Coronavirus is impacting everyone's travel plans. One of the top questions frequent fliers have for travel industry executives is: "What's going to happen to my elite status?"
There are clearly far more important things to worry about at the moment but with frequent fliers among the many people stuck at home for weeks, this is clearly something they're pondering. Just check the message boards and/or comment sections of aviation blogs.
Obviously, flight cancellations, curtailed service, stay-at-home orders, and closed borders are making it very difficult for travelers to get from point A to B, let alone maintain their elite status for 2021.
In previous high-profile travel disruptions like 9/11 or the 2003 SARS outbreak, airline loyalty programs automatically extended elite status or relaxed minimum qualifications.
However, these are unprecedented times. Never have airlines cut flights so dramatically and it feels like travel is about to come to a screeching halt, which in fact, it has in some places.
What Can Airlines Do for Elite Status?The first coronavirus-related travel restrictions began impacting air travel at the end of January. Up until a few days ago, U.S. airlines were taking an understandably "wait and see" approach in regards to how frequent fliers can earn elite status in 2020/21.
As flight curtailments continue through the spring travel season airlines may take one of these approaches:
• Extend current loyalty status for up to 12 months
• Relax the annual minimum qualifications
• Offer status points at a discount to keep your ongoing loyalty
The world was watching what the Asia-Pacific airlines such as Cathay did, as these were the first to feel the effects of coronavirus.
Delta Extends Medallion Status BenefitsOn April 5, Delta Air Lines became the first major domestic airline to make a move.
Medallion members will have their Medallion Status for 2020 extended into 2021. All Medallion Qualification Miles from 2020 will also roll into 2021 to enable qualification for Medallion status in 2022.
Individual and Executive Delta Sky Club memberships expiring on or after March 1, 2020, automatically extend another six months. Also, Delta SkyMiles Credit Card members get a six-month extension on select benefits like flight credits and a Companion Certificate.
United Extends MileagePlusLess than 24 hours after Delta, United Airlines announced it is extending MileagePlus Premier status through January 2022.
It says all MileagePlus Premier members will retain the status they earned for 2020, through January 2022.
"In addition, for the 2021 status year, United is reducing thresholds for Premier qualification by 50 percent for each status level, to make reaching an even higher status tier easier," it said.
Now the big question is whether or not American Airlines follow Delta and United's move?
Flight Discounts AheadOne hidden benefit of the travel lull is finding discounted flights this summer with loosened ticket restrictions.
Airlines across the globe have been reducing ticket prices on select routes in all classes and many are waiving change fees in case the current situation doesn't improve. Be sure to read the fine print and if any airline cancels your flight to, from or within the United States, you're entitled to a full refund not a travel voucher.
What About Hotel Elite Status?In addition to the airlines extending frequent flier elite status, hotel loyalty programs are extending elite status benefits too.
Similarly, 2020 status would be pushed until March 31, 2022.
The hotel chain said it would also pause the expiration of all loyalty points scheduled to expire throughout the rest of 2020.
Anyone with Discoverist, Explorist, or Globalist elite status on March 31, 2020 will now have nearly two years of the same status level.
Hyatt is also extending the expiration for all unused free night awards, suite upgrades and club lounge access awards from Dec. 31, 2020, to the end of 2021.