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As I’ve written in the past, status matching and challenges can be the quickest, easiest way to achieve elite status on a new airline. For anyone unfamiliar, a status match is when an airline will comp you elite status if you have elite status on a competing airline. A status challenge is when they make you complete a set of short-cut requirements before giving you comped status.

Why do they do this? They know that elite customers may want to switch their loyalty, but won’t start from scratch since it’s rough going from elite on one airline to non-status on another. If you match after July 1st, your matched/challenged status is generally good until January 2014 – so 18 months of free status – pretty sweet. The thinking behind this is that with less than half a year to requalify it would be unfair to expect someone to hit the normal requalification requirements. Yet someone who matches in June would be expected to fully requalify or lose the status in January 2013 – a full year earlier. Thus, July is generally the best time to ask for a match or challenge.

The major thing to take into consideration is that you can generally only status match once per every 5 years at the minimum, and some programs only allow it once per “lifetime.” I’m actually going to status match to United (read below to find out how) so I have Platinum status until January 2014. Being based in Miami and not being a big fan of Newark, I doubt I’ll even fly United much, but the upgrades aren’t what I’m looking for. I’m actually looking for the flexibility to avoid fees when I redeem MileagePlus miles, which is where I redeem almost all of my Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I book a lot of last-minute awards and each time I’m dinged with a $75 fee, but if I was Platinum I’d avoid that fee. Plus, I could change awards for free instead of paying $150 to redeposit and rebook. These fee waivers alone are worth it for me to use my “once in a lifetime” match.

I compiled the current state of matches/challenges to the best of my knowledge, but if you have any other experience please feel free to share in the comments section so others can learn from your experience.

US Program Rundown:

Alaska (Status Match)
Matches up to their mid-tier level, MVP Gold. You can email a statement of your recently activity along with a copy of your elite card. You can also fax them a current statement of your airline frequent flyer account showing your elite status level (and a copy of your card wouldn’t hurt either) to: Mileage Plan Customer Service, 206-433-3477.

American (Status Challenge)
Allows challenges which require a co-pay and a certain number of Elite Qualifying Points (not miles) within a 3 month period: 5,000 for Gold and 10,000 for Platinum. American does not generally do challenges for Executive Platinum. While the requirements to fly are less than Delta and United, they do have charge to sign-up for the challenge. The most recent costs were: $120 for Gold and $240 for Platinum. Once you’ve done your research, enroll in a challenge by calling AAdvantage customer service at 1 800-882-8880. Earlier this year, American was doing status matches for United 1K to Executive Platinum’s but that offer is no longer valid (view the Flyertalk post for more information). Though it can’t hurt to ask.

Delta (Status Challenge)
Details on Delta’s current challenge program can be found here. However, Delta only matches up to their high/mid-tier Platinum level. To achieve it, you will need to accrue 26,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) or 35 MQ segments within 90 days. However, if you hope to go for Diamond, you will still need to rack up the usual 125,000 MQMs in a year to get Diamond status – regardless of a challenge. So for instance, if you challenge and then complete 26,000 MQMs to achieve Platinum, you still need to accrue 99,000 more MQMs to get Diamond (top status). Delta will match your current status and that is the level to which you can aspire during the challenge.

Here are the details from Delta: “If you register for the offer between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 and you complete the flight requirements, your Medallion status will be maintained until February 28, 2014. That’s over 18 months of status. In order to extend your Medallion status after the 90-days, you’ll need to earn a specific number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) within the 90-days of enrolling by flying Delta. The number of MQMs or MQSs required is based on your matched Medallion level.”

First, confirm your comparable status with the SkyMiles program:
Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status Silver Gold Platinum
American AAdvantage Status Gold Platinum Executive Platinum
United Mileage Plus Status Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum/1K
Then, determine the MQMs or MQMs needed to retain status:
Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status Silver Gold Platinum
Flight Requirements on Delta or Delta Connection 8,000 MQMs or 10 MQSs 16,000 MQMs or 20 MQSs 26,000 MQMs or 35 MQSs

United has a formal challenge program (below), but will also match certain American and Delta elites if you email and ask.
I’m American Executive Platinum and I emailed asking to be matched to 1K (United’s top tier), but they only agreed to give me Platinum through January 2014 initially agreed to match me, but in the end it was a challenge program similar, the same as the special challenge program they currently have for Delta Medallion Members: Within 90 days, you will need to fly 10,000 qualifying flight miles or 15 flight segments to retain Premier Silver status, 17,500 qualifying flight miles or 22 flight segments to retain Premier Gold status, or 25,000 qualifying flight miles or 30 flight segments to retain Premier Platinum status. For customers who qualify for this promotion on or after July 1, 2012, benefits are valid through January 2014.

To be considered for the status challenge, you must either:
Fax: (605) 341-6140
Mail: Mileage Plus Service Center
Attn. Premier Status Match
PO Box 6121
Rapid City, SD 57709-6121

Include the following:

-Your MileagePlus account number. If you don’t have an account, join here.
-Your name, complete current mailing address and email address.
-A copy of your most recent mileage summary, or your 2012 membership card identifying your current elite level in Delta’s program.

US Airways (Buy Status):
Though it doesn’t offer status matches, US Airways is notorious for  selling status outright. For example, if you’ve never stepped foot on their planes, you can buy Chairman’s Preferred (their top status) for $3,999 (though that drops to only $2,999 as long as you have at least 1 Preferred Qualifying Mile) or Platinum for $2,999.($2,499 if you have at least 1 Preferred Qualifying Mile). However they do offer trial status challenges (which is basically a paid status challenge like American’s) – so you don’t need to already have status with a competitor. When you pay the fee and complete the flight requirements within 90 days, you get to keep your status for the rest of the year (in this case, just until February 2013, so only about 7 months longer).

The levels: $200 for Silver, $400 for Gold and $600 for Platinum and you have to fly:

  • Silver: Fly 7,500 miles or 10 segments
  • Gold: Fly 15,000 miles or 20 segments
  • Platinum: Fly 22,500 miles or 30 segments
  • Chairmans: Fly 30,000 miles or 40 segments

You can enroll for their trial Preferred offer online, and when you pay for your challenge and complete the flight requirements, you will be awarded the status level you have completed, though remember, for now it’s just good until February 2013. If I were doing it myself, I would wait until the date was pushed further into the future.

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