US Airlines is making it harder to achieve elite status this year

Major US airlines are reportedly trying to stem an influx of customers who have achieved “elite” status during the pandemic, either through an increased willingness to pay more for more exclusive experiences or to collect points via everyday spending using their rewards credit cards.

For the consumer, it seems like a big deal to be able to experience a higher-class cabin or gain access to elite airport lounges. But apparently these luxury benefits lose their appeal when they are perceived as too attainable by the common man.

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This year, the nation’s largest airlines — Delta Air Lines, American and United Airlines — are increasing the minimum spending amounts necessary to reach elite frequent-flier class, making it harder for less affluent customers to sniff. Their goal in doing so is to stem the tide of frequent flyers that have recently flooded airport lounges and filled up the front of airplane cabins.

During the pandemic, when flights were few and travelers rare, airlines had lowered the annual thresholds that fliers must meet to qualify for elevated reward statuses. Meanwhile, holders of popular airline credit cards have been steadily using them for everyday purchases over the past three years, racking up points and rewards benefits with each transaction.

The airlines’ credit card partnerships helped keep them in business during the pandemic when there was hardly any demand for flights. The miles they sell to credit card companies to help spur consumer spending raked in billions of dollars, according to CNBC.

Now that people are returning to travel in droves, they’re eager to earn those reward points and are also increasingly reaching a little further into their wallets to enjoy the kind of travel experience they’ve been missing out on for so long. It’s a phenomenon the news agency called “air travel’s era of mass luxury”.

Delta Sky Club, Minneapolis-St.  Paul International Airport
Delta Sky Club, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Sure, everyone wants to enjoy special treatment and the perks that come with elite loyalty status—perks like early boarding, lounge access, better seating, free or discounted upgrades, etc.

Unfortunately, “If everyone has status, then no one has status,” as Linda Jojo, United’s chief customer officer, recently stated at a conference.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian echoed the sentiment in an interview last month, affirming: “As they say, ‘If everyone is special, no one feels special.'”

Delta announced in late 2022 that it planned to increase membership fees and the requirements required to gain access to Sky Club airport lounges, following a number of customer complaints about the crowds and long queues. It also implemented a three-hour time limit on lounge use and installed a VIP line for high-status members.

While they haven’t offered many details about the upcoming policy changes, United said in November that they were also upping the ante needed for loyalty members to earn status and rewards; while American Airlines said in December that its customers will have to spend more in 2023 to achieve the lowest elite status in its AAdvantage frequent flyer program, setting the standard at 40,000 points instead of 30,000 to reach gold status.


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