Major U.S. airlines are reportedly attempting to stile an influx of customers who’ve earned “elite” status during the pandemic, either through an increased willingness to pay more for more exclusive experiences or stockpiling points via everyday spending using their rewards credit cards.
For the consumer, it seems like a great thing to be able to experience a higher class of cabin or gain entry to elite airport lounges. But, apparently, these luxury perks lose their appeal when they are perceived to be too attainable by the common man.
This year, the country’s largest air carriers—Delta Air Lines, American and United Airlines—are increasing the minimum spending amounts needed to reach elite frequent flyer tiers, making it more difficult for less-affluent customers to come up to snuff. Their aim in doing so is to stem the tide of frequent flyers that have recently been flooding airport lounges and filling up the front of aircraft cabins.
During the pandemic, when flights were few and travelers infrequent, airlines had lowered the annual thresholds that flyers need to meet in order to qualify for elevated rewards statuses. Meanwhile, people in possession of popular airline-branded credit cards kept using them for everyday purchases over the past three years, accumulating points and rewards benefits with every transaction.
Airlines’ credit card partnerships helped keep them in business during the pandemic when there was scarcely any demand for air travel. The miles they sell to credit card companies to help incentivize consumer spending raked in billions of dollars, according to CNBC.
Now that people are returning to travel in droves, they’re eager to cash in those rewards points and are also increasingly reaching a little further into their wallets to enjoy the kind of travel experience they’ve been missing out on for so long. It’s a phenomenon that the news outlet dubbed “air travel’s era of mass luxury”.
Sure, everyone wants to enjoy special treatment and the perks that accompany elite loyalty status—benefits like early boarding, lounge access, better seating, free or discounted upgrades, etc.
Unfortunately, “If everybody has status, then nobody has status,” as Linda Jojo, United’s chief customer officer, opined recently at a conference.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian echoed the sentiment in an interview last month, affirming, “As they say, ‘If everyone’s special, no one feels special’.”
Delta announced in late 2022 that it planned on raising membership fees and requirements needed to gain entry to its Sky Club airport lounges, following a series of complaints from customers about the crowds and long lines. It also implemented a time limit of three hours for lounge use and installed a VIP line for high-status members.
While they haven’t offered up many details about the forthcoming policy changes, United stated in November that it was also upping the ante needed for loyalty members to earn status and rewards; while American Airlines said in December that its customers will have to spend more in 2023 to attain its lowest elite-status tier of its AAdvantage frequent flyer program, setting the bar at 40,000 points instead of 30,000 to reach Gold status.
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