Why Airlines Run Double Elite Qualifying Offers, and Why it Matters That This Isn’t Limited to U.S. Programs

Airlines monitor the number of elites in their program pretty closely, even as they jealously guard the specific numbers.

When economic conditions, or airline performance, depress travel and especially frequent travel airlines can incentivize flyers that have historically been their best customers to get back into the air. They can do that with bonus offers and also with bonus elite qualfiying mile offers.

Sometimes the offer is route-specific, not because travel is down but because they want to make sure their best customers stick with them when a competitor introduces new service on a route.

And sometimes the offer isn’t made to everyone, isn’t based on general conditions, but based on a particular flyer’s patterns. If you were an elite before, but have lapsed in your flying, the airline might reach out to you with an offer to get back on their aircraft. That’s what US Airways is doing with a targeted triple elite qualifying offer.

At the end of 2011, when American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they ran a double elite qualifying promotion that ran into January 2012. After American’s pilot job action in the fall 2012 they ran a double elite qualifying offer again. Travel was depressed, passengers were booking away, so they turned to their frequent flyer program to re-engage customers.

There’s nothing similar on the horizon that I can see, though that doesn’t mean there won’t be any airline incentivizing flying. Planes are generally full, fares are up, and the carriers are mostly profitable. Those all point away from broad general elite qualifying promotions.

Some suspect that elite qualifying promotions will become less common in the future as United and Delta are implementing minimum spending requirements. I suspect those airlines will continue to monitor how their elite ranks are shaping up, and if fare levels fall or flying drives up we could see ‘double elite qualfiying dollars’ promotions in the future.

The interesting thing though is that even as US programs change, US programs are not the only game for frequent flyers looking for outsized value. Certainly the Avianca LifeMiles program has some attractive attributes, so if MileagePlus is gutted it won’t be a true replacement but it makes me worry less about the medium-term for this game.

Similarly, US airlines aren’t the only ones looking to incentivize flyers and goose their elite ranks. Last year I status matched to Etihad Gold (I had some Etihad flying coming up, and Golds get better access to comped ground transport). Naturally I have not requalified, and so they sent me this:

It’s that time of year again when we do a quick check of your Etihad Guest Tier Miles, to see if you need a top up in order to continue enjoying the exclusive benefits of your current Etihad Guest Tier Level.

We have checked your account and found that you do need to earn more tier miles in order to retain your status

The good news is that we have just made it easier and more exciting for you to remain a valuable Etihad Gold Guest. Fly with us anytime before December 31, 2013 and we will reward you with double Etihad Guest Tier Miles/Etihad Guest Tier Segments to help you reach the requalification threshold of 40,000 Tier Miles or 30 Tier Segments.

Double elite qualfiying miles! I won’t be taking them up on it. But it does make me feel good about the aggressiveness of foreign frequent flyer programs (which are often run by veterans of US programs, by Americans and by Brits).

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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. That’s great Etihad wrote you that note. I was an EK gold for 3 years (ended last year) but I never received any offers similar to your Etihad one. Also, can you status match again to Etihad or was that a once in a lifetime type offer?

  2. Received the same from Etihad but can’t fit a flight in and plus one flight wouldn’t give me status for 2014.

  3. I received the 3x elite qualifying mile offer from US Airways. I dropped to gold this year from platinum last year with US. I didn’t fly very much with US this year, as I was anticipating the merger with AA and I’m EXP there.

  4. If you leave your cell charger at home ask the front desk at the hotel for one. People leave them behind a lot so usually they have all kinds!

  5. I’m EXP with AA. This year I haven’t traveled as much with them (just over 10K miles/12K points), because I moved to Mexico. The only alliance airline is Aeromexico/SkyTeam. I just received an email from AA acknowledging the fact and offering me Gold status after flying just 5K points.
    Hate there’s no more soft landing, but seems to be a good offer. Nice to see they do track elite flyers and makes me feel more than just a number.

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