Skift Take

If American and Delta follow United in raising requirements to earn elite status, it could drive a whole new class of budget travelers away from airline loyalty programs.

Series: Business of Loyalty

Travel Loyalty News

The Skift Business of Loyalty covers the world of hotel, airline, and other consumer loyalty programs in the travel industry. Read more coverage of loyalty here.

In the world of airline loyalty programs, many are waiting for the other shoe to drop: Will American and Delta raise requirements for earning airline elite status? United last month changed its 2020 loyalty program to push up the annual spend requirements for top-tier status dramatically from $15,000 to $18,000 or even $24,000.

The move comes only a few years after all three carriers aligned and shifted to loyalty programs in which a flyer earned elite status not only by distance traveled but also by the size of her pocketbook. Then, last year, the carriers raised the requirements for top-tier qualification from $12,000 to $15,000. (Delta, notably, was already at that mark.) Just as the legacy carriers fell into line on a strategy around spend, now it seems only a matter of time until American and Delta follow United on its current path of ratcheting up the requirement yet again.

If that does happen, it’ll be the end of an era for budget travelers, who often — if not more often — were just as loyal to airlines as their deep-pocketed peers. Right now $15,000 is a high hurdle to jump on a diet of monthly $300 tickets to San Francisco and the annual holiday to Hong Kong or Barcelona. Bumping up that figure to $24,000 is aspirational to the point of delusional, like staring at a GT3 through a showroom window or gushing over foie gras foam at Alinea.

In other news, this is the last Business of Loyalty newsletter for now.

When the small Skift team started this newsletter in 2012 (neé The Skift Business Traveler), the loyalty game was fast and loose, powered by strong competition among airlines and hotels and real incentives for travelers to stay loyal.

Times have changed. As seats become closer to one another, overhead bin space goes to the highest bidder, and revenue is prioritized over loyalty, each year it becomes harder for the common traveler to earn elite status. In many ways, the heady days of mileage runs and qualifying mile bonuses and last-second upgrades have gone the way of the 747.

Strategically, loyalty is also now embedded deeply into corporate strategies — and as we move forward, it makes sense to mix that content into the proper airline, hotel, or other industry beats. Keeping loyalty inside of our respective sectors ensures that we write stories that focus on business strategy and marketing. It adheres loyalty more closely to Skift’s B2B mission.

I, too, have changed since 2012. I have a wife and a son now, and every day I think more about the Earth that I’m going to leave behind when my son grows up and dreams about traveling by any means necessary to get to the beaches of east Africa.

The Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at the Imperial College of London last month suggested that to curb future carbon emissions, a frequent flyer tax should be considered instead of a frequent flyer incentive. Looking at the world today, maybe it’s not a bad idea. Perhaps in 20 years when my son takes that trip to Mombasa, he’ll go by ship instead of by air.

— Grant Martin, Business of Loyalty Editor, [email protected], @grantkmartin 

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Grant Martin [[email protected]] curates the Skift Business of Loyalty newsletter. He is also a director of product marketing at TripActions.


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Tags: loyalty, united airlines

Photo credit: A United 737 900er takes off. United in October changed its 2020 loyalty program, bumpingbup the annual spend requirements for top-tier status dramatically. United Airlines

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