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March 25th Update: Updated to reflect new extensions, including a fantastic status extension from Hilton which sets the bar on loyalty during a crisis…

Two weeks ago, you could somewhat say that someone electing not to travel was a choice. Few governments were intervening, and other than a handful of destinations, most of the world was business as usual. Governments have changed that, with individual travel restrictions.

Basically, there’s just no “easy” way for people to get around right now, so the whole “should airlines or hotels extend my elite status” question is now a very, very different proposition – and any brand not offering some sort of relief is, in my opinion – crazy at this point.

business-class-amenity-kit-champagneMark Ross-Smith, a leading thinker in travel loyalty and former head of a major airline loyalty program offered a very thought provoking piece a couple weeks ago now, illustrating the pros and cons of a program offering such relief to customers.

In short: if you just give someone a status extension, it gives them a chance to go try other airlines or hotels. Even if you planned on giving a status extension at some point, it’s better to wait, so that you see if customers make any attempt on their own to meet you in the middle.

It made perfect sense then, but I’d consider the shift over the last two weeks drastic.

While it’s understandable that airlines and hotels have bigger issues at hand, and real time responses are rare these days, I think it’s insane for a travel brand to have not offered any guidance, or at least incentive at this point on loyalty. After all, airlines desperately need new revenue, so even for selfish reasons, a booking incentive would go far.

Outside of Asia, where many programs offered extensions to members based in the region, Alaska was the first airline to get in the game. The airline offers a 50% bonus on elite status qualification miles, as an attempt to help travelers meet their goals while driving new bookings. It’s not a straight up extension, but it’s nice.

Over the past weekend, Virgin Atlantic dipped its toes in in a major way, and I’d argue it’s the best response yet. The airline operates on an annual qualification system, so everyone with current elite status gets a 6 month extension. Many people who would’ve lost it in January 2021 will now have status through June 2021.

That’s generous, but as noted in the Travel Data Daily piece, a bit risky. To balance, the airline also simultaneously announced an incentive for loyalty, offering 5,000 bonus miles on all new bookings, and 100 bonus elite status qualifying “tier points” for flight and hotel bookings. I’m only one data point, but I did make a booking over the weekend in response.

Here’s what other brands have done…

IHG, Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton all announced status extensions for members in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

IHG – Intercontinental Hotel Group has adjusted criterion for earning elite status in 2020, which is a clever approach. They still want you to aim for loyalty, they’re not just giving it to you, but they’re being reasonable about how much you will actually be able to accomplish, being that nearly half the year will be over before things get better.

Hilton – Hilton just set the bar. The hotel group is extending all statuses which were due to expire in March 2020 through to March 2021, and those who have already re-qualified for 2020 will have theirs extended through 2022. Fantastic stuff.

Hyatt – at this time, Hyatt is pausing plans to launch its new award charts, which would’ve seen the introduction of peak and off peak pricing. The new changes won’t take effect until 2021, in response to current trends. Members in Asia have already been granted status extensions, but so far nothing for guests elsewhere.

Accor – status extensions for all – if you live in China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. For everyone else, pound the sand for now.

Qantas – Qantas takes the cake now for friendliest policy, offering free status extension through 2021 for all elite members.

TAP Portugal – TAP is extending all current Gold and Silver members status by 12 months. Great move, and 12 months is generous.

Virgin Australia – Virgin Australia is giving members an extra year, and then credit for tier points required to reach status through the next. Each tier receives a different tier points allowance, with 210 for Platinum, 105 for Gold and 70 for Silver. Read more here.

Air France/KLM – Air France and KLM have lowered status requirements by 25%, for any Silver, Gold or Platinum members whose status earning period would’ve ended in March, April or May. For now, no other exemptions for earning. The airline has also extended all mileage expiry so no miles will expire in 2020.

Air New Zealand – Air New Zealand is extending all AirPoints tier memberships by one year. This is a solid move in line with other Pacific based airlines.

Finnair – Finnair has extended the period for elite status qualification and status validity for 6 months, for all members. This is a nice clean olive branch to keep customers engaged.

Radisson – Radisson is extending points expiry by 6 months and granting status extensions to all until February 2022. Good on you, Radisson!

Qatar Airways – Qatar is offering 3 months of status extension for most tiers, and other options depending on your status. You must go to Qmiles.com and enter your details to check your offers.

Best Western – it may not be the sexiest of loyalty programs but Best Western has automatically extended all member statuses globally through 2022. It’s nice to see a brand show some love.

Cathay Pacific – Cathay is taking a clever, unique approach by effectively pretending that you are maintaining your typical level of travel, based on your status tier, by granting each member tier points in their elite program to keep them on track monthly. For now, the tier points boosts will end in April, which means most members will still need to fly considerably to maintain their level, but it helps.

British Airways, American Airlines, United, Delta, Air France, KLM, Emirates – nothing, yet.

Forced Behavior

Once word gets out that one portion of the population gets free ice cream, it’s only natural for those without the announcement of free ice cream to get frustrated, and airlines and hotels which haven’t taken action I think really run a greater risk of alienating members by not communicating… now.

I’ve been getting countless emails asking if a certain airline’s 2 for 1 vouchers issued by American Express will be extended, and many more stating that they’re now feeling unloved, seeing that other travel brands have already announced clear incentives or measures to preserve long term loyalty.

We’re in unprecedented times, so a 6 month status or benefit extension hardly seems ridiculous, and if everyone agrees to grant them, it doesn’t change the status quo and allow people to go be free agents for the fun of it. It just keeps the playing field exactly as it was before.

What do you think of your loyalty programs response so far?

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
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