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Redefining Success: #1 Never Gain Elite Status on any Airline

Aaron McHugh

red carpet

Redefining Success

Airline’s love to woo us with the allure of elite membership status.   They promise shorter lines, a six-foot stretch of red carpet we can walk over and the hope of free upgrades to roomier seats.

Here is what I learned the hard way

The only people who achieve Premier, Executive or Admiral status end up living a life similar to George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham in the movie Up in the Air.

Ryan spends less than two weeks in his own Omaha, Nebraska bed each year.  The movie profiles his almost tunnel vision pursuit of reaching the ten million mile mark with his airline of allegiance.

The tragedy of his story is that his quest for elite membership unfolds as a lonely reality of solitude and isolation.

After almost ten years of business travel, I’ve learned that if you have crossed the airline’s elite membership ticker tape then you’ve just lost at least 50 days of your real life each year.

Doesn’t having a wallet full of elite airline membership cards seems like an attempted payoff?  Shorter lines and red carpet walks are a poor trade for the days and nights spent away from my real life.

Up in the Air

I revolt instead

What if we redefined success as never gaining elite status on any airline?  What if instead, we found a way to structure our life in such a way that stopped short of that reward?

Could we instead travel one fewer trip each month?  What if success was defined by not being rewarded for being away from home?

How close to the line can we walk? 

I shuffle my air travel between two to three carriers and successfully achieve no elite rewards.  Yes, I enroll in each of their reward programs but I attempt to never achieve the Premier, Elite, or Aviator, statuses.

My story

I travel a fair amount for my day job and end up spending 40 to 60 nights away from home each year.  Just even typing it I feel the conflict inside.  I love my family and love my friendships that await my return each trip I spend away.

For some business travel can be a nice deviation from their real life.

For me, real life beats any business trip.  I work for an international software company.  I travel because it is a necessary requirement to meet our current and future customers in the comfort of their conference rooms and offices.

Face-to-face meetings enable for a human connection to occur.  I utilize web conferencing technology like GoToMeeting or Webex regularly, but I also know when you simply have to be there in person.

I view it as a trade

I trade days and nights away from my family for compensation that enables for care of my family.  Some weeks I’m not so sure it is a good trade.  Using the principle of Dollar Cost Averaging for Life I settle in for the trend over time.

As you read this you see the precariousness of my goal.

I travel a lot but I value being at home.  I value caring well for my family and I am away from home a week or more each month.

The world will always tell us what constitutes success, but most of the world doesn’t live a life I want.

Redefining success empowers us to pursue our own target versus accidently achieving one that leaves us like our friend George Clooney.

How about you?

  • ezrasnyder

    Aaron, I was this guy. Even scheduling extra travel in December to ensure the following year’s elitism. I used to think that I wanted to be like those travelers, even when I was one of them. Now I deeply resonate with your belief that “…most of the world doesn’t live a life I want.” If getting on planes first is the measure of success, I choose failure. -E

    • Here is to jointly being unsuccessful. …. As I write this from an airport. 🙂 dollar cost averaging. Thanks E.

  • jodyberkey

    “The world will always tell us what constitutes success, but most of the world doesn’t live a life I want.” I LOVE that line. It’s so true. Although my work didn’t require traveling, I kept very busy with extra private tutoring, homebound teaching, extra night school hours as an administrator, years of summer school as a teacher and one time administrator of a 1500 student program. My busyness was, in part, necessary to meet the cost of our lives with a large, newly built house and such, but it was also a status symbol for me, too.

    It’s absolutely amazing to have come full circle from that experience. Steve and I recently came to the realization that our ability to meet our now greatly reduced cost of living on his salary working 32-hours/week and me staying home with Elijah and working on the business (which is currently not making money) is nearly equal to what we experienced before. So, we were basically working 5-6 full and part-time jobs between the two of us to have a house that we never were able to enjoy, cars that we didn’t care about, vacations that have been a blur, etc. It was absolutely CRAZY and stupid. What a difference a year makes!

    Thanks for sharing your story, Aaron.

  • LC

    I have enjoyed surfing your posts from time to time. Aaron this one stopped me in my tracks, and helped with a pressing decision tonight. Thanks

    • LC-thank you for leaving this comment. I think the narrow road is not always that popular. And there is a lot more momentum to follow the herd over the cliff than asking questions that challenge our inertia in a “normal” direction. glad you got stopped.

    • LC-thank you for leaving this comment. I think the narrow road is not always that popular. And there is a lot more momentum to follow the herd over the cliff than asking questions that challenge our inertia in a “normal” direction. glad you got stopped.

  • Pingback: How I Turned Seven Hours in an Airport into Aloha | Aaron McHugh: Work, Life, and Play.()

  • PS-I unfortunately made United’s Premier list and Southwest’s A-List…..crap. Unintended consequence of working on paying for college for my son. I’ll try better next year.

  • Cbombc

    This is exactly how I have always felt but never put it into words. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for a person whom I work closely with, I was able to see this in his life and vowed to avoid it. The world and he, would say he is very successful with four homes and plenty of money, but at what cost? His soul is sold. His drive is clear. I pray often, Lord, give me just enough. And I am truly blessed with less. I have struggled within myself for some time that I feel I hold myself back from working harder for more, mainly because I don’t want to be like this gentlemen I speak of. I wonder if I am short-changing myself, my family, God…whatever. I have more capacity and I pray for God’s leading, but I wonder if I am holding myself back from what God wants just to avoid ending up being defined by what the world calls “success”. Honestly, that really scares me. I most likely could be “more successful” if I traveled more often, but I feel so sad for the individuals that get in that line first to board the airplane because they have spent an incredible amount of time and money to achieve that “status” and at what cost to their personal lives. I realize there are situations that warrant this travel, but if it can be avoided, that’s what I do.
    Passion for something often “drives” a person to achieve a goal of some sort. Nothing wrong with setting goals, as long as it is God “leading” rather than you “driving”.
    Thanks for sharing this Aaron.

    • You bet. Glad you find this encouraging. Balance requires constant calibration. And its different for each person and each family and each career. You’re asking the right questions.
      Keep going