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Status Seekers

With travel entering recovery mode, now may be the time to score some extras with your points program

As it became apparent this spring that travel would collapse to a virtual standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, loyalty programs pulled out all the stops to keep members engaged. One by one, airlines and hotels extended elite status for another year, pushed back expiration dates on perks and points, and waived a host of fees and requirements.

This safety net quelled fears among travelers who rightfully deserved to enjoy the fruits of their “travel labor” last year. It takes strategy and loyalty to reach various elite status milestones. What good is status if you don’t have the chance to enjoy its benefits?

Travel brands deserve accolades for making this expensive leap of faith. As early as March, these loyalty program “olive branches” put travelers’ minds at ease as business travel slowed and stay-at-home orders slammed doors shut.

 Are points and miles still worth the same? 

Now more than ever, travel companies will look to their loyalty programs to drive business, so your miles and points are both safe and valuable. Credit card partnerships assure these programs generate revenue so there is little concern your balance would evaporate any time soon.

Since miles and points rarely appreciate in value, however, it is always a good idea to use what you earn rather than hoard them for years (unless you are saving up for a big trip). This means now could be a good time to use them for future travel. As always, it pays to be flexible with dates and travel plans when searching for a free trip.

Does it make sense to still qualify for status this year? 

In some cases, yes, as a few travel companies are providing bonuses to those who still earn status by traveling this year, and many have lowered the requirements to do so.

This could be a great way for less frequent travelers to sample the benefits of elite status for the first time as it is unlikely to be this easy to earn it in years to come.

In addition to extending status for existing elite members, American Airlines AAdvantage reduced the thresholds for earning status. This includes related perks, like bonus systemwide upgrades for flying a certain amount for top-tier Executive Platinums.

Plus, those with an eligible AAdvantage co-branded credit card can earn miles toward Million Miler status. Typically, only flight miles count toward that coveted tier, which comes with lifetime status, but this year, every dollar you spend on an eligible card will count as a mile toward Million Miler status.

Air Canada Altitude status holders can gift the equivalent level they earn this year to someone else. United MileagePlus Premier status thresholds have been reduced by half making it easier for fliers this year to achieve it. Of course, existing elite members in both programs had their status extended for a year, too.

Choice Privileges is upgrading Gold and Platinum elite members to the next tier level in addition to extending status for everyone. Members can keep the free status upgrade by staying five qualifying nights at a Choice Hotels property this year; if not, they can still enjoy their original elite status level for an extra year.

These are just a few of the programs that have made adjustments. Travel brands know it is more expensive to court a new customer than keep an existing one. Therefore, those who remain loyal will find the road ahead is paved with opportunity.