Saturday, February 14, 2009

Travel like none other

The following article comes from Condé Nast's Portfolio magazine in the February 2009 issue and is written by Joe Brancatelli

You and I don't normally get V.V.V.V.V.V.i.p attention. Only a select few rate : celebrities, politicians, financial masters of the universe, royalty - and the ultra-frequent travelers who are ushered into the unpublished, unpublicized, hush-hush secret societies operated by the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies.

Think you're the cream of the crop because you fly 75,000 miles per year on Delta Air Lines and have reached the Platinum Medallion Level of it's SkyMiles frequent-flier program? Think again. There's a secret level above that called Executive Partner. Continental and United Airlines also have unpublished über-elite tiers too. InterContinental Hotels' Priority Club program has a little known level called Royal Ambassador. And Hertz Car Rental has a secret society so exclusive that one of the company's longtime executives didn't know the colour of the card (platinum) or how many renters had one (fewer than 10,000).

The perks conferred on members of these über-elite groups are lavish. Delta's Executive Partners, for instance, receive a private telephone reservation line; front of the line priority for upgrades and standby travel; free car rentals and special frequent flier program awards; and elite status for a companion traveler. If you're lucky enough to score one if those Hertz platinum cards, there are no lines and no schlepping onto buses at the airport. Hertz has a car waiting at the curb when you exit the terminal, and you're chauffeured to the departure terminal when you return the vehicle.Other common benefits offered to secret travel society members: unmarked private lounges at majour airports; free minibar access; unlisted phone numbers to reach the chief executive's office; free golf and tennis outings at fancy resorts; and more swag (luggage tags, terry robes, fancy pens) than any traveler could ever use.

But the ultimate advantage of these secret travel societies, at least according to one hotel executive I know, is the recognition itself. "of course you shower these folks with gifts and upgrades and more fruit and cheese plates than they can eat, but the recognition is what matters," he explains. "You tell a good customer that their business is so important that they qualify fir a secret level of status, well, that's a real 'wow' factor, a real ego boost."By and large, airlines, hotels, and car rental firms make membership choices based on the annual revenue the travelers generate, not the number of miles flown or hotel nights stayed. They have sophisticated computer models that pinpoint their highest revenue and most profitable customers. Those travelers are then offered secret status for a year and usually (but not always) told what they must do to qualify in subsequent years.

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