Swept up in a vortex on UAE air miles mission

Our obsession with air miles makes us fearful of losing our privileged status, writes Nima Abu Wardeh.

Powered by automated translation

There was a time when airport lounges were my social scene - it's where I'd bump into friends, or arrange to meet them, share meals and catch up. How very Dubai of us.
My friends and I used to fly a lot. Along the way, we were somehow sucked into a giant marketing ploy, where we'd choose flights based on miles earned, and keeping our status, or - joy of joys - going up the membership ladder.
My excuse was: why not clock up miles to use later in lieu of cash for the odd flight? Sticking with one or two rewards programmes was the way to go. The problem with that is that I'd always do a mental calculation of how much it'd cost to buy a flight versus the scarily ginormous number of miles I'd have to part with if I didn't want to pay - along with the downside of not getting any tier miles.
Inevitably I'd use cash and keep the miles (oh, the insanity of it).
More importantly though, I was in a category with the local carrier that assured me a seat on a requested flight. Not so much a perk as a necessity back in those days of last-minute scheduling and full flights.
That was years ago. I then went through a phase when I still did the travel, but life was ruled by timings of trips to be back home for my little one. So began the slide into airline-perk oblivion.
Now I only think of time. I stick with my local carrier on the way out whenever departures suit because I somehow managed to keep my gold status; less hassle and time checking in even if flying economy. The downside is that I subconsciously live under the cloud of it being taken away - I dare not look at my tier miles or when this could happen - for the risk of depression.
I wonder what life will be like when I can no longer march into a lounge, or swan through business check-in. I know I am extremely fortunate. These are luxuries. But they are my norm too. I have adapted to them and can't imagine life without them. This is the endowment effect for you: we hate to lose what we already have. Some go to great lengths to keep what they have. Like one friend who, come tier tally time, would scramble to get in the miles he needed within deadline by taking totally unnecessary flights. Oman was a favourite with him - or literally sticking a pin in the globe. He willingly parted with hard cash to keep his status.
Another spends more time away than he needs to because he will only fly with one carrier. He's in the stratosphere of Platinum membership with loads of tier miles to spare. It means he doesn't pay for any holiday flights - with three children and a wife he's definitely saving money but sees less of them during his working week as a result.
An elevated status can be worn as a badge of honour by some - as though it's somehow the measure of a person - and maintaining it can be addictive and reduce you to very questionable acts. Like the time I found myself comparing forking out many hundreds versus many thousands of dirhams in the way of annual fees for credit cards that gave me different levels of access to lounges across the world. Thankfully, I didn't do it.
Sane, smart people resort to these kinds of things because of our ability to adapt. The downside is that it means we come to expect luxury if it is part of our life and do silly things not to lose it. But it's also good because it means we can overcome bad things that happen to us.
This is called Hedonic adaption. It's our ability to get used to change. Or become used to a new norm.
This is how it works: for example, when you get a pay rise at work, you're initially happier. Then you get used to it and it doesn't have the same "happiness" effect. You become desensitised to your no longer new good fortune. The next thing that'll perk you up is getting a bonus, and so on.
The same principle also works when we lose things. We get used to it. I know this, but I still fear losing my airline status. The funny thing is that I don't actually get to enjoy the luxury side of the perks: you're more likely to find me racing along the obstacle course of meandering tourists to my gate than swanning around a coveted lounge. Please make way if you do.
Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com. You can reach her at nima@finding-nima.com and on Twitter: @nimaabuwardeh.
Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF