One Mile at a Time had an article today about Air Canada’s new ultra-exclusive business class lounge, which notably only lets you in if you’re on a paid ticket. In the comments section, there’s a reasonable debate about whether or not this is okay. The argument for it is that they have major space constraints for the new lounge, so they need to severely limit guests in a way that consistently manages travelers’ expectations. On the other hand, it introduces a dangerous precedent of segmenting the travel experience between award travel and paid travel.
I could see other airlines taking this further, and devaluing from the product side (the in-flight experience) rather than the currency side (the price of flights in mileage). Maybe an award ticket gets you a seat, but you get served economy food, and you don’t get an amenity kit. Or maybe you don’t get to choose your seat in advance so the best seats can stay open for paid tickets. In a sense, this is reasonable – the cost of business class in miles relative to economy class is way out of sync with the cost in dollars, and it doesn’t really make intuitive sense why business class should be so affordable if you use points. (Of course, that disparity is the entire backbone of the points/miles hobby – if it were to go away, I’m pretty sure we’d all switch to cash-back cards.)
Correct me if my history is wrong, but miles were originally a way for airlines to reward loyal flyers. It makes sense at that point to offer business class at 2x the price of economy as a way to reward someone who has flown 2x the distance with your airline with a special incentive. But now, with most miles earned from credit cards and shopping portals (doesn’t it seem weird that you can earn more United miles buying a pair of pants from Banana Republic than you do flying from San Francisco to Chicago???), that disparity doesn’t fuel loyalty. Instead, it fuels people like me (and you, and you, and you) figuring out ways to game the system in order to rack up enough miles to fly up front.
Having said all that, I sure as fuck hope airlines don’t start devaluing the premium experience or bringing the cost in miles more in line with the cost in cash. (What am I saying – they’ve already started. What I meant is that I hope they don’t continue all that fast.) For the time being, it’s still possible to unlock amazing luxury travel experiences by investing time figuring out loyalty programs and credit card strategies rather than money.
And that’s the crux of it – I spend hours doing this, and while it’s my hobby and I enjoy those hours, it’s still time I’ll never get back. Really wealthy people can buy time by hiring assistants, chartering jets, taking helicopters across the city, etc. I can’t buy time like they can, but I can invest the time I have in improving my travel experiences.
One delectable side effect of this ability is that some rich people really hate that I’m able to rub shoulders with them when I’ve merely invested my time rather than my money. I’ve seen this sentiment a lot in blog comments and at various times on FlyerTalk, but this comment on One Mile at a Time really distills it down to its petulant, douchey essence:
Oh my god, it’s soooo good. The “Sorry” without punctuation at the end – like he’s so NOT sorry he can’t even be bothered to add punctuation to the end of his comment. The “bizo” lounge – a derisive name for a lounge that’s beneath him (or a typo because he’s too rich to spell check). And he calls it “mixing,” which pretty much means he’s racist too, since no one who isn’t racist ever talks about one group of people “mixing” with anyone else. Maybe he’s just a troll, but having spent my teenage years working at a country club, I can assure you that plenty of people actually think like this. And I just absolutely LOVE that the idea of having to share a first class cabin with the likes of me is ruining this guy’s trip.
Also, how does he know which passengers are on award tickets? Is there some smell that middle class people give off that’s undetectable except to people who earn seven figures per annum? It also cuts to the core of wealthy entitlement, insofar as he thinks that his wealth should separate him from those who are less wealthy, even though there’s no reason why this should be the case. There are only so many seats in a first class cabin – why should he give a shit who is in each one? It’s not like they’re adding seats to business class in order to make the experience less exclusive. With a finite supply, the limiting factor is intrinsic. It would be totally unnecessary to further limit it to those who can pay with cash only – the sole reason why someone would want this is if they believe that wealth supersedes character, and that belief automatically makes you a piece of shit.
So, in conclusion, fuck this guy, but also let’s thank this guy for reminding us all that in addition to enjoying premium travel despite our middle-class incomes, we’re also ruining some shitbag’s day. Talk about a side benefit!