The travel companies we'd like to see step up in light of ongoing travel concerns
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Editor’s note: Since publishing this story, Southwest has announced that it's extending expiring drink coupons through the end of 2021.
It's been about six months since coronavirus came stateside and brought travel to a near standstill. Most airlines and hotels were quick to introduce change-fee waivers and elite status extensions. In fact, many major U.S. airlines have now eliminated most change fees permanently. However, there's still work that some travel companies need to do on the loyalty side.
When the pandemic began, no one knew how long it would take for things to return to normal. While an extension of mileage validity until September and upgrade certificates until January may have initially seemed enough, it is now clear that any meaningful, significant recovery in travel is still a long way off.
Some airlines and hotels have you more covered than others. Here's a look at the loyalty programs that are due for another round of extensions.
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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
In April, Alaska Airlines announced that it's extending all Mileage Plan elite status through December 2021. However, it did not extend the validity of Gold Guest Upgrade certificates or Alaska Lounge day passes, which are earned by qualifying for Alaska MVP Gold and Alaska MVP Gold 75K status. Any certificates earned upon qualifying for 2020 status are set to expire Dec. 31.
In addition, it appears that Alaska is making it increasingly difficult to use these certificates. The entire point of a perk like this is to book a certain fare class and confirm the upgrade at the time of booking (Alaska doesn't allow wait-listing). However, as pointed out by No Mas Coach, Alaska has eliminated nearly all 'U' upgradeable inventory, including flights well into 2021. Additionally, most lounges were closed until August and the ones that have reopened offer limited service.
Alaska confirmed the change and blamed COVID-19 as the reason. In a statement to No Mas Coach, an Alaska spokesperson explains, "We're currently evaluating options for how to handle unused guest upgrade certificates, knowing that guests aren't able to use them all at this time."
A similar (though slightly less-problematic) situation exists with outstanding companion fare certificates from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. Those set to expire in 2020 have been extended until Dec. 31, 2020, though that's the book-by date — you can use them for travel into next year. While it would be nice if the airline would extend the validity of these certificates, at least they can be used to purchase travel through most of 2021.
Also, keep in mind that you'll no longer be on the hook for any fees if you end up having to change your ticket.
Marriott has extended all elite statuses earned based on 2019 activity through Feb. 2022. Point expiration was initially paused through Aug. 31, 2020 and then extended until Feb. 2021. Marriott also extended Suite Night Awards through Dec. 31, 2021 — a wonderful development for Platinum and Titanium elites.
Then come the free-night certificates ...
Any free-night certificates from Marriott's cobranded cards that were set to expire in 2020 have been extended until Jan. 31, 2021. This is your travel-by date, not your book by date, and unfortunately, there's no indication that they will be extended further. That's very restrictive given the current travel restrictions — even domestically — and considering Marriott has temporarily suspended its brand standards and elite benefits guarantee.
The program built a ton of goodwill with loyal members by depositing elite nights into their accounts over the summer, so it would be great to see another extension of certificates, especially with many travelers holding more than they can use.
World of Hyatt
World of Hyatt has been one of the most generous hotel chains when it comes to handling coronavirus-related changes. It has extended World of Hyatt elite status, paused the expiration of World of Hyatt points through the end of the year, postponed the introduction of off-peak and peak point redemptions and offered one of the best flexible booking policies. Additionally, it has extended the validity of all rewards set to expire in 2020 through Dec. 31, 2021. These rewards include suite upgrades, free-night certificates and club lounge passes.
However, Hyatt seems to have overlooked passes expiring in early 2021. Oddly, it's currently possible to have newer rewards expire in Feb. 2021 while older ones will remain valid through the end of next year. A Reddit user reported having one of these certificates extended, though that isn't the official policy yet.
According to View from the Wing, a Hyatt spokesperson states, "We continue to evaluate the validity period for all awards to determine any extensions and will share further details in the coming weeks as soon as we have more to share."
Hyatt did just announce a very lucrative promotion to incentivize travel over the next few months, so it would be great to see a further extension for its most loyal members.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest currently only serves water on flights with beverage service. Since alcohol is unavailable, the airline has extended any expiring drink coupons through the end of 2020. There's no telling yet when the airline will serve alcohol again, so hopefully the airline further extends these coupons.
Spirit Airlines Free Spirit
Spirit has paused mileage expiration through the end of September. While that's better than no extension at all, there's still a lot of uncertainty with redeeming these miles now. As a point of comparison, Frontier has paused mileage expiration indefinitely.
Loyalty programs have done a great job overall adapting to the environment at large, but there are some aspects that they may be overlooking. Ultimately, airlines and hotels are under no obligation to extend the certificates discussed today, but it would surely help build goodwill — which will be key to driving customers back as travel continues to rebound.
Updated on 5/3/22.