The coronavirus pandemic has been a crisis for industries around the world, but as travel has come to a standstill around the world, the airline industry has been thrown into complete disarray.
Revenues have slowed significantly and many customers have been left in the lurch.
And because it’s not yet clear when world governments will lift broad restrictions on travel, vacationers who may have booked trips for the coming weeks and months may wonder what will happen if those restrictions affect their plans.
Beyond the one-off trips, frequent flyers who tend to travel all the time are left wondering what happens to their elite status, the benefits that airlines grant to their most loyal and frequent customers.
Status typically must be earned each year for the following year. With travelers likely to be grounded for at least three months — and quite possibly longer — will they be able to fly enough to qualify for status next year, when the world hopefully begins to return to normal?
Fortunately, many major airlines are offering new, unprecedented levels of flexibility for passengers, whether they are occasional travelers or elite frequent flyers.
Here’s what you need to know:
Delta Air Lines
FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Delta has canceled more than 80% of its April schedule, and expects cancellations to continue past May.
With passengers unable — or unwilling — to fly right now and for the foreseeable future, the airline is making a few changes to support its frequent flyers, and to offer flexibility for those with trips planned this summer and fall who may now be having second thoughts.
Travel credits extended for up to two years, and fees are waived for cancellations and changes
Because there’s still uncertainty surrounding when travel can resume, Delta said it would extend the validity of travel credits, such as the vouchers customers receive if they choose to cancel a flight (although if the airline cancels the flight, rather than the passenger, the airline has to offer a regular refund).
All eCredits are automatically extended until May 2022 — note that if you have a credit in your Delta account, it may not reflect the new expiration date right away, but the airline says it’s working on it.
Tickets purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020, can be changed without fees for up to a year from the date of purchase.
Additionally, anyone with travel scheduled to depart in April or May can change their dates — or destinations — without a fee, or can cancel their trip to receive an eCredit.
Extending SkyMiles Medallion status through 2021
All SkyMiles Medallion members will see their status tier extended for one year, through 2021.
That means that if you hold Platinum Medallion status now, you won’t have to worry about requalifying by the end of December 2020 like you normally would.
In addition, all Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned this year will be rolled over into 2021, so they’ll count towards your 2022 status. MQMs are miles earned for flights, which are one of the ways to earn status.
Delta Sky Club memberships are extended
For some Sky Club lounge membership holders who, thanks to the lack of flying and lounge closures, have not been able to use their memberships, Delta is offering an extension.
Sky Club Individual and Executive memberships that are set to expire March 1, 2020, or later, will get an extra six months added.
That means that if you were set to expire on April 1, you’ll keep access to Sky Clubs until October.
Some credit card benefits are also extended
Some of Delta’s co-branded credit cards, which are issued by American Express, come with a variety of one-time or recurring benefits, such as flight credits, companion certificates, or guest passes. The following cardholders will receive extensions to these benefits, as long as the benefit is currently valid or has expired since March 1:
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.
Other SkyMiles benefits
Finally, Delta is extending the following benefits, as long as they’re currently valid or have expired since March 1:
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.
Unused drink vouchers will be extended for six months from their expiration date.
United is also offering extra flexibility and extending MileagePlus status for members.
Waived change fees for travel through all of 2020
United announced last week that it would waive change and cancellation fees on all flights through 2020. However, you’ll need to make your change by the end of April in order to get those fees waived.
The exception is for those traveling in May — they can continue to change or cancel flights without fees until the date of travel.
Keep in mind that if you choose to cancel a flight, you’ll get a voucher for the value of your ticket to use for a future trip, not a refund. If the airline cancels your flight, though, you’re entitled to a normal refund.
Vouchers and credits are extended for up to two years
Travel certificates, which are normally valid for a year from the date of issue, are now valid for 24 months.
If you choose to cancel a trip or a flight that the airline hasn’t canceled, you’ll get a certificate to use for a future flight. Although you’ll have to use the certificate to book within 24 months, the travel that you book can be later than that.
Extending MileagePlus elite status for 2021
United said it will extend every elite frequent flyer’s status level through the 2021 status year.
That means no urgency to requalify in 2020, as flights remain scarce and many companies keep business travel suspended.
The airline said it will also reduce the Premier qualifying points (PQP) requirement for those looking to reach a new tier in 2021, and increasing the amount of PQPs that co-brand credit card holders can earn through spending.
United said it would also extend the expiration dates for PlusPoints — which can be used by United 1K and Platinum members to upgrade flights — by six months.
Extending other benefits for MileagePlus members
United will extend annual membership and subscription benefits by six months, including United Club memberships, subscriptions for Economy Plus and Wi-Fi, and checked bag fees.
American Airlines followed Delta and United by announcing status extensions this week, but has already had new flexible policies in place due to the outbreak.
Waived change fees and extensions on travel credits and vouchers
American is letting anyone with summer travel plans change their dates or cancel their tickets without fees.
If you purchased a ticket anytime before April 7, 2020 for travel through September 30, 2020, you can rebook or cancel without fees (keep in mind that if you cancel, you’ll get credits for a future trip.
If the ticket, credit, or voucher is set to expire before September 30, it can be used for travel through the end of 2021.
Finally, if you buy a new trip between March 1 and May 31, 2020, for future travel, you can change it any any time without change fees.
Extending AAdvantage elite status through 2021
American joined Delta and United by announcing that it would extend every elite frequent flyer’s status through the 2021 status year.
That means that if you hold AAdvantage Gold status now, you’ll keep it until January 31, 2022.
For those without status who are still flying now, or who return to the skies later this year, the threshold to earn new status or a higher tier for 2021 has been lowered. That means that fewer elite qualification dollars (EQDs), miles (EQMs), and segments (EQSs) will be required.
Admirals Club memberships extended
All Admirals Club airport lounge memberships and one-time passes will be automatically extended for six months beyond their current expiration date.
According to the airline, the extension applies to active members as of March 1, 2020. New memberships purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020 will also get the extension.
For one-time passes, the extension applies to passes that were set to expire between March 1 and May 31, 2020.
Vacation credits for elite status holders
AAdvantage members with elite status can receive a credit towards an American Airlines Vacations package, good for “something to look forward to when travel resumes,” the airline said in its announcement.
Elite members will receive up to $400 towards a vacation, depending on the package. Packages typically include airfare and hotel stays.
Details were not immediately available.
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