Travel is starting to pick back up in earnest, and it’s about 60% of the volume it was in pre-pandemic times in the U.S. While some people will earn elite status this year, 2021 is mostly a wash out for an airline’s best customers. And that means airlines need to extend status again and start over next year or they’ll risk pushing these members into free agency.
- 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.
Canada has been more locked down than the United States, but notably Air Canada went ahead and straight extended elite status through 2022 and also offered to count current flying towards earning status in 2022 on top of rollover elite qualifying miles that co-brand cardmembers can have (so flying now counts double towards next year).
Last fall United announced 2021 elite qualifying would entail:
- lower status requirements
- a hard start for current elites towards status
- bonus qualifying spend for status in the first quarter
- relaxed restriction on using credit card-earned elite qualifying spend towards top status
Here’s the reduced qualification levels for 2021:
|Status||Normal Qualifying Spend/Flights||2021 Qualifying Spend/Flights|
|Silver||$4000 + 12 Segments or $5,000||$3,000 + 8 Flights or $3,500|
|Gold||$8,000 + 24 Flights or $10,000||$6,000 + 16 Flights or $7,000|
|Platinum||$12,000 + 36 Flights or $15,000||$9,000 + 24 Flights or $10,000|
|1K||$18,000 + 54 Flights or $24,000||$13,500 + 36 Flights or $15,000|
Existing elite members got an automatic head start towards earning status next year, based on the current status they hold:
|2021 Status||Qualifying Spend Deposit|
Now United has introduced a choice of promotions for current elite members. Members with elite status as of April 19, 2021 can choose one of these three offers by May 13 (or will have the first ‘welcome back’ offer selected by default).
- Welcome-back Bonus PQP Earn up to 25% of the required points for a member’s current status level (on top of the 25% that have already been deposited) with your next three trips. Your first three trips (separate itineraries/tickets) taken April 29 – July 27, 2021 count for this promotion. Fortunately they aren’t requiring new bookings, existing tickets will qualify. Unlike Delta this year, award trips don’t count.
Trip 1 Trip 2 Trip 3 Premier Silver 525 175 175 Premier Gold 1,050 350 350 Premier Platinum 1,500 500 500 Premier 1K 2,250 750 750
- Easy PQP A bonus of 10% of the requirements to requalify for current status, without any required activity (350 – 1500 premier qualifying points depending on current status).Premier members who aren’t planning any travel before July 27, 2021 can choose to receive a 10% deposit of the outright PQP requirement for their current status level with the Easy PQP option. Members will automatically receive between 350 and 1,500 PQPs depending on their status level.
- Bonus Miles Instead of Extra Qualifying Miles If you’re going to earn status anyway or have no change (or interest) in earning status, U.S.-based Premiers can earn double miles, up to 10,000 bonus miles total, on MileagePlus X transactions for shopping and dining through July 27, 2021. They ought to be more creative here, with non-flight miles counting towards elite status the way Singapore Airlines is doing.
American AAdvantage, which so far has just modestly reduced status requirements, has been cold calling members to sell them qualifying miles. That makes it tough to extend status (without offering refunds!). But American now stands as the least generous and proactive maintaining relationships with elites, and needs to take action.