Will Airlines Extend Elite Status Due To Coronavirus?

Filed Under: Advice

Here in the US we’ve seen airline stocks plummet, airlines issue travel waivers, and Southwest’s CEO has even said that the drop in demand is comparable to post-9/11.

One thing I’ve been asked over and over by readers in the past several days is if I think the big US airlines will be extending elite status or offering some sort of promotions to help people requalify for status, given the reduced demand.

As far as I’m concerned the answer is absolutely “yes,” though I’m not sure to what extent. I wasn’t going to write about this because I don’t have a good answer beyond “yes, but we’ll have to wait and see,” though I figured I’d share my take on this situation as of now.

We don’t know how bad this situation will get

The first problem is that we don’t know just how bad things are going to get, both in terms of the coronavirus, and in terms of the economic impact of it.

Will things be back to normal within weeks? Is coronavirus here to stay forever? Is the economic impact of this short-term? Is this the start of a recession? Will airlines recover quickly, or is this the start of the next round of global bankruptcies, mergers, etc.?

I have absolutely no clue what the answer to any of those questions is, and I think anyone who claims to know is lying.

It’s anyone’s guess what long term impact this will have on the airline industry

Airlines will definitely do something for members

I absolutely think the major global airlines (including US airlines) will do something to either extend status for members, reduce status qualification requirements, or offer some sort of other promotions or fast track opportunities.

However, it would be premature at this point for airlines to make a decision on that front:

  • It’s status qualification for 2021 that would be impacted by the coronavirus situation, and we’re only just over two months into the year
  • Anything airlines do now wouldn’t be terribly well informed, since they also don’t know how long the impacts of this will last

I absolutely think airlines will do something, though I don’t assume anything will be announced soon, necessarily, since it’s premature.

It might be a while till we find out what airlines will do…

I would expect significant concessions

One of the things that makes the airline industry so challenging is that airlines have a hard time adjusting capacity based on demand, given that planes are expensive and inflexible assets. When there’s a decrease in demand, it hits airlines very hard.

Airlines have certain targets for how many elite members they want, and even in good years they offer all kinds of status challenges, and in some cases just outright give away status to select groups (last year many Hyatt Globalist members were given Executive Platinum status).

I’d absolutely expect airlines to go great lengths to try and court customers in the coming months and years.

For example, while major airlines typically let you buy-up to status at the end of the year, this year it would be very bad form to not lower requirements (or offer some sort of promotion), and instead tell people to spend thousands of dollars to renew their status using the normal requirements.

I expect airlines will make it easier to earn status in 2020

Will loyalty program executives believe in their programs?

While I think it’s a given that airlines will do something to help people who fall short of elite thresholds, what I’m most curious about is whether we’ll finally see some innovation at AAdvantage, MileagePlus, and SkyMiles, to get people onto planes.

This can come in the form of promotions to get people to book tickets, and can also come in the form of promotions to get people redeeming miles for flights.

In many cases I can’t help but feel like loyalty program executives have completely forgotten that they can also use their frequent flyer programs to fill seats on planes.

Understandably a priority has been their multi-billion dollar credit card agreements, though to me it’s going to be extremely telling to see if any major programs actually offer promotions to get people on planes, which we otherwise haven’t seen at the “big three” US carriers for years.

Will major airlines offer creative promotions to fill seats?

Bottom line

I absolutely think major airlines globally will offer some assistance when it comes to status qualification, though I think it’s too early to say in what form that assistance will come, since we don’t know how long this situation will last.

What I’m more curious about is if we’ll see any real innovation from frequent flyer programs, like a reversal of some of the customer unfriendly policies we’ve seen added in the past few years.

What are you expecting from airline loyalty programs in light of reduced demand?

Comments
  1. Even though I second most of your thoughts, this is not necessarily applicable.

    “It’s status qualification for 2021 that would be impacted by the coronavirus situation, and we’re only just over two months into the year”

    There are lots of FFP which have rolling years or unusual cut-off dates for most members due to past changes in the programme. I’m curious to see what they will do.

    Eg. my qualification periods of AF/KL FB ends at the end of August, while for Turkish it is the end of September for me. I expect many more FF to have similar years.

  2. China Airlines just sent me an email reducing qualification for their program. Perhaps this will get the ball rolling…

  3. Rumour has it that SAS will offer some kind of buy status points for less money to keep status

  4. I think your statement about innovation is meant well, but the big 3 have been Monkey See Monkey Do for some years now. They simply don’t think like you do, which is how they’ve lost their way. Maybe I’m wrong though, and there’s somebody sitting at a desk in the basement who actually remembers what loyalty programs are supposed to be about.

  5. The impact for most US programs is only just starting to be felt. A lot of companies this week went from limiting China travel to all travel including domestic. Even if that doesn’t last long who knows what the return to normal will look like as folks, especially those with families worry about the lingering threat. I also don’t think the average business traveler is worried about the virus per se but more about getting stuck somewhere in a quarantine.

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do something, but I agree it’s far too early for them to announce anything. I would expect to hear about it around August or September, but nothing l concrete before that. Announcing any reduction of qualifications would only further hurt future bookings, which is the last thing they want now.

  7. Delta already offers the Reclaim My Status program. They’ll probably just add reduced travel due to coronavirus as a qualifying life event. I doubt they’ll offer anything different besides that. Not sure about AA or UA though.

  8. I hope not!

    Some of us earn status the hard way with our own money and would welcome the reduction of elites with every broom salesman not qualifying this year!

  9. Elite status doesnt matter if they go out of business.

    Lufthansa group today announced a 50% cut in capacity. Airlines dont have the cash reserves on hand to make it out if this extends into summer, which it likely will.

  10. Corona virus isn’t even news in America. President Trump has it under control. Main stream media is causing panic and hoping for an outbreak. Any excuse to attack the President.

  11. D3King,

    I’m pretty sure you’re trolling, but I’m not sure we have it “under control”. The virus is still spreading, so until the rates of infection go down, we’re going to be in for quite a ride.

  12. President Trump and his team will see it through. Airlines and everyone else will settle down soon enough. MAGA

  13. After 9/11, American Airlines extended the appropriate membership level during the next year, for the next year 12 months program…. though that was in the day when AA AADvantage was an awesome program…

  14. I like the idea of soft landings. Keep qualification criteria the same, but if you don’t meet it you drop only one status level next year.

  15. Qantas has often run double status credits promotions for bookings during a given time frame (usually around five days) for future travel. I am sure double MQMs, elite counting miles etc. would spur some demand if the US carriers did it.

  16. Delta proactively contacted me last week and extended my 360 status thru January of 2022. Granted most of my travel is too Italy, NYC and Hong Kong as well as South Florida from Seattle. First / Business class tickets. I find it a nice touch. Especially bc my travel has suffered greatly and most of Seattle is a ghost town. Delta does care about their members. High value or not. I hope it’s not because I live in Kirkland. I appreciate Delta Airlines immensely.

  17. I got 120 tier points from CX. Currently I’m diamond member and need 1200 points to be re qualified. I’m sure they will give us status if we achieve half of it.

  18. I’m expecting a system similar to what you get with a status match. So, in the summer/early fall they will announce a three month challenge to get people back flying and to achieve the relative tiers with said challenge.

  19. D3KingAmerican.
    Your post about Trump having this virus tragedy “under control” is the most pathetic thing I have read in my lifetime. Even if you were just being sarcastic ( which I don’t think you were) it is still pathetic and poor taste. Only one piece of advice to give you….. go away.

  20. I’ve been a Diamond and 360 member with Delta for the last 4 years. I have already qualified for Gold for 2021 but that is only because of MQMs that were rolled over from last year. This year so far I don’t have enough MQMs to make Silver. My work travel has been almost zero and no international travel is allowed. I don’t expect that to change unless a solution for this virus is found. Also, I have elected to get upgrade certificates for 2020 and I think those will go to waste as I won’t be flying at all unless the virus is gone. I definitely hope Delta allows me to keep my Diamond status dor 2021. As for hotels, I am toasted. No hotel stays at all. The travel business is going down to the drain. Now, we will see who will fight for my loyalty. That is the time airlines and hotels will have to beg for customers.

  21. The US has just seen the tip of the iceberg. There are likely thousands of cases that will be diagnosed once test kits are available. An increasing number of companies are forbidding business travel. The airlines know that low prices won’t attract more customers, so they will continue to cut flights rather than prices. The airlines would be wise to extend elite status for a year as it is likely to get worse for a few more months. Hopefully the virus will ease with warmer weather, but we won’t know until then. But the cruise operators are the ones that will suffer the most long-term damage and may have to rethink their business model. Buffets are going to be a lot less popular going forward.

  22. I have some travel coming up and I asked Hyatt for a status match/challenge and it was flat no. Guess they don’t need the nights? Figured they’d be giving out status like candy bc they need people.

  23. @Stuart P

    I’m moderate I would have considered voting for Bloomberg. Don’t worry about Coronavirus.

    Congress has $8.3 billion on hand to deal with any situation that should arise. Sorry to tell you there won’t be widespread cases like there were in China.

    President Trump even cares about your precious miles. He had a round table discussion with the airline CEOs at the White House earlier this week. It was funny when Donald said “Doug is there anything you’d like to add ? Doug he’s the head of American “ you should check it out on foxnews YouTube.

  24. On one hand it may be too early to take major decisions; on the other hand, lingering implies carelessness and incompetence, which means some action must be made within March still!
    Allowing people to ‘buy’ their status is never fair in any way to others who struggled to get there by flying around and meeting the conditions!
    And if people shall be flying less due to this ignorant histeria anyway, offers of status matches seem inconsistent!!
    – offers of bonus miles for the purchase of regular tickets;
    – guaranteed waiver of 10% in miles to reach/maintain an airline status this year towards next;
    – guaranteed waiver of 20% in points/nights to reach/maintain a hotel status this year towards next;
    – mouth-opening offers to purchase miles/points with short deadlines, to force people to use them and do fly;
    – prompt renewal of statuses according to the tier, 6 months for the basic until gold-equivalent and one year for the highest tier, and with a challenge: passenger has to fly 50% of the required amount;
    – courtesy upgrades to high-tiered members, also in hotel chains, with a lot of extra pampering.
    Any other suggestions we could come up with?
    And no, President Trump does not have it under control, nobody does, simply because nobody knows the extension of the problem nor of its major consequences – above all with the perverse health system in the US. That is the most important challenge of his mandate and cannot be handled over Twitter but with intelligence, what he clearly fails to have!

  25. Emirates is offering its existing status card holders (Silver, Gold and Platinum) to complete only 80% of the tier requirements to retain the tier. If you are a gold member, now just 40 flight segments are enough for you to retain your gold membership rather than the usual 50 flight segments. Also, 20% bonus tier miles are offered to Silver, Gold and Platinum members.

  26. Personally, I think an extension by 6 months would be the best fairest solution. It does not lower the threshold but allows for the postponement of planned trips.

    However, from earlier experience, I think they are more likely to lower the thresholds for elite qualification, probably, because this easier the implement in their IT. This is less fair because also those with less activity and no postponed trips benefit.

  27. @Santastico

    I’m in a similar situation as you and have one question.

    How did you rollover Gold with no MQD. You meet the card 25k waiver already?
    For someone who can reach DL360 you likely don’t need the MQD CC waiver. I’m just wondering if it’s worth it to spend 25k on the card to keep status when there is no travel in the horizon and next year will be a year without Diamond.

  28. @Eskimo: Sorry, let me clarify. I rolled over enough miles to reach Gold (almost Platinum) and I usually meet MQD requirements pretty fast with international business class flights. However, my plan this year is to meet by adding $25k to my Delta Reserve card. I would say that in a year like this the MQD is an easy requirement using the card but the MQM will be difficult if I don’t fly at all. Thus, my plan for this year is to get Platinum for 2021 by adding couple domestic flights so with my roll over MQM I can get to 75k MQM plus $25k on Delta credit card. Better to have Platinum than nothing. The biggest waste will be I have lots of upgrade certificates for international flights that I usually use for family vacation but this year I won’t use them at all. We already cancelled our summer vacation plans to go to Europe.

  29. @Ben,
    As you stated, it is premature to do anything only two months into the year.

    “I’d absolutely expect airlines to go great lengths to try and court customers in the coming months and years.”

    YEARS? Really?

  30. Our firm’s business travel went from “most of the time travel” to “do everything you can via conference calls”

  31. I called SQ to let them know that I’d canceled my flight to Asia and asked them for an extension on my star alliance gold requalification deadline. They gave me a 3-month extension.

  32. I think you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

    The question you should be asking is how should I preserve my miles should my carrier go into bankruptcy. Airlines are inherently bad credits to the banking industry (15 year leases supported by 45 day bookings). You only have to see Norwegian’s share price in recent days (45% down this week alone) and you’ll realise what a fragile existence they have. This fragilty will extend the whole industry unless government’s step in (I’m looking at you Air France).

    The redemption value of air miles are pennies/cents – nothing to queue for in a bankruptcy. When Swissair looked like they were going to go into bankruptcy I ordered 20 boxes of chocolates knowing their award flights would be worthless.

    At least with today’s alliances, there’s some room for manoever by transfering them to alliance members. If this isn’t possible, use as many as you can with award partners (hotels, car rental, etc)

  33. @Lucky,
    Just got an email from Luc Bondar. No changes to 2021 qualification yet, but they’re adding 30 days for anyone working on 2020 Mileage Plus status match.

  34. For anyone else who shares the viewpoint of D3KingAmerican:

    (1) It will only be this COMING week that the testing centers in the USA are able to test for COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus). There have been articles in the papers talking about the Trump Administration has fumbled this situation for the last SIX weeks. (See an article in today’s Washington Post about this.)

    (2) What does this mean? It means that for the last SIX weeks — people have been walking around infecting other people and an increasing number of people each day are ill BUT doctors have no way to test for what their patients have other than ruling out flu. That means that the number of cases in the USA will skyrocket over the next month as testing catches up with those people who are sick. New York State today is the latest to declare a State of Emergency following California and Washington states among others.

    (3) Remember: There is a minimum 14 day incubation period. During those 14 days, if you were infected, you are asymptomatic (without symptoms) and unknowingly spreading it to others.

    There’s NO WAY that anyone can say that the Trump Administration has this under control NOR that many millions of people (320 million people in the USA approximately) will eventually be diagnosed with this. You want an example? Miami airport was NOT one of the international airports where they were running checks for arriving international passengers and Miami has plenty of flights from Europe every day. Estimates today range from 20-60% of the adult population will eventually have this. I hasten to add that this isn’t a death sentence — except potentially for people with underlying medical conditions and people over the age of 60-80+ depending on how good your immune system is.

    (4) Remember the 20 second rule while washing your hands with soap throughout the coming months.

    I consider international travellers to be a well-read group — so hopefully nothing I have said here is surprising — but I am being emphatic because D3KingAmerican is grossly understating the seriousness of the situation by being so dismissive. I have followed global health matters for the last 18 years — and although I am clearly not an expert — I know people who are and I trust them completely.

  35. For me the travel situation is the same, no cuts or whatsoever. I an a fact I am more busy thanks to corona. I simply stopped flying UA after their cuts made for the new Programme. Too little they have to offer in order to make me spend 18/24k USD. I am sure corona is not the only reason why people may loose status at united.

  36. I’m taking a wild guess on this, I would recommend calling. I’m no airline expert by any means, but I doubt the will proactively. Unless the issues get much worse ( granted it is not good now at all ). I would just call and reach out to see if any of them wanna help and explain why. I did mention in a previous post that Delta reached out to me to extend 360 a year. Nothing can hurt by calling and asking. My flight from ATL to SeaTac last week was begging for seats to be filled up. So empty in comparison to well US airlines have become at capacity controls and filling ALL seats.

  37. @gio i am in danger of losing my SQ PPS. Will call them to see if I can extend too.Good to know! Still waiting for Hyatt status to be extended (have received an email stating it will).

  38. We’re already seeing the leading indicators of economic impact: delayed shipments from China, furloughs at US docks, transportation sector double whammy (drop in goods shipment and people not traveling), decline in manufacturing output. Knock-on effects will follow, not if, but when. Add in continued uncertainty and businesses will continue to move to survival mode. Even if COVID-19 flames out (no indication that it is doing so, it continues to spread unchecked) it is likely a recession is coming in the second half of the year. This is a relatively inflated economy. It won’t take much for it to contract.

  39. Cull the herd… and as a concession, extend the qualification period by the number of months they extend their change waivers.

  40. @gio @MDA

    My SQ KF Gold expires next month, & although I have no problems renewing it, I sent an email to SQ KF & asked for an extension (until the end of the year) 🙂

    Their reply was –

    Dear Mr XX:

    Thank you for your email to Singapore Airlines.

    We appreciate the value you place on the Elite Gold membership. While we understand your concern, we seek your understanding that it is premature for us to review your account at this point of time as your current membership tier only expires on 30 April 2020.

    May we suggest that you complete as many eligible flights as possible, within your membership re-qualification period to meet the criterion required to renew your Elite Gold status. You may wish to contact us nearer to the end of your current membership year for a review should there still be a shortfall of Elite miles.

    So I’ll just wait till next month to email them again – not sure why it’s “premature” when it’s just 6 weeks away.

    As for QR PC – there’s been no news yet of any extensions or such.
    I did email their customer service but the reply came back negative.
    But then again, their call centers @ DOH are not empowered to do nuts so it’s not surprising.
    We’ll just have to wait for the almighty AAB to decide if he wants to grant us any help at all.
    Due to all the airport lounge closures & flight cancellations, I didn’t get to really maximize my Platinum status the past couple of months, so it would be nice to get to keep it for a bit longer …

  41. @Lucky Virgin Atlantic have extended status and vouchers by 6 months for Silver and Gold Tier

    “We recognise that not everyone is able to book or travel right now. That’s why we’re extending the status of all Gold and Silver members by 6 months* so you’ll have more time to build up your Tier Points and to retain your status. Please note you won’t receive a new membership card, so please download or print your digital membership card from the Virgin Atlantic website or app.

    We’re also extending the validity of any current companion, upgrade and Clubhouse vouchers by 6 months, so you don’t have to worry about them running out.

    There’s no need to do anything – these changes will be applied to your account automatically by 20th March 2020 and your existing vouchers will be accepted by our teams.”

  42. LATAM, Azul and GOL in Brazil, Turkish Airlines and the Greek Aegean have announced extension of the statuses for members, each with specific restrictions, but at least they cared to do something!

  43. @D3KingAmerican

    Can you please provide some more of your expert opinions on the corona virus situation? I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

  44. Why is British Airways being so awful towards it’s members? Other airlines, including One World member airlines, have made generous offers to their frequent fliers. I am disappointed with how BA is not taking care of their Executive Club members. My future travels will be on another airline, whenever that will be. BA obviously does not appreciate my business.

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