Airlines monitor the number of elites in their program pretty closely, even as they jealously guard the specific numbers.
When economic conditions, or airline performance, depress travel and especially frequent travel airlines can incentivize flyers that have historically been their best customers to get back into the air. They can do that with bonus offers and also with bonus elite qualfiying mile offers.
Sometimes the offer is route-specific, not because travel is down but because they want to make sure their best customers stick with them when a competitor introduces new service on a route.
And sometimes the offer isn’t made to everyone, isn’t based on general conditions, but based on a particular flyer’s patterns. If you were an elite before, but have lapsed in your flying, the airline might reach out to you with an offer to get back on their aircraft. That’s what US Airways is doing with a targeted triple elite qualifying offer.
At the end of 2011, when American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they ran a double elite qualifying promotion that ran into January 2012. After American’s pilot job action in the fall 2012 they ran a double elite qualifying offer again. Travel was depressed, passengers were booking away, so they turned to their frequent flyer program to re-engage customers.
There’s nothing similar on the horizon that I can see, though that doesn’t mean there won’t be any airline incentivizing flying. Planes are generally full, fares are up, and the carriers are mostly profitable. Those all point away from broad general elite qualifying promotions.
Some suspect that elite qualifying promotions will become less common in the future as United and Delta are implementing minimum spending requirements. I suspect those airlines will continue to monitor how their elite ranks are shaping up, and if fare levels fall or flying drives up we could see ‘double elite qualfiying dollars’ promotions in the future.
The interesting thing though is that even as US programs change, US programs are not the only game for frequent flyers looking for outsized value. Certainly the Avianca LifeMiles program has some attractive attributes, so if MileagePlus is gutted it won’t be a true replacement but it makes me worry less about the medium-term for this game.
Similarly, US airlines aren’t the only ones looking to incentivize flyers and goose their elite ranks. Last year I status matched to Etihad Gold (I had some Etihad flying coming up, and Golds get better access to comped ground transport). Naturally I have not requalified, and so they sent me this:
It’s that time of year again when we do a quick check of your Etihad Guest Tier Miles, to see if you need a top up in order to continue enjoying the exclusive benefits of your current Etihad Guest Tier Level.
We have checked your account and found that you do need to earn more tier miles in order to retain your status
The good news is that we have just made it easier and more exciting for you to remain a valuable Etihad Gold Guest. Fly with us anytime before December 31, 2013 and we will reward you with double Etihad Guest Tier Miles/Etihad Guest Tier Segments to help you reach the requalification threshold of 40,000 Tier Miles or 30 Tier Segments.
Double elite qualfiying miles! I won’t be taking them up on it. But it does make me feel good about the aggressiveness of foreign frequent flyer programs (which are often run by veterans of US programs, by Americans and by Brits).
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