When Svetlana Makhni had her first child in 2017, she went on maternity leave from her job in finance in New York, taking a break from the frequent transcontinental flights that had earned her Diamond Medallion status — the highest tier — with Delta Air Lines’s loyalty program. When she resumed traveling for business, she contacted the airline, which offered to restore her status while she proved she was on track to keep it.
“The fact that I’ve had a child hasn’t changed me as a customer,” she said, applauding the benefits she appreciates even more now as a parent, including penalty-free flight changes. “I think it makes me more loyal.”
While Ms. Makhni, 35, took the initiative to petition the airline, Delta has now made reinstating status an official option for loyalty-program members who have major life events, including childbirth, adoption and caring for a friend or family member, as well as matters like relocation, changing jobs or getting a graduate degree.
Adopted in May, the policy called Reclaim My Status promises to reinstate your membership at the pre-life-event level for a conditional three-month period, which is fully granted for that year if you fly at a pace equivalent to the same level of membership.
Fliers asked, the airline granted
While many airlines offer reinstatement on a case-by-case basis, Delta’s policy is considered the most generous in terms of the life circumstances it allows for and one of the easiest to navigate, handled through an online application.
“It’s a benefit that’s built ground-up from member feedback,” said Sandeep Dube, the senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty at Delta. “In the past, we had an exception policy. We knew we and the entire industry had to do it better.”
In the first week of its launch, Delta said it received approximately 5,000 applications, most of which are conditionally approved between five days and two weeks.
Experts credit competition among airlines in the United States for driving kinder, gentler policies for loyal customers.
“Loyalty is everything,” said Leigh Rowan, the director for special projects at UpgradedPoints.com, a website that offers advice on maximizing loyalty points. “Each are doing whatever they can to one-up one another to keep frequent travelers loyal.”
Status reinstatement at all levels, many airlines
Delta’s new policy isn’t limited to the most elite fliers. You can be at the lowest membership tier and still apply to have those benefits restored.
Most airlines, including American Airlines and United Airlines, handle status inquiries on a case-by-case basis. American asks members to call AAdvantage Customer Service at 800-433-7300 to request a review. The number for United is 800-421-4655.
Status reinstatement, including Delta’s, usually involves a challenge to fly at the qualifying level for the trial period in order to keep your former status. United differs. In an email, Luc Bondar, president of MileagePlus Holdings and vice president of loyalty at United, wrote that “United will extend Premier status for another year without requiring completion of [a] status challenge.”
Smaller carriers like Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines have led in the domestic race to be “family-friendliest” to loyalty members, by allowing a penalty-free time-out for new parents. Once new parents start flying Alaska again, the airline asks that they email firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of pregnancy or maternal leave (a note from a doctor or employer is fine). After approval, the airline will extend your current status through the following year. Hawaiian offers something similar for maternity, paternity or medical leave through an online application.
Australia-based Qantas, an early adopter of this loyalty hiatus, instituted Status Hold in 2016, allowing members to pause flying for up to 18 months without losing their elite flying memberships in the case of childbirth and foster and adoptive parenting.
“As a culture, we didn’t give attention to maternity and paternity leave and now we do,” said Mr. Rowan, who added that he got nowhere with airlines six years ago when his first child was born. “I think the cultural tide is shifting on that one.”
Delta’s announcement made many parents happy, including Ann-Marie Chopyak, a working mother in Portland, Ore., who had Silver Medallion status, the first level in the four-tier chart, before halting all travel last year due a risk of blood clots during pregnancy. She recently applied to renew her status, which she said was quick and painless, and was shortly approved.
Delta, she wrote in an email, was “outstandingly supportive,” adding, “It’s the reason I now try to fly them exclusively.”