The new generation of airline rewards
United is not the only airline moving in this direction. Virgin Atlantic will let its Flying Club members redeem 200,000 miles for 10% off a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight -- that’s right, that means a flight into space -- which normally sets you back around $250k. 40,000 miles will buy you a day-course intended to help you overcome a fear of flying (you can earn points in other ways besides flying, in case you were wondering how someone with such a phobia accumulated that kind of mileage).
American Airlines’ partnership with Mastercard is courting members with private dinners cooked by celebrity chefs, or tickets for red-carpet Broadway premieres. This summer the airline offered a few cardholders meet-and-greet access to The Chainsmokers. Delta Airlines’ SkyMiles Experiences have expanded to include not just seats at all manner of sports games (four tickets start at around 20,000 miles) but kitchen tours at The French Laundry and Per Se, and behind-the-scenes access at the Grammys.
Back with United’s MileagePlus program, you might score dugout seats at Astros games, celebrity meet-and-greets, or a trip to the Tony Awards. The Airbus simulator costs around $1,400 to rent out (that’s per hour, not per session) -- but that’s irrelevant because the airline doesn’t sell training time to individuals, even if someone did want to spend that kind of money.
For the self-described “plane nuts” who joined me on the course, you can see the appeal. Some had come from out-of-state, bearing logbooks and those novelty T-shirts that say “NORMAL DNA” over a picture of normal DNA and then “MY DNA” over one of DNA made out of little airplanes. A United representative told me that some customers spent up to 300,000 miles for a two-person flight simulator experience package.