Air Canada’s New “Status Pass” Is A Benefit All Airlines Should Emulate

Loyalty isn’t primarily about points or benefits. It isn’t transactional. It’s about building a relationship based on taking care of customers and building trust. That’s difficult to do in a mass way, even with elite benefits because that group can number in the tens of thousands (for top elites) to the seven figures (for lowest level).

A program systematizes how guests are cared through. Benefits are part of doing that. In formulating a set of benefits it’s most important to understand what matters most to the customers that matter most. That’s often how a travel brand cares for the people the member cares most about.

How Some Brands Care For Their Top Customers’ Family And Friends

Hyatt top tier elite members have a benefit called ‘Guest of Honor’ – when they gift an award stay, they can also gift someone top tier elite status for that stay. That way the person they’re giving free nights to may get an upgrade, and will receive late check-out and breakfast.

They understand that when I set up a room reservation for my wife’s parents, for instance, that I’m not just giving them a place to sleep – I want to be ensuring them a seamless stay.

United Airlines gives the spouse or domestic partner of its Million Mile members the same elite status each year as the Million Miler. I care more about how the people I care about are treated than I care how I’m treated myself.

Some programs let elite members – or ‘overachieving elites’ who go beyond the minimum requirements for their status – to ‘gift’ status to someone else. However, like United’s Million Miler benefit, it becomes available only to a single person. And the people you want to take care of tend not to be frequent travelers. Giving them status for a year is overkill when it may be used just a couple of times. Hyatt’s approach is better.

Air Canada Lets Elites Gift Anyone ‘Status For A Day’

When Air Canada shared the details of its new program they told us they would be introducing ‘Status Passes’ in March 2021. Those are now here as choice benefits for Air Canada 50,000 mile elites and above.

In addition to basic elite benefits Aeroplan elite members can select from benefits they prefer including Status Passes.

Status Pass options:

  • 50K elites can choose 2 Status Passes
  • 75K elites can choose 3 Status Passes
  • Super Elites can choose 4 Status Passes, in addition to 2 they’ll earn every year

To introduce these in 2021, 50K and 75K elite members receive one Status Pass separate from these choices.

Status Pass benefits:

  • 3 free checked bags up to 70 pounds each
  • Priority check-in, baggage, security, boarding (zone 2) and standby
  • Maple Leaf Lounge access

This doesn’t provide for upgrades and doesn’t extend benefits to travel on partner airlines.

These passes can be applied to any reservation on the Air Canada website or through its app (including award flights) and apply to all travelers on the reservation so one pass can be used for a whole family traveling and cover a roundtrip if booked that way.

Of course not everyone values this benefit, or has someone to give it to. I once overhead a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight talking about the irony of their Companion Pass – they travel so much in earning the pass, they haven’t had time to find a companion. So it’s a choice benefit, which makes sense.

Caring For The People Your Customers Care About Is Make-Or-Break

The reason my wife has an authorized user card on my Platinum Card By American Express account is so that if she’s traveling without me she’ll have access to Centurion lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (if flying Delta) and it gives her hotel and car rental status, too. I want her trips to be as smooth as possible when I can’t be there to ensure it.

At the same time the quickest way to lose a customer is to treat the people who are important to them badly. That doesn’t just hit a loyal member more than a single instance of bad treatment for themselves, it embarrasses them as well for the loyalty choice they’ve made (“I can’t believe you are loyal to ____, they are such a bad company”) in front of someone whose opinion really matters to them.

Status passes both engender loyalty and protect the loyalty relationship. That’s a strategy more programs should think through.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I assume you received a “benefit” from Air Canada for this blatant promotion? Good luck to you if they are willing to pay and you are willing to compromise yourself. Well done I say. But perhaps you could also ask why the Canadians are refusing to refund money, we paid, for flights, they cancelled. Perhaps if you, instead of taking the money and doing a runner, you could ask the Canadians why they are refusing to give back the money they owe to their customers. I don’t want one of their dirty vouchers. They suck. Give me back my money Air Canada you frauds. You make me sick.

  2. Gary, I agree with you 100%. As a lifetime Platinum I would like to help my wife out on those rare occasions when she travels alone. As long as she is with me she is treated well. Otherwise she is treated like dirt by American Airlines.

  3. It makes marketing sense. There’s a range of human emotions that loyalty programs should be exploiting, not just smug entitlement on lounge access, upgrades, and priority boarding (or schadenfreude on watching others be denied). Giving someone else that status for a trip taps into a whole other zone of positive emotions, while at the same time increasing the value of the brand for the “guest”. Your best customers can be your best advertisers.

  4. This is similar to one of the primary improvements that I have thought airlines could make to their FF programs, especially for the most hated customer, the poor schlep that only travels between 25000 and 49999 miles per year. I would value much more a status pass to use for that one trip where I have a very tight schedule or are in a poorly organized place like MDW and need to use the fast check-in or truly have to have early boarding. Being able to do that once or twice instead getting upgraded once a year on the shortest leg I fly would be a greater benefit to me

  5. That’s right, loyalty means more when we can extend benefits to our loved ones than when the program extends benefits to us. We feel empowered, not just entitled.

    My United status has enabled me to rescue my children and their spouses from canceled flights, delayed flights and possible missed connections.

  6. I care more about how the people I care about are treated than I care how I’m treated myself.

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