Airlines want you back. Really. U.S. carriers have allowed passengers to change or cancel flights without penalty fees during the coronavirus pandemic. Now some are giving elite members in their loyalty programs automatic extensions on their status, some as long as 18 months.
Airlines have lost big in the last few months. Airline tracker OAG says that since March 1, U.S. airlines have been operating many flights at less than 20% of their usual passenger load.
Here’s a look at how some carriers are changing their loyalty programs — and making it easier to get to the next elite category.
Delta Air Lines
Delta started this stampede April 5 when it promised a status extension to its Medallion travelers, extending a customer’s 2020 status through the 2021 Medallion Year. Those changes will happen automatically, the airline said, with “no action needed from customers.”
Similarly, Delta passengers’ Medallion Qualification Miles from 2020 will be rolled over to 2021, allowing travelers to apply this calendar year’s miles to qualification for 2022 Medallion Status.
Individual and executive members of the Delta Sky Club with membership expiration dates after March 1, 2020, will have their access extended for six months, the airline said.
Delta said it is also extending many Delta SkyMiles American Express Card benefits by six to nine months.
American announced Monday that the company would reward AAdvantage members “by extending their elite status amid reduced travel related to the coronavirus.” That gives elite members an automatic extension of their status until Jan. 31, 2022. Members can expect to see the change reflected in their accounts on May 15.
The airline also lowered the qualifications to get to elite status. The rules remain the same: You still need to earn “elite-qualifying” dollars based on what you pay for airfare as well as qualifying miles or trip segments for distance flown. Here’s what the new numbers look like:
Gold status, spending $1,500 and flying 15,000 miles or five segments (instead of $3,000, 25,000 miles and 30, respectively).
Platinum status, $4,000 and 30,000 miles or 30 segments.
Platinum Pro status, $6,000 and 45,000 miles or 45 segments.
Executive Platinum, $9,000 and 60,000 miles or 60 segments.
The airline also will waive fees for reinstatement or changes on award bookings made by May 31 for travel through Sept. 30 and has changed its fee structure for other award tickets. Check the AAdvantagge website for other perks.
The carrier has extended its Mileage Plan’s elite status through the end of 2021. As part of that change, the airline said April 7, all of its status benefits will apply “with the exception of the 50,000 bonus miles associated with earned 75K status.”
The airline also said that companion certificates due to expire in 2020 would be extended, giving customers until Dec. 31 of this year to book new travel through Nov. 26, 2021.
The airline has not adjusted its tier qualification requirements, but in coming weeks, the website says, the carrier will have more to say about how passengers can earn additional elite-qualifying miles this year.
Meanwhile, in June 2021, Alaska is due to join the oneworld alliance, a global loyalty program whose partners include American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific. As part of that transition, Alaska passengers were to start on April 1 to earn Alaska Mileage Plan credits on any American Airlines flights they take, domestic or international.
Though the pandemic has brought dramatic cutbacks in flights, a spokeswoman said via e-mail that that program is going forward as planned.
United on April 6 made major changes to its MileagePlus program to try to keep customers. It extended members’ elite status through January 2022 and cut the necessary qualifications by half for each status level.
You still have to take qualifying flights (four of which need to be on United or United Express) and rack up qualifying points based on what you pay for your flight and upgrade fees. Silver status now requires six flights and 2,000 points. Gold, 12 flights and 4,000 points; Platinum, 18 flights, 6,000 points; and 1K, 26 flights and 9,000 points.
Also, United will extend PlusPoints used for upgrades that are set to expire on or before Jan. 31 by six months. For details on changes, visit MileagePlus.