know where you people are getting your numbers but my BS detector is off the charts.

I don't think that turbine engines are the model of efficiency that you claim. On a BSFC basis, they're significantly worse than piston diesels or marine two-strokes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brake_specific_fuel_consumptio...

(That's for shaft engines, which a turbojet isn't, but the turboprop examples are jet engines with a gearbox and propellor mounted.) Jet engines are incredibly powerful (per unit of mass) and reliable, but I don't think they're incredibly efficient.

Perhaps I don't understand the measure (entirely possible!) but I think thrust-specific fuel consumption is a better indicator here. You need to account for the thrust required in these behemoths: replace the gas turbine engines with piston engines large enough to produce equivalent thrust and I doubt you'll retain the fuel economy.

Either way, this is an auxiliary point: the per-passenger fuel economy of airplanes is significantly higher than that of cars.

What's a more efficient way of getting from San Francisco to LHR? Via ship, the long way?

> What's a more efficient way

Staying in California.

Are you referring to Sivak's report[1]? The problem there is that it compares average trips and not trips where car vs plane is actually an option, according to the ThinkProgress article [2].

I have not read the report itself and I don't know how credible ThinkProgress is. The Yale Climate Connection article [3] points out similar issues. Bottom line seems to be that flying is better than driving alone, but as soon as you have more than one passenger, the car looks more attractive (still depending on the efficiency of the car).

Interesting though that the train is not looking so good in the statistics in these articles. My hunch here is that the numbers would look very different in Europe.

[1] http://www.umich.edu/~umtriswt/PDF/UMTRI-2015-14_Abstract_En... [2] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/29/3652505/driving-... [3] http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/09/evolving-clima...

This is a dangerous meme, it's a complete fantasy...

Cars in the US do about .4 kg of CO2 per mile on average and flights 0.2. There's 2x.

In addition, air travel has a much more damaging effect than the same amount of CO2 emitted on the ground. [1] There's another 2x-4x.

So you end up getting a 4x-8x bigger warming effect contribution per passenger mile. And since you are going about 10x faster in an aircraft, an hour of air travel is 40x-80x more harmful to the atmosphere than an hour of car travel.

The per hour figure is much more relevant because these people would not get around to emitting nearly as much travel co2 in cars even if they drove them every day for 10 hours. Their 2-day trips would turn into 2 week trips. IOW the vast majority of the trips of "elite flyers" would just not get taken.


[1] "The IPCC, for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone."

- http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/climate-change/science/cli...

You don't see a whole lot of people taking lengthy trips in their cars to achieve trivial perks, though.

I don't like making comments like this, but this is a prime candidate for something along the lines of "white people problems" with no additional remarks.

Do you mean first-world problems? I don't see what race has to do with frequent flier programs.

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