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How to Think About Airline Elite Status in 2022

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After two full years of disrupted travel, it seems like the industry could finally return to something like normalcy. Maybe. Perhaps. According to a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, business travel in 2022 could return to 66% of normal 2019 levels.

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If you were a frequent traveler in the past, or are looking to become one as restrictions lift, you might be curious about airline elite status. Is it worth it? Which airlines have the best loyalty programs? And what has changed since the pandemic started?

We’ll shy away from predicting what will happen in the airline industry for its most frequent travelers this year — two years of failed attempts have taught us some humility. Instead, let’s focus on what we know.

Some airlines are offering better value for elites

With names like “Gold,” “Sapphire” and “Diamond,” airline elite status levels can sound interchangeably luxurious and valuable. But all that glitters is not Executive Platinum.

NerdWallet performed a deep-dive analysis of the major U.S. airline elite status programs to determine which offer the best value. Unlike similar analyses, which only look at the value of a given elite status level, we also compared how expensive they are to earn. This let us rate each program on a similar footing.

nerdwallet's 2022 airline elite status ratings

Note: This analysis excludes American Airlines, which recently overhauled its entire elite status program.

Alaska Airlines’ MVP program earned a perfect 5-point rating, followed by Hawaiian Airlines’ Pualani elite status. Low-cost airlines Spirit and Frontier fall toward the bottom, which is little surprise, but some might be shocked to see customer-favorite Southwest Airlines at the very bottom. Frankly, Southwest’s A-List elite status program doesn’t offer much tangible benefit to frequent flyers (though its adjacent Companion Pass certainly does).

Of course, this is a boiled-down rating of a complex problem. Each airline has different elite levels or tiers, and each of these is worth a different amount. For each airline’s elite level, we’ve also determined an elite earning rate, or the amount of value you can expect to get out of the program per dollar spent to earn that tier.

For example, $100 spent on Spirit’s lowest level (called Silver) will get about $2 back in value, whereas $100 spent on Alaska’s lowest level (called MVP) will get back about $35 in value. This value comes in the form of a first-class upgrade, free redeemable miles, free checked bags and other elite perks.

What does this mean for you? If you’re on the fence about which airline to pledge loyalty to, consider one that offers a more valuable elite status program.

Elite status might be easier to earn

Like your local grocery store and its mask rules, airlines have been constantly updating and re-updating their elite status qualification rules throughout the pandemic. For the most part, this boiled down to two simple changes:

  • Making it easier to earn new status.
  • Extending status for those who had it in 2020.

Many of these temporary extensions and offers are set to expire by the end of 2022, but we’ve said that many times before, only to see airlines continue to offer lowered qualification thresholds and bonus miles. In other words, we wouldn’t be surprised if travel remains disrupted enough in 2022 for airlines to keep luring potential elites.

As you make your elite status plans, make sure to shop around for the best offers at the time. You might be able to get valuable benefits through the end of the year (and into 2023) for less money and hassle than usual.

Will everybody be elite?

One potential downside of this generous doling-out of elite qualification while travel remains rocky: Airlines could have way more elite status holders on their planes when travel picks up.

As anyone who has obsessively tracked a flight’s upgrade list knows, the more elites who are on a given flight reduces the chances that you will get bumped to the front of the plane.

It’s hard to know how this will shake out until it does, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. The rise (or plateauing) of business travel in particular should act as a bellwether for this potential elite oversaturation.

The bottom line

We’ll spare you the predictions for airline elite status in 2022 since we’ll undoubtedly be wrong. But here are some key takeaways from our analysis:

  • Some airline elite status programs are much more valuable than others. Alaska and Hawaiian took the top ratings in our analysis.
  • Keep an eye out for promotions that make status easier to earn in 2022.
  • Don’t be surprised if the upgrade lists are longer than normal.

And remember: Elite status is worth pursuing only if you plan to use it a lot.

The article How to Think About Airline Elite Status in 2022 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Startups

The FTC files suit to block Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition

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The Federal Trade Commission is suing to block the proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. It contends that the acquisition, if completed, would give Microsoft an unfair advantage over its competitors.

This morning, the four-person commission voted to issue the lawsuit. The three Democrat members (chair Lina Khan, Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya) voted in favor and the Republican (Christine Wilson) voted against. The commission allegedly met with Microsoft the day prior to discuss concessions, according to a report from The Washington Post.

If its news release is anything to go by, the commissioners weren’t convinced that Microsoft wouldn’t withhold Activision Blizzard’s popular games from competing services. The FTC cited Microsoft’s acquisition of Zenimax, and how games such as Starfield and Redfall became exclusive following its close.

Holly Vedova, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement, “Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals. Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”

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The FTC is not the only government body to express concern about the implications of the acquisition. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating. It recently closed Phase One of the investigation, and expressed concerns in its issues statement.

The history of the planned acquisition

Microsoft announced its intention to acquire the publisher in January. Through this acquisition, it would become the regent of popular gaming franchises such as Call of Duty, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and many others. Reportedly, it offered around $69 billion for Activision Blizzard.

The concerns about the scale of the acquisition emerged almost as soon as it was announced. The FTC reportedly moved to investigate the deal almost immediately. Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad said at the time that Microsoft would have to pay Activision $3 billion if the deal was blocked.

The current focal point of the antitrust concerns is the Call of Duty franchise. Sony has repeatedly contended, in public statements primarily aimed at the CMA’s investigation, that Microsoft could undermine its competition via these popular and lucrative games. It could, according to Sony, either outright stop publishing them on Sony’s platforms, or it could offer them on its Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Sony claims Call of Duty on Game Pass would diminish demand for Sony consoles even if Call of Duty is still published on them.

Microsoft has, in turn, responded that its competitors have plenty of exclusive titles of their own. It’s also offered to sign 10-year deals with Sony, Nintendo and Valve (the company behind PC games store Steam) to offer Call of Duty titles on their platforms. It announced earlier this week that it has inked such a deal with Nintendo.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, said in a statement to The Verge, “We continue to believe that this deal will expand competition and create more opportunities for gamers and game developers. We have been committed since Day One to addressing competition concerns, including by offering earlier this week proposed concessions to the FTC. While we believed in giving peace a chance, we have complete confidence in our case and welcome the opportunity to present our case in court.”



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Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out • TechCrunch

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As part of Airtable’s decision to cut 20% of staff, or 254 employees, three executives are “parting ways” with the company as well, a spokesperson confirmed over email. The chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are no longer with the company.

Airtable’s chief revenue officer, Seth Shaw, joined in November 2020 just one month before Airtable’s chief producer officer Peter Deng came on board. Airtable’s chief people officer, Johanna Jackman, joined Airtable in May 2021 with an ambitious goal to double the company’s headcount to 1,000 in 12 months. The three executives are departing today as a mutual decision with Airtable, but will advise the company through the next phase of transition, the company says. All three executives were reached out to for further comment and this story will be updated with their responses if given.

An Airtable spokesperson declined to comment on if the executives were offered severance pay. The positions will be succeeded by internal employees, introduced at an all-hands meeting to be held this Friday.

Executive departures at this scale are rare, even if the overall company is going through a heavy round of cuts. But CEO and founder Howie Liu emphasized, in an email sent to staff but seen by TechCrunch, that the decision – Airtable’s first-ever lay off in its decade-long history – was made following Airtable’s choice to pivot to a more “narrowly focused mode of execution.”

In the email, Liu described Airtable’s goal – first unveiled in October – to capture enterprise clients with connected apps. Now, instead of the bottom-up adoption that first fueled Airtable’s rise, the company wants to be more focused in this new direction. Liu’s e-mail indicates that the startup will devote a majority of its resources toward “landing and expanding large enterprise companies with at least 1k FTEs – where our connected apps vision will deliver the most differentiated value.”

The lean mindset comes after Airtable reduced spend in marketing media, real estate, business technology and infrastructure, the e-mail indicates. “In trying to do too many things at once, we have grown our organization at a breakneck pace over the past few years. We will continue to emphasize growth, but do so by investing heavily in the levers that yield the highest growth relative to their cost,” Liu wrote.

Airtable seems to be emphasizing that its reduced spend doesn’t come with less ambition, or ability to execute. A spokesperson added over e-mail that all of Airtable’s funds from its $735 million Series F are “still intact.” They also said that the startup’s enterprise side, which makes up the majority of Airtable’s revenue, is growing more than 100% year over year; the product move today just doubles down on that exact cohort.

Current and former Airtable employees can reach out to Natasha Mascarenhas on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 271 0912. You can also DM her on Twitter, @nmasc_. 



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Airlines Finally Get Serious About Contrails. What Are They?

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What are those puffy white plumes trailing jets high up in the sky? They’re called contrails, and scientists have long said they contribute to climate change.

Now some major airline companies are getting on board. Carries such as American, Southwest, United, Alaska, and Virgin Atlantic, and tech companies like Google, are working with the Rocky Mountain Institute to figure out which of these contrails are bad for the environment and what they can do about it.

“Air travel has almost a double-sized impact on global warming than what we thought it was before,” said Andrew Chen, an aviation specialist with the Rocky Mountain Institute, told The Dallas Morning News. “The most interesting dynamic is that the airlines are not shying away from contrails.”

Related: ‘The Fumes Are Unbelievably Bad:’ Residents Complain About Kyle Jenner’s Private Jet

What are airplane contrails?

Conspiracies abound about how the lines of clouds following jets are “chemtrails” released by the government in a secret program to add toxic chemicals to the atmosphere.

But scientists say that these clouds are, in fact, water vapor trails or condensation trails (contrails, for short) created by airplane engines. The hot, humid exhaust mixes with the colder atmosphere, causing a cloud similar to what you see when you breathe on a cold day.

Climate scientists believe contrails can trap heat in the atmosphere contributing to global warming.

Carbon emissions from jets have long been the target of environmentalists, leading many airlines to retool their planes to use alternative energy. But the industry is now getting serious about contrail pollution, as well.

“The science around contrails has become more clear in just the last few years,” said Jill Blickstein, vice president of sustainability at American Airlines told the DMN. “For example, we’ve known for some time that some contrails formed in the morning can have a cooling effect and that contrails formed at night were more likely to be warming. But we didn’t have a good sense of the net impact of all contrails. That warming impact has become clearer recently.”

Not all contrails have the same impact. The worst seems to happen at night when the earth is cooler, but the contrails block heat from escaping.

The good news is that airlines can avoid making contrails, but doing so may require changing flight patterns and burning more fuel, thus creating more carbon dioxide.

To read more about this, head on over The Dallas Morning News.

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