14 airlines that allow travelers to put elite status on hold
Editor's note: This post has been updated with additional information from airlines. It was originally published on Jan. 22, 2019.
Before my first child was born, I took 90 flights in a year (half of them while pregnant) and qualified for top-tier elite status with two airlines. Even though I was committed to continue exploring the world, both with and without my little ones, a new addition to a family is a major lifestyle adjustment that will often slow down the flying required to earn and maintain airline elite status.
It's not just leisure travelers like myself that experience this travel slow down. Parents-to-be may even need to take formal leave from a job that usually requires a lot of time up in the air. Or sometimes there are other life events that can curtail travel and threaten elite status.
Some airlines demonstrate their sensitivity to the hectic adjustment phase of becoming a parent or acknowledge medical issues, and show their commitment to longer-term loyalty, by having "elite hold" policies in place.
For parents to be, those who are expanding their family further or have been grounded by illness, we've put together a guide of 14 airlines that have elite status hold policies.
The Irish flag carrier changed its rules in January of 2020 for keeping elite status. It now allows AerClub loyalty program members to pause their elite status for up to a year to accommodate maternity, adoption or a serious illness.
While American Airlines does not have a formal status hold policy for pregnancy or parental leave, I reached out to the airline and received the following statement: "We understand our members go through major life events that may impact their travel schedules and we ask that they reach out to us when this happens. We review them with our members individually and on a case-by-case basis."
During my last pregnancy in 2015, I received a targeted elite status challenge with American Airlines when I was over 32 weeks pregnant. Out of sheer curiosity, I reached out and stated that I was interested in the challenge, but would be unable to complete it in the prescribed time frame. To my surprise, American Airlines was very understanding and told me they would extend the same offer to me as soon as I was able to start flying again.
As of May 2017, Alaska Airlines MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elites who are new parents can officially put their status on hold for one year during pregnancy and parental leave thanks to Alaska's Elite Leave program.
In order to qualify, email Alaska Airlines at firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, date of birth, Mileage Plan number and proof of pregnancy or parental leave, such as a note from your employer or doctor. Qualifying types of parental leave include maternity, paternity and adoption leave.
Once your year has passed, you'll be able to pick up where you left off and continue working to requalify. Keep in the mind that those who earned elite status as a gift or status match will not be eligible.
While United doesn't have a published policy available online, I reached out to the airline and received the following statement: "We understand that each of our MileagePlus members has different circumstances and it is our goal to work with members and offer extensions where appropriate. As such, we have equipped our agents to offer status extensions for maternity/paternity leave."
This is consistent with the experience reported by TPG Family's Mommy Points as she reached out to United in 2015 after welcoming her second daughter to the family in July of that year and the airline extended her MileagePlus Platinum status through 2016.
Delta Air Lines
Delta SkyMiles has a program called "Reclaim My Status" and anyone who has their SkyMiles elite status level drop or disappear due to a major life event -- like welcoming a baby, or even a job change, illness, etc. can apply to have their status reinstated. Those who qualify will be given complimentary elite status for three months and must travel a set amount on Delta during that time frame to extend the elite status. You may have to submit supporting documentation of your claim and be sure you are ready to start traveling again before submitting the request.
Hawaiian offers an elite status extension program that allows you to keep your Pualani Elite Status for one year after a qualified medical event. A medical event includes parental leave or a medical condition lasting 12 weeks or longer that prohibits you from flying. You can submit a request and upon verification of your eligibility, Hawaiian will extend your elite status one program year. As with many programs, those with complimentarily elite status, including gifted and matched status, are not eligible for Elite Status Extension.
The Iberia Plus loyalty program has an initiative that extended the validity of Iberia Plus elite status for women who are pregnant and fathers who are unable to maintain enough flying to earn or retain elite status. You can extend elite status for six months after welcoming a child to the family by emailing a copy of a medical report, maternity leave certificate or court ruling in the case of adoption, guardianship or fostering to email@example.com. This benefit does not apply for status obtained via different criteria from the standard program criteria.
Aegean's Silver and Gold elite members can extend their elite status for one year from the time the child is born until their first birthday. Elites can continue enjoying their perks during the extension, though only one member can put their status on hold for one child at any time (so both parents can't put their status on hold for the same kid at the same time).
To apply for this perk, use the airline's contact form and select "email." In the category field select Miles+Bonus “My Status” for the category and attach the required proof documents:
- Mother: birth certificate
- Father: birth certificate and proof of paternity leave
Aegean also has a family-friendly mileage pooling program for when it comes time to redeem those miles.
Qantas has "Status Hold," a family-friendly benefit that allows eligible Silver, Gold and Platinum members to put their status on hold for up to 18 months.
Status Hold is offered to parents who take at least six consecutive months of maternal/paternal leave from paid employment to spend time with their growing family. While six months of leave is extremely unusual in the United States, the cool thing about this generous offer is that not only can you still continue to earn Qantas Points and status credits as you usually would during this time, Plus, Gold and Platinum Members can still enjoy lounge access too.
This offer is extended to foster and adoptive parents as well. Eligibility is determined through application, requiring members to provide supporting documentation from a doctor confirming pregnancy or a child's birth certificate, plus a letter from the employer confirming a parental leave of at least six consecutive months. Eligible members are limited to a maximum of two approved Status Hold applications within a five-year period.
Air Canada rolled out its "Altitude Status Extension" offer in 2017, which allows parents to extend their elite status benefits for a minimum of 12 months. Qualifying is straightforward in that parents can simply email proof of parental leave from their employer along with the child's birth certificate, proof of adoption or fostering to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When parents are ready to start flying with little ones in tow, keep in mind that Air Canada also has one of the most generous lap infant polices for award flights.
British Airways has a policy to allow Bronze, Silver or Gold Executive Club members to put their status on hold for one year during maternity, paternity or adoption leave.
New parents interested in this status hold should email all supporting documentation, which includes a letter from a doctor or new baby's birth certificate (or documents related to adoption) to email@example.com along with your full name and Executive Club number. As an added perk, British Airways will even award your baby 1,000 Avios to start when you enroll them into your Household Account.
Keep in mind that although traveling families may grow at a faster pace, this courtesy is limited to a maximum of two approved holds per Executive Club elite every five years.
Virgin Australia offers a very generous "Parental Pause," where Platinum, Gold and Silver Members who wish to spend time caring for (or preparing for) a child under the age of 2 to join their family (including adoption) may apply to have their membership account paused for six months in order to maintain their elite status when ready to start flying again.
Both parents can apply for a six-month parental pause until the child reaches age 2. Apply via the membership contact center. Though no formal documents seem to be required, approval is at the discretion of the airline and verification may need to be provided if asked.
Though the policy isn't clearly outlined, Virgin Australia encourages women who are expecting a little one to get in touch with its customer care center because it will cover any tier points that are outstanding to renew Silver or Gold status starting from the date of when maternity leave begins.
The normal way to obtain Gold status is by earning at least 1,000 tier points in a year (and you'll be able to treat someone to a companion ticket). Additionally, Gold members can pool miles by linking up to nine other flyers in a household account.
Family-friendly policies, such as elite status holds, not only promote longer-term loyalty through goodwill, but also show that airlines understand the importance of family. While I could not find any official information about how JetBlue and Southwest (two of TPG's top family-friendly airlines) handle such requests, I'm curious to see if parents have any personal experiences they can share with those programs.
Keep in mind that I am sensitive to the fact that some frequent flyers might argue that such policies put families and parents at an unfair advantage, especially since other elites might encounter unforeseen circumstances resulting in having to put travel on hold for other reasons, such as a personal injury or illness or caring for a family member.
The good news is that the Big 3 U.S. carriers either have formal policies or evaluate requests on a case-by-case basis and may accommodate requests for nonparental reasons, too. In other words, don't be afraid to ask.
Angelina Aucello covers family travel for TPG and blogs at Angelina Travels. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram. Additional reporting by Benet Wilson.