A rewarding life

2013 06 09 at 10 27 52

Businesses offer rewards programs for at least two reasons. One to hook you and get you to return for your downstream reward; second, to monitor your behavior, and tie purchases to a single account. The latter is most common at grocery stores, where cash customers could not otherwise be tracked across multiple transactions.

I am of the opinion that in the modern world there is not much privacy left anyway, and who cares if they know I buy toothpaste when I buy chicken wings, but in the following purchase we buy bananas. I use a credit card anyway, and they should be able to do a lot of this tracking already.

If a business offers a rewards program, I am generally willing to sign up, so long as they don’t spam my email account. I still have frequent flyer cards from defunct airlines (generally having migrated my points to its successor). Sadly, I have lost miles that were earned for failure to maintain. American Airlines took away many miles since I didn’t use them for 18 months. This pretty much guarantees I won’t use them again. They didn’t even warn me, the way some other airlines have done, or let me convert the miles into magazine subscriptions.

I have been a continuous Delta Skymiles holder since the early 1980s, and much more intensively since the Northwest merger, and I recently was re-promoted to Silver Elite (I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk, joyous about being in the phone book). I am borderline on this, so it is highly likely I will be relegated to Zinc Peon level next year, but still there are minor perks, like the Club room at airports (though I think you could generally just crash it and no one would notice at most airports).

I also sign up for every hotel program whenever I stay there. This is a problem since my hotels are less likely to be the same ones. I have managed to keep my Hilton points due to TRB every year, but the other hotel programs seem to lose my points, presumably for lack of my use. And I better use Hilton quickly, since TRB is migrating. This is sad. Most recently I just joined the Best Western program. Undoubtedly this will not be repeated. I have never claimed any benefits from a Hotel program, not even a free night, so I must be doing something wrong. The hotel however has used it as an excuse to comp me free Internet after I complained bitterly about the $15/night Internet charge when a Motel Six (which parenthetically, got its name from charging $6/night) gives it away free.

Restaurant reward programs are usually simpler, a punch card. I have gotten free meals (about 1/semester) from these, in particular the cards at some University Dining Service sites. There is always the difficulty about which meals get stamped, which are quite inconsistent between locations. Is a sandwich an “entree”? Is sushi an “entree”? These sometimes stay in my wallet for years. Erbert and Gerbert is more sophisticated than many and has an online sign-up. They gave me a free sandwich randomly, which was cool. Unfortunately, the card is not honored at all locations, which for such a small chain is puzzling.

To save money on future kid footwear purchases, I have signed up for Payless rewards twice, since I lost the first one.

There should of course be a better way than having to track each program, which could become a full-time job. This is a job for biometric screening, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, or something similar. When I go to a store, I would simply put a finger on a digital reader, or look into a retinal scanner, and it brings up my account, just like the movies. If my wife and I are together, we can link our accounts. And so on.

So how will pervasive biometrics change transportation?

Well, the normal pattern is that a new technology both does old things better and enables new things. We can easily imagine reducing the thickness of our wallet and the number of our keys, as biometrics would be used to let us check into places, serve as a frequent-flyer id, give a standard interface for business card exchanges, start our car etc.

But what new things will we do with biometrics that would not happen otherwise? Open road tolling with unique brain-wave identifier payment systems? Real-time hitch-hiker match-making with security? How will we avoid locational tracking when biometrics are everywhere?

Will everything be gamified, so I will earn points for driving on county roads and not city streets, or when I obey the law at signalized crossings?

Comments and suggestions welcome.