Typically the only thing airlines give people with kids is dirty looks, but now parents are getting more than “removed” from the unfriendly skies. Alaska Airlines has announced that members of its Mileage Plan loyalty program can now extend their frequent-flyer elite status an additional year during maternity and paternity leave. Such status usually is earned on an annual basis and requires passengers to fly up to 100,000 miles or more to maintain access to perks such as waived fees, free upgrades, and lounge access. The new program, called Elite Leave, lets new parents extend this for a year.
“This is just one less thing for new parents to worry about,” Natalie Bowman, Alaska’s managing director of brand marketing and a parent of three, said in a statement on the company’s website. “It’s such a high stress, high emotion, low sleep time in your life that the last thing you want to be worrying about is losing your status.” Parents who have taken or will take parental leave that ends this year can extend their Elite status through 2018, and status will continue through the calendar year following the end of leave in the future.
The move sets Alaska Airlines apart from other larger legacy carrier airlines (Delta, United, American), which have loyalty programs that not only require members to fly a certain amount of miles, but also spend thousands of dollars. But Alaska isn’t the only airline attempting to attract parents with family leave plans. British Airways adopted a similar policy for their Executive Club members earlier this year Qantas followed with a similar program, which allows for an extension up to 18 months and includes foster parents. Members of the Elevate program from Virgin America, which is owned by Alaska Air Group, will be eligible for the program as well.
Mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents all qualify for Elite Leave, and all they need is a note from their doctor or employers, but there is some fine print to consider. Customers who have been given complimentary Elite status through gifted and matched status programs are not eligible for Elite Leave. For parents utilizing it, certain benefits like 50,000 of bonus miles for MVP Gold Members no longer apply either. Once the year is up, this likely won’t make flying with a toddler any easier (these suggestions might). It will mostly make not flying with a baby a better bargain.