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.
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.”
What 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.
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.