A few days ago, a friend of the blog advised that he would not reach his usual American Airlines Executive Platinum (EXP) status this year because his travel had been curtailed by the coronavirus and American’s drastic schedule reductions. I replied that the best thing loyalty programs could do would be to renew everybody in 2021 at the status they had at the start of 2020. Low and behold two major travel companies, Delta Air Lines and Hyatt Hotels have done exactly that… and more!
I am pleased because I’m in the same boat as the reader. Barring a miracle, under the current rules there is no way I will come close to requalifying for EXP in 2020 and enjoying those benefits in 2021.
Below is a screenshot from my phone showing my 2020 progress (or lack thereof) toward EXP.
Coronavirus concerns in countries worldwide and resulting travel lockdowns and deferments seem destined to last for at least several more months. That has effectively ended the ability of most people to travel enough to requalify for status in loyalty programs this year. The question was how would travel industry loyalty programs respond. I think it is in the interest of airlines, hotels and members of their loyalty programs to follow the lead of Delta and Hyatt.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has the right idea on how to address this problem. Today Delta announced it is extending elite status, SkyClub memberships and more. Here is a summary from the Delta press release:
- Medallion Members:
- All Medallion Status for 2020 will be automatically extended through January 31, 2022.
- All Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) from 2020 are being rolled over to 2021 to qualify for 2022 Medallion Status.
- Delta Sky Club Individual and Executive memberships with an expiration of March 1, 2020, or later will receive six additional months of Delta Sky Club access beyond their expiration date.
- Delta SkyMiles American Express Card Members:
- Delta SkyMiles Gold Card Members with a $100 Delta flight credit will get a six-month extension beyond their current expiration date
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card Members with Companion Certificates with an original expiration date between March 1 and June 30, 2020, can use them when they book and fly by Dec. 31, 2020, and those that expire between July 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021, will receive an additional six months beyond the current expiration date.
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card Members with Companion Certificates with an original expiration date between March 1 and June 30, 2020, can use them when they book and fly by Dec. 31, 2020, and those that expire between July 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021, will receive an additional six months beyond the current expiration date.
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card Members will also get a six-month extension to use their Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes beyond their current expiration date.
- SkyMiles Members:
- Upgrade Certificates or $200 Travel Vouchers with an original expiration date between March 1 and June 30, 2020, are extended – now, they can be booked and flown by Dec. 31, 2020. And, SkyMiles Members with Upgrade Certificates or $200 Travel Vouchers that expire after June 30, 2020, will receive an additional six months beyond the current expiration date.
- SkyMiles Select members will receive a six-month extension to the Priority Boarding benefit and any unused drink vouchers.
This is the right move for customers and for public health. Delta has led the way in the US airline industry with frequent flyer unfriendly changes such as basing award miles earned on the amount spent on tickets minus government taxes and fees rather than distance flown, doing away with award charts with fixed prices in miles, and pricing award flights based on the fare charged. Other minor devaluations have been a death by a thousand cuts. Delta has been disingenuous in the way it has pitched these changes as being “enhancements” to the SkyMiles program.
Delta is not the first airline to make this move but it is the biggest one. Delta puts enormous pressure on major US carriers and others worldwide to follow suit.
Delta made another change that ostensibly helps customers but in reality helps Delta more. It is extending until May 31, 2022 the time in which to use credits for upcoming travel already booked in April or May 2020 as of April 3, 2020, or existing eCredits or canceled travel from flights in March, April or May 2020. So you get more time to use credits for cancelled flights. Thus, Delta is giving itself additional use of an interest-free loan in the form of payments from customers who won’t be travelling for some time. If you are due a refund, take the money not a credit.
My goal for 2020 with Hyatt was to reach Globalist level, which requires credit for 60 nights in Hyatt or Hyatt affiliated hotels. As the screenshot indicates, based on stays before the virus, I’m close to requalifying for the second-tier Explorist level but have little hope of reaching Globalist this year.
Hyatt has a very good frequent guest program. I could benefit me more than the Marriott or Hilton programs. To compete with those giants, Hyatt needs a better frequent guest program. Hyatt’s small footprint (only about 850 hotels worldwide) and slightly higher price for comparative hotels makes earning Hyatt status difficult.
On April 3, 2020, Hyatt placed a notice on its website announcing the extension of World of Hyatt program benefits..
- Points Expiration: All points are extended through December 31, 2020.
- Earned rewards: Unused Free Night, Suite Upgrade or Club Lounge Access awards with expiration dates between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 are will be extended to December 31, 2021. This includes existing awards and awards that may be earned with a 2020 expiration date. Awards that expired between March 1 and March 31, 2020 will be replaced with new awards on April 20, 2020. All other qualifying, unused awards will be updated by the 20th day of the month in which the award would have originally expired.
- Elite status and benefits: Status and benefits will be extended for all existing elite members without having to re-qualify. This means that whatever your status was as of March 31, 2020 – whether Discoverist, Explorist or Globalist – it will be automatically updated to reflect a February 28, 2022 expiration date. All elite tier extensions should be reflected in members’ accounts no later than April 15, 2020.
- Award Chart Changes: Off-peak and Peak point redemption (originally scheduled to begin on March 22, 2020) are postponed until 2021. Free-night redemptions will continue to be at standard rates for the rest of this year.
As with Delta, Hyatt puts pressure on competitors to at least match what it has done. Hilton has made similar changes. We are still waiting for the Marriott shoe to drop.
If you participate in a travel related loyalty program that has not made changes similar to Delta and Hyatt, let the program know about the changes in program rules you’d like to see because of coronavirus and travel shutdowns. Delta and Hyatt are good models.
In the bigger scheme of things, issues with loyalty programs are not at the top of the list in terms of importance. These programs, however, are important to those who participate in them and hope to enjoy the same level of benefits once travel picks up again. In recent years, loyalty programs have been generally going through a never ending series of “enhancements” that have left many participants feeling a bit abused. Automatically extending status and benefits for another year recognizes the current reality and earns companies that do so respect and loyalty. When people start traveling again, that will be to the advantage of companies making these moves and the disadvantage of companies that don’t.