Pet Peeve #30: Preferred Customers Rankle The Rank And File

Red Carpet

When we boarded our United Airlines flight to Munich at the Dulles airport, the caste system that rewards "Preferred Customers" reared its ugly head. I have no problem with discounts for buying in larger quantities or special privileges for more valuable customers. That is just smart business practice. But I do have a problem when you flaunt those special rewards in the face of your bread–and–butter daily customers. I realize that the VIP lounge exists, but I don’t want a neon sign blinking in my face as I sit at the gate blaring: "This is not the VIP lounge." OK, we understand that first class passengers paid more and received better food, more leg room, etc. But they paid extra for that service.

As we queued up in a long line for boarding privileges – staged by area number (although at least we had assigned seats) and slowly filed through the long line, I noticed that there was a short red carpet in another lane where people could essentially just walk right up and butt in line if they were of the preferred ilk. The airline agent would halt his normal processing and give them immediate priority so that they could board. Maybe it was the image of them standing on that short little red carpet that bugged me. It just seems to me that you could accomplish the same type of reward system without belittling or minimizing the value of your regular customers. The patron behind me in line must have had similar thoughts. He commented that no one had asked him if he would like to try to qualify for this Preferred Customer status. The criteria were not obvious to either of us . . . so there was not much of a motivational factor – just the irritation.

I guess I have similar issues when the checkout cashier at the sales register rings up my items and then asks "Do you have any coupons to apply to these purchases?" – As if I have stupidly missed out on clipping the $20 savings from the newspaper that everyone else is bringing in today. I like the way Giant handles the situation – they try to get you to use your Bonus card … but if you don’t have one, they plug in a generic phone number and still apply the discounts to your purchases. That actually makes the person feel valued.


1 Comment

  1. I feel your pain. Same thing when checking bags for many of the airlines today. There is an express lane for the “preferred customers”. I must say though, when you are “preferred” it does feel good!