British Airways should do more to help its elite members

Apr 1, 2020

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It’s no surprise that the ongoing coronavirus crisis has had lasting effects on the travel industry. Airlines have been forced to suspend operations, some hotels have turned into quarantine centres and travellers have been stuck at home.

And as a result of the latter, some airlines have altered their policies on how to go about earning — or requalifying — for elite status. The U.K.’s flag carrier British Airways is one of them.

Related: Complete guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak

Last week, British Airways announced that it would be lowering the number of Tier Points required to qualify or requalify for certain elite members. Under the policy, only status for members with status renewal dates in April, May and June are eligible.

The number of Tier Points required was cut by 30% meaning for eligible members. These are the new thresholds:

  • Bronze: 210 Tier Points (instead of the normal 300)
  • Silver: 420 Tier Points (instead of the normal 600)
  • Gold: 1,050 Tier Points (instead of the normal 1,500)
  • Gold Guest List: 3,500 Tier Points (instead of the normal 5,000, with 30% reductions required to earn additional Gold Guest List benefits)

Across the industry, other programmes have adjusted their schemes in a similar way. KLM and Air France’s Flying Blue programme has also lowered thresholds, as has Emirates. Others have tackled this issue in a different way, for example, with Etihad and Cathay Pacific granting members extra bonus points to assist with elite status qualification.

There are, however, a growing number of airlines offering something much more significant. Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club has extended the validity of Gold and Silver memberships by six months, and members have an extra six months to achieve status for the following year. In an even bigger move, Qantas and Qatar have extended status validity for all members by 12 months.

It begs the question: Has British Airways done enough for its elite members? In short, I don’t think it has… yet.

Who does this threshold adjustment help?

The way BA has decided to adjust the programme means that comparatively, very few people are likely to benefit. Those who are heavy business travellers or commute by flying regularly will be best looked after. Their travel is likely to more evenly spread, and the 30% drop in threshold should marry up well to the projected 30% of the year they won’t be flying.

For everyone else, it’s not so rosy. Many people will have travel bunched up into a big burst of trips, flying during time off work, or concentrated in certain times of the year each year. If these people had planned to do these trips in the coming months, they are unlikely to have racked up the bulk of their points and will not requalify.

In addition, anyone with membership years that ended in March or will end beyond June may also be in trouble.

What should British Airways do?

TPG reached out to British Airways for comment on plans for further adjustments. A spokesperson said, “As it stands, the flexibility for Tier Benefits and Gold upgrades and Companion vouchers is everything available”.

Unfortunately, I don’t think what BA has done already and what it has on the table is enough. As a minimum, for every month that the crisis rolls on, I would hope and expect to see that the coverage of the new policy extends to members whose membership years end in July, August and onwards.

Secondly, I would hope that the 30% reduction of Tier Points required would increase in line with the percentage of the year that people are not travelling. If we lose half a year to a global shutdown, the reduction should be 50%.

Finally, and most importantly, I would love to see BA extending the duration of status in the same way that it extended the validity of the American Express Companion Vouchers by six months. This was a welcome extension, applied automatically and it was an area of concern for many people, especially as members were forced to cancel bookings and stood to lose their Vouchers by cancelling and waiting a few months to use it again on another trip.

The loss of status is an equally important concern for many. Executive Club members around the world will have had travel in this period that would have made up a significant amount of their annual Tier Points. Many people earn Tier Points in bursts, and if your burst was now, you are unlikely to get the chance to qualify or requalify for status. Therefore a Virgin, Qantas or Qatar-style extension of existing status would ideally be added to the existing threshold adjustment.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, I applaud British Airways for taking some sort of action to help its elite members, but I don’t think that it’s gone far enough. These are unprecedented times, with much of the world coming to a standstill. And as travellers, we are doing our part to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by staying home.

With no end of troubles in sight, I’m hopeful we will see further moves from British Airways. So for those amongst us trying to achieve or cling on to status, let’s hope for some generous understanding from BA.

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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