Delta Extends Elite Status And Other Benefits

To the surprise of nobody paying attention, Delta Air Lines is the first to announce that they’re extending elite status and other benefits due to the coronavirus crisis.  As a side note, if you want to catch up on our stories regarding travel during the COVID-19 crisis, including how other brands have acted, check out these articles:

Delta Extends Elite Status

Delta Air Lines is out with an announcement this morning detailing a lengthy list of changes they’re making in response to the COVID-19 crisis to help their elite members.  You can read the full announcement here, but I’ve clipped the most relevant parts and shared them below:

  • Medallion Members:
    • All Medallion Status for 2020 will be automatically extended for the 2021 Medallion Year.
    • 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:
    • If you have one of the following in your SkyMiles profile “My Wallet” that is valid now or has expired since March 1, 2020, we are extending the expiration dates to give you additional time to enjoy your benefits:
      • 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:
    • If you have one of the following in your SkyMiles profile “My Wallet” that is valid now or has expired since March 1, 2020, we are extending the expiration dates to give you additional time to enjoy your benefits:
      • 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.

Delta Customers Can Rest Easy

Delta does the right thing here.  From a quick reading of the press release, there’s really no customer who’s disadvantaged by these changes.  It makes sense to extend elite status for everyone rather than trying to pick winners and losers.  There’s a counter argument to extending status now, as opposed to waiting until late in the year.  By doing so now, the fear is that customers may become “free agents”, not loyal to one specific airline.

When airlines do begin to fly again, the route maps will be smaller.  The number of frequencies will be smaller as well.  Airlines will still own their fortress hubs.  Business travelers will still choose their hometown airline more often due to the need to have timely nonstop options.  Is it really necessary to lock business travelers in with a landscape like that?  Maybe not, but there’s also not a lot to lose.  Extending elite status only costs the airline money if elite members actually travel. Airlines would be thrilled to be in a business climate where they’re lamenting the costs they’re incurring because elite members are actually flying.

Reducing fees on credit cards make sense as well.  If the customer cancels the card, the airline loses out on selling the bank miles.  I don’t know if the decision on annual fees rests solely with American Express or Delta has some say (I suspect it’s all AMEX).  But, they both gain immensely when the customer chooses to keep the card in their wallet.  I’m still not sure if we’ll see changes there or not.  If we do, it will likely only be in response to widespread cancellations of cards.

What Delta Will Do Next

The only thing missing from this announcement is an incentive to get customers flying in 2020.  I think it’s imperative airlines do this.  And, I’m sure they all have plans to do so.  There may not be an urgency to get these incentives into the market right now while nobody is flying.  But, I still think there will be a reward for those airlines who act early.  Just like with the extension of elite status, the cost for a bonus program is only incurred when customers actually travel.  Maybe it’s worth waiting a bit so as not to be insensitive to the suffering going on all across the world.  At some point, though, there’s a benefit to the airlines if their customers understand what the landscape looks like.

Delta will announce a program to incentivize travel in 2020.  It might not be in April or May.  But, it will come.  Because, it’s just smart business.

The Final Two Pennies

Delta Air Lines has made a habit of acting first over the past 5-10 years when it comes to major changes.  The airlines, unlike the hotel industry, have been waiting to make changes like this.  My guess is that they wanted to see how bad things were going to be before acting.  United and American Airlines will mimic this announcement (and likely in that order). They won’t do it today, that would be too obvious.  But, the calendar will still say April.

Delta elite members should definitely rest easy.  So should all the other elite members at other airlines.  Delta’s action will force the other airlines to follow.  It’s the right decision in a horrible situation for travelers and airlines alike.  Nobody wins if the airlines force customers to prove their loyalty.

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