Airlines, hotels and other travel vendors are making loyalty program changes to keep their businesses moving forward in the age of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 outbreak spread around the world in spring 2020, bringing life to a halt and damaging a number of different industries — the travel industry included. Airlines, hotels and car rental companies are among the many businesses scrambling to boost revenue and maintain operations as best they can. Loyalty program changes are one way they are doing this.
And many airlines, hotels and car rental companies are making loyalty program changes in the midst of this pandemic. Here’s a look at the reasoning behind changes to loyalty programs, plus a rundown of the specific changes some large vendors have already announced. If you’re looking for more resources related to COVID-19 and travel, visit our guide to Restoring Business Traveler Confidence.
Why are Loyalty Programs so Important?
Loyalty programs are essential for travel vendors striving to develop brand awareness and encourage repeat business. It’s all in the name: Loyalty programs are designed to turn first-time Travelers into loyal, dedicated brand proponents.
But loyalty programs are driven by travel. Air Travelers earn miles, points and segments when they get on planes and fly to their destinations. Hotel guests accrue points when they stay overnight at a property. The same is true for car renters — they get points when they actually rent a car.
But few people are traveling right now.
In response, vendors are using 3 different approaches to making loyalty program changes:
- Status Extensions: Regular business Travelers attain status with their regular airlines, hotels and car rentals companies. Status means nicer seats on planes, better rooms in hotels and more luxurious rental cars. Many vendors are extending status in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Threshold Reductions: Travelers get better status the more they travel. But most Travelers are spending less time on the road in 2020. In response, vendors are lowering the thresholds required to attain status.
- Expiration Suspensions: Miles and points often come with expiration dates. For example, an airline may require you to accrue or redeem miles every 18 months in order to keep your miles or points. Given that few Travelers are accruing or redeeming miles and points right now, many vendors are suspending expirations.
The approaches listed above are just a sample of what different vendors are doing right now to continue building brand awareness and maintaining relationships with their most regular Travelers. But each airline, hotel and rental car company is using a unique strategy for keeping their businesses afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
How Some Airlines and Hotels are Adjusting Loyalty Programs
As a frequent business Traveler, you’re likely wondering how your preferred airline and hotel chain is making loyalty program changes.
Here’s a list of popular airlines and how they’re changing programs in response to COVID-19:
- American AAdvantage: American has expended the status for all of its loyalty program members through Jan. 31, 2022. American has also reduced the number of dollars passengers need to spend to earn status in 2020.
- Delta SkyMiles: Members with status are getting a 12-month extension before their status expires. Additionally, qualifying miles are being rolled over to 2021 so that it’s easier for Travelers to earn status for 2022.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards: All Travelers with A-List or A-List Preferred status are getting an extension through Dec. 31, 2021. Companion Passes are also getting an extension through June 30, 2021. Southwest has also taken measures to make earning status for 2021 much easier.
- United MileagePlus: Existing Premier members are getting a status extension through January 2022. United has also cut in half the qualification thresholds for earning 2021 status.
- Qantas: In March, Qantas announced that it would extend status for all of its frequent flyers for 12 months. This takes the burden of Qantas customers to fly enough in 2020 to maintain their status.
- British Airways: After lagging behind other major airlines in making COVID-19 related changes, British Airways has finally announced 12-month status extensions for Executive Club members and a 25% reduction in point thresholds.
Hotels are making similar loyalty program changes. Here’s a look at what major hotel chains are doing in response to COVID-19:
- Hilton Honors: Hilton has extended status benefits and point expiration dates for its members. Also, any member who was schedule to get a status downgrade on March 31, 2020, received a 12-month extension before the downgrade.
- IHG Rewards Club: IHG was one of the first travel vendors to make loyalty program changes. IHG has extended elite status through January 2022 and lowered requirements for earning status for 2021.
- Marriott Bonvoy: All members get a status extension through Feb. 28, 2022. Available free nights and upgrades have been extended through Jan. 31, 2021, and any points set to expire have been extended through February 2021.
- Radisson Rewards: Radisson has extended elite status through February 2022, and point expirations have been extended through August 2020.
- World of Hyatt: Hyatt has extended elite status through Feb. 28, 2022 — with no requirement to requalify. Unused free nights and upgrades have also been extended through the end of 2021.
- Wyndham Rewards: Elite members get a status extension through the end of 2021, and the expiration of points is being suspended through September 2020. As an added benefit, Wyndham is offering Gold status to all essential workers.
Again, this is just sample of large and popular hotel chains and how they are responding to COVID-19. If you’re preferred hotel chain is not listed here, check with them directly to learn about how they are making loyal program changes due to coronavirus that may benefit you.
Get Help From JTB Business Travel
JTB Business Travel is a comprehensive corporate travel agency that uses a common-sense approach to serving its clients. We can help businesses large and small establish contracts with the best vendors to meet their needs, including the negotiation of status for Travelers. Contact us to learn more about how JTB can support your company and its business Travelers.