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7 elite status qualification changes TPG staffers hope to see in 2022

Feb. 19, 2022
14 min read
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Airline and hotel loyalty programs have undergone some major changes in recent years, particularly on the elite status side. Aside from elite status extensions and reduced qualification thresholds, the pandemic pushed some programs to rethink their elite status programs altogether.

There are two overarching themes with these changes. First, elite status is becoming more about spending than actual travel. Next, programs are expanding the types of activities that qualify toward status. That said, loyalty programs are far from perfect, and the writers and editors at The Points Guy have ideas on what they'd like to change.

Here are seven changes to qualifying for elite status TPG team members would like to see.

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Earn elite-qualifying credit on incidentals

Benji Stawski, Strategic Travel Reporter

A United snack box (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

More and more airlines are moving away from awarding elite-qualifying credit based on how much you fly, and instead basing elite status on how much you spend on flights.

There's one major problem: airlines aren't rewarding customers for their total spending. While it's understandable why an airline might only award elite credit for the base fare of the ticket and not taxes, it baffles me that they don't reward you for your add-ons and other incidentals. After all, ancillary revenue has become a crucial source of income for many airlines.

Now, I'll give United credit for awarding premier qualifying points (PQPs) on Economy Plus and preferred seat purchases, as well as on upgrade fees. But why stop there? Why not award PQPs for baggage fees or onboard purchases as well? Think upgrades, lounge passes and onboard purchases.

Although American Airlines awards elite-qualifying Loyalty Points for a number of non-travel activities, even including shopping online, upgrades and other incidentals are not eligible. That is unless you count the points you could earn for paying with a cobranded American Airlines credit card.

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Hotels already award elite-qualifying points for incidental spending like food and drinks, so now it's the airlines' turn to follow suit. Some flyers spend hundreds per year on incidentals, so this change could be the push they need to hit that next tier.

Related: Is airline elite status still worth it?

Make elite status easier to understand

Chris Dong, Reporter

American Flagship First. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Why does it sometimes feel like you need a Ph.D. to understand the ins and outs of a frequent flyer program? Yes, I understand the irony of asking this question as someone that distills this information to you, the reader.

But for the average traveler, I'd argue that elite status has gotten way too complicated as revenue requirements take precedence (or totally replace) butt-in-seat flying.

Sure, the glory days of earning status solely through the miles you fly are over, but that doesn't mean airlines need to increasingly make their programs more difficult to decipher — and make more frequent changes.

If you haven't flown much since before the pandemic, get ready for a whole boatload of things to sort through. For United flyers who haven't looked at their accounts recently, that might mean surprise elite status extensions (or a lack thereof), reduced qualification criteria, bonus Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs), Plus Points extensions and much, much more.

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in all travel companies' plans, but the frequent changes and sometimes confusing nature of elite status requirements will only turn off more casual flyers.

Thankfully, American Airlines has gone the other direction, seemingly making their Loyalty Points scheme easier to understand. (Though we'll know for sure come March when it officially launches.) While there is still a learning curve to any new or refreshed program, American is at least streamlining the way your earn status to just one metric — Loyalty Points.

My 2022 plea for the other airlines: can we just make the path to earn elite status easy to understand again?

Related: The easiest airline miles to earn and why you want them

Earn elite-qualifying progress from award flights

Zach Griff, Senior Reporter

Delta One on the Airbus A330-900neo (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Historically, airlines haven't awarded elite-qualifying segments or qualification progress for tickets that were purchased using miles. Elite members who are "on the hamster wheel" often feel the need to purchase flights, instead of redeeming their miles, to keep earning status.

Yet, if a member is redeeming miles, they're still a valuable flyer from an airline's perspective. They're engaging with the loyalty program, and they're likely redeeming miles without displacing a paying passenger.

If that's the case, then why can't airlines award elite progress from tickets purchased with miles? This year, we've seen American Airlines allow select award tickets to count towards the 30-segment minimum to earn top-tier elite perks. Delta made a similar move last year, as did Virgin Atlantic.

Going forward, it'd be great if airlines pulled a move from the major hotel chains, which all offer elite qualifying credit for award stays.

Related: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status without flying

Qualifying night boost from more hotel credit cards

Katie Genter, Senior Points and Miles Writer

IHG’s InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Most hotel credit cards provide some level of elite status for as long as you keep your card open.

For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card provides automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status. And the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card provides complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status. Plus, some cards will give you a specific status tier if you meet specific spending thresholds.

But, excluding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Wyndham Rewards Earner® Business Card, if you want to earn top-tier status with most hotel loyalty programs, you'll usually need to do by meeting qualifying points or qualifying nights thresholds.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex and the Wyndham Rewards Earner Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

For programs that allow you to qualify based on qualifying points, spending on your cobranded hotel credit card may earn qualifying points. But, I usually qualify for my hotel elite status based on qualifying nights. After all, I often redeem points or stay at inexpensive hotels so I don't earn many qualifying points from stays.

Luckily, some cards provide qualifying nights, either as an annual benefit or based on meeting spending thresholds. For example, you can earn up to 30 elite nights per year with Marriott credit cards. And you get five qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year with the World of Hyatt Credit Card. Plus, you can earn two additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your World of Hyatt Credit Card.

My wish for 2022 is to have a premium Hyatt card that offers more qualifying nights than the World of Hyatt Credit Card. The new World of Hyatt Business Credit Card would have been the perfect opportunity for Chase to allow Hyatt loyalists with multiple Hyatt cards to get 10 or 15 qualifying night credits each year simply for having two Hyatt cards. But instead, the World of Hyatt Business Card only offers the ability to earn five annual qualifying night credits for every $10,000 spent in a calendar year.

Additionally, I'd like to see an IHG Rewards card that provides qualifying night credits. After all, with IHG implying it may eventually provide new perks for its new top-tier Diamond Elite status, it would be great if the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card provided some number of qualifying night credits on top of automatic Platinum Elite status.

Related: Why I’m keeping my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless for the long term

Lifetime miles for award travel

Kyle Olsen, Points and Miles Reporter

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Achieving million miler status is an incredible accomplishment, as it's a testament to one's continued business to an airline.

One can earn million miler status by flying at least 1,000,000 miles over their lifetime with an airline; a mile flown is a mile earned. United, American, Delta and Alaska all have million miler programs.

Unfortunately, the major airlines — with the partial exception of Delta — only allow members to earn lifetime flight miles on paid tickets. I've flown tens of thousands of miles with United on award tickets in the last several years, and despite this, I don't earn lifetime flight miles for my award travel.

Further, United doesn't allow the accrual of lifetime flight miles unless you're flying on United or United Express. Even if you've taken dozens of Star Alliance partner flights and credited them to your United MileagePlus account, you haven't earned any lifetime flight miles for that activity. Likewise, you only earn Alaska million miler status on revenue tickets.

Related: You can now earn top-tier Delta status for life — but it’ll cost you

American, like United, doesn't allow for the accrual of lifetime flight miles on its award tickets either; however, American gives AAdvantage members the chance to earn lifetime flight miles on some of its partners. This policy is slightly better than United and Alaska but doesn't fully capture the extent of one's flying.

As discussed, Delta is the only airline major airline that allows accruing lifetime flight status from award travel. Instead of distance flown, Delta uses lifetime Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) as its Million Miler metric. You can earn MQMs on award tickets, but only through the end of this year. The airline is offering elite-status earning on award tickets in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the new year, and beyond, I would like to see airlines credit lifetime flight miles for award travel permanently. Doing this would reflect the frequent traveler's total time in the sky, whether they paid for tickets or not.

Reward actual frequent flyers

David Slotnick, Senior Aviation Business Reporter

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

American Airlines will introduce its Loyalty Points program for the 2023 qualifying year, and I’m curious to see what it means for most flyers.

In essence, each qualifying mile earned equals one “Loyalty Point.” Instead of worrying about qualifying dollars and miles, the only thing that matters for your status is how many miles you earn.

This is great for those who spend a lot of money on their American Airlines credit cards, or who jump through hoops to maximize shopping portals and hotel partnerships. But there’s one important group that the change punishes: actual frequent flyers.

In short, if you fly a lot (really a lot), but don’t highly engage with the AAdvantage program on the ground or in your everyday spending, you won’t hit the same status level.

For instance, I’m currently a Platinum Pro on American. If I take 30 trips with the airline this year, averaging $250 each — and since prices are fairly low right now, that’s a lot more than I’ve been spending over the past few weeks — I’ll only be able to hit Gold status next year, according to American’s own Loyalty Points calculator.

That means that unless I unexpectedly fly a couple of expensive Oneworld paid business class flights this year, I’ll need to start spending a lot on my AAdvantage credit card in order to requalify at my current level, missing out on the points and benefits I can earn by spending on other cards.

I’m curious to see how this works out for American. On the one hand, it might drive the airline’s loyal passengers to spend more on their AAdvantage cards, use shopping portals for the first time, and otherwise engage with the program in a way that generates revenue for the airline.

On the other hand, a lot of flyers may be in for a nasty surprise next year and may decide that hitting a lower status level means it’s a good opportunity to focus on a different carrier, like Delta.

It’s a gamble on American’s part, and I’m eager to see how it plays out — both for the airline and for my status.

Related: Don’t book hotel stays direct if you want to earn maximum American Loyalty Points

Reduce night requirements for hotel status

Andrew Kunesh, Points and Miles Editor

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Last year, I was able to earn Marriott Titanium status through a mixture of work travel, credit card nights and bonus nights awarded by Marriott during the pandemic. However, with recent changes to the Marriott Bonvoy program, I am shifting my focus to World of Hyatt in 2022.

But it's not going to be easy to earn top-tier elite status this year. I am just four Hyatt elite nights toward my 60-night goal for Globalist, in large part due to my frenzy to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points before the switch to dynamic pricing. In other words: it's going to take a lot of work and personal travel for me to qualify for Globalist status this year.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Last year, Hyatt cut elite requirements in half for all status tiers. This meant it required just 30 nights to earn Globalist, which was far more attainable for travelers as the pandemic continued to reduce travel demand through the first half of last year.

Related: Hotel and airline elite status extensions stretching into 2023

Travel has started its big comeback, but it isn't totally back to normal. Many international borders remain closed and business travel still isn't what it was in 2019 for many of us, which is making it hard for many frequent travelers to earn or re-earn World of Hyatt status.

I'd like to see the major hotel loyalty programs reduce qualification requirements again in 2022. It doesn't need to be a 50% cut like last year, but I think a 20% to 30% cut across the board would be fair for travelers. It would help travelers requalify for status without the pressure of a "normal" travel year, which is especially important for those who usually frequent Asia and other regions where travel is still off-limits for most.

Bottom line

There are a number of ways loyalty programs can improve their elite status qualifications. Some of these wishes are totally plausible, while others are less likely to happen. Regardless, it’s an interesting look into what earning elite status could look like one day.

Featured image by (Photo by Nicholas Ellis / The Points Guy)
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.