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The exciting airline loyalty updates coming in 2021

Nov. 20, 2020
7 min read
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We're only about six weeks away from 2021.

While 2020 was mostly bad news, there were a few bright spots in the airline loyalty space. Each U.S. carrier announced some type of innovation, ranging from American's basic economy improvements to Delta's two-time benefit extensions and more.

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Nonetheless, most of us are ready to bid farewell to 2020. As we look forward to the new year and wrap up Airlines Week of the 2020 TPG Awards, let's take a look at some of the exciting loyalty program updates on the horizon.

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American's new Executive Platinum rewards

American was the first of the Big 3 U.S. airlines to announce reduced elite-qualifying thresholds for 2021.

As part of the news, the Fort Worth-based carrier also extended the amount of time needed to qualify for status. All activity from Oct. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2021 will count toward earning AAdvantage status in 2021.

But that's not all. Top-tier Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members will get a pick from a new collection of Milestone Rewards. American teased the new options in an exclusive interview with TPG.

Don't worry: The carrier's beloved Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) aren’t going anywhere. However, new choices will include Admirals Club day passes, bonus AAdvantage miles, headphones and more. This added flexibility will result in something closer to Delta's Choice Benefits program, a welcome shift for loyal travelers looking for more say in their perks.

American promised to reveal the full details in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

Related: Exclusive interview with American’s loyalty chief hinting at AAdvantage improvements

United's first-quarter promotion

As part of United's elite adjustments for 2021, the carrier announced a lucrative promotion for flyers taking to the skies in early 2021.

Specifically, during the first quarter of 2021, from Jan. 1 through March 31, MileagePlus members can earn bonus PQPs on their first three United or United Express PQP-earning trips.

Elite members can earn a 100% PQP bonus, with a minimum of 300 bonus PQPs and a maximum of 1,500 bonus PQPs per trip. Non-elites can earn a 50% bonus, with a minimum of 150 bonus PQPs and a maximum of 1,000 bonus PQPs per trip.

UA's promo definitely makes it worthwhile to consider the Chicago-based carrier for your first-quarter travel plans.

Related: United extends elite perks, makes it easier to earn status in 2021

Earning Delta status in 2021

While AA and United have already reduced thresholds for elite status in 2021, we've yet to hear from Delta.

Delta hasn't yet shared a SkyMiles update for 2021 Medallion status (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

While Delta is carrying over all Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned this year to 2021, the actual qualification thresholds remain the same (for now).

As such, pay close attention to this space. In the hypercompetitive airline industry, expect to see the Atlanta-based carrier to match — and possibly outdo — American's move.

Alaska joining Oneworld

The day is finally set. March 31, 2021.

By the second quarter of next year, Alaska Airlines will be a full member of the Oneworld alliance.

When it joins, frequent flyers will immediately see some useful perks, including the ability to earn and burn miles across the alliance’s 13 member carriers, use lounges around the world and have access to more than 1,000 destinations across the alliance map.

Alaska's top-tier MVP Gold 75K elites will likely get Oneworld Emerald status, unlocking the doors to some top-notch first-class lounges, like Cathay Pacific's The Pier in Hong Kong and the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney.

The full details are still forthcoming, but hopefully, Alaska will maintain its breadth of non-alliance partners and award chart sweet spots — though it's worth noting that this date coincides with the end of Emirates first-class awards through MileagePlan.

Related: American, Alaska and Oneworld partnership FAQs

Alaska and American perks

Alaska joining Oneworld isn't the only think brewing with the Seattle-based carrier. Just this morning, American and Alaska announced a slew of reciprocal elite perks that'll kick in for 2021. This includes complimentary upgrades across both airlines for AA Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro travelers as well as Alaska's MVP Gold 75K members — including the ability for Alaska's top-tier flyers to use new Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade long-haul, international flights on American.

Additional benefits to come include perks at the airport as well as seating benefits — with more details to come as Alaska's formal entrance to the alliance approaches.

American and JetBlue tie-up

In July, American and JetBlue jolted the industry when they announced a strategic, Northeast-focused partnership. When it launches, the two carriers plan to codeshare on many routes, including the nation's most premier: transcontinental service between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Additionally, the new partnership will include reciprocal elite benefits for both American and JetBlue frequent flyers. We don't yet know the specifics, but executives at both airlines are excited about the partnership — and are hyping up the benefit to travelers.

Related: Why my loyalty to American Airlines looks to be paying off

Spirit's new loyalty program

Yes, you read that right. One of the country's largest ultra-low-cost carriers is set to debut a new loyalty program early next year.

Under the new model, elites will enjoy free checked bags and seat assignments. Aside from new elite status tiers, some of the other highlights include the ability to pool points if you have elite status or a Spirit credit card; no blackout dates for redemptions; points that don’t expire for at least a year (and longer with qualifying activity); redemptions that start at 2,500 points for all members; and the ability to earn points at a rate of up to 20 points per dollar spent.

While some key details remain to be revealed, Spirit's announcement largely represents good news for those who regularly fly the ultra-low-cost skies. Stay tuned for the full program launch on Jan. 21, 2021.

Related: Why this Florida-based flyer will be taking a closer look at Spirit Airlines in 2021

JetBlue heads to London ... with a new Mosaic program?

Though Europe is still largely closed to tourists, JetBlue has big plans to hop the pond in 2021. The New York-based carrier intends to fly to London from both Boston (BOS) and New York-JFK next year.

JetBlue will take delivery of three new Airbus A321LR jets, featuring updated cabins and a new Mint business-class product to fly the six-plus hour flight.

JetBlue's new "streamers" tailfin for the A321LR (Image courtesy of JetBlue Airways)

When JetBlue announced Mosaic status extensions in May, Don Uselmann, JetBlue’s vice president of loyalty and personalization, told TPG the following:

“JetBlue is a relatively young airline in the loyalty space. And we always pride ourselves on simplicity. As we continue to grow and evolve through the coronavirus pandemic, we can all assume that the loyalty program will evolve with it.”

As the airline plans new London service and a partnership with American Airlines, be on the lookout for possible updates to both the TrueBlue program and its Mosaic elite status tier.

Bottom line

Even if travel doesn't rebound to pre-COVID levels right away, 2021 is shaping up to be an exciting year in the airline industry.

With new partnerships and route launches, carriers are hopeful that people will once again take to the skies. And if they don't, we can expect even more loyalty program innovations to pop up next year.

Featured image by Getty Images

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Pros

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
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Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
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

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases