Looking beyond the value of points


Right now I’m in the air, about 8 hours into my 10 hour flight to London Heathrow.  Flying Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy (courtesy of my full-time employer).  Just a couple of days ago I returned home from Aruba (personal trip!) on United and was upgraded for a 4-hour leg of that flight to their Economy Plus.

The first question you might have?  Why would a credit card blogger be writing about his flying experience on Virgin Atlantic?  Wouldn’t this be something best left to the Flyertalk community?

Not really.  While we don’t pretend to be airline experts, there are many airline and hotel credit cards to choose from, and while its tempting to slap dollar values on points, sometimes the underlying quality of the experience more than justifies calculated price differentials.  For example, would you rather fly airline A and have a great experience for 25,000 points (let’s say, $250), or fly airline B and have a lousy experience for 20,000 points (say, $200)?  It probably depends on the individual, but this post is here to remind you that sometimes so-called “soft factors” can hit hard.

Virgin’s Premium Economy is probably the equivalent of many airlines’ business class.  The seats are super comfortable.  The movie selection is awesome and free at this class (I could have watched Inception, which I’ve seen before; but I opted to watch Machete—I still haven’t recovered).

The service is incredible.  The stewardesses feel more like waitstaff.  They swing by frequently, offering a full open bar.  The dinner choices were excellently prepared (I had some sort of cheese-filled pasta, but there was a lamb dish and one other choice as well).  It wasn’t the crappy food that you have to pay for on other airlines.

Now compare this to my experience on United (returning from Aruba).  We had the privilege to sit in United’s Economy Plus for a 4-hour leg of the flight—certainly enough time to evaluate its merits.  Besides the extra legroom, which is always nice, there was, I can honestly say, nothing exceptional at all to write about.  No open bar.  No in-seat TV.  No nice food, just a sack of peanuts.  Not even a nice hot towel. And the same service that you get in straight-up economy class.

Now, maybe all of this is widely known (of course we all know that VA has great movie experiences, for example), but it’s one thing to know about it, and another to experience it.

The moral of this story (as much for me as anyone!): while our GetDebit ranking engine does a damn good job of telling you where you’ll get the best bang for the buck given your own unique spending profile, it can’t know how much value to add to a given airline credit card for, say, a “hot towel on the neck”, an open bar, or your choice of 100+ movies.

But unless you are Hymie from Get Smart, there is definitely value in these qualitative perks, lots of it in my opinion.  Now excuse me while I munch on my egg and cheese ciabatta sandwich that my lovely stewardess just dropped off.

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