Airlines Must Allow Top Elites To Gift “Status For A Day”

An American Airlines Concierge Key member tweeted his frustration at the airline over how his mother was being treated. There weren’t any staff at Philadelphia airport to help her in a wheelchair. And since she wasn’t in a wheelchair she had to wait in an interminable TSA screening line, standing instead of sitting.

Wheelchairs are handled by contractors, but American should be making sure its customers are taken care of at one of its major hubs. The airline isn’t responsible for TSA staffing, or the configuration of the airport which limits checkpoint throughput, but if the man’s mother had status she may at least have been able to use a priority line.

@PHLAirport @AmericanAir #Shameful 80 year old mother reserved a wheelchair, is told are none for probably next hour, so she hobbled to security to be met with this, and then security won’t let her go through unless she goes to back of line and no seating and I’m #conciergekey

— InternationalLawGuy (@IntlLawGuy) July 22, 2022

The immediate issues highlighted in the tweet are the lack of staff to assist wheelchair passengers, and backups at airport security. And those are important to the traveling public.

But when I see this, I view it from the perspective of the top elite passenger that the airline needs for its business. Concierge Key members are usually either major influencers of travel spend for large corporations or spending $60,000 or more a year on their own travel. And this customer is angry at how the airline treated his mother.

Loyalty isn’t primarily about points or benefits. It isn’t transactional. It’s about building a relationship based on taking care of customers and building trust. It’s most important to understand what matters most to the customers that matter most. That’s often how a travel brand cares for the people the member cares most about.

Some Programs Do Really Well Taking Care Of Friends And Family

Hyatt top tier elite members have a benefit called ‘Guest of Honor’ – when they gift an award stay, they can also gift someone top tier elite status for that stay. That way the person they’re giving free nights to may get an upgrade, and will receive late check-out and breakfast.

They understand that when I set up a room reservation for my wife’s parents, for instance, that I’m not just giving them a place to sleep – I want to be ensuring them a seamless stay. That reflects on me.

United Airlines gives the spouse or domestic partner of its Million Mile members the same elite status each year as the Million Miler.

Some programs let elite members – or ‘overachieving elites’ who go beyond the minimum requirements for their status – ‘gift’ status to someone else. However, like United’s Million Miler benefit, it becomes available only to a single person. And the people you want to take care of tend not to be frequent travelers. Giving them status for a year is overkill when it may be used just a couple of times. Hyatt’s approach is better. You may not even realize they’re going to travel during the year, and there may not just be one person you need to help.

Air Canada Lets Elites Gift Anyone ‘Status For A Day’

When Air Canada Aeroplan introduced ‘Status Passes’ last year as a choice benefit.

Status Pass options:

  • 50K elites can choose 2 Status Passes
  • 75K elites can choose 3 Status Passes
  • Super Elites can choose 4 Status Passes, in addition to 2 they’ll earn every year

Status Pass benefits:

  • 3 free checked bags up to 70 pounds each
  • Priority check-in, baggage, security, boarding (zone 2) and standby
  • Maple Leaf Lounge access

Of course not everyone values this benefit, or has someone to give it to. I once overhead a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight talking about the irony of their Companion Pass – they travel so much in earning the pass, they haven’t had time to find a companion. So it’s a choice benefit, which makes sense.

Caring For The People Your Customers Care About Is Make-Or-Break

The reason my wife has an authorized user card on my Amex Platinum Card is so that if she’s traveling without me she’ll have access to Centurion lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (if flying Delta, and if there’s not a massive line for either lounge type) and it gives her hotel and car rental status, too. I want her trips to be as smooth as possible when I can’t be there to ensure it.

At the same time the quickest way to lose a customer is to treat the people who are important to them badly. That doesn’t just hit a loyal member more than a single instance of bad treatment for themselves, it embarrasses them as well for the loyalty choice they’ve made (“I can’t believe you are loyal to ____, they are such a bad company”) in front of someone whose opinion really matters to them.

Status passes both engender loyalty and protect the loyalty relationship. That’s a strategy more programs should think through. And this Concierge Key member’s experience underscores that American Airlines should have a better way to take care of the moms of their best customers.

United and Delta need this, too. And Southwest surely should allow its best customers, perhaps those beyond A-List Preferred, to gift A-List for a day (though they do allow premium cobrand cardmembers to charge and get a statement credit for purchased A1-15 boarding if available at the airport, and cardmembers can give their loved ones an authorized user card).

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