a man sitting in an airplane

Update: Two days after this article, British Airways finally caved with 12 month status extensions for all, for members with renewal dates from July 2020- June 21st. May and June will also be looked after, once membership has lapsed. Read up on the news directly from BA here.

This is pure speculation, and nothing but. But nonetheless, like many, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how or why British Airways wouldn’t see it logical to extend Executive Club Bronze, Silver or Gold status.

After debates with thought leaders in loyalty and great minds from other loyalty programs, I’ve settled on what I think is the best working theory, which will either pay off massively, or result in the largest defection in recent loyalty program history for BA. The way the airline is going at the moment, I’d say setting the line at 50/50 seems fair.

a row of seats on an airplaneMy Theory For British Airways Non Action On Elite Status

British Airways effectively threw loyalty members under the bus, bucking the trend of every other major airline around the (entire) globe, by not automatically extending elite status for all. The only offering was to reduce the number of tier points – the qualifying factor needed for achieving elite status – by a small percentage, for those with renewals on select dates. For many who travel in bursts, the move left them short, and going down a rung.

As a counterpoint, virtually all other airlines automatically extended tier with no ask, and some got creative in giving new reasons to fly in the near and mid term, including any future flying earning status for a guest, partner, friend whatever. Most flyers in other loyalty programs now automatically have their status until the beginning of 2022.

My working theory is that British Airways loyalty team is gambling that the key flyers it actually wants in the Executive Club elite ranks, rather than those who squeak by on unprofitable tier point runs and other gaming behavior will be so hellbent on requalifying, that BA will own their “wallet share” when travel rebounds.

Granting elite status extension right now theoretically runs the risk of giving someone a free pass to try other airlines, since their Executive Club status is secured for the immediate future.

Rumors swirled for years of British Airways desire to add revenue requirements in addition to tier points to weed out the loyalty ranks. Think: you need to spend x many thousand dollars, in addition to earning elite status tier points to qualify. They’ve wanted to weed out those who earn status in cost effective ways for a long time, and the pandemic presents a way to naturally weed members out.

Of course, the risk is that these people who dropped down the tiers in the interim will be so mad that they weren’t looked after during a global pandemic, giving them one less thing to worry about, that they’ll defect, get their elite status matched elsewhere and never fly British Airways again. Presently, quite a few “match” options exist, and in the coming months, it’s highly likely that many more will emerge. In other words, that’s a real risk.

Couple that with the wider treatment of staff, now including pilots, maintenance and cabin crew, and the word “defection” becomes a more realistic threat than ever.

I’ll take myself as an example: I’m currently around 500 tier points from a reset in October. I don’t typically much from mid December through February, but then ramp up quite a lot from March – June, and then again in August and September, typically hitting around 2500 tier points. If my qualification period had fallen between March and June, I’d have missed out, because BA only dropped status requirement to around 1100 tier points, from the standard 1500. 

By not granting me an automatic extension, as the situation currently works out *subject to change*, I’ll need to give British Airways at least 600 more tier points worth of business – aka a couple trips in business class or quite a few in economy – by October – if I want to maintain status. If they’d just given me a blanket extension, I could then just book on other airlines.

Capturing bookings and greater share of someones wallet in the rebound in travel over the coming months is incredibly important, since airlines will need everything they can get to refill coffers. In a way, the gamble makes total sense. In another way, it’s complete nonsense.

Group think can be as dangerous as going solo, but you have to now wonder why British Airways is the ONLY major global airline not to give in and say “hey, your status is safe, it’s crazy out there and we want you to have one less thing to worry about.”

a plane on the runwayWhat makes the matter even more complicated is that the UK Government has advice on foreign travel which advises for essential travel only. Under this guidance, most travel insurance does not cover those looking to go abroad for leisure, and Brits are particularly risk averse in situations like these.

Even with countries opening this summer, many simply won’t go until the FCO advice is changed.

In other words, the situation for UK flyers, currently not welcome in most of Europe, the USA, or Asia is not like that in the USA where people can and will travel right now, at least domestically. The TSA experienced 350,000 travelers in a single day last week, whereas the UK is still crawling. Brits don’t really have a choice to travel right now, so its impossible for anyone to do anything to improve their tier situation to levels currently required.

IF status matches didn’t exist, there’s a fair chance BA would get away with this. No one wants to go from lounge access and other perks to zero, standing in the general queue for at least a year. But status matches do exist, and with increasing partnerships emerging around them, people have viable options.

a seat in a plane
ANA’s new business class.

Taking a Star Alliance match unlocks direct flights from London to Asia with ANA, Singapore Airlines and more. For heading West, it unlocks Air Canada, United, Austrian, Lufthansa, SAS and more. Taking a SkyTeam match, or even one with Virgin Atlantic unlocks direct flights South, East and West, with benefits including lounge access on Air France, KLM, Delta and more.

When airlines like Virgin lacked European partners, it wasn’t a real contest, but with KLM and Air France, there’s decent bite now. And that’s without even touching upon the Middle East three, Qatar, Emirates and Etihad, which almost always have match offers going. For those whose main routes involve Asia, Pacific or Middle East, there’s also real chance for defection from disgruntled travelers.

Travel will rebound in the coming months, and many, after months off the road will have enjoyed enough time to reflect on what makes a difference in their travels, and what just sounds nice.

If British Airways got things right, they’ll have their most valuable flyers back in droves, perhaps with an even greater share of their wallet as they look to rebuild tier points. If they got it wrong, millions, even billions in bookings will go to other loyalty programs, many of which offer more lucrative options for redeeming miles.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. My years tier collection ended yesterday (8th June), normally i would have had 2 business class trips to asia by now, instead my tier level will drop. Considering 75%+ of my travel is business on premium routes (Singapore, New York, LA, Sydney) and all business travel has been cut since February, as well as the FCO guidance, its been impossible to travel.

    I’ve got 450k avios which I’ll use up, but I’ll now be looking at Emirates and others to travel now. I’ll also likely switch my BA Amex platinum to the new Amex platinum as less of point to collect avios now. BA has shown they dont give a stuff about British business travellers.

  2. It’s even worse if you are GGL like me as you still need 3000 TPs, ie no reduction. My year reset 8 April and it’s unlikely I can fly before mid to late July or maybe even later. As a leisure traveler I have no hope of getting that many TPs in 8 months. I’m swapping all future flights to Miles and More even though I’m G4L with BA.

  3. BA deserve en masse defections based solely on their noncompetitive and overpriced products. (IT meltdowns, data breaches, absence of promised catering, ineffective cabin cleaning, badly maintained seats and screens, densified cabins, base model aircraft…
    However, given their treatment of customers wrt. refunds / customer services and now the industrial scale thuggery of sacking the entire workforce, let’s hope for defections on a scale that force them to rethink or shrink / restructure and revert to offering services that are genuinely competitive and decent value.

  4. I have BA Gold and Star Alliance Gold (TK).

    My BA status will drop to Silver on 8 July as I do all of my personal travel in the warmer months. Without Covid I would have requalified for Gold.

    I’ve made BA Silver for a few years simply flying between Manchester and Heathrow for work, and that will continue to be the case.

    But I made BA Gold through personal spend.

    So from July I’ll be putting all my personal spend through TK/Star carriers unless BA maintains my status, which is looking unlikely.

    There are some excellent Star carriers of course. If anything BA’s behaviour here has pushed me to Star.

    If BA doesn’t want/need my personal spend but Star does, which is acceptable to me and BA, isn’t that a win-win?

  5. I’ve got bored waiting. If that’s the plan, it’s not working here. Just lobbed my future travel at United, Swiss and Turkish. Good fares, good schedule. Haven’t flown with any of them for years so will see what they’re like. All of the business would have gone to BA. For the first time in years, going on price/schedule and not loyalty. You get many of the benefits on J and F tickets anyway.

    I’m just one customer (GCH, October renewal, 450TPS and had enough booked to go way over 1500 until the Covid nonsense). Don’t think my purchasing decision will worry anyone, but talk about how to annoy your customers!

  6. I’m BA gold year ending 8 July. As I hadn’t heard anything about them doing 75% (which I’m over) I emailed BA. I got a reply back saying that I needed to email another address and also that they are doing it on a case by case basis. I got a reply back from the second email to say fine they would renew my gold.

  7. Good theory. I still think if you fly out of London as your home city you are fairly “HUB captive” It’s worse than say living in Atlanta and not flying Delta. So BA might get by with this but they do risk losing many Non-UK customers I think.

    1. Yeah I think the risk now is that SkyTeam and Star both have good options going in most directions. It’s captive for Europe unless you mind a one connect, which most business travelers do. But for many, they were already one hopping because they preferred Qatar Airways, so it’s no biggie to make a similar move on ANA, Delta etc. Only time will tell, but it’s a fascinating game they’re playing.

  8. Similar to many it seems, my wife and I would specifically arrange a weekend break in Europe flying from London in business class to maintain our silver status with BA. We fly business class at least twice a year to Tampa as we have a place there. The Tier status perk for us was simply the ability to select our seats at booking, access to the lounge and priority boarding comes with the tickets anyway. We now will both lose our status, so our thinking is lets try another airline if BA don’t give a toss about loyalty.

  9. I’m BA Gold and Swiss Senator, I wouldn’t be rushing to move more business to Swiss because I think they has acted worse of the two by holding over 20k+ CHF worth of cancelled flight refunds for more than 3-months, at least BA refunded my cancelled flights quickly. That said Emirates and Qantas have also held onto refunds, only BA and Singapore Airlines provided them in a timely manner and to me that’s more important than status. Flying in First higher status doesn’t give you much more than what is included in the ticket so I think SQ (for Asia and Australia) and BA (for America’s) will get more future business over Swiss, Emirates & Qantas.

  10. I’m QFFF Platinum (BAEC Gold equivalent) and I earn the bulk of my status (tier) points on BA mileage runs. BA know they have a reluctantly captive market so there’s no real need to engender true loyalty. Nor have BA ever been shy about abusing their size and clout against passengers, employees or competitors. Thuggishly successful is still successful as far as their shareholders are concerned.

    Your logic about weeding out less lucrative mileage chasers (like myself) tracks clean but I don’t think they’re quite that Machiavellian. BA are in a position where there are no easy alternatives to BAEC: no-one can challenge them out of London, and with their major competitors weakened and their employee cost base about to be substantially reduced, they can afford to play the long game and ride out the storm.

  11. Considering BA’s other tactics, maybe they plan to fire all their frequent flyers and just invite back certain ones – at lower benefits of course.

  12. I think their priorities are:
    1) Walsh
    2) Cruz
    3) shareholders
    4) Staff
    5) Passengers.
    If I lose my status this year to this, then I’m off BA for a decade.

    1. I think *pax* (revenue; *show me the money*) rank just ahead of *staff* (cost), but sadly, it’s truly hard to tell sometimes which BA dislikes more…

  13. Also wondering about this and long suspected they would try to reduce their membership numbers. Long time gold, GGL for last few years with expiry in February and currently sitting on 400 TPS…. no chance to get enough TPs as all But one BA trip is cancelled – and I’m hoping but gets cancelled too. A soft drop to Silver will not retain our future business. AA extended my Plat so I rebooked some domestic future travel on AA but looking at a different alliance for international. How does one do a star alliance match and what options does that unlock for CA to EUrope travel?

  14. Have been maintaining BA Gold for ~8 years now with personal spend and travel, but going forward, definitely looking at other options, especially Skyteam. Whereas BA and most of the OW airlines used to be seen as the ‘top’ airlines (with maybe SQ +/- ANA being the *A exception, and Korean in Skyteam), the other alliances’ airlines have made so much progress relatively, so there are a handful of great carriers in each alliance now.

    Used to go out of my way to fly BA/OW to maintain OWE benefits, but now that lounge access is no longer a novelty, and all I need is extra baggage (and priority bags), it just makes more sense to go *A/ST, esp considering that fares are usually slightly better, and you can avoid the London airports if you don’t live there. Even if you do, KL, LH and LX at least fly out of LCY with fares comparable to LHR flights; and at LHR, T2 is a decent experience.

  15. Loyalty is earned by other means and not just status. BA are not helping with poor PR and even poorer decisions including the way they are treating their staff. But I see people are saying airlines such as Lufthansa and Swiss will be getting their business despite similar abhorrent tactics to their passengers in regards to refunds. I am silver with ba but I have received all my refunds from them with little problems. This is not true of any flights with Swiss and Lufthansa who have ensured I cannot contact them for a refund and I have now been refused Amex chargebacks from both airlines despite the flights being cancelled but with the airlines using delay tactics to avoid refunding passengers. I understand we are all looking at changes when we are not treated as we feel we should but be careful, the airline you are moving to may be no better!

  16. My Tier Point year ends 8th July. I would be well into Silver had BA not had to cancel my trips. Now, for passengers whose year ended in April, May or June they reduced TP requirement by 30% – so if you’re sat on 440 like me you’d still qualify for Silver. They haven’t extended it, so I don’t get the upgrade I would have if I’d been able to fly. I’ll get it next year probably, but it’s not the point – picking arbitrary dates where some gain and some lose isn’t acceptable in my opinion. On top of which their food service in Business at the moment is as bad as Ryanair!!! They need to up their game to keep loyalty, but can’t see it happening.

  17. Gold here as well, will drop to silver now (8th June TP year end).
    It’s quite disappointing that they don’t offer any extension.
    Can someone recommend the best / easiest match to still leverage BA gold? Now Germany based, hence * would be handy.

  18. Regardless of extension or not, BAs business class is very crowded and facing someone you don’t know , it is now not just awkward but not safe . So I won’t be paying to fly their “premium “ product, no way.
    I may fly them in economy until my card expires in January, just to take advantage of the “perks”. For me it’s the end of BA in premium classes.

  19. Gilbert, could you perhaps do an article which outlines what airlines are status matching from BAEC?

  20. I’m an expat Brit in the USA and in much the same boat as most other folk above. I invested some personal money to move from Gold to GGL two years ago and have enjoyed the joker benefit. My year ends in December and I had got Gold already secured before the pandemic, but if lose GGL (which is very likely given how much has had to be cancelled), I will move to Miles and More. (And the reason for that is wanting to fly First Class over the Atlantic, which limits choice, and I gather it is easier to upgrade from Business to First as a LH gold rather than a UA one.) I’ve been incredibly loyal to BA for years and feel so ****ed off.

    And nobody has yet mentioned in this thread the fact that if you *do* fly with them, even in First, you get a bottle of water and a sandwich. That’s the insult to the injury now.

  21. Hi Gilbert,
    I am Gold, husband Gold. I am flying LHR to IAD in Club on Sunday and looking at my booking I am due to earn 18,000 odd Avios but 0 TPs, despite this being a cash ticket (booked months ago and now cancelled and re-booked twice). My husband is also holding a booking to Bermuda for mid Nov and there too, no TPs….
    What is going on?

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