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Changes in Award Travel

At the end of each year, I like to take stock of what changed in the award travel space. Being mindful of changes (whether positive or negative) can be helpful in discerning how loyalty programs will react to future events. For example, we know that US airlines generally like to copy each other. This happened with the introduction of change fees (and them abolishing them) and moving towards revenue-based elite status, to name a couple of examples. But rather than dwell on the negative changes from the year, for this post, I want to focus on the positive changes in award travel in 2023.

ToP Positive Developments

Like other lists, this is by no means exhaustive. These are just some of the most customer-friendly or downright helpful changes in award travel in 2023.

Changes in Award Travel

Flying Blue introduces free stopovers

When so many airlines are eliminating stopovers and devaluing their programs in other ways, it was a breath of fresh air to see Flying Blue move in the opposite direction. This year, Flying Blue introduced free stopovers and then enabled free stopovers with partner airlines. Stopovers are a great way to squeeze even more value out of your points and miles and this was one of the best changes in award travel for this year. They let you basically build in another trip to an existing itinerary, thereby saving you the points that would be required to book those two trips separately.

Flying Blue has such great availability from the US to both Paris and Amsterdam that adding stopovers in those great cities is great for travelers.

For the record, we could have done an entire post on positive Flying Blue changes in award travel in 2023. Besides introducing free stopovers, Flying Blue added Etihad as a redemption partner, announced they are getting rid of dynamic pricing for awards to/from North America, and introduced first class awards for multiple partners. On ToP of all that, when they accidentally offered mistake award fares to Europe, they decided to honor those fares for their elite members while also working with Amex to reverse points transfers from folks who transferred points to take advantage of the deal! Talk about trying to do right by your customers.

Changes in Award Travel

Virgin Atlantic joins SkyTeam, makes partner awards bookable online

Ever since Virgin Atlantic officially joined SkyTeam in early 2023, their Flying Club loyalty program has become increasingly useful. Virgin Atlantic points can now be redeemed online for such airlines as China Airlines, AeroMexico, and ITA Airways. Virgin also has greater access to Flying Blue award availability on Air France and KLM.

And as a bonus, when Virgin Atlantic joined SkyTeam, many feared the loss of ANA as an award partner. Although Virgin Atlantic increased the cost of awards on ANA, but they still remain the best sweet spot in award travel.

Hyatt phasing in online use of suite upgrade awards

Hyatt recently announced that they are rolling out the ability to use suite upgrade awards online. As of now, you have to call Hyatt to apply suite upgrade awards to existing reservations. But going forward, guests will be able to redeem them online. Any changes in award travel that let users do something for themselves online instead of having to call customer service is a big win.

American complimentary upgrades

American opens upgrade eligibility to all elites on partner bookings

Until this year, only top tier Executive Platinum AAdvantage members were added to the complimentary upgrade list on American Airlines flights booked via partners. This meant that lower level AAdvantage members like Platinum or Platinum Pro who booked a flight on American through a partner like British Airways were not eligible for complimentary upgrades on those flights.

American has now expanded complimentary upgrade eligibility on partner bookings to all elite members. Now, even AAdvantage gold members are eligible for complimentary upgrades on American flights booked through partners.

Changes in Award Travel: ToP Thoughts

These changes all vary in significance. But without a doubt, they all make life easier for us award travelers. Tip of the hat to each of these programs for their positive changes in 2023!

Which of these changes did you like the most? Come share your thoughts in our Facebook group!

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