Here's how airlines are updating loyalty programs amid the coronavirus pandemic

Companies including American, JetBlue and Southwest airlines are extending membership status and more.
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By Ashley Capoot

The United States reported a record number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday soon after the summer travel season kicked off. And with the global airline industry estimated to lose $84.3 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association, many companies have updated their mileage programs in an attempt to retain some of their most loyal customers.

Airline miles essentially function as the currency for rewards programs offered by many airline and credit card companies. Customers can earn miles by traveling and making day-to-day purchases, and once enough miles have accumulated, they can be used to get plane tickets or other rewards. Many of these programs are tiered, and members earn more benefits with higher status.

Below are some of the U.S. airlines that have updated their mileage programs due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines travelers will retain their current Mileage Plan status through Dec. 31, 2021; and any elite-qualifying miles earned this past January to April will be rolled into 2021. Alaska Airlines announced plans to partner with American Airlines and Oneworld in February, so status members will receive more benefits as the launch approaches in summer 2021. The airline is also extending its companion certificates, which allow customers to purchase a second ticket at a discounted price, through Dec. 31.

American Airlines

AAdvantage elite status has been extended for American Airlines customers through Jan. 31, 2022. American is also lowering qualification thresholds through 2020, which means it will be easier for customers to reach higher-status tiers. Additionally, Executive Platinum members now have lower thresholds to earn awards, award reinstatement and change fees have been waived and elite status members can receive up to $400 credit toward an American Airlines vacation package. The company has also instated a six-month extension for unused systemwide upgrades, which allow customers' seats to be changed to a higher class of service.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has extended 2020 Medallion status through Jan. 31, 2022, and all Medallion qualification miles will now roll over to 2021. Medallion drink vouchers and Delta Sky Club memberships have been extended by six months, and Delta SkyMiles American Express card members can earn four times the miles by shopping at U.S. supermarkets thorough July 31.

Hawaiian Airlines

Elite members at Hawaiian Airlines have had their status extended through February 2022, and the qualifications to achieve elite status have been reduced by 50% for 2021. Additionally, no miles will expire through Dec. 31, and both Premier Club membership and Neighbor Island Travel Plan packages have been extended by three months.

JetBlue

TrueBlue members at JetBlue have had their Mosaic benefits extended through 2021, and the qualifications for membership have been reduced for 2020. TrueBlue members can now earn double the points by booking new trips, and JetBlue Mastercard members can earn double the points on their daily purchases.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest has extended the status of its A-List and A-List Preferred customers through Dec. 31, 2021, and the status of Companion Pass members through June 30, 2021. Southwest is also giving its Rapid Rewards members extra qualifying points and flight credits so they can reach a higher status more easily.

United Airlines

MileagePlus members will now retain their status through Jan. 31, 2022, and United has also reduced each status level’s premier qualifications by 50% for 2021. Customers with United Explorer or Club cards will earn more points on spending through 2020 to help them reach a higher status, and the company has extended all subscription and membership benefits by six months. Additionally, electronic travel certificates can now be used within two years, and some redeposit fees have been waived for the remainder of 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, keep monitoring your accounts and checking in with your airlines.

The State Department still has a Level 4 global health advisory in place, which means U.S. citizens should avoid all international travel. However, even Americans who consider resuming air travel domestically should take precautions, as the U.S. currently leads the world in both the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.

States like Arkansas, Utah and Washington have all reported major increases in new cases, and Texas even declared a pause on its reopening plan. Just today, governors of both the Lone Star State and Florida announced the closures of bars to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And with the tables turned, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey — a region formerly at the center of the crisis — recently announced that visitors from coronavirus-stricken states should quarantine for 14 days.

Countries across the globe are also taking precautions, with the European Union weighing an outright ban on American visitors, according to two EU diplomats.

Nonetheless, there are several ways you can use your mileage benefits even if you choose not to travel. Some miles can be redeemed in exchange for actual commodities, and many travel rewards cards let you redeem miles for cash. Companies like American Airlines have also made it easy to convert miles into donations for families in need.