Earning elite status is difficult. Keeping elite status is difficult. But what happens when a major life event prevents you from traveling and you lose that status? Do you just give up? Start over somewhere new?
Both Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have programs that offer to restore or extend your elite status after a major life event. Alaska’s program came out first two years ago and simply extends your status for another year after the birth of a child. Both parents are eligible.
Delta’s program came out this year and is both more and less forgiving. Delta will give a status challenge to people with an eligible life event (including childbirth, as well as also other events like the loss of a family member or a new job). This challenge lets you get back your original status for three months, but requires you to complete some criteria to keep it. In other words, you have to demonstrate you’re back to traveling at the original level.
Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska’s program is specifically designed for new parents. That’s not to say other major life events won’t earn you an exception (and other airlines may be similar), but those exceptions haven’t been formalized.
Both new moms and new dads can get a one-year extension of the existing Mileage Plan elite status by submitting an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your Mileage Plan number and documentation of your child’s recent birth. Most obstetricians have standard forms for this that are used for things like FMLA benefits. You’ll receive an email in 1-2 weeks to inform you that your status has been extended for an additional year. There are no additional requirements and you don’t even have to be on formal parental leave from your employer.
Since Alaska’s program year ends on December 31, that means if it was originally set to expire on December 31, 2019, then the new expiration date will be December 31, 2020. You can confirm the expiration date by logging into your online account.
One catch: MVP Gold 75K members who have their status extended will not receive the customary 50,000 bonus miles. That’s because your extended status is considered a gift, rather than something that was earned. If you somehow manage to earn 75K status the normal way after submitting your request for an extension, you can still earn the bonus miles.
Delta’s “Reclaim My Status” program is available for any major life event, but final approval still rests with Delta. You should wait to enroll in Reclaim My Status because there are a few more hoops to jump through. You can use this time to ensure you have documentation of your major life event. That might be a death certificate, a formal job offer letter in a new city, or a FMLA letter from a physician.
First, you need to actually suffer a loss of status or a drop in status to a lower tier. Unlike Alaska Airlines, where you can submit your request immediately while still on parental leave, Delta would tell you to wait until next year. Second, you need to make sure you are ready and able to resume travel at your original pace. This is because — if your request is approved — Delta is going to give you temporary status with a challenge to keep it for the rest of the year.
Your temporary status will be back at the level you originally had. Delta’s normal status match program for customers switching from another loyalty program does not allow a match to Diamond Medallion status. However, Reclaim My Status does include Diamond as an option. Your temporary status will last for three months beginning on the date of the request’s approval (typically 5 days after submission). Any Medallion Choice benefits will be available after you complete your challenge, not during the three-month temporary period.
The challenge you receive will vary based on the status you are trying to reclaim. This will include a certain number of Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs). In addition, U.S.-based travelers also need to hit a certain number of Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) or receive an MQD waiver by spending $25,000 in a calendar year on your Delta American Express card. Keep in mind that you’ll have to receive the MQD waiver before the end of the three-month challenge, which come before the end of the calendar year.
You need to complete the challenge within those three months to keep your status for the rest of the program year, which ends on January 31. For example, if you submit a request and it is approved on July 1, 2019, then completing the challenge will allow you to keep your status until January 31, 2021. If you submit a request and it is approved between January 1 and December 31, 2020, then your status will be extended until January 31, 2022.
My wife and I recently tested Alaska’s program by applying for an extension of our elite status after our son was born in June. We each currently have MVP Gold status. It was an easy application process that involved sending a copy of the FMLA form her obstetrician completed. (We already had this form because her employer required it for her maternity leave.) After that, we each got an email announcing that we had been granted MVP Gold status.
I had to double check the dates because the email didn’t have anything specific to say our status had been extended, per se. But sure enough it now lasts through December 31, 2020 instead of expiring in 2019. We have some flights under our belts already and might even earn MVP the normal way, but we wouldn’t have made it to MVP Gold without this program. It would have been particularly difficult to do a mileage run or take other measures to earn it now that we’re in Texas.
More and more, I think loyalty programs are realizing this is an issue. Status matches have always been around to let you move seamlessly from one program to another. It removes the roadblock of having to start over again from scratch. The same issue faces people who for one reason or another stop traveling altogether. If I was feeling ambivalent about Program A and now don’t have anything holding me to them, maybe I should start over with Program B?
It’s also just a nice, customer-friendly policy to let your most loyal customers know that you’ll be waiting for them after their travel pace picks up again.