Airline lounges have long been the exclusive province of the high rollers willing to spend hundreds of dollars for the privilege of waiting for their flights in comfort. But they'll soon be joined by another kind of elite traveler: The person who's really popular on the Internet.
On Tuesday, American Airlines launched a new promotion that grants access to its Admirals Club -- which has free wi-fi and complimentary booze and snacks -- to travelers who wield the most influence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. To do so, it will team up with Klout, a service that measures just how big a player you are in the online world.
By logging into the American Airlines site with Klout, you can enter their contest to win an annual pass to the Admiral's Club. But travelers with a "Klout Score" above 55 are deemed influential enough to automatically get a one-day pass to the Admiral's Club in nearly 40 airports. (Klout scores are measured on a scale or 1-100; for reference, Barack Obama has a 99 and Justin Bieber has a score of 92.) You don't even need to be booked on a flight with American to use your day pass (though obviously you'll need to have a boarding pass for a flight to get past security).
The partnership makes a lot of sense for the airline, as pleasing customers whose opinions will be widely read and respected online can pay off beautifully for brands. One customer service firm even makes it easy for companies to prioritize service for customers with high Klout scores, with the idea that companies have good reason to bend over backwards for customers who can bad-mouth (or praise) you to millions of followers. And it's not the first time we've heard of its use in the travel industry: Some hotels will check your Klout score to determine whether to give you preferential treatment.
That's the sort of arrangement that has made Klout controversial -- if you're not one of the lucky few who has amassed a huge following on Twitter, you probably don't like the idea that your worth as a customer is determined by how popular you are on the Internet.
But this particular promotion seems relatively harmless. It would be one thing if the airline were bumping people off flights in favor of Twitter rock stars, but all it's doing is taking an exclusive club that was previously reserved for big spenders and inviting in some folks who are rich in online influence.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.