Membership has its Privileges? The Gamification of Loyalty

By 8 February, 2017Personal Blog

The airline loyalty system has officially gone crazy.

I was ready to board a flight from Houston to LA, and was pleased to see the big word “PRIORITY” on my boarding pass. The earlier I board, the greater the chance of finding a free bin to put my hand luggage. Thinking that I would be one of the first to board and positioning myself at the front of the pre-boarding area, I wait.

Then the staff start calling for customers to board … and “Concierge Key” customers to board first. What is that? Never even heard of it. A few people come up, who their boarding passes, and ask: “Can we board yet?” “No. Currently boarding Concierge Key customers only”.

A woman goes up to the counter: “How many miles do you need for Concierge Key?” Clearly well-travelled, but she’s “only” Platinum and was working out how many trips she needed to move up to Executive Platinum, and is now shattered to find out there is a level still higher. “It’s invitation only”. She looks like someone who just had red wine spilt over their new white dress.

Then they call for Executive Platinum. Then First Class. “How about Gold?” calls out the lady with the English accent standing next to me. My boarding pass says “ruby”, which I’m told is the same as gold. Not the same as gold, of course. Gold is better than ruby any day. But in the micro-universe of airline loyalty systems, ruby is the same as gold. Next they call Platinum, which is also emerald. This is starting to sound like the rules of poker. Straight beats a full house. I’ll see your Executive Ruby and raise it a Concierge Platinum. Who thinks of the names for all these levels?

After what seems like forever (but isn’t), they call “priority” boarding. Priority over whom, exactly? The people down the ladder who come after us.

When I board, the plane is already about one third full, and fortunately there is room for my bag … just. Not just the front of the plane is full, but even seats well beyond mine. So status does not correlate with position within the aircraft. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but that’s just continuing the theme of the day.

I start to wonder … is there anyone who is just “regular economy”? And if there are, surely they are the special ones, because they are the smallest group of travellers!

It’s fine rewarding your most loyal customers – that makes sense. But when the levels of loyalty keep increasing, with the need to clearly define the benefits of each new group, then things start to get out of hand. This is the gamification of loyalty. More points, higher status, and the cream on the cake are the “secret”, invitation-only levels that no-one knows about. No-one except people who know how to use Google and search for the guide to “top secret” airline loyalty programs, that is. Secret no more. Time to devise Concierge Key Plus, and the secret new benefits it will offer a select few. It hasn’t reached the point where joining that level needs you to sign a non-disclosure. But don’t put it past them!

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