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Relative Value

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When I left my corporate job, I didn’t mind surrendering my Blackberry or my PC laptop. I didn’t even mind returning my corporate Amex. What I really, really regretted was that I was going to lose my 1K status with United.

It had taken me years to earn the right to board early, have first pick of seats and access to upgrades. I could turn right coming into SFO and check in with the beautiful people. I could go through security with fellow-frequent fliers who knew the drill of shoe removal and management of digital devices.

And it was all going to be gone within a year. Without the firm sending me back and forth across the continent or off to Europe now and then I would never be able to maintain super elite status. I actually continued to carry the 1K card in my wallet for years, despite the fact I hardly ever traveled. People might see it when I pull out my ATM card and know that I can command respect on an airplane.

A couple of years later, when my airline status had long expired, I was at a reception with a road warrior colleague I’ve known for years. He was recounting his recent trip and how his uber status had saved him from a fate worse than a middle seat in coach. I cringed thinking about the expired card in my purse.

Then it occurred to me: if you are not a road warrior, the airline status is of no value. None at all. The only people who value it, or even recognize it, are fellow travelers.

It’s a bit like the crack cocaine of the corporate world. You have to keep flying to maintain your status in case you have to fly somewhere. I can’t even begin to recount how many business trips I’ve seen manufactured to this end.

I’ve managed to survive many years now without any recognition from United. I’ve got enough miles banked to upgrade on long flights in exchange for miles, and I’m not locked into to flying any particular airline anymore.

But I must confess, I still keep the card in my desk.