Everyone pauses in place and gets a do-over. That’s the message from Delta which announced an extension of elite status, club memberships, vouchers and more.
What’s Getting Extended
SkyMiles 2021 elite status is extended through January 31, 2022. Any elite qualifying miles earned in 2020 will roll over into 2021, and (combining with qualifying miles earned in 2021) count towards earning status in 2022.
Diamond and Platinum members will receive Choice Benefits they can select in 2021. Elite drink vouchers will be extended six months from their expiration date. Upgrade certificates and $200 choice benefit vouchers are exteended six months, too.
Anyone currently taking an elite status challenge can take another one again in the future, the current one won’t ‘count against them’ for status challenge eligibility.
Sky Club members set to expire March 1, 2020, or later get an extra six months of access.
Co-brand credit card holders will see extensions as well;
- Gold Amex $100 Delta Flight Credits will get a six-month extension from their current expiration date
- Platinum and Reserve Amex companion certificates set to expire March 1 – June 30, 2020 will be valid through December 31, 2020 and those that expire July 1, 2020 – April 1, 2021 will get an extra 6 months.
- Reserve Sky Club one time passes are extended 6 months as well.
Anyone who purchased SkyMiles Select bundles get six more months on their priority boarding and drink vouchers.
What’s Still Missing Here
There doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep a Delta Reserve credit card that comes with Sky Club access. Even if that access is extended six months, paying the annual fee just doesn’t make sense on the current cycle, members won’t ever capture the value of that extension. American Express will need to take action on credit card annual fees for cards that are primarily delivering club lounge access.
This is something all issuers will have to do with their travel cards – whether it’s an Amex Platinum, United Club, or American Executive card.
Why Elite Status Extensions Matter Now
Elite status may seem ‘unimportant’ compared to the threats we’re facing, but members are really invested in their programs. Their identity, and sense of normalcy, is wrapped up in their airline status. Most people can’t directly affect the big problems they’re facing, but their elite status is a little problem we can all get our hands around, and loyalty programs can give customers a bit of certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.
Why It’s Made Sense For Airlines To Wait On Extensions, By Why Delta Goes First
Hilton and Hyatt have already given up on the year and extended everyone’s current status to next year. Several airline loyalty programs around the world have extended status as well. However U.S. airlines have largely been holding out, figuring that:
- Why do they need to decide now, it’s not as though anybody’s flying now anyway
- If they extend status for a year, customers won’t have a reason to stay loyal if they’re able to fly again later in the year
- Better to run double qualifying prommotions and similar to use the program to incentivize travel
There’s been a game of wait and see, hoping nobody else would go first with a full extension. Now that Delta is moving, that will put pressure on American, United, and Alaska Airlines to do the same.
Hyatt and Delta both have built-in advantages with their programs, though. Hyatt gives benefits for each 10 nights stayed, which continues to offer built-in benefits for remaining with the chain when customers can travel again. Delta similarly offers roll-over miles, which means qualifying miles earned later in the year aren’t going to be ‘wasted’ – by calling them 2021 miles, they can be rolled over for 2022 status.
Delta, by getting out ahead of U.S. competitor airlines, gets good P.R. and this is an airline geared towards telling a story. Just like consumers fall back on what matters in normal times in the face of challenges, Delta’s loyalty and P.R. shop is engineered to do the same.
What Comes Next
Delta has done the heavy lifting working through what they needed to do in the current environment to keep loyal customers loyal. They will need these customers when the current unpleasantness finally subsides.
Now other U.S. airlines are likely to match, more or less – because they have to, and because they can defer to Delta (whom they usually consider to be smarter anyway).
However neither United nor American has the built-in advantage of rollover qualifying miles that lets Delta still offer value towards qualification through their elite program even while extending status. That’s a move others should consider copying, if only for this year, to give customers a reason to keep flying to keep future status and benefit the airline when that business is needed most.