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John Hodgman Talks Chasing Medallion Status With FlyerTalk

John Hodgman Talks Chasing Medallion Status With FlyerTalk
Meg Butler

One night, at 2 AM, John Hodgman got an email from Delta telling him that he was just 7,000 miles away from Diamond Medallion status, which kicked off a “very, very, powerful obsession” and the subject of his new book, Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms. And the author, Daily Show staple, personal computer avatar, comedian, and fake internet judge John Hodgman sat down with FlyerTalk to talk about chasing status, why airlines should charge for overhead bins, and everyone’s inner need to feel Gold Status.

But first, John Hodgman wants FlyerTalk to know one thing: You won’t learn any “tips and tricks about how to churn credit cards or hoard pallets of pudding cups in order to get miles on a promotion. I’m sorry. I only have my personal journey towards Diamond.” Medallion Status isn’t just about points and miles, says Hodgman, it’s about “all sorts of other metaphoric medallions of status that we chase after, you know certain job titles certain positions in life certain levels of status that we hope and think will make us feel like the whole happy human beings that we want to be.”

It’s also about fame, how to prepare for a nude scene with an oboe… what it’s like to go to a Hollywood party and realize that you are not nearly as famous as the Property Brothers, or, for that matter, those two famous corgis from Instagram. And there are stories about how, when your television gig is canceled, you can console yourself with the fact that all of that travel that made your young son so sad at least left you with a prize: platinum medallion status with your airline.”

Like most of Hodgman’s books, it’s funny and heartfelt and also about racking up MQMs and chasing Medallion Status. Here’s what John Hodgman shared with FlyerTalk about frequent flying and his book Medallion Status:

What Delta Medallion Status Means to John Hodgman

I didn’t think much about it until one day, I’m at the airport going to wherever I’m going next and the person scans my boarding card and says “thank you for being gold.” And that was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me.

It really hit me in a very deep way because I realized we all think and need to believe that we’re special in this life. If only someone could see us for who we are. We all think we’re gold. We all want people to see that we’re gold.

We get worried that maybe we’re tricking ourselves. Maybe we’re not gold and we’re just pretending to be gold. Maybe someone’s going to see us and go, ‘get this guy out of here. He’s not gold at all.

So to have someone say to me ‘thank you for being gold,’ it was very deep. And that’s when I knew that I wasn’t exactly loved but kind of liked by a major corporation.

Why Airports Are Doing Us a Favor by Treating Us Poorly

You are treated like a subhuman in airports for a reason. Because you know when you arrive at the airport that science exists and you’re going to fly and it’s probably going to be fine, but there is a deep, lizard brain in you that is reminding you that flying is impossible. What you’re doing is crazy. You’re going to get into an extremely heavy, steel tube full of people and their farts and go way, way up in the air.

And if anything happens, you don’t have to worry about falling because if anything happens to that plane, it gets ruptured and you get sucked out you will freeze and explode to death before you’re even aware that’s happening.

So airports create dehumanizing structures and tension belt mazes and security theater and bottlenecks just to mass you in with the rest of humanity who’s also terrified so you don’t feel alone. So you have a place to put your nervous energy and channel it into rage for the person ahead of you in line.

Why Airlines Should Charge for Overhead Bin Space

It would alleviate some of the rush to get on the plane:

The only reason to get on the plane early is because you’re going to try to steal someone else’s overhead compartment. Airlines should be charging for overhead bin space, not checked bags. Checked bags should be free, overhead bin space should be paid and reserved. The overhead compartment race is just an engine for anxiety. And no one needs that.

The Final Verdict on Tipping in the Airport Lounge

While John Hodgman is perhaps most well known for his books like Medallion Status and TV appearances, some of you may also know him as a “fake internet judge” on his podcast (and New York Times column) Judge John Hodgman where the public asks him to rule on important issues like whether a hot dog is a sandwich, or if it’s OK to look at the box while doing a jigsaw puzzle.

So, we asked him to put on his judge’s robes and weigh in on a big FlyerTalk debate: Should You Tip in the Lounge?:

Yes, you should tip in the lounge even though the soda and the well spirits and the wine are free. Those are still human beings who are handing that stuff to you. Tipping is a wonderful opportunity to be generous.

I can appreciate why FlyerTalk may feel [that they don’t need to tip]. They are working their way through a game that the airlines have purposely made to engage them to get them flying… to get them thinking about how to maximize their miles. And FlyerTalkians are true players. However, you don’t gamify personal interactions with other human beings.  

You don’t look for some minor advantage or edge like, ‘this Diet Coke was free so I get to save a dollar.’ Having an opportunity to be generous is something that you should always take. So tip a dollar or more. Be even more generous. It feels great if you can do it. That enriches everybody.

Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms is available now at Amazon or Penguin Random House.

[Image Source: Penguin Randomhouse]

View Comments (6)


  1. LHR_ATL

    October 16, 2019 at 5:49 am

    Charging for overhead bin space while making checked baggage free is an excellent idea.

  2. WVmike

    October 16, 2019 at 10:13 am

    Agreed 100% LHR_ATL! on luggage policy ideas! As far as tipping, I always tip generously in the club lounges. Hell, i think i know everyone who works in the bars at ORD United Clubs by name.

  3. uncleb

    October 16, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Charging for overhead space and making checked bags free is totally genius. While it wouldn’t make the airlines as much money, it would make the travel experience so much more humane.

  4. alangore


    October 16, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Science nitpick: it’s not steel, it’s aluminum.

  5. jamesteroh

    October 21, 2019 at 10:12 am

    I wish they would give a free checked bag to the non-status. I”m sure many of them would check a bag if it was free. For elites keep the carry on free, we board first and know how to pack and not hog up space. Part of the reason for me carrying on is so I can get on another flight easily if my flight has MX problems or is oversold and I want VDB compensation.

  6. zoned_post_meridiem

    October 23, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    Charge for overhead and free checked? That’s … a really great idea.

    And an enthusiastic yes on lounge tipping. I go as far as ordering more premium beverages when I don’t have cash to tip, just so I can then tip on a card. Grabbing the free stuff without tipping in a LOUNGE makes me cringe.

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