Do airlines care how you’re dressed?

The lists are almost comical. All over the travel web, you’ll find articles about how to scam score an upgrade from an airline, and invariably, one of the items involves attire. If you dress well, the thinking goes, you’ll be treated better, ostensibly because airline employees judge books by their covers. But, does it really work?

There are a lot of variables that are much more important than attire, such as whether you have elite status. So, it’s a bit much, it feels, to over-value clothing. Further, procedural constraints deemphasize the role of how you’re dressed in your general treatment by airline employees.

I’ve been fed the “well-dressed” story since I started flying frequently on business more than a decade ago. I never really bought it, though, as treatment was almost always obscured either by my temper or my status.

But, that’s all different now.

I no longer have the coveted “platinum” tag, and I’m starting to fly fairly frequently again. In the past month, I’ve been on four international flights, and I’ve learned … just what you’d expect. Treatment may be a hair better if you’re sartorially splendid, but all things rarely are equal enough to make a real call on this.

Here’s what I wore (and what I saw):1. Jeans and a respectable button-down shirt: This is what I wear to work every day, and it’s good enough for my employer. So, if it works for the people who pay me, it should be good enough for the airlines I pay, right?

Ummmmm … yes, actually.

I was treated about as well as can be by an airline (without elite status or a first-class ticket). I get neither more nor less than I had coming to me. Truth be told, the flight attendants were friendly and accommodating. Though I wasn’t dressed like an executive, I held myself like one, and that seemed to get the job done.

2. Jeans and a Gadling shirt: Nobody gave a damn that I write for one of the largest travel blogs on the web (which was perfectly fine with me, frankly). So, for all of you who think we get special treatment when we’re recognized … we’re not recognized (at least I’m not). And, the fact that I was dressed down made no noticeable difference.

3. The full uniform: As I write this, I’m wearing a suit, tie and horribly uncomfortable shiny shoes. I arrived at the airport from the Toronto Stock Exchange, where I rang the opening bell with IR magazine. I was all business – and looked it and felt it. According to the conventional wisdom, the airline should have upgraded me to first class and kicked everyone else out, right?

So, what happened?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was treated as I was when clad in my Gadling shirt and my button-down and jeans. The fact that the jacket matched the pants added nothing to the equation.

[photo courtesy of Inside Investor Relations]

Hilton gives free internet access by status

The elites get free internet access at Hiltons, and the rest can eat cake … which is how it should be. The hotel company has decided to reward its best customers with this perk, which translates to between $10 and $15 a night in value. To qualify, you need to be gold-level or above. Internet access is one of the more unpopular extra charges, especially for business travelers who have no choice but to incur it. For Hilton, tying the waived fee to status provides an easy way to experiment with easing up on the fee while keeping it contained.

Jeff Diskin, a Hilton senior executive for customer marketing, “Business travelers rank quality, high-speed internet access as one of the most important guest room attributes.” He adds, “By giving complimentary internet access to our Hilton HHonors Gold and Diamond members globally, we will meet our guests’ evolving demands.”

United creates Optathlon games for day-of-departure prizes

It’s a long shot, but if all of your attempts to find a better seat, upgrade and improve your upcoming trip on United Airlines have failed then there’s one last thing you can do. Last week, United launched a series of video games on their website with prizes aimed at traveling customers.

What can you win? Among other things, it’s possible to earn the opportunity to skip those pesky long lines at the TSA checkpoint or maybe even win an upgrade to economy plus. All you have to do is play for an entry.

Obviously, United’s new games are targeted at educating the consumer on their full host of products and upgrades, including economy plus (more leg room and closer to the front of the plane) and elite status. And you will have to install a little game widget into your browser to make the games work. But for the chance to win a sweet little upgrade either on the plane or at the airport, it’s definitely worth a shot. Besides, the games are kind of fun.

You can check out the full series of games over at

[image credit to flickr’s lovely lemur]

Christopher Elliott on the reality of frequent flier programs

Few people know the airline industry as well as Chris Elliott – he’s a regular contributor on MSNBC, The Washington Post (and Gadling) – so when I came across one of his columns on frequent flier programs, I paid close attention to what he had to say.

In his article, Elliott makes a very valid point that airline loyalty really only works one way. Millions of people work hard to earn airline miles, only to discover that the airline doesn’t really plan to reward them for all that hard work, or decides to cut the value of their points before they are able to use them.

Now, this may be a minor inconvenience to people with only one or two flights a year, but there are large groups of business travelers that stay ferociously loyal to a single airline or hotel chain, without ever bothering to check out the competition. I’ll call these people the “Up In The Air” crowd – after the George Clooney movie about the life of a very frequent flier. There is one thing a lot of these fliers have in common – something Elliott doesn’t make mention of – most of them don’t pay for their own tickets.

In the frequent flier world, there are thousands of fliers with millions of miles banked in their accounts, they travel with their platinum cards around their neck, know all the tricks, and obtain top tier status year after year. They show this loyalty because their airline of choice rewards them with a couple of convenient perks. But no perk is as important to them as the well stocked mileage account. With a rich mileage account, the business traveler can fly on the company dime during the week, and use their miles for leisure trips in their spare time. However – once you start living this life, you start losing track of the true price of travel.The blind loyalty to airline programs mentioned by Elliott is related to this – if your plane tickets don’t come out of your own pocket, you stop caring about price, competition and alternatives. When someone else picks up the tab, why bother finding a cheaper way to get from A to B. Airlines know this – and their frequent flier programs are designed to take full advantage of it.

The most brand loyal people are often the ones that earn their miles the easiest way possible – I even know people who use their personal credit card for company wide purchases – earning millions of miles without taking a single trip. Of course those people will defend brand loyalty – that brand loyalty lets them travel the world without spending a dime of their own money. Of course, there are also companies with a corporate policy on airline choice – but even those companies will force an employee to pick something other than their usual airline if the price is right.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I also know people that don’t have the luxury of a corporate expense account (myself included) – and these are usually the people that try not to bank any kind of “magical number” in their mileage account. Wise travelers spend their miles, keeping a limited balance for last minute trips. These travelers are the ones that don’t see the value of their accounts cut in half when the airline introduces new award levels, or adds new redemption fees.

The article takes a pretty negative tone – and I don’t agree that the cons always outweigh the pros. If you know what you are doing, you take the time to shop around, use mileage runs to top off accounts, and pay close attention to dormant mileage accounts, you’ll find plenty of things to like about frequent flier programs.

So – head on over to the Washington Post to read what Elliott has to say about loyalty – (registration may be required to read the article).

Ask Gadling: How do I extend the benefits of my elite status?

This week’s question comes from Julie in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“This year I have Gold Medallion status on Delta, which I probably won’t ever have again. Are there any good programs or perks that I qualify for now that I won’t in the future and should consider taking advantage of?”

Gadling: The Gold Medallion status that you’ve earned on Delta Airlines is a valuable perk. With it, you’re entitled to a 50% 100% earned mileage bonus on all of your flights, select seating (including bulkhead and exit row seats) and two free checked bags, among other perks, during this year’s travel. You can find a full list of benefits on Delta’s website.

If you earn 50-75k miles this calendar year you’ll be able to retain these perks, while if you fly only 25-50k miles your status will drop to silver. Below the 25k mark, your status will drop to nothing on the 1st of March, 2011. Those two extra months in the beginning of 2011 are rollover months during which you’ll retain your 2010 status (and perks) but against which you’ll earn miles for the 2011/2012 years. So if you don’t earn 25k miles through the end of this year, well, you can try to earn 25k in January and February of 2011 to keep your status active.

But if your status is due to expire irrespective of your travel plans, there is not much you can do to extend your benefits into next year. The best way to take advantage of 2010’s status is to coordinate and travel as much as you can (perhaps at the whim of one of your friends) before February 28th, 2011. In addition to the upgrades and bonuses that you’ll get as a gold, you’ll also be entitled to numerous other benefits including Delta’s new Sky Priority service.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

One forward reaching benefit that you may want to consider is enrollment in the Delta Sky Clubs. While not as nice as they once were, Sky Clubs provide a pleasant oasis from the normal airport hubbub with free limited snacks, televisions, soft chairs and wireless internet. Memberships range from one year to three years to a full lifetime, and those rates are discounted based on your elite status.

Though there aren’t many ancillary benefits that Skymiles Gold can afford with other companies, you may want to consider trying to “status match” to another airline. At year’s end, get in touch with a competing airline, tell them that you’re switching preferred carriers and ask for similar status. They’ll ask you to send over your credentials and depending on their policy, should give you some sort of status. I’ve done this with British Midlands (bmi) before and have been very pleased with the accompanying benefits from Star Alliance Gold.

If you haven’t earned enough miles by March 1 2011, it’s not unheard of for the airline to offer you a “soft landing” from gold to silver, though given Delta’s recent revenue management tactics this may be a far reach. A polite letter to Skymiles indicating your planned flights (ie revenue) upcoming may further validate your case.

Until then, take advantage of your status and hoard as many miles as you can. Skymiles has been particularly stingy on releasing inexpensive rewards lately, so you’ll need every single mile that you can get your hands on.