Reaching a higher level of aviation loyalty program has traditionally required flying several times each month – but currently there are hardly anyone flying anywhere. Similar hotel programs, and for example, to achieve the highest Diamond level at Hilton usually requires 30 separate stays for a total of 60 nights or more each year – which averages more than one night every week.
With the cancellation of conventions around the world, and business trips and other holidays closed, the accumulation of such figures by 2020 seems unlikely even in the best case scenario to return to normal in May. Every time a pandemic subsides, a return to previous behavior tends to be a slow path.
But everyone hopes that 2021 will be business and pleasure as usual, and because I have long discussed travel, travel tips, and flights, I get a few questions from travelers who travel a lot about their status, because they won’t be able to reach the benchmarks. their usual measure this year, which in turn is what determines how they travel next year. The short answer is that businesses related to travel with loyalty programs have largely taken the wait and see approach, but a lot of meaningful news is now starting to come out.
Yesterday I heard from United, one of the two operators I have status with, who sent me an email announcing that they are extending their current status levels for a full year – among others. The highlight of this notification is the revelation that, “At a minimum, you will enjoy the same published status next year that you have today, up to Premier 1K.” Status extended until the end of January 2022.
In addition, for those who have traveled a lot in the first quarter, or predicted an early return to a post-pandemic trip, United made it a lot easier to really improve your status for 2021 by reducing Premier Qualification Points (PQP) and flight requirements for all levels up to 50%.
There is even better news for United credit card holders: in the new promotion from 1 May to 31 December 2020, “We double (for United Explorer cards) or quadruple (for United Club cards) the maximum number of PQPs that Members can have Cards get by using their cards during 2020 to help achieve a higher level of status than you have. “
There are some more important details, the most important of which is that the airline extends all annual membership and subscription benefits for six months, including Lounge access, economy plus and registered baggage subscriptions and more. Other than that. United extended the period for higher level members to buy at the end of the year, extended the date of eligibility for electronic travel certificates, eliminated some redeposit fees, and interestingly, United promised to release details about how they would also make it easier to get various status levels on in 2021 to 2022. A full description of United’s changes can be found here.
One of the most useful travel experts I followed was Chris McGinnis’ Travel Skills column for SF Gate, the digital brother platform of the San Francisco Chronicle. McGinnis quickly reported that Delta announced a similar program with United on the same day (yesterday). You can read more here at Travel Skills, and find complete Delta program info here, but basically the airline is extending whatever status the customer currently has for 12 months, rolling over Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM), extending Lounge membership for six months and offering benefits to Sky Express American Card holders based on their card level.
McGinnis told me that besides United and Delta, only a handful of foreign airlines, including Qantas and Qatar, announced changes to similar customer-friendly programs.
For the credit, Hilton Honors was the first big travel loyalty program that I heard about the current economic environment. Two weeks ago they defeated a competitor for the customer service blow by telling me that “We consider it our privilege to make you a Hilton Honors member and we want to show our appreciation by expanding your benefits.” Highlights include the extension of 2019 status for all Diamond, Gold or Silver members whose 2019 status is scheduled to be demoted on March 31, 2020 which will now automatically receive another year, until March 31, 2021. Those with 2020 eligible status will be extended until March 31, 2022 – that is a big problem, allowing all Diamond, Gold, or Silver members currently enjoying their benefits for 24 months without re-qualification.
In addition, Hilton has temporarily suspended all Points scheduled to end between now and 31 December 2020. Like United, they also recognize affinity credit card holders and have extended the expiration date of the Weekend Night Prize which has not expired on March 11, 2020, and all new ones are issued until August 30, 2020, until the end of next summer (August 31, 2021).
Hilton is the first and so far seems to have the most generous hotel loyalty program update, but there are many others. Hyatt was first expanded Hyatt World status for members on Pacific Rim since February and has since done so for everyone: “Whatever your status is as of March 31, 2020 – be it Inventor, Explorer or Globalist – it will be automatically updated to reflect February 28, 2022 due date.” McGinnis said that to me Best Western also moves proactively, extending its global status for members for a full year. This includes 18 brands and around 4,700 hotels in more than 100 countries and regions worldwide.
Two important programs frequented by travelers who are waiting to hear more are Marriott’s Bonvoy and American Airlines’ AAdvantage, but I hope more announcements and updates will come soon.
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