Airlines extended status when no one was flying. They’ve been mum as routes have re-opened but status is likely to be extended just not now.
Elite Status Extensions in 2021
Nearly every airline in the world extended status from 2019 through the end of 2021 as COVID-19 took hold in March 2020. By the end of February 2021, it had become clear that efforts to reduce requirements so that elite members of loyalty programs could earn status or even earn a higher tier are perhaps waning.
There’s been no word yet as to whether a change in elite qualifying miles and required revenue have yet had a material response from frequent flyers, but indications in limited business travel would suggest that’s not been successful.
Bookings Have Returned
American Airlines has reported that bookings have returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels. The Texas-based carrier has claimed a “V-shaped” recovery. Spirit, Allegiant had excellent quarters recently and United and American are pulling parked planes back into service. This is all great news for an industry beset by a year of lockdown.
However, there are some asterisks.
Cruise ships are still not ready to depart US ports, Disney World remains at 35% of original capacity, Disneyland in California is only opening to 15% of capacity, only to Californians, and there’s no screaming on roller coasters. While American Airlines might be back to 80% of capacity domestically, it’s a reduced schedule on mostly smaller jets. Europe is experiencing additional waves, Italy is completely shut down again, and the continent struggles with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. International travel is not yet back by any stretch of the imagination.
One More Year
I am heavily in favor of optimism for the travel industry. It’s not just because I love it and I write about it, it’s also because it was villanized prior to studies proving definitively that air travel was a risk. It turned out that was false but by the time those studies had published, the damage had already been done.
In the US, infections are down dramatically, vaccinations are up, and tens of millions hold antibodies that make them immune. Communities are reopening but not to full levels.
Delta has already extended the expiration date of some vouchers/tickets guests were not able to use yet. They also have extended upgrade certificates. Southwest Airlines had originally extended the validity of its Companion Pass program through June 30, 2021. It was now pushed that extension a full 12 months expiring December 31, 2021.
There’s an expected scramble that travel providers are prepared to deal with when the floodgates truly open. They know that they will have to status match as Alaska Airlines has openly done, and extend elite status to hold on to those customers who still may not be able to return to the skies.
However, unlike in the previous year where waivers were given out early to rest the concerns of travelers, this year the travel providers are going to let us sweat it until the very end of the year. Why? Because they want as much of our travel spend as possible. If there’s no risk of losing status in the Delta Skymiles program, for example, otherwise loyal customers might try a new carrier with cheaper prices and the carrier risks losing them forever.
These waivers will also extend to travel-linked banking products. Already, Chase has extended its $100 annual fee credit for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders. Many American Express credit cards offer either points or a statement credit for those who express difficulty in utilizing their benefits.
The travel industry is on the mend as is much of the world and global economy. As much as travel vendors would like to will their way back to profitability, it seems unlikely that enough frequent flyers will resume previous activity levels any time before the end of the year. Airlines likely also learned their lesson last year that being first to grant another year may not benefit the bottom line, even if they ultimately do it anyway.
What do you think? Will elite status extensions for airlines and hotels return this year? Do you believe we will see them early in the year like in 2020, later in the year, or not at all?