While elite status seems inconsequential during the coronavirus crisis, some programs came out on top while others lagged behind. This is the loyalty program elite status winners and losers.
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Early Movers, Winners, and Losers
Even though I think IHG hates its elites, the chain came out before any other major program and announced reduced criteria. The reduction was 25% off requirements for the year, presumably because Intercontinental Hotels Group thought that coronavirus travel restrictions would be limited. Alaska Airlines did the same, incenting customers to earn double if they would fly when no one else would (March 2020.)
Delta, Hilton, and Hyatt all extended status through the end of this year and all of next year. That was classy on all of their parts (Alaska has since done the same) but being a first-mover has consequences too. Extending status for a year became the baseline, but moving first also reflected a lack of full knowledge of the competitive landscape, duration of the event and damage it would (and will) cause.
Certainly, IHG should be commended for offering a stopgap quickly, but in so doing, the chain now has the least competitive offering. Delta, Hyatt, and Hilton also appear to be doing the average acceptable accommodation, whereas Alaska Airlines both offered benefits for those that needed to fly and, later, protected those that couldn’t.
Innovation is Key
In a world where almost everyone (I’m looking at you, IHG) has extended status through the end of next year without adding any special features, two airlines made things more interesting.
United not only extended status through the end of next year (and Plus Points upgrade expiry dates) but they also added a new twist for re-qualifying. Though United just ramped up Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs, essentially Premier Qualifying Dollars) they now have a reason to backtrack by cutting this requirement for next year by 50%. That’s something that new United will take to heart and may increase their status level by a tier.
The qualification reduction makes United the lowest threshold to achieve from any US flag carrier.
Air Canada also thought cleverly about its approach. The carrier is granting status extensions but adding the ability to gift status to someone else based on 2020 flying. That includes flights before the coronavirus restrictions and after. Gifting status will certainly introduce new flyers to Air Canada elite privileges and offer a risk-free way to try the product for frequent flyers on other carriers.
Air Canada gives a significant reason to fly the rest of this year and rewards those who were active early in 2020.
Annoying the Most Frequent Travelers
American Airlines and Southwest have failed to announce what amendments they will make for status qualification in 2020 or beyond. British Airways has lowered requirements but not extended status. Some frequent flyers have expressed frustration with uncertainty. Many remain customers even as passengers can’t fly, airlines continue to sell 100 million frequent flyer miles every day.
No doubt, they will update expiration dates soon – airlines that don’t would lose customers without a doubt. There is a first-mover disadvantage that IHG fell victim to, though they can always change their approach and simply grant an extension for all of this year.
Airlines that have not yet committed to a frequent flyer amendment plan to this point have the rare “last-mover advantage.” American Airlines, for example, has an opportunity to put themselves at parity with United and ahead of Delta. IHG will face no penalty for coming with a plan early, as long as they ultimately grant a waiver for the year, however, it will be difficult for Delta to amend their approach to match either Air Canada or United’s 2020/2021 plan.
What do you think? Were United and Air Canada winners? Does that make carriers that haven’t yet announced, losers? What about those that didn’t make innovative enough plans but revise?