Is it time for another round of extensions for airline and hotel travel certificates?

Jul 15, 2020

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Well, my 2020 travel plans haven’t quite played out the way I expected.

Yours probably didn’t either.

There have been plenty of cancellations and a newfound interest in home rentals. I even rented a car for four consecutive months.

When the coronavirus first came to the U.S., many travelers began wondering what would happen to their hard-earned elite status. It took some time, but airlines and hotels across the board extended status for another year in recognition of the fact that travel isn’t returning to normal anytime soon.

As part of the extension spree, airlines and hotels also announced that they’d be extending the validity of travel certificates.

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My current unused travel benefits

The other night I did my mid-year inventory of all my unused travel benefits — those free hotel nights and flight companion certificates earned from credit cards or elite status.

My wife and I have:

Please note that I do have 19 credit cards, which in normal times provide me with these ample perks that I use. But this year… well, do I really need to explain?

Most of the free travel awards listed above have already had their deadlines extended as the world has come to grasp the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic and just how long-lasting it will be. So, before I sound ungrateful, a big thank you to all these hotel chains, airlines and car rental companies for extending the deadlines. You can see our full guide to the various extensions here.

A Delta 767 in Atlanta (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

So where does that leave us?

As coronavirus cases continue to spike in the U.S. and hopes for a vaccine are still many months away, I’ve started to wonder if travelers need another round of extensions.

As much as it pains me to say it, the answer is yes.

It might not be until the spring or summer of 2021 that I will feel comfortable taking my family on a vacation. I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment. I hope that isn’t the case. But my optimism from a few weeks ago has been dashed out by the horrible news day after day.

Related: Guide to travel certificate extensions

I was speaking with my colleague Zach Griff about all of these unused certificates. We both agree that travel isn’t meaningfully restarting anytime soon. With cases on the rise in most states, would-be travelers are staying home and avoiding unnecessary trips.

Furthermore, travel restrictions continue to be extended. Americans can’t visit most international destinations, and some states like New York are even imposing 14-day quarantines for domestic travelers.

Reopenings continue to be pushed back too. Hawaii’s plan to welcome tourists without a quarantine was just delayed by a month, and countries like Croatia, once ready to willingly accept Americans, recently added restrictions for such visitors.

You aren’t welcome at the Four Seasons in Maui just yet (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Thus, it’s clear that a recovery in travel is a long way off. Though we’re both cautiously optimistic that the situation will improve by the end of the year, the current trajectory isn’t looking great. Having a vaccine or effective treatment might be the only way out. And even if we are lucky enough to have a vaccine by the end of the year, it could take months to immunize enough people to allow mass travel.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Bottom line

While I would love to see extensions now — and this would really help to reinforce loyalty — I’m not holding my breath.

Airlines and hotels already built up lots of goodwill with their status and certificate extensions. If they are going to do it again, it might not be until closer to the end of 2020.

Another possibility for why it doesn’t necessarily make sense for providers to extend certificates now is that there’s likely lots of breakage with these certificates. If they go unused, travel companies can reduce their liabilities. In a time when every dollar counts, I wouldn’t necessarily fault an airline or hotel for not extending certificates again.

That’s probably the right short-term business decision. But travel companies need to be thinking about the long game here. Remember, many of us aim for lifetime status. This is a relationship that will continue for decades and might be passed on to children or grandchildren. (I still have fond memories of an amazing suite upgrade my dad got with Marriott when I was a kid.) How hotels and airlines act now, during the worst of times, will be remembered by many of us for years to come.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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