Frontier Airlines was first to take credit card spend fully into account towards elite status, with one dollar spend equal to a mile flown. Hyatt also took a unique approach four years ago in layering its card program onto its loyalty program to really encourage spend – with uncapped credit towards status, and benefits earned with every 10 elite nights rather than just upon achieving a status plateau. That encouraged continued spending… because the next level of benefit was so achievable (just 10 more elite nights, rather than – say – another 30) and because benefits continued after achieving top status.
American Airlines took this approach to the next level with Loyalty Points, making most things count towards status. They roughly doubled the number of points members needed to earn, but counted not just credit card spend (one dollar spent = one point for U.S. cards, while some international cards earned faster) but also shopping, car rentals, gas and more.
American partner JetBlue is doing something similar, counting card spend and some other activity towards status. It’s a recognition that:
- Loyalty programs aren’t just encouraging travel with a brand, they’re being used by other companies to drive business
- And that activity is profitable, indeed often higher margin than the underlying travel itself
American Airlines makes money by selling miles, mostly to Citibank and Barclays. They can reward and encourage customers to spend more on their cards by delivering the benefits those customers care about, not just rebates to spend on future travel. That creates a real reason for many to spend on those cards – when they aren’t competitive on rebate alone.
While hardly a model that’s being adopted across the board – United has doubled down on its ticket-spend model for status and Delta is even increasing its ticket spend requirements for status – we’re now seeing ‘any activity counts’ spread beyond the U.S.
Japan Airlines will introduce a new lifetime status-earning program in 2024 that is based not just on flying but co-brand credit card spend and shopping, too.
- Status points will be earned from non-flight activities like co-brand spend and shopping ‘and from environmentally-friendly activities’
- Since it’s lifetime status, points keep accumulating and there’s no clock for earning status
- What I’m looking forward to earning is non-expiring miles, which will let me use JAL’s program as a repository for points. I’ve avoided the program because I don’t accumulate points fast enough and worry I wouldn’t redeem them quickly enough.
- The new program will require holding a JAL co-brand but those living in places where no co-brand is available will be exempt. I’ve only ever suggested their U.S. cobrand for new arrivals in the States, because they gear approvals to expats.
- JAL won’t provide full details on the program until late 2023.
For now my takeaway is that this will make slow and infrequent earn in the program useful, and that the notion of including all engagement in a program towards earning program benefits is spreading beyond the U.S., in this case to a close (joint venture) American Airlines partner.