Am I the only one who finds ascribing precious metals to loyalty levels a bit
strange? For years, Continental Airlines had bronze, silver and gold status;
gold became an insufficient differentiator and platinum frequent flyers arrived.
When you're stacked up 20 deep at Newark airport, the all-points goes out for
Elite Access boarding and 75% of the passengers charge the blue carpet like
it's the Stones at Altamonte. Adding random values, Continental
now upgrades passengers based on the fare basis of your ticket, then your
Elite status, then the timetable on which you checked in and requested the
upgrade. A little loyalty and a generous travel department gets you
better treatment than flying 75,000 miles with your butt
crammed into a middle seat in coach.
Let me put this in context: Since mid-April, I've done 45,000 miles in
the air. I've been moving at about 80 MPH every hour of every day, on
average, even when sleeping in my own bed (all of 10 days). I'm as
Platinum as they get, and I think the airlines need to consider the
future perfect of frequent flyers. To borrow from my rusty French, it's
the plus plus-parfait.
First, enough of the precious metals and precious stones. You want
to measure rarity, pull out the
periodic table of the elements; there
are at least 20 levels waiting to be defined by following the rows.
I'll trade my Platinum status (77,000 miles, 46 flight segments) for, say,
Cesium or Ytterbium. Elite status has a half-life; you don't fly for
a while and you backslide down the row. On the other hand, the
luxurious ambiance of a middle seat with a large, snoring body at rest
reclining into your knees generates some excitation, adding a few electron
shells and moving you up a few levels.
Greg Papadopoulos loves to remind me that flying is just physics, so
why aren't we using physics to govern our flying?
The best idea, however, is to tailor frequent flyer equivalence classes
based around what people want from the program. It requires dispensing
with metals, levels, and other nouns used as adjectives. My late Uncle
Murray had the simplest and best representations: Macher and Chazer.
Both are Yiddish words, mostly German-derived, and contain the hard-h sound that
prevent public status bragging rights, lest you accidentally spray it
while you say it.
Macher is the big dog. He's a doer, a rainmaker, the real deal. First class
aisle seat, magazines with all of the pages in them, first choice of meals.
You want to sit next to him because you might learn something, or he
might hire you on the spot, and he's only mildly impressed with his own
station in life. On the other hand, a chazer is someone who games the
system. Bluntly, he's the guy you don't want in
front of you in the buffet line at the covered dish supper: the chazer brings a box
of donuts and then eats an entire pot roast. He'll convince you that even
though he's a +9 Platinum of power,
he doesn't get enough upgrades, gets locked out of exit row seats, and
he's regularly put in seats with overhead spaces too small for
his wheelie bag that looks like it might
belong to a NASCAR pit crew.
Macher and Chazer levels would be given out on a monthly basis. If you're
a macher, you're a man (or woman) in full (per the Tom Wolfe story) and
enjoy the benefits. Act like a chazer (for example, flying from Boston
to New York by way of Columbus so that you get four flight segments,
not just two) and you are chazer-of-the-month. Everybody else is stack
ranked on a per-flight basis -- in terms of seat selection, upgrades,
amount of overhead space, board sequence, empty middle seat proximity,
and relative benefits for the flight segment. Loyalty is in many
cases based on recent history -- a few bad experiences can outweigh
years of great ones -- and it should be awarded and rewarded on the same
With my travel schedule I had reached platinum status on Continental by the
beginning of May. I'm avoiding big macher status, since every 500 miles
in the air is an hour I'm not at home with my family. That time, as
it's written somewhere, is more precious than rubies. Or ytterbium.