U.S. airlines ease loyalty programs in coronavirus travel slump

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U.S. airlines are extending loyalty program benefits and status into 2021 for members homebound because of the new coronavirus.

Business and leisure travel have virtually ground to a halt worldwide, forcing airlines to drastically reduce flying schedules and ground their jets. Before the pandemic, carriers had been actively courting business or first-class travelers in particular to boost revenue as competition intensified.

United Airlines Holdings Inc is extending current members’ MileagePlus Premier status through January 2022, reducing thresholds for Premier qualification by 50%, offering more credit card points and making it easier to upgrade seating.

Delta Air Lines Inc is extending its SkyMiles Medallion Members’ status as well as the expiration dates for upgrade certificates and travel vouchers.

American Airlines Group Inc on Monday had no updates on its elite program, but said it was continuing to assess the situation.

Airlines are also offering waivers on change fees, and in some cases refunds, for travel booked in the next month or two. Terms and conditions vary by airline.

The U.S. Transportation Department has told airlines they must refund tickets for flights that they cancel, or make a significant schedule change that passengers do not accept, following a rising number of consumer complaints and inquiries.

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