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Skift Take

Will 2016 be the year of loyalty poaching? It could make things very interesting.

— Grant Martin

Competition is heating up in the airline and hotel space to the point that operators are now actively trying to steal each other’s top customers.

It all started in late 2015 with the news that Marriott would acquire Starwood. Concerned about the fate of their loyalty program, many Starwood customers voiced ire on social media, and seizing the opportunity, Hyatt responded. First reaching out to customers via Twitter, the competing hotel offered top Marriott or Starwood customers matching status within the Hyatt network, throwing in eight room upgrades to boot.

Since then, other hotel players have launched similar status matching opportunities. Hilton briefly ran its own campaign, setting up an entire site dedicated to wooing customers. Marriott, meanwhile, has unrolled a “buyback” program to allow elites to trade points for status.

Now, the customer poaching has moved to the airline space.

According to The Points Guy, American Airlines is matching top 1K status (earned after flying 100,000 miles)  from United Airlines over to AAdvantage. Applicants to American’s status match program will be given 90 days to earn 35,000 elite miles in order to complete the transition; after that, they’ll be given full Executive Platinum Status plus four system wide upgrades. The match is apparently only good for members from United’s MileagePlus program, likely because American and United compete in so many markets.

American’s status match offer comes at an interesting time for many travelers. Both Delta and United have switched over to revenue-based models for calculating their elite status and many budget-focused travelers are unhappy about the changes. Though American has its own revenue-based mileage program in the works, many perceive that airline as still the best for earning elite status. The added incentive of this month’s status match program may push many travelers over the edge.

Through the year, the status matches may also continue. Starwood and Marriott have yet to detail the full scope of their joint mileage program, while many expect American to move to a revenue-based system for accruing elite status. As more loyalty programs change and more travelers become disenchanted, hotels and airlines will have unique opportunities to appeal to new customer bases. And for those not interested in switching loyalty, a few free upgrades on a competing carrier never hurt.

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