Go for perks that help you, forget the rest

The Leckey File

Your Money

March 13, 2005|By Andrew Leckey

We live in a modern-day financial caste system.

The goal is to become better than the next person and merit perks that the rabble can't enjoy.

Take the airline industry. On one major airline, I am a "premier executive," a status attained simply by flying far too much. So I get to board the plane in group one, which confidently marches onto the plane before overhead bins fill up, pillows and blankets disappear, and passengers clog the aisles.

Group one is an anxious bunch, its members jockeying for position as they await being called lest someone sneak in ahead of them.

On a competing major airline, I am less than nothing, a pauper rather than a prince. I am almost always in group nine. Not all airlines even have a group nine, mercifully ending the purgatory with a group five or six.

After a seemingly interminable wait, group after group is called until group eight has finally boarded. Almost as an afterthought, the counter employee looks around and sees that some folks are still waiting to get on.

"Oh yes, now group nine can board," the employee says with a shrug, as if stowaways have been discovered and there's no time to do much about them.

It is the same with credit cards. Owning a non-premium-level card ensures that you that you will receive hundreds - maybe thousands - of letters urging you to step up to gold, platinum or whatever color the highest-priced card is.

The card company is dying to load you up with a bunch of perks such as insurance so that it can make more money from you. The implication is that you will be able to hold your head just a little higher and present your card with a proud smile.

Investment companies will elevate you to a higher client status if you reach certain asset levels. In the process, you're invited to great investment seminars because you have the dough. You might receive faster service privileges or more individualized attention. Let the ordinary folks deal with those messy fees and minimum requirements.

My advice is to accept exalted status only if you receive a perk that benefits you and that you can use. If you must pay more to receive a privilege, think twice about whether it is worth it.

None of us cares what color your credit card is or even notices it. But a life consigned to perpetually cooling your heels in group nine at the airport would be no laughing matter.

Andrew Leckey is a Tribune Media Services columnist.

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