Skift Take

Many global airlines have reduced long-haul flights or exited markets altogether due to the pandemic, but more often than not their loyalty points have an expiration date. Now is a really good time for airlines to put customers first and adjust their valuable currency — or risk losing their loyalty.

If you’re wondering what’s the status of your airline loyalty rewards points during a pandemic that has resulted in less flying and substantial reductions or ceasing of long-haul flights globally, it really depends.

While all of the airlines we spoke to are trying to make adjustments favorable to their customers, some are still working out the kinks at the expense of their passengers outside their countries and networks.

After announcing its exit from long-haul flights due to the pandemic, Norwegian Air on Monday issued a pause to its frequent flyer loyalty reward program, affecting millions of passengers worldwide. While memberships will remain active, customers enrolled in Norwegian’s reward program will not be able to earn or spend CashPoints or rewards on the airline’s products or services, such as purchasing flights; however, members can earn points on other reward partners, a Norwegian Air email sent to customers said.

Norwegian Rewards serves more than 10.7 million customers worldwide, of which 1.4 million are in the United States and unable to fly Norwegian’s current short-haul flights to Europe, unless they’re already in the region, due to many ongoing border closures restricting travel.

A sample copy of Norwegian Air’s reward program co-branded U.S. credit card which launched on November 5, 2019, offering passengers alternative ways to earn airline rewards.

Members in Norwegian’s reward program with points due to expire  at the end of this year will be able to extend their membership for one year. And once the pause is lifted, possibly after the pandemic, points earning and spending will resume, but the airline will reserve the right to limit the quantity, Norwegian said in its website.

Customers in the U.S. with Norwegian Rewards credit cards — who at the moment are the most restricted as they can’t spend it on flights from the U.S. — will receive an email next week to update them about the status of their points from Norwegian and Synchrony, the bank issuing the card, a Norwegian Air spokesperson said.

Icelandair’s reward program — Saga Points — accrual and redemption activities have been considerably reduced outside of Iceland due to limited flying during the pandemic.

However, Saga Club offers a wide range of redemption products in addition to flights, including hotels and car rentals, said Micheal Raucheisen, Icelandair communications director. “Since the decline in international travel, we have seen an increase in these redemption options among our Saga Club members,” he added.

Saga Points’ expiration, which normally have a validity of three calendar years plus the remainder of the year in which points are earned, will be extended in order to protect members who have been active with Icelandair by accruing or redeeming points at least once in 2019 or 2020, Raucheisen said.

Icelandair is continuously reviewing and updating all members’ accounts on a monthly basis and adding tier credits, reflecting their general activity before Covid. This will not only ensure members will be able to maintain, but also renew their current tier status,” Raucheisen said. “Our Saga team is also reviewing any other variables possibly affecting Saga accounts so we can react to any trends in the relevant markets, especially in the U.S.”

American Airlines is making it easier for top-tier customers to earn AAdvantage elite status in 2020 and 2021, by pausing mileage expiration through June 30, 2021, and extending 2020 AAdvantage status into early 2022 for all members, said American spokesperson Matt Miller.

American Airlines is taking the pandemic’s effects on travel into account by providing frequent-flier program members more flexibility. The airline is allowing members to reinstate their miles without paying the usual fee, said Brian Metham, an AAdvantage specialist. “So if their travel plans change, they won’t lose their hard-earned miles.”

Additionally, American is offering their members an extra three months to earn or retain their elite status, waiving the elite qualifying requirements for gold, platinum and platinum pro and implementing a path to achieve status for AAdvantage credit card holders. Reward members can also use their existing points to book flights on partner airlines. 

Spain’s Iberia airline reward points redeemable for flights normally expire if not used within a period of 12 months, but with the possibility to earn Avios points with Iberia’s partners — including at gas stations, shops and restaurants — members can avoid losing their points, said Iberia spokesperson Víctor Santos Prados.

Iberia used to change its frequent-flier program members’ status if they did not take a minimum number of flights every year. This rule has been relaxed in light of the pandemic, with members’ status tiers staying the same until March 31, when the program comes up for its annual review, Santos Prados said.

British Airways is automatically extending its rewards memberships expiration by 12 months for members with Tier Point collection end dates between July 2020 and June, 2021. The airline is reducing by 25 percent the number of points necessary to achieve Tier Point status the airline’s website said.

United Airlines’ MileagePlus program is extending status for current premier members through 2022 and reducing the number of premier qualifying flights and points needed to achieve status among other things.

So while the pandemic has put a damper on traveling, the flexibility in the loyalty programs is good news for grounded travelers.


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Tags: airline, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, loyalty

Photo credit: After announcing its exit from long-haul flights due to the pandemic, Norwegian Air on Monday issued a pause to its frequent flyer loyalty reward program affecting millions of passengers worldwide. 250225

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