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I’m going to have to start this post off with a confession: I was wrong…sort of.
Back in April, I said that the argument that airlines shouldn’t extend elite statuses because it will encourage flyers to defect to other airlines is nonsensical because people look to earn status to enjoy the joys of that status. Generally speaking, they don’t earn status only to then fly with airlines with which they have no standing. I also said that if British Airways extended my status I wouldn’t be seeing what other airlines I can fly. Well, it turns out that this isn’t entirely true.
I still maintain that the overwhelming majority of flyers who have their elite status extended will continue to fly with the airline that extended their status, but I now also realize that my claims that I wouldn’t look to stray if my British Airways status was extended weren’t entirely accurate.
Why I Enjoy Having Top-Tier Elite Status
There are two key reasons I like having top-tier elite status:
- British Airways Gold status offers me a number of benefits that make my trips easier, cheaper, and more comfortable. These include:
- First Class lounge access
- Access to all American Airlines Admirals Clubs even when traveling on a US domestic itinerary.
- Access to the First Class Wing (a dedicated check-in and security area) at Heathrow T5 (a terminal I travel through a lot)
- Free seat selection at the time of booking (allows me to guarantee myself an exit row seat on most of the Economy Class flights I take without having to pay extra)
- Enhanced baggage allowances
- Expanded short-haul Economy Class award availability (this benefit alone saves me between $750 and $1,000 per year)
- Group 1 boarding (on most oneworld airlines) which ensures that I rarely struggle to find overhard space for my hand baggage.
- I write a miles and points blog so:
- If I want to be able to review a lot of the better lounges around the world (without paying a lot of money/points for First Class travel) I need some kind of top-tier status. Oneworld status works best for me.
- If I want to be able to discuss the merits of a particular loyalty program based it really helps if I’ve experienced as many of the statuses that the loyalty program offers. Top-tier status is usually the one most people would like to have and which provokes most discussion so it helps to have that status.
I’m not excusing my yearly quest for elite status (I don’t feel I need to), I’m just explaining why I pursue it as I’m sure someone will ask 🙂
My Elite Status Situation
Last week, British Airways confirmed that it was offering 12-month status extensions to all Executive Club status holders with a membership year ending between 8 July 2020 and 8 June 2021. It also confirmed that, following the status extension, its elite members would have a reduced target to aim for in their quest to have that status renewed.
Currently, I hold British Airways Gold status and that status has just been extended through to the end of next year. Between 9 December 2020 and 8 December 2021 I will have to earn 1,125 Tier Points (down from 1,500) if I want to retain my status through the end of 2022.
Most of my long haul flying (the flying that earns me most of my elite status credits) tends to take place between the middle of December and the end of April (that’s my preferred time of year to do most of my traveling) and this year was no different. I earned over 1,145 of the 1,500 Tier Points I originally needed for BA Gold status by the second week of March so I didn’t have very many long-haul trips booked before Covid-19 changed the travel landscape. In fact, I had just 2.
Both of the trips I had booked for later this year were with oneworld airlines (they formed part of my quest to requalify for BA Gold status) and both have fallen foul of the pandemic. Multiple flights from a July trip back to Los Angeles have been cancelled (so I’m currently waiting for a refund) and a Finnair flight from an October multi-segment trip between France and Los Angeles has put that trip in doubt too.
Since the pandemic grounded me I’ve made two further bookings that are relevant to this post:
- A December Business Class trip between Europe and Los Angeles flying with Delta, Air France, and KLM.
- A February Business Class trip between Europe and Los Angeles flying with Air France.
The key thing to note about these two bookings is that neither involves an oneworld airline (why that’s important will become clear in the next section).
How My Elite Status Extension & The Reduced Elite Targets Have Changed My Thinking
Thinking About My October 2020 Trip
Before British Airways announced the status extensions and the reduced elite status targets, I was thinking that I would probably have to rebook my October trip to Los Angeles. Canceling didn’t look like a good option from a status-earning point of view. I felt that there was a chance that I’d need the Tier Points from those flights to retain my BA Gold status for next year or, failing that, I may need the Tier Points to give me a jump start on requalification in 2021 (I thought that British Airways may roll over some tier points from this year into next year. I did not expect it to lower the status thresholds).
Now things have changed.
With British Airways not rolling over any Tier Points into the next qualification year and with my elite status secured for another year, there’s no big benefit to be had from earning any more Tier Points in 2020 and that makes it a lot less important for me to rebook my October trip back to LA. In fact, there’s no pressure on me to rebook at all. Because it was an airline that canceled part of my itinerary (and not me), I have the option to request a full refund and put that cash towards my trips in 2021.
However, the October trip was never just about earning Tier Points. It was about getting back home to LA as well. That makes it unlikely that I’ll choose to cancel the trip altogether, but how I choose to get back to LA may well now change. My options have expanded.
This is what I could do:
- Find Business Class award availability for cabins that I’d like to review for this blog (United Polaris, Delta One A350, Virgin Atlantic A350, SWISS 777, etc…) and, once the award is booked, request a refund of my oneworld booking.
- Find a great cash fare with one or more airlines that I’d like to review for this blog and, once that fare is ticketed, request a refund of my oneworld booking.
- Ask BA to rebook me on whatever alternative flights are open to me and keep my booking within the oneworld alliance.
Right now, these options are set out in my order of preference (option one being my favorite as it would save me a lot of money and allow me to review some great Business Class cabins) and this wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for BA’s announcement last week.
My Plans For 2021
Before British Airways announced the status extensions and the reduced elite status targets, I was getting concerned that I could be facing a potentially serious Tier Point shortfall in 2021. I knew that I’d probably be booking a fantastic value trip which would earn me a lot of Tier Points for early next year but, other than that, I had nothing booked with oneworld airlines.
- The two Business Class trips that I take religiously every year (in December and in February) and which would normally have been booked using oneworld airlines, are currently booked with SkyTeam airlines.
- It’s unlikely that I’m going to have much time to take Tier Point earning flights between the end of March and the beginning of June as I have award bookings in place for the trips I hope to take and I have other commitments that will keep me from flying.
- In July and August, I have family commitments that will prevent me from taking any long-haul trips.
All of this means that I could have easily found myself in a position where I was left with 3 months in which to earn over 40% of the Tier Points needed to retain BA Gold status and that wasn’t a situation I wanted to face.
Because of this, I’ve been looking around for a good Qatar Airways Business Class fare to book for January or early March 2021, and I’ve been working on the assumption that I would probably have to book another oneworld Business Class trip next October to seal top-tier status for another year.
Last week’s British Airways announcement changed all of that.
Thanks to the reduced status earnings targets, the great value trip which I had planned to book for early 2021 (I’ve now booked it) will be earning me 78% of the Tier Points I need for BA Gold status, so there’s no urgent need for me go hunting for good value oneworld Business Class fares for next year. In fact, assuming that a couple of short-haul Economy Class trips that I have planned come to fruition, it’s very likely that I won’t need more than a short-haul Business Class trip to guarantee me yet another year of top-tier oneworld status.
That’s very nice to know, and it means that I may even end up having the leeway to book any fantastic non-oneworld Business Class fares that may appear next year and that will allow me to review a few more cabins that are currently missing from the TFM archives.
When I wrote the post about why airlines shouldn’t be worrying about extending airline status I genuinely didn’t think that a status extension would change my plans and I never thought that British Airways (an airline that isn’t known for generous gestures towards its frequent flyers) would reduce its elite status qualification criteria. Apparently, I was very wrong.
My plans are definitely changing as a result of BA’s announcements and I’m excited at the prospect of being able to review a number of premium cabins that have yet to make an appearance on this blog…and it’s all down to BA’s generosity. If British Airways wasn’t so great at nickel-and-diming customers I’d probably feel a little guilty but, as it is, I just feel pretty good about my options for 2021 🙂
Are your plans going to change as a result of any of the status extensions you’ve received?