FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger aircraft arrives over the top of residential houses to land at Heathrow Airport in west London, Britain, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs
(Reuters) – U.S. airlines are extending loyalty program benefits and status into 2021 for members homebound because of the new coronavirus.
Business and leisure travel have virtually ground to a halt worldwide, forcing airlines to drastically reduce flying schedules and ground their jets. Before the pandemic, carriers had been actively courting business or first-class travelers in particular to boost revenue as competition intensified.
United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) is extending current members’ MileagePlus Premier status through January 2022, reducing thresholds for Premier qualification by 50%, offering more credit card points and making it easier to upgrade seating.
Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) is extending its SkyMiles Medallion Members’ status as well as the expiration dates for upgrade certificates and travel vouchers.
American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) on Monday had no updates on its elite program, but said it was continuing to assess the situation.
Airlines are also offering waivers on change fees, and in some cases refunds, for travel booked in the next month or two. Terms and conditions vary by airline.
The U.S. Transportation Department has told airlines they must refund tickets for flights that they cancel, or make a significant schedule change that passengers do not accept, following a rising number of consumer complaints and inquiries.
U.S. and foreign airlines have canceled hundreds of thousands of flights and eliminated millions of seats as travel demand has plunged because of the coronavirus pandemic. Facing what carriers call an unprecedented crisis, many are seeking government aid to help them avoid employee layoffs.
In the United States, top Democrats in Congress on Sunday urged the U.S. Treasury to move quickly to award $32 billion in cash assistance to airlines and airport contractors without setting onerous requirements that could lead to bankruptcies.
Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Richard Chang