Earning Status From Credit Card Spend Spreads Beyond The U.S.

Frontier Airlines was first to take credit card spend fully into account towards elite status, with one dollar spend equal to a mile flown. Hyatt also took a unique approach four years ago in layering its card program onto its loyalty program to really encourage spend – with uncapped credit towards status, and benefits earned with every 10 elite nights rather than just upon achieving a status plateau. That encouraged continued spending… because the next level of benefit was so achievable (just 10 more elite nights, rather than – say – another 30) and because benefits continued after achieving top status.

American Airlines took this approach to the next level with Loyalty Points, making most things count towards status. They roughly doubled the number of points members needed to earn, but counted not just credit card spend (one dollar spent = one point for U.S. cards, while some international cards earned faster) but also shopping, car rentals, gas and more.

American partner JetBlue is doing something similar, counting card spend and some other activity towards status. It’s a recognition that:

  • Loyalty programs aren’t just encouraging travel with a brand, they’re being used by other companies to drive business
  • And that activity is profitable, indeed often higher margin than the underlying travel itself

American Airlines makes money by selling miles, mostly to Citibank and Barclays. They can reward and encourage customers to spend more on their cards by delivering the benefits those customers care about, not just rebates to spend on future travel. That creates a real reason for many to spend on those cards – when they aren’t competitive on rebate alone.

While hardly a model that’s being adopted across the board – United has doubled down on its ticket-spend model for status and Delta is even increasing its ticket spend requirements for status – we’re now seeing ‘any activity counts’ spread beyond the U.S.

Japan Airlines will introduce a new lifetime status-earning program in 2024 that is based not just on flying but co-brand credit card spend and shopping, too.

  • Status points will be earned from non-flight activities like co-brand spend and shopping ‘and from environmentally-friendly activities’

  • Since it’s lifetime status, points keep accumulating and there’s no clock for earning status

  • What I’m looking forward to earning is non-expiring miles, which will let me use JAL’s program as a repository for points. I’ve avoided the program because I don’t accumulate points fast enough and worry I wouldn’t redeem them quickly enough.

  • The new program will require holding a JAL co-brand but those living in places where no co-brand is available will be exempt. I’ve only ever suggested their U.S. cobrand for new arrivals in the States, because they gear approvals to expats.

  • JAL won’t provide full details on the program until late 2023.

For now my takeaway is that this will make slow and infrequent earn in the program useful, and that the notion of including all engagement in a program towards earning program benefits is spreading beyond the U.S., in this case to a close (joint venture) American Airlines partner.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. It is interesting to see more airlines adopt this model. I wish AA would count LPs towards lifetime times. United should also adopt this.

  2. Loyalty programs are evolving from holding one’s loyalty to fly to involve how you spend your money and if the airline gets a cut of it.
    Airline loyalty programs are the most successful of their kind and they continue to evolve.
    Foreign airlines in countries that took far bigger hits during the pandemic than US airlines can certainly see what US airlines have done with loyalty programs and want a piece of the same action. This will spread everywhere the credit card environment is favorable to large-scale card spending and sharing of associated fees and revenues.

  3. CC spend in Japan must be one of the lowest in the industrialized world so it’s interesting to see a business try to use the US model.

  4. Why did your early morning article on the Atlanta wing walker getting run over get pulled?

  5. @JorgeGeorge Paez – I pulled it because someone on twitter thought the title was insensitive, reading it in a way completely averse to how I intended it. I didn’t think it was a fair read, but wanted to run it by some other eyes first in case I was missing something. Then the day completely got away from me.

  6. @ Tim Dunn

    “Loyalty programs are evolving from holding one’s loyalty to fly to involve how you spend your money and if the airline gets a cut of it.”

    Exactly, Tim, well observed.

    FWIW Virgin Velocity offers status credits for spending money in their allied supermarket chain (Coles per the Flybuys loyalty program).

    In Australia some credit cards come with a status credit bonus.

    QF has a completely separate two-tiered status system focused on non flight spend called Points Plus – perks include travel and wine vouchers, and earning status credits on award tickets once a certain number of points have been earned.

    Of the 400,000 odd points I have earned in the last month, some 360,000 we’re derived from bonus offers on about USD1500 of everyday retail spend and just 40,000 from air travel: ironically the air travel points were mostly from an award flight using Alaska miles on QF, rebooked by QF onto United J fares when they cancelled their LAX-SYD flight thus opening the door to earning on Virgin Australia Velocity…;)

  7. @ Gary — Dick Durbin is waiting to plunge his sword into these credit card schemes. If he succeeds, maybe we will see a rollback to programs that are more rewarding to actual flyers than spenders. Let’s hope not

  8. Every time I check into a Delta or AA flight and see the upgrade list 20+ deep…it’s a quick reminder why I don’t bother putting spend on any specific card for the sake of loyalty. If it makes sense, sure, but just for a chance to be on a long list of folks vying for a chance at the one open seat, nah, I’m good.

  9. At Delta, once a person hits 125k MQM, why earn more? Rollover MQMs. This creates an incentive for members to continue spending with Delta.

    For some AA members, though, that incentive does not exist. There’s no incentive to go beyond 200k Loyalty Points in a single year. (I get the upgrade list argument.) Several CKs agree with me on this and they feel stiffed on the deal. They spend (say) $60k per year and earn 660K Loyalty Points . . . but only have 20 segments . . . which puts milestone benefits out of reach. AA has created a disincentive to its highest revenue customers.

    AA needs to somehow structure a rollover mechanism for excess Loyalty Points that is similar to Delta’s MQM rollover.

    Gary, whisper in some ears.

  10. Separately, BA is nuts if it doesn’t follow Virgin Atlantic’s lead on earning tier points with card spend.

  11. @Gary, can’t you already earn “lifetime” status with both ANA and JAL? IIRC, if you qualify for their mid-tiers or higher (Star Gold and OW Sapphire), you can apply for their credit card. I think they both have an annual fee of around JPY 15000 (~USD 100-125 ). You can just pay the annual fee and not worry about requalifying, since the CC comes with *G or OWS.

    Of course, there were/are a lot of restrictions. I think you have to be either a resident of Japan or a Japanese national (or both?), making it a non-option for most people. I looked into it a while back, but I didn’t go through with it because of the horrible FF programs, mileage expiration, and residency/nationality requirements.

  12. Frontier wasn’t the first to earn status – AA was until Am West took them over and changed the program a few years back.

  13. @Glenn Chase – AA offered lifetime (not annual) status-earning based on mileage from all sources, and that ended a couple of years *before* the acquisition out of bankruptcy. [The change was announced in 2011]

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