Airline perks and elite status will be hard to earn this year

The new Delta SkyClub at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminals 2 and 3 with state-of-the-art facilities will soon welcome millions of guests each year.

Media Newsgroup | Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

When United Airlines Before gate agents call the boarding group, Ted Cohen sees something he’s never seen in his decades as a music industry executive crossing the world: crowds.

The “preboarding” group includes members of United Global Services, an invitation-only status for top customers, and United Premier 1K, an upper-tier level in the airline’s Mileage Plus frequent flyer program.

“There used to be two or three people, and you’d say, ‘Who’s that?’ And now it’s a small army,” said Cohen, who leads a digital entertainment consulting firm and holds Lifetime Elite status on United and United. American Airlines,

Welcome to the age of mass luxury air travel.

Cabins and airport lounges are swelling in front of travelers willing to spend more for tickets and popular rewards credit cards. Now airlines are trying to handle the influx of big spenders — without compromising on the appeal of their lucrative loyalty programs and most expensive seats. This year, not everyone will make the cut.

Largest US carrier Delta AirlinesAmerican and United are raising spending requirements to earn some elite frequent flyer tiers that offer free upgrades, early boarding, discounted or complimentary lounge access and other perks.

Officials say the enriched necessities are a product of the pandemic. Airlines had expanded frequent flyer status without requiring travelers to meet the normal annual threshold because potential travelers were left out. Meanwhile, customers continued to spend on their rewards credit card, racking up points and perks along the way.

“We feel like we’re royals, even though we’re not rich,” said Damaris Osorio, 27, who lives in New York.

Osorio frequents airport lounges on travel booked with reward points she earned through strategic credit card use and sign-up bonuses. Last year she and her fiancé traveled to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Italy, all flights she paid for with points.

She said she cares little about seating at the front of the plane, but has a preference for the American Express Centurion lounge, which she visits with one of her Amex cards. Osorio learns that she is not alone.

“You see how busy it is getting in the lounge,” she said. “I go as fast as I can with what I’m taking.”

Next month, Amex Platinum cardholders will be charged $50 for each guest they bring into the Centurion lounge. Those cardholders can currently bring up to two guests for free.

‘Everyone is special so no one feels special’

For airlines, the rush of high spenders is a good problem, two years after the pandemic left them in a $35 billion hole despite billions in taxpayer aid. Airlines are profitable again, with travel booming and travelers willing to pay for a little more space or privacy on their travels.

Airlines’ lucrative credit card partnerships helped them stay afloat in the pandemic. They sell miles to credit card companies and bring in billions of dollars.

Now they have tons of travelers who want to cash in on the rewards.

If they call biz class boarding and it’s like the start of the Indy 500… it’s not going to be a pleasant experience.

henry heartvelt

Founder of Atmosphere Research Group

Delta said in an investor presentation last month that premium products and non-ticket revenue would make up 57% of its sales this year, up from 44% in 2014 and 53% in 2019 before the pandemic. That category includes top-end international business-class seats, extra-legroom seats and revenue from other sources, such as partnerships with American Express,

After some customers complained about crowds and long lines at its Sky Club airport lounges, Delta said late last year it would raise prices and the requirements to gain access to those facilities. Earlier in 2022, it also established a three-hour time limit for lounge access and created a VIP line for higher status holders.

CEO Ed Bastian said the recent policy changes are aimed at addressing the expansion of pandemic-era conditions and the growth of customers spending more to travel.

“We have to be fair to everybody in some way, because as they say, ‘if everybody’s special, nobody feels special,'” Bastian said in an interview last month. “We’re trying to do it in a fair way.”

United’s chief customer officer, Linda Jojo, put it this way at a recent industry conference. He said, ‘If everyone has status then no one has status.

In November, United said it was raising the requirements to earn the position and perks.

United also opened a new mini-lounge at its hub at Denver International Airport to cater to customers traveling on regional feeder jets, a move that could be of great benefit to long-haul travelers. Can help free up space in features.

United Airlines Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport

Leslie Josephs | cnbc

Last month, American Airlines said customers would have to spend or fly more to reach the lowest elite tier in its AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Gold status will soon require customers to accumulate 40,000 so-called loyalty points, instead of 30,000.

big space for big spenders

Delta, American, United and American Express are opening larger airport lounges to fit more passengers.

American and its trans-Atlantic partner British Airways announced in November that John F. New, high-end lounge opened at Kennedy International Airport with showers, bars and lots of workspace. An airline spokeswoman said the three lounges are roughly double the square feet that American previously offered at JFK, about 65,000 square feet.

“There’s tremendous demand, and we have to make sure we’re taking care of customers how they want to be taken care of,” American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said at the opening of the JFK lounge.

Many full-service carriers have also moved away from long-haul first-class cabins in favor of more premium economy seats — between business-class and standard coach seats — and larger business-class cabins that fit scores of passengers. , especially on long flights .

Many of the new business-class seats are more spacious and come with more amenities than first class seats of the past.

A new American Airlines and British Airways lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Nov. 29, 2022.

Leslie Josephs | cnbc

American Airlines plans to get rid of a separate first class on some older planes that used to fly long routes, in favor of a single, expanded, business class with new suites with doors.

The airline said premium seats on its long-haul fleet would increase by more than 45% by 2026.

But with that cabin expansion comes the risk of diluting the premium feel, said Henry Harteveldt, a former airline executive and founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

“If they say biz class boarding and it’s like the start of the Indy 500 and you have 70 people walking down the jet bridge, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience,” he said.

‘I don’t sit behind the wing’

With demand still strong, it could be more expensive to redeem miles for flights this year.

Michael Calarco, a part-time consultant who helps travelers book travel with their rewards points, said it has been hard to find seats recently because planes are so full after travel restrictions are lifted, including international ones. Destinations are also included.

He recommends that travelers be as flexible as possible with their dates if they want to redeem their points for travel and avoid the big holidays.

“I can’t do much if someone wants to go to the Maldives two months away,” he said.

Some travelers say the comfort is worth redeeming the points they’re seated on.

“I don’t sit behind the wing,” said Mark Ofog, 40, who works at an educational technology company and holds a top-tier position with United’s Mileage Plus program. She and her husband plan to visit her in-laws in Buenos Aires this year and plan to use United PlusPoints to upgrade to lie-flat seats.

Ofouagh said, “It’s a long flight, and I want to lie down.”

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