Airlines Need To Extend Elite Status Again, Start Over Next Year

Earlier in the pandemic British Airways extended member elite status by a year. Unlike U.S. programs where everyone’s status expires at the same time, each Executive Club member has their own 12-month rolling calendar year for status, so some member statuses expire each month.

BA has just announced that members whose status year ends between July 1 and December 31, 2021, have their status extended by 12 more months. Some members, then, get their status extended out to December 2022.

And while BA’s system differs from that of U.S. airlines, the move points to,

  • The pandemic is lasting longer than many had hoped, even though vaccinations create much hope

  • Airlines weren’t initially aggressive enough in extending status, or reducing requirements for earning status this year.

Travel may pick up as 2021 progresses. People are getting vaccinated, and CDC guidance notwithstanding that means more people who ‘jab and go’. But that isn’t enough to forestall the need for status extensions.

  • Business travel won’t return to 2019 levels this year. Even as it comes back, it’ll be slowly – in waves – rather than all at once. Some trips will remain displaced by zoon, client visits have to wait until offices are fully reopened.

  • To the extent business travel returns to a meaningful level, it will be later in the year (perhaps September onward). Companies won’t require travel right away, many companies have committed to remote work until later in the year making trips to headquarters unnecessary, and conventions and meetings come back last (large indoor gatherings in poorly ventilated spaces).

  • International travel will remain significantly more restricted than domestic travel. That means much of the distance, and heavy spend for long haul business class, just isn’t an option.

Filling planes with once a year leisure travelers doesn’t change the need for status extensions. And 20% reductions in earning requirements won’t account for international restrictions and reduced business travel.

To the extent that airlines want to keep customers who have been most lucrative in the past – to the extent they’re betting that high yield business travel will return – they need to keep customers rather than kicking them to the curb.

Telling a top tier elite who doesn’t re-earn status in 2021, because their business travel doesn’t start back up in earnest until the fall, that they’re no longer valuable is a recipe for turning a once-loyal customer into a free agent and sending them to a competitor.

However airlines will view it as too early in the year to make this sort of move. They still want to use status as a carrot to encourage flying, and to encourage customers to choose them. So they’re more likely to run status-accelerating promotions.

American AAdvantage is already cold-calling members to sell them progress towards elite status. Promotions and sales like this make it harder to straight-up extend status later. Would they refund the purchased qualifying miles and dollars? Certainly not, but those who ‘fell for it’ will be bitter.

So it seems more likely we’ll see a program like AAdvantage offering promotions later in the year, and buy backs, or even potentially targeted extensions at the end of the year rather than a general extension for everybody.

It would be a mistake though to leave members behind for lack of flying in 2021, if an airline believes past valuable customers are likely to be future valuable customers with the pandemic as the reason for the discontinuity.

Hotels are a bit of a different story though with status made so easy to earn this year, and Marriott even effectively extending most status for anyone who also has a personal and small business credit card. They went aggressive up front reducing qualification requirements, even to the extent they made mattress running for status attractive, rather than ‘holding the line’ with only slightly-reduced requirements like we’ve seen from airlines.

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. @mark the FF program and the tier levels are a marketing program and not simply a reward / merit system for travelers. One reason I have stayed loyal to DL goes back to my road warrior days, when a 4Q travel reduction caused me to miss the scheduled tripI had that would have retained my Gold (in 1999 when that was worth something) status. Of course as business works I took that trip in the first 2 weeks of January. I was extremely surprised to get a letter from NWA saying that they saw I had to cancel the trip made it early January, and so they were granting me the higher status I would have earned.

    @Mark when it comes to upgrades I don’t think you are going to find yourself pushed down the list, the upgrade algorithm takes in a lot of variables, and it’s safe to assume that in a tie between someone like you that paid and flew, and someone on an extension that you will get the seat. Because it’s a marketing tool and they want to keep you happy too.

  2. @Tyrone, upgrades are done by medallion status, then fare class.

    For tie breaker (two PMs with Q code fare class for example)

    1.If you are a Delta Reserve Amex card holder.

    2.Corporate Travelers must be SkyMiles Medallion members and traveling on a ticket that includes their employer’s eligible Corporate Ticket Designator.

    3.Card Members who earned the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) Waiver in the current calendar year.

    4.Time of request usually at ticketing. Ex 2130-FEB-28 (TTTT-MM-DD).

  3. @Mark
    That’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work, in theory, but it frequently doesn’t.

    Myself and plenty of others on FlyerTalk have personally experienced this.

    Certificates also come into play and obviously push people to the top because they’re instrument-supported instead of complimentary.

    Another thing Delta frequently takes into account – but doesn’t publish, for example – is years of consecutive loyalty. If someone has been DM for 10 years without interruption and another for 1 year, and fare class is equal, the system will frequently push up the 10 yearer.

    Finally, DL’s upgrade algorithm frequently doesn’t work at the time it’s supposed to. Myriad stories of lower tier Medallions jumping the queue (has happened to me personally) – not because of something they did, but because of DL. Plenty of stories of this happening to others on FT as well.

    Regardless, First on DL right now is worthless without full service. Not only that, but it seems to have influenced many of the newer FA classes to become “lazier” in their service attitude, which is terrible because that will stick for the near future of their careers, instead of being the excellent DL FAs pre-COVID who were almost motherly and over-the-top (in a good way) in terms of attentive service. The caliber of the FAs and service levels of the phone agents were the two biggest draws of pre-COVID DL for me.

  4. AA needs to extend their status through 2022. I have been Executive Platinum on AA for 18 consecutive years. I have not flown for over a year and do not anticipate flying much, if any, in 2021 due to the mask mandate. I have permanent Platinum status from my years of loyalty to AA but that has about as much value as a cup of warm spit. If I lose my status in 2022 I will consider myself a free agent and will look at other airlines and credit cards. Since I typically put over $100K on my AA credit cards per year that is probably a bigger threat than taking my actual travel business to another airline.

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