Airlines bring back perks -- for their richest fliers

The New York Times reports that while even complimentary mini bags of pretzels inch closer to extinction, airlines are dreaming up new elite categories for frequent fliers -- complete with perks and prestigious titles.

A quick sampling of the new clubs: Continental Airlines' Presidential Platinum (customers must fly 125,000 miles or spend $30,000 annually); Delta's Diamond Level (also 125,000 miles per year); Southwest Airlines' A-List (16 round trips in 12 months).

The luxuries afforded to members of these tiers include waived bag checking fees, express check-in and, of course, access to the ubiquitous airport lounges that offer everything from seafood buffets to hot showers.

Before you turn green with travel envy, consider this: these perks are premiering in the midst of a peculiar backlash against them.

Ever roll your eyes as the airport employee manning your gate invites a litany of card-carrying airline society members to board? Evidently, so has the writer George Meyer -- check out his brief but dead-on satire that ran earlier this year in The New Yorker.

Another George altogether stars in "Up In The Air," the awards-favorite film that does its best to equate frequent-flier status with chronic life disappointment. And if you want to take it even further, stream the NPR Fresh Air interviews with Walter Kirn (he wrote the book) and Jason Reitman (the film's director) expounding on how rootless travelers cling to airlines' little gifts.

You'll feel better about your averaged three coach flights a year in no time.
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