Delta dropped some major policy extensions while I was in Iceland last week:
- Elite status will be extended, once again, through 1/31/23.
- Upgrade certificates, Delta AMEX flight credits, companion certificates, and Sky Club guest passes will be extended, once again, through 1/31/23.
- All MQMs earned in 2020 and 2021 will roll over to 2022.
- Award tickets will continue to earn MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs through 12/31/22.
- Basic economy tickets for travel through 12/31/21, can be changed for free.
- Flights booked in 2021 are valid for travel through 12/31/22.
Delta’s hold times during the pandemic have been legendary and they’re promising to work on that.
Delta is also promising to give upgrade priority to members who requalified for status in 2021 ahead of other members in their tier.
Elite loyalty programs have had a tough conundrum this year. There are many elite business travelers who have not flown for their company since before the pandemic.
Last year the decision to extend elite status expiring in January 2021 to January 2022 was an easy one. Most people weren’t flying last year anyway and airlines extended status early in the year.
This year has been much trickier. On the one hand, airlines don’t want to give everyone a free pass, as that would discourage people from trying to renew their elite status. On the other hand, airlines don’t want to turn loyal business passengers into free agents when they are not flying for work.
Delta’s solution to avoid angering elite members who already requalified for elite status in 2021 is a creative one. Upgrades are a big reason why people try to earn elite status, so upgrade priority is a big deal.
So where are American and United?
They have already extended status for their best customers with unpublished elite status. United kicked off status extensions by extending Global Services status through 1/31/23. American did the same for Concierge Key elites and Delta extended it for 360 elites.
As for published elite tiers, those airlines already have lowered the requirements to earn elite status several times. If not for Delta’s moves, they probably would feel comfortable with what they have already done.
American has made it particularly easy to requalify for status, requiring just $2,000 in AA flights from 9/1-12/31 or $15,000 of any spending on American credit cards from 7/15-11/15.
But American and United may feel there is little benefit to announcing a status extension now. Their preference will always be to let people keep flying to earn status and see what to do afterward based on how many elites requalified. Should they decide to extend status, they can just copy Delta’s upgrade priority offer or offer another giveback to placate elites who requalified this year.
I think that United in particular will have to do more, but the odds are good that both American and United are going to have to extend elite status for everyone. The cost not to do so is simply higher than the cost of extending status and that’s even more true now that Delta is extending status for everyone. However as there’s little benefit to announcing that early, we’ll have to wait and see when and if they will decide to do so.
Hotels are likely going to be in the same boat, and airlines extending status will create pressure for them to extend status and certificates yet again, despite making it easier to earn status this year.
While airlines and hotels are busy with leisure travel now, that typically switches to business travel in September. With the COVID delta variant spreading across the globe, that business travel is highly unlikely to return this year, giving even more reason for travel companies to hold onto their pre-pandemic elite members and not have them become free agents and start looking for status matches.
What do you think American, United, and hotel chains will do?