It will be hard to earn airline perks and elite status this year

The new Delta SkyClub at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminals 2 and 3 where reimagined modern facilities will soon welcome millions of guests each year.

Media News Group | Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

when United Airlines Gate agents call the first boarding group Ted Cohen notices something he’s never seen in the decades he’s spent traversing the world as a music industry executive: crowds.

The “pre-boarding” group includes members of United Global Services, an invitation-only status for VIP customers, and United Premier 1K, a higher-level tier in the airline’s Millennial Plus frequent flyer program.

“It was by two or three people, and you’d say, ‘Who is this?’ said Cohen, who leads a digital entertainment consulting firm and has elite status for life at United and American Airlines.

Welcome to the age of mass luxury in air travel.

Travelers willing to pay more for tickets and popular rewards credit cards swell their ranks at forward cabins and airport lounges. Airlines are now trying to deal with the surge in big spenders – without compromising the appeal of lucrative loyalty programs and more expensive seats. This year, not everyone will cut.

The largest US airlines – Delta AirlinesAmerican and United – increasing spending requirements to earn some elite frequent flyer classes that award free upgrades, early rides, discounted or free lounge memberships and other perks.

Richer requirements, executives say, are a product of the pandemic. Airlines have extended frequent flyer status without requiring travelers to meet the usual annual limits due to sidelining potential passengers. Meanwhile, customers kept spending on rewards credit cards, racking up points and perks along the way.

“We feel like royalty even though we’re not rich at all,” said Damaris Osorio, a 27-year-old New York resident who runs a vintage clothing company.

Osorio frequents airport lounges on flights booked with rewards points earned through the use of strategic credit cards and check-in rewards. In the past year, she and her fiancé have traveled to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Italy, all on flights she paid for with points.

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She said she couldn’t care less about sitting at the front of the plane, but preferred the American Express Centurion lounges, which she enters with one of her Amex cards. Osorio realizes she is not alone.

“I noticed how crowded it was in the halls,” she said. “I go as soon as possible to maximize what I am going to kill.”

Next month, Amex Platinum cardholders will be charged $50 for every guest they bring to the Centurion Lounge. These cardholders can currently bring two guests for free.

If every person is special, then no one feels special

For airlines, legions of spenders are a problem after two years epidemic drive them to $35 billion holeBillions though Taxpayer assistance. Airlines are profitable again, with The return of the travel roar and flyers willing to pay for more space or more privacy on their trip.

Lucrative airline credit card partnerships helped them stay afloat in the epidemic. They’re selling miles to credit card companies, and they’ve brought in billions of dollars.

Now they have a lot of travelers eager to earn rewards.

If they call biz class boarding and it’s like the start of the Indy 500…it wouldn’t be a fun experience.

Henry Hartfeldt

Founder of the Atmospheric Research Group

Delta said in an investor presentation last month that premium products and non-ticket revenue will account for 57% of its sales this year, up from 44% in 2014 and 53% in 2019, before the pandemic. This category includes revenue from upscale international business class seats, extra legroom seats and other sources, such as its partnership with American Express.

After some customers complained about crowds and long lines at Skyclub airport lounges, Delta said late last year it would do so. Raising prices and requirements to access these facilities. Earlier in 2022, it also instituted a three-hour time limit for lounge use and created a VIP line for high-status people.

CEO Ed Bastian said the recent policy changes are aimed at addressing pandemic-era state extensions and driving customers to spend more on travel.

“We have to address that in some way to be fair to everyone, because as they say, if everyone is special, then no one feels special,” Bastien said in an interview last month. “We’re trying to do it in a fair way.”

Linda Gogo, United’s chief customer officer, put it similarly at a recent industry conference. “If everyone has a status, then no one has a status,” she said.

In November, United said it had raised the requirements to earn prestige and perks.

United too Opened a new small lounge At its hub at Denver International Airport, it caters to on-the-go customers who fly on regional feeder planes, a move that could help free up space in larger facilities for longer-stay travelers.

The United Airlines Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

Last month, American Airlines said customers should do just that spend or fly over To reach the lowest elite level of the AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program. Customers will soon need the claimed 40,000 loyalty points instead of the usual 30,000 to get Gold status.

More space for big spenders

New lounge for American Airlines and British Airways at John F. Kennedy International Airport, November 29, 2022.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

American Airlines plans to Get rid of a separate first class class On some older aircraft it was used to fly longer routes in favor of a single expanded Business Class featuring new door wings.

The airline said premium seats on its long-haul fleet will increase by more than 45% by 2026.

Expanding that cabin comes with the risk of diluting the luxury feel, said Henry Hartveldt, a former airline executive and founder of research group Atmosphere.

“If they call a base class and it’s like the start of the Indy 500 and you have 70 people scrambling to get off the jet bridge, it’s not going to be a fun experience,” he said.

I don’t sit behind the wing

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