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Was when I wasn’t being loyal…

Most loyalty program benefits offer loyalty, but only on the terms of the airline.

They can be as handcuffing as they are freeing.

Sure, you can upgrade, but only when you book direct. Go ahead and bring an extra bag, but only if you don’t buy our least expensive ticket. Two weeks ago, I felt the most loyalty from an airline I ever have, and the funny thing – was that it was when I was being a horrible customer. I almost didn’t even know how to feel, yet I’ve never been more grateful to a program for rewarding me despite my faults.

The scene of the crime: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London Heathrow.

I currently hold Virgin Atlantic Gold status with the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. It’s an attractive program. Arguably the most note worthy benefit is that you and a guest can access the famed Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse network with a guest whenever you travel, even on economy fares. With Virgin offering extremely competitive deals to my home city these days, that’s a big perk.

But on the day in question, I was not flying Virgin. I was flying a competing airline to Hong Kong and I really wanted a shower, an actual cocktail and a meal I’m familiar with. When you’re about to spend 12 hours on a plane, comfort food in advance of that can go a long way.

In an odd way, the Virgin Clubhouse is as comforting to me as my own house.

Enter the little known benefit of Virgin Atlantic Gold: you can use the Virgin Clubhouse, with a guest, even when you’re flying on another airline. This is subject to space, but generally speaking, it works.

I had lounge access with the airline I was flying, I could’ve totally just done that, but it wasn’t what I was feeling at that moment. I wanted a Dandelyan collaboration cocktail before they were taken off the menu, I wanted a shower and a change and I wanted real food I know and trust. Surprising to some, I don’t like eating on planes.

At lounge entry, I almost felt like one of the endless non status, non business class leisure travellers trying to smooth talk their way in with witty quips. I felt ashamed. But the gentlemen at the sparkling lounge door couldn’t have been more kind or welcoming. He knew exactly what I was doing, even had a little chuckle with me, but he chose not to make me feel like a grifter and that made all the difference.

I walked into the lounge so appreciative, that I felt like getting some string, some paper and a pen, and writing “traitor” and wearing it around my neck.

Virgin was being so good to me on account of my past loyalty, and even though I was being bad to them, they were making me feel good about it. It was loyalty I’d earned, served on my own terms, not theirs. To make matters worse, the service inside was lovely, as always.

What’s funny about this all… is that it made me really, really want to fly Virgin Atlantic.

Perhaps it’s the guilt I was raised with, but a brand being that over the top welcoming to someone who wasn’t being loyal to them at that moment made me want to book a ticket on the spot and jet off anywhere. It was the old definition of loyalty. The “we have a relationship, it’s cool” version.

I didn’t book a ticket at the time, but just like last time, I am putting my money where my mouth is and my next New York trip will again go to Virgin, 100%. If not for this generous perk and the feelings of true loyalty it made me feel, I wouldn’t be able say that with such certainty.

This is one of those things that a subset of people may choose to exploit, and I absolutely hate that. I’ve made that abundantly clear in previous articles. Will I ever do this again? I might, but only because it reaffirms the things I love about Virgin Atlantic, including the fact that I chose their lounge over a solid competitor. It makes me want to give them more business, which I then in turn will actually do.

I guess that’s kind of the point of a “loyalty program, right?

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