Our friend and syndicated columnist Christopher Elliott is out with his latest column, once again waging class warfare on the divide between economy class and the premium cabins. As usual, he couldn’t be more wrong.
The Contention: First Class Is Unnecessarily Nice
Elliott cannot believe how great first class has become:
“It seems like every time you look, airlines have added a ridiculous new amenity. Now they’re chauffeuring passengers to the gate in limousines and offering cabins with beds, private showers and butler service.
“But these airline perks aren’t for you. They’re only available to the elite flyers or the superrich. The rest of us must endure shrinking seats with zero service. Does anyone else think there’s something wrong with this picture?
“No one asked for this obscene, if not un-American, division between the “haves” and “have-nots” onboard. Instead, airlines invented a flying caste system that’s embarrassing and offensive to any fair-minded traveler.
Not so fast, Chris. Let’s not assume “these airline perks aren’t for you.” Let’s not assume lie-flat beds, private showers, and butler service are somehow obscene rather than remarkable innovation.
And then, Elliott asks, how do you get this?
“How do you get this? You probably can’t. It’s reserved for the airline’s top customers.”
It’s true that not everyone can sit in first class. But that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy premium cabins for a fair price on the trips that matter most to you.
As for economy class passengers?
“They want to be treated like valued customers, but they end up paying extra for everything. Plus, at the end of the flight, they sign up for the airline’s addictive frequent flyer credit card, which just ends up getting them into more debt while enriching the airline.”
How stupid does he think people are? That airline co-branded credit cards are just meant to grow consumer debt? Really? Or maybe it’s just that a credit card almost always makes more sense than paying with a debit card.
Miles & Credit Card Points Are The Great Equalizer
Here’s what flies totally over Elliott’s head: credit card points and frequent flyer miles allow flyers to experience “how the other half” or even “top 1%” live without breaking the bank. The point is not free travel: nothing in life is free. But my benchmark is using miles coupled with fees that can approach the cost of an economy class ticket, to enjoy something that otherwise would have been out of reach.
I don’t buy $10,000 first class tickets. Heck, I don’t buy $5,000 business lass tickets. Even if money was not an object I don’t think I would, because with a little flexibility it just isn’t necessary.
And this isn’t just about chasing over-the-top luxury for pride or for vanity. Rather, it is about actually enjoying air travel. It is about making the plane trip part of the vacation rather than just a means to get to the vacation or making business trips restful, not stressful.
Elliott asks, “Maybe it’s time to put those experts in one of the tiny economy class seats on a transpacific flight. If that doesn’t change their mind, nothing will.”
Well, my mind has not changed. I’ve flown my share of transpacific flights in economy class. And you know something? It makes me want to be even more wise in earning and burning miles so I don’t have to do it again.
That’s the takeaway: miles and points bridge the gap between rich and poor (well, perhaps middle class) by offering sweet deals for those who take the time to carefully learn the nuances of loyalty programs and credit cards. I can assure you, after 15 years of doing it, it remains worth the effort.
And while I have no personal animosity toward Elliott, it continues to boggle my mind that year after year (indeed, decade after decade) he still enjoy coverage in top newspapers around the county. It’s really time for a fresh perspective.