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With Delta extending elite status, will American and United follow suit?

July 28, 2021
7 min read
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This week, Delta Air Lines made waves among frequent flyers with the promise that elite status would be extended for an entire extra year, matching the airline's generosity back when the COVID-19 pandemic brought global air travel to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020.

Notably, Delta was the first U.S. carrier to announce a status extension then, back in April of last year, and now the carrier holds that honor again in 2021.

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At the moment, the travel climate is entirely different than it was this time last year, however — while a blanket extension was largely unavoidable in 2020, Americans have since returned to the skies, with many making an extra effort to requalify for elite status this year.

Related: Delta Air Lines extends elite status, certificates and more for another year

Delta's move may seem especially generous on the surface, but it has the potential to alienate customers who have gone the extra mile to qualify for perks — in some cases booking flights out of pocket to compensate for a lack of work-related trips.

The airline has a solution: Beginning in February of 2022, customers who earned status this year will appear higher on the upgrade list than those who received an extension. Platinum and Diamond members will also be able to select new Choice Benefits, while those with extended status will not.

Will other airlines follow?

While all Delta Medallion members can now rest easy, knowing that their status will be valid through Jan. 31, 2023, even if they're unable to fly, elites at other carriers are likely eager to learn whether or not their program of choice will follow suit.

So far, American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus have been focused on adding promotions that make it easier to qualify for status in 2021, even though some flying is still required.

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American, for example, is currently offering flyers an opportunity to earn bonus elite-qualifying miles for every flight they take through Aug. 31. That's in addition to a sizable elite-qualifying dollar deposit, available to all current elites.

Alternatively, American will waive the EQD requirement this year after you spend $30,000 on any cobranded AAdvantage credit card, but unfortunately that waiver isn't valid for Executive Platinum qualification.

The airline is also offering current elites the opportunity to extend their current status through Jan. 31, 2023 — by spending $15,000 on an AAdvantage credit card or earning 2,000 EQDs from AA or partner-operated flights between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021 — but you won't be eligible for elite choice rewards, including systemwide upgrades, if you go this route.

American Airlines has already extended systemwide upgrades through mid-2022. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Finally, some AA Concierge Key members have reported having their status extended through early 2023, though the airline hasn't confirmed the move. Other AAdvantage status hopefuls can also get closer to elite status by crediting flights operated by Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.

As for United, the carrier recently announced that it'll be extending perks for all Global Services members who earned status based on their travels — members who received Global Services as part of a corporate contract or incentive may not have their perks automatically renewed.

Currently, that status extension only applies to the carrier's invite-only tier. Anyone hoping to earn Silver, Gold, Platinum or Premier 1K will need to qualify based on their 2021 travels, but like American, United has offered a handful of promotions aimed at making it easier for elites to close the gap.

First, like American, United reduced its 2021 qualification requirements across the board. United also began the year by giving all current United elites a deposit of Premier Qualifying Points. And then the quarterly promotions began kicking in.

In the first quarter, MileagePlus members had an opportunity to earn up to a 100% bonus for their first three PQP-qualifying trips — for up to 4,500 bonus PQPs. Then, with a promotion that ended this week, members could earn up to 3,750 bonus PQPs, based on their status level and completed trips.

United elites can use PlusPoints to confirm an upgrade in advance. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Many of the promotions we've seen so far have been designed to incentivize travel, with the understanding that many elites won't be able to fly — or spend — as much as they did before the pandemic. It's clear that American and United started the year hoping to avoid a status extension, and despite Delta's move, I'm inclined to think that plan remains.

Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest and other U.S.-based airlines haven't yet committed to extending status for another year, but it's always possible they could follow Delta's move, as well.

What makes Delta's situation different

It's important to note that Delta's in a slightly different position than just about every other U.S. carrier. While the airline managed to edge out the competition in TPG's best airlines report, besting Southwest and other front-runners, Delta has been sorely lacking in the customer service department, to the extent that customers trying to reach an agent have been spending the better part of a day waiting on hold.

Delta's excruciating hold times haven't gone unnoticed. Alongside the status extension announcement, the airline published a letter from CEO Ed Bastian, titled "We know you expect more – we’re taking action."

"While we are pleased to welcome you back, the unexpected pace of the return of our customers has resulted in some unforeseen challenges as we ramp up to meet demand and handle a record-breaking level of calls," Bastian said in the note.

Bastian notes that the airline is "taking significant actions to alleviate these pain points" — including extending elite status for another year. In other words, the status extension is a concession of sorts, with the understanding that it hasn't been smooth sailing for Delta flyers in 2021.

Delta's extending upgrade certificates as well. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

On the other hand, customers have largely had more success reaching reservations agents at American and United. Members of the TPG team have had notable waits reaching American agents on occasion, but we're talking a few minutes here and there — certainly not the day-long holds we've experienced with Delta.

United, on the other hand, has typically picked up within a few minutes — personally, as a Premier 1K member, I've always been able to reach a United agent right away.

Overall, Delta's call center challenges appear to be far more widespread, and it's been an ongoing issue — I encountered very long waits last spring, and the delays only seem to have gotten worse as time went on.

Bottom line

With five months left in 2021, there's still plenty of time left for travelers to close the gap and qualify for another year of status on their own. It's possible travel may slow down as Americans grow more concerned about the delta variant, but that hasn't been the case so far.

Related: The delta variant hasn’t made a dent in US travel demand, airlines say

Additionally, the incredibly busy summer travel period has likely made it possible for travelers to add a significant number of elite-qualifying credits to their accounts — many elites are probably well on track to earn status for another year, and with all of the bonus opportunities, some may have already qualified for 2021.

TPG reached out to American and United for more insight, but both airlines aren't yet ready to share their plans. While we'll have to wait and see what's to come, assuming American and United are pleased with the progress they've seen so far, I wouldn't expect blanket status extensions again.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
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  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023