When You’re “This Close” to Lifetime Status and the Program Ends
When British Airways bought Star Alliance airline british midland, I wasn’t far off from lifetime Gold in the bmi Diamond Club program.
bmi had a very special little program. Star Alliance Gold was easy to hit, and once you requalified your flight bonuses grew — you’d earn up to 625% of flown miles in premium cabins. They had cash and points awards and generous routing rules. Some people were even known to send in award tickets issued by other Star Alliance airlines for mileage credit. The only real downsides were fuel surcharges and terrible call center agents with even worse phone connections.
Of course I did get 21 months of British Airways Gold when Executive Club status matched bmi members.
When Lifetime Status Changes to Require Annual Re-qualification
Star Alliance member Aegean status matched british midland Gold members. The great thing about this? At the time once you earned Aegean Gold status you kept it you did not need to requalify each year. So I thought I had earned a ‘free’ Star Alliance Gold for life even though I ran out of time to get there in the bmi Diamond Club program.
Aegean though decided to make members continually requalify for their status and I was eventually downgraded to silver and then lost all status with the program.
Back in 2003 I was one of over 600 people who status matched to AirTran A+ Rewards and back then their program offered lifetime status as well. Once you earned status in AirTran’s program with 20 trips in 90 days or 100 trips in a year you kept it. Several years later I actually used it for some upgrades between Washington National and West Palm Beach. Then in 2008 they changed the rules and started requiring members to requalify each year.
Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
That was especially sad when AirTran merged with Southwest, I would have loved lifetime A-List status once Southwest Airlines acquired them. I’ve lined up for too many Southwest boarding calls lately and would love to slide into the front of that boarding line. It wasn’t meant to be.
To be clear I did not deserve lifetime status in these cases but they’re examples I have a personal memory of where the program decided to change how status worked and move away from lifetime recognition.
Sometimes Lifetime Status Is Honored in Mergers Though
Normally when two travel providers merge, and both offered lifetime status, that status is honored.
But what about when one program had lifetime status and the other did not?
I learned last week that Le Club Accorhotels will honor lifetime Fairmont Presidents Club Platinum status.
The Fairmont San Francisco offered a Living Social deal of $2000 for a night in their Presidential Suite and lifetime Platinum status.
I blogged about it quickly sitting in the Thai Airways first class lounge in Bangkok. I was debating taking advantage of this myself, but a staff member came over to escort me to my spa appointment. Once I had showered post-massage I was taken to the plane straight away and I missed out.
At the time it was reported that 112 people took advantage of the deal. It was a mistake, though I never learned whether Living Social or the Fairmont San Francisco screwed up the ad copy. They took $2000, their lawyers told them they needed to find a way to honor the offer and they did. And whatever happens now to Fairmont Presidents Club as its eventually integrated into the Accor loyalty portfolio, Accor will make sure lifetime status is honored.
Fairmont of course may retain its own set of benefits that members have gotten used to, they might develop an earn and burn proposition as Accor offers today, and if customers in general are lucky Accor will learn something from Fairmont’s elite treatment that can be extended to brands like Sofitel.
Fairmont Royal York
What Will Happen to Lifetime Starwood Status?
I’m anxiously waiting to learn how my lifetime Starwood status will be handled once Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards become a single program in the future, perhaps 2019.
I expect it will be honored by will lifetime Gold be mid-tier in the new program and will lifetime Platinum be top tier?
Marriott’s requirements for lifetime status are more stringent than Starwood’s (as makes sense for a chain with so many more hotels). If Marriott treats Starwood lifetime members generously, will they go back and recalculate the requirements for their own Marriott Rewards members too?
W Times Square
My Lifetime Status Quests
I’m working towards lifetime Hyatt status but since that’s spend-based I have a long way to go.
And I’m an American AAdvantage lifetime Platinum, unlike Delta and United there’s no option to earn more than lifetime second tier status with American (after all, US Airways was the stingiest with lifetime status as well, with lifetime Silver the only tier there and even then only introduced three years before the American Airlines merger).
There’s nowhere to go with American, and I’m reluctant to ever work too hard for lifetime elite status because lifetime doesn’t always mean what you think it means.
United Makes Absolutely No Promises to Lifetime Elite Members
Despite explicitly promising in late 2011 not to take away benefits or confirmed upgrades from million mile flyers as part of the Continental merger, United did exactly that in early 2012.
United said in October 2011 “[y]ou will continue to receive your benefits as you always have” and then take away the specific benefit of annual confirmed regional upgrades.
United even specifically said that the confirmed domestic upgrades would continue:
United told a judge lifetime only means until they change their minds.
Judge Hamilton: To understand the difference between lifetime and fingers crossed? That lifetime doesn’t mean lifetime?
United: That lifetime means lifetime unless…
Judge Wood: Unless we change our mind.
Judge Hamilton: Unless we change our mind.
United: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the case.
Judge Hamilton wrote an opinion summarizing United’s behavior towards million milers:
United’s defense here is that the airline’s very best customers—its Million Mile Flyers—should have known better than to believe United’s promise of “lifetime” benefits. This defense amounts to a confession of consumer fraud. United could not—honestly and legally—promise “lifetime” benefits while reserving the right to cancel its promise at any time and for any reason.
Lifetime Loyalty Only Works When Travel Providers Can Be Trusted
Lifetime status is great, but this is the reason that in talking with Lucky of One Mile at a Time on Thursday I was far less interested in investing to earn lifetime status than he seemed.
If you don’t trust your travel provider year-to-year, why would you trust them to honor a lifetime of loyalty when they’ve already gotten your money?
In an era of enhancements to give members what they want, and mergers that take the best of both programs to create a best in class experience (gosh, has that ever really happened?) trust is simply to eroded for the lifetime offer to lock me in to behavior and investment and loyalty today.