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This past week, TPG reader Jordan tweeted me to ask:
“@thepointsguy Do you have any advice on how I should complete an airline status match or challenge?”
If your goal is to earn airline elite status as fast as possible, it’s important to have a status match and/or challenge strategy.
When you start to gain elite status within an airline’s frequent flyer program, a competing airline might try to woo your business away by offering you a status match, or similar status within their own loyalty program. In order to provide you with an appropriate match, most airlines require proof of your current elite status and frequent flyer account activity, and tend to be more generous toward frequent flyers who pay full price for their fares. Some airlines offer status matches just once per frequent flyer member, so in some cases, if you take a status match this year, you’ll be ineligible for the same match next year.
A status challenge, on the other hand, allows new frequent flyer members to maintain an elite status level for up to a year by flying a certain number of flights or a miles within a specified period. The number of flights or miles and the amount of time allowed varies widely between airlines, but I can safely recommend applying for a challenge two to three weeks before an already scheduled trip to help you complete the challenge in a timely manner.
Keep in mind that timing is important for both status matches and challenges. This year, July 1 and forward may be the best time to sign up for a match or challenge, because your elite status will be valid for a longer period.
A few tools will help you gather the information you’ll need to make the most informed decisions before you enroll in a status match or challenge. A new site called Status Matcher can inform you about the loyalty programs of many domestic and international airlines (as well as a wide variety of hotel chains), and to compare potential status matches and challenges between them. To find the cheapest flights before you travel for a challenge, check out FlyerTalk’s Mileage Run Deals forum and The Flight Deal, and run a flexible search on the ITA Matrix software. Make sure you’re always booking eligible fare classes and avoiding partner-operated flights, as the latter often don’t count toward status matches and challenges.
Each major U.S. airline has its own status match or challenge rules and requirements, several of which are listed below. Remember that even if it looks like your particular elite status will prevent you from participating in a match or challenge, it never hurts to politely ask an airline for what you want.
Alaska (Status Match)
In order to receive a status match from Alaska’s MileagePlan program, all you have to do is prove that you hold elite status with another airline. Send copies of your account statement, driver’s license or passport, and elite status card from the other airline to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that matches take about two weeks to process. Only MileagePlan’s bottom two elite levels – MVP and MVP Gold – are eligible for status matches, and these elites can do an Alaska status match only once. Matches requested prior to November 1 of a calendar year are good until the following February, and those requested after November 1 are good for the entire following year.
Alaska has great airline partners, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Air France/KLM, as well as American and Delta. This latter makes Alaska a great option for Delta Medallions looking for another program, since they can credit their Delta flights to MileagePlan and earn flight and elite-qualifying miles while still enjoying other elite perks on both Delta and American, such as free checked bags, priority check-in, boarding and more.
American (Status Challenge)
American allows status challenges, but requires a co-pay of between $100-$250 (depending on a frequent flyer’s elite tier) as well as a certain number of Elite Qualifying Points (rather than miles) earned within a three-month period – 5,000 for Gold and 10,000 for Platinum. (American doesn’t generally allow Executive Platinums to participate in challenges, but with the recent United and SkyMiles revenue changes, it can’t hurt to ask.) Since EQP’s are based on fare class and deeply discounted economy tickets only earn a fraction of a point per mile flown, challengers are expected to spend a certain amount of money on the airline. You can enroll in an American Airlines challenge by calling AAdvantage customer service at 1 (800) 882-8880.
Delta (Status Challenge)
Details of Delta’s current status challenge program can be found here. An eligible challenger isn’t currently a Medallion member, hasn’t received a status match or complimentary Medallion status in the past, and must present a copy of his or her elite status card and statement from another airline either by email at SMSCEliteFaxes.Delta@delta.com or via this online form.
Once approved, challengers are offered Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion status for 90 days starting when the challenge request is processed. If you request a challenge prior to June 30, 2014 and complete its flight requirements, your elite status will be maintained until February 28, 2015. If you request a challenge between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015 and complete its flight requirements, your elite status will be maintained until January 31, 2016.
This chart shows what Delta considers comparable elite levels between its Medallion program, American AAdvantage, and United MileagePlus:
Keep in mind that that starting this year, Delta has instituted a revenue requirement for elite status qualification, and you’ll now have to spend between $2,500-$12,500 (depending on your Medallion level) to maintain status.
JetBlue (Status Challenge)
Having instituted its Mosaic tier system back in July of 2012, JetBlue offers a 90-day status challenges (see the rules here). An eligible challenger must be a TrueBlue member and currently enrolled in one of the following airline loyalty programs, with the specified status:
– American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum
– Delta: SkyMiles Medallion Silver, Gold, Platinum or Diamond
– US Airways: Dividend Miles: Preferred Silver, Gold, Platinum or Chairman
– United MileagePlus: Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum or 1k
– Southwest Rapid Rewards: A-List, A-List Preferred, Companion Pass
– Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K
An eligible challenger has to apply before December 31 (11:59 PM EST) of the year by emailing their TrueBlue account number, most recent TrueBlue statement, and current elite status card and/or account statement from the other airline’s loyalty program to email@example.com. Challenges will be approved or denied within two weeks, and those accepted will have 90 days to complete their Mosaic Challenge by earning 3,750 base flight points. TrueBlue members earn 3 base points per $1, which means a challenger will have to spend $1,250 on airfares. Aside from base flight points, all other bonus points, partner points and booking bonuses don’t count within a challenge.
United (Status Challenge)
United offers a status challenge program focused on Delta and American elites, though it only offers up to Platinum status. A potential challenger must submit their MileagePlus account number, name, complete current mailing address and email address, as well as a copy of their most recent elite status card and mileage summary from the other airline’s loyalty program to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To attain status through January 31, 2015, challengers will need to achieve the following on flights operated by United, United Express or Copa during a 90-day timeframe:
MileagePlus Premier Silver: Fly 7,000 PQM or 8 PQs
Mileage Plus Premier Silver: Fly 12,000 PQM or 15 PQs
MileagePlus Premier Platinum: Fly 18,000 PQM or 22 PQs
US Airways (Buy Status)
Rather than offering status matches, US Airways’ Dividend Miles program actually sells status outright by selling bundles of Preferred Qualifying Miles. (For example, Dividend Miles’ top status, Chairman’s Preferred, can be purchased for $3,999, though this price drops to $2,999 for those who have at least 1 Preferred Qualifying Mile.) Participants can enroll for their trial Preferred offer online, and once they’ve paid their fee and completed the flight requirements, they’ll be awarded the appropriate status level.
If you want to try to get status on US Airways without paying through the nose for it and/or without having elite status with a US Airways competitor, the airline does offer trial status challenges for between $200-$600, depending on the status tier you’re targeting. When you pay the fee and complete the flight requirements (in this case, only elite qualifying flights operated by US Airways and US Airways Express can be applied toward the Trial Preferred program) within 90 days, you get to keep your status for the rest of the year.