It’s 2021, And We Still Don’t Know How We’ll Earn Elite Status With Marriott, Delta Or Southwest This Year

Hyatt cut its elite status earning requirements in half and is offering double elite nights for the first two months of 2021. Hilton cut its elite status earning requirements in half. But from Marriott we’ve heard nothing. Major airlines have announced their plans too:

  • American Airlines reduced its elite status qualification requirements for 2021, and added a waiver of their minimum spend requirement (up to Platinum Pro status) for members spending at least $30,000 on their co-brand cards this year.

  • United Airlines reduced its elite status qualification requirements, and stacked that with promotions for faster earning too.

  • Alaska Airlines changed their rules to make partner flights count as much as Alaska flights for status, and stacked that with 50% bonus elite qualifying miles.

But from Delta we have heard nothing. And Southwest hasn’t shared what it’s going to do for members in 2021, either.

Marriott, Delta, and Southwest are going to have to adjust elite status earning requirements this year because there’s less travel and because they do not want to lose customers to competitors. Why haven’t they acted?

It’s Hard To Know How To Move Forward

Airlines and hotels are in a pickle. They don’t know what 2021 travel is going to look like. They want to use their elite programs to incentivize travel, not making it impossible to earn status but not giving it away too easily and quickly either.

  • Do they offer double qualifying points or reduce the requirements to earn status, or both? If they reduce the requirements, and there’s more travel than expected, the programs aren’t enough of an incentive to keep traveling. Reduced requirements may also not be reduced enough to keep status earnable.

  • Do they start people off with credits towards status (as Southwest did in 2020) or reduce earning requirements? These are functionally the same thing, but may be perceived differently by consumers (“I already have half the credits I need” feels different than “I’m starting at zero”).

  • When will travel recover? And when does a program need to decide? Members want certainty and programs want flexibility.

At This Point Some Action Is More Important Than The Best Action

At some point though a loyalty program which relies on customer goodwill and clear targets for customers to shoot for can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Members need their target if they’re going to be swayed by the program in making business decisions, and they need certainty in order to have confidence in those decisions. Lack of certainty erodes confidence and trust in the brand.

But What Is A Program To Do?

The need for action now suggests it makes sense to (a) reduce requirements (and whether that’s done with lower targets or by gifting people some of the flights or nights they need is immaterial) and (b) retain the option to incentivize further travel with bonuses towards status if need be.

What remains a challenge, though, is how much do you lower requirements now? If you’re going to drop them you might not want to drop them based on worst case scenario assumptions, you may prefer to retain the ability to incentivize travel more later with bonuses – a position American Airlines seems to be in. But if you don’t drop them as much as competitors (in the hotel space, as much as Hyatt or Hilton) their easy status may tempt away your best customers.

Ultimately I think you have to be as generous as competitors in lowering requirements and then offer generous incentives to keep traveling beyond those thresholds. It’s a more expensive marketing strategy but as the travel world eventually and gradually pulls out of Covid it will be logical, appropriate and expected to be spending more on marketing to put butts in seats and heads in beds.

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. At least with respect to Marriott Bonvoy Ambassador and Delta Diamond Medallion, Marriott and Delta should rollover customer 2020 spending to 2021 for top-level 2022 status. This would solve much of the problem while still requiring customers to travel and spend nights in hotels or butts in airline seats.

  2. I suspect that from Delta’s point of view, they’ve been pretty generous with the MQM rollover and credit card MQM spend bonuses to the point they’re concerned with Platinum Medallion glut for 2022. (If you’re willing to give up the opportunity cost of other card spend, the AmEx MQM bonuses can be quite significant) The only thing I’d really expect to see is some tweaking of Diamond criteria but that’s probably a couple of months out when it seems like business bookings might be picking up some.

  3. Unrelated, but looks like Pay1040 just raised their fee to pay by a credit card to 1.99% (0.1% higher, or a 5% increase). Any insight on when that happened, or if permanent?

  4. Southwest sent me emails last year stating my A status and companion pass have been extended to end of June, and to attain status for this year the requirements were halved.

  5. For Marriott, they could offer double elite nights for the year and steal Hyatt’s idea of offering threshold bonuses as you mention. The problem is that doing something like that contravenes the Marriott view of the customer as an adversary rather than a valued partner.

  6. If Marriott applied 2020 spending toward the 2021 threshold for ambassador status in 2022 it would go a long ways toward getting me to stay again with Marriott, especially given the inconsistent benefits, closed lounges and laid-off ambassador agents. Likewise, Delta should apply my 2020 spending toward the 2021 threshold for diamond medallion status in 2022.

  7. Totally agree, cannot believe Marriott hasn’t said a thing about the 2021 elite requirements.
    I need to know what they are thinking in order to plan my (limited) travel this year.
    If they intend to not change anything, they should let us know about it as well.
    At the end I am expecting them to follow Hyatt and Hilton, although they could provide qualifying night credits just like last year.

  8. The real question is do we really care yet? Most people, including industry experts don’t expect business travel to resume to any normal level for quite awhile & probably not until next year at the earliest

  9. How is anyone going to take this seriously if you can’t even bother to proofread to spell the major hotel company’s name correctly? It’s not that hard.

  10. I agree with beachmouse. Delta basically gave you two years to hit the MQM thresholds by rolling over all 2020 MQMs to 2021. Maybe if you were in a coma for all of 2020 and awoke on January 1 having to start from scratch you lose out, but everyone else seems to come out ahead.

  11. Gary – it is January 7th! Please get off the soap box. If they announce something by the end of February along the lines of a significant cut in requirements you have 10 months to meet them. They are likely projecting travel to see what reduction, if any, is needed. They don’t owe your or anyone else a reductions just be grateful if it happens.

    BTW I have no Interest in what they decide since I’m lifetime Gold on DL and lifetime Titanium w Marriott

  12. Hawaiian too has done or said nothing about status for 2022 other than back to regular requirements pre-pandemic. Thing is no one is wanting to fly in Hawaii or even able to with all the state and county quarantine requirements and testing requirements.

  13. Delta doesn’t need to at the moment. All MQM rolled over including up a promotion offer of up to 25,000 extra MQM that could be earned from credit card spend. Also they are giving a 25% bonus MQM on what is normally earned from credit card spend. They basically made it much easier for credit card holders to earn status (I’ll likely be upgrading from Silver to Platinum)

  14. I am confused about how Southwest is going to handle things. In December, it had told me on their webpage that I needed four more flights before December of 2021 to keep my A-List status. I had assumed that meant that they were counting my flights from last year and would just require four flights this year. Now, it does not say anything about how status earning works. Did they change the plan?

    The other thing I wish that they would make clear is when Southwest resumes its service to Costa Rica. They continue to advertise it and the other US major carriers have all returned, but not Southwest.

  15. Gary, I don’t understand your criticism of Delta, they have rolled over all of our MQM’s from 2020 and changed the bonus MQM’s that you receive with reserve card spending from 15,000 per $30k to 18,750 per $30k. For the platinum card they have the same percentage increase. I am Gold Medallion every year and this year and next I am going to easily be Platinum and that will carry over into 2023 when I will probably curtail my flying and retire. I don’t see how they could have done any better for their Medallion Members.

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