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COVID-19 Could Impact Your Points and Frequent-Flyer Terms—for the Better

If you’re avoiding booking flights for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, you might be wondering what’s going to happen to your frequent flyer status and/or airline points in the meantime.

For many frequent flyers and business travelers, the most important benefits of frequent-flyer membership are through special “elite” status: The prime benefits are no-cost upgrades to available premium seats via various priority lists, as well as preferential treatment on relaxed baggage restrictions, better boarding group, fewer or no seat-assignment fees, and faster ways to earn more miles/points.

Those upgrades are a powerful loyalty attractor. Elite members go to great lengths to retain or upgrade their status level, and the schedule reductions and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have seriously thwarted their ability to retain and improve status. The same goes for hotel chains with loyal members.

Recognizing this problem, and wishing to retain loyalty of their best customers, many airlines and hotels have started to ease status requirements for the duration of the epidemic. They’ve also extended validity of some important elite-status benefits. And some airlines have even eased restrictions on use of miles for ordinary, non-elite flyers.

Airlines Changing Points Terms Due to COVID-19

Several airlines have already announced their changes; others are sure to follow. The changes listed below are effective as of April 20. They’re moving targets: Look for further, rolling, extensions, especially those scheduled to end this month or next. Further down are the hotel chains offering points or elite-status term changes.

Alaska Airlines

Elite flyers can retain their current status on Alaska through at least December 31, 2021.  Companion certificates earned through the line’s credit card slated to expire in 2020 are extended: Apply certificates by December 2020 for travel through November 6, 2021. Status-earning miles acquired between January 1 and Apr 30, 2020, will roll over to 2021. You can find more information here.

Air Canada

Elite flyers on Air Canada retain their current status through December 31, 2021. Frequent flyers will not have to pay a fee to redeposit miles used to book award flights, through at least April 30. Accrued miles will not expire through May 14. You can find more information here.

American

Elite flyers whose status expires on January 1, 2020, will retain their current status through January 2022. Upgrade certificates slated to expire on January 31, 2021, are extended to July 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Delta

Elite flyers with Delta retain their current status through January 31, 2022. Status-earning miles acquired in 2020 will roll over to 2021. Sky Club memberships set to expire March 31 or later are extended for six months. You can find more information here.

Upgrade certificates and vouchers scheduled to expire March 1 through June 30 are extended until December 31, 2020. Certificates and vouchers expiring after June 30 are extended for six months.

Hawaiian

Hawaiian “will not be expiring any miles from March 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Members with miles set to expire within this time period will retain their full mileage balance. [Prior] standard expiration policy will resume on January 1, 2021.” You can find more information here.

Southwest

A-List and A-List Preferred flyers with elite status through December 21 will have status extended through December 31, 2021. Companion passes earned through December 31, 2020 will be extended through June 30, 2021. You can find more information here.

United Airlines

Elite flyers on United retain their current status through January 31, 2022. United has lowered mileage and spend requirements for the 2021 status year to earn various status levels by 50 percent.. Frequent flyers will not have to pay a fee to redeposit miles used to book award flights, through at least May 31. You can find more information here.

Expiration dates on several annual-pay programs, such as Wi-Fi, checked, bags, United Club membership, and seating in Economy Plus are extended by six months. Electronic travel certificates are now valid for 23 months.

WestJet

WestJet has upgraded or extended members who were on track to attain status in March through May, and it will “continue to look after” other travelers whose elite status might be affected by coronavirus changes. WestJet is also extending the validity of various vouchers and certificates, by varying periods—check the website for details. You can find more information here.

Other North American Lines

Clearly, the other big airlines with robust elite-status programs—specifically, American and Hawaiian—are likely to announce similar policies, within weeks if not days. On other U.S. and Canadian lines, status is a lot less important, but you can expect some relaxation of various frequent flyer rules from those lines fairly soon, as well.

Foreign Lines

Big foreign lines, too, are easing rules and extending status. Lines that have extended status for a year include LATAM, Qantas, Qatar, and Virgin Australia; Virgin Atlantic has extended status six months. Air France/KLM, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Etihad are adding miles to accounts or lowering status requirements. Many of these lines are also extending validity of various upgrades and companion certificates—check their respective websites for more information.

Bonus: Amtrak

Even Amtrak is relaxing some rules. Upgrade, companion, and various other certificates earned through the Guest Rewards program due to expire are extended through September 25, 2020. And earned points expiration dates are also extended to that date.

Hotels Changing Points Terms Due to COVID-19

The giant hotel chains operate frequent-stay programs that offer substantial elite-level benefits such as room upgrades, free meals, and early check-in/late check-out, along with the room awards available to ordinary members. They, too, are reacting to the fact that members can’t earn credit as quickly as they can during normal periods. In fact, their extensions are generally more generous than those of the airlines.

Accor

Accor has added bonus points to member account that reduce the points required to qualify or requalify for elite levels. You can find more information here.

Best Western

Current member status levels are extended through January 31, 2022. You can find more information here.

Hilton

Current member status levels for 2019 scheduled to end on March 31, 2020, are extended through March 31, 2021. Members with 2020 status is extended to March 31, 2022. Accrued points due to expire in 2020 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. Accrued Weekend Night rewards are extended through August 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Hyatt

Elite status levels as of March 31 are extended through February 28, 2022. Unused awards with expiration dates between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 are extended to December 31, 2021. Accrued points due to expire in 2020 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. You can find more information here.

IHG

Qualifying points required to reach the several elite levels are reduced by at least 25 percent , through 2021. Points due to expire between April 1 and December 31 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. Award night certificates due to expire between March 1 and December 31 will remain valid until December 31, 2020, and certificates issued in 202 will have an 18-month validity period. You can find more information here.

Marriott

Current elite status is extended through February, 2022. Expiration dates for accrued points are extended to February, 2021. Active award night awards expiring in 2020 are extended to January 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Radisson

Current elite status is extended through February, 2022. Certificates and scheduled to expire through July 31, 2020, will remain valid through June 30, 2021. Point expiration is extended by six months. You can find more information here.

Wyndham

Wyndham says it is “pausing the expiration of any Wyndham Rewards points until September 30, 2020 and [has] extended current Wyndham Rewards Member Levels (status) for all members globally through the end of 2021.” You can find more information here.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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