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Elite airline status is great when you have it, but earning it takes determination. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at ways to circumvent the usual qualification requirements by way of status matches and challenges.
With the end of the year inching closer, the push to qualify for elite status is ramping up. Last month I wrote about ways to meet the mileage and/or segment requirements for American and US Airways. I did the same for United and Delta, and wrote separately about meeting their new MQD/PQD requirements.
Today, I’ll take a slightly different tack and address current status match and challenge opportunities with the major domestic carriers. If you’re running short on options to qualify in 2014, or if you’re thinking ahead to 2015, these tips can help!
To begin, I’ll quickly review the difference between matches and challenges. When you status match from one airline to another, you are granted status immediately and with no strings attached. The duration of the status may vary (depending on when your request is made and/or granted), but you don’t need to fly or earn elite-qualifying miles. A status challenge generally requires you to fly a certain number of miles or segments in a given time frame (typically 90 days, but this also varies). If you meet those requirements, the status is granted (or extended) beyond the trial window.
As the end of the 2014 qualification year approaches, many of you are probably planning out your strategy for 2015 status. Status matches and/or challenges can be an integral component to this strategy, and this year is especially important, given the upcoming integration of American AAdvantage & US Airways Dividend Miles, and the moves by both Delta and United to revenue-based mileage accrual. As a Platinum Medallion on Delta, I’ve been contemplating how to move forward, and I know I’m not the only one!
Most airlines provide some type of “public” status match and challenge information. I say “public” in quotes because I’ve seen that many requests are handled on a case-by-case basis. If you can provide a compelling reason (e.g., high levels of spending) for an airline to grant you a match when they usually only do a challenge, they may bend the rules to woo you as a customer. Status Matcher is a great site that allows you to get a feel for the success rates of these requests across frequent flyer programs. It never hurts to (politely) ask!
Here’s a rundown of current offers for the major domestic carriers:
Alaska – Status Match
Alaska Airlines is one of the few programs left that offers a standard status match program for elite members from AeroMexico, Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin America. To request a match, simply e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with copies of your current elite card (both sides), an e-statement with your current status, and your driver’s license. Allow 2-4 weeks for them to process and update your account.
In the past, you could typically match only to MVP and MVP Gold, the program’s low and middle tiers of status. However, recent reports in this FlyerTalk thread indicate that Alaska has recently started granting matches up to MVP Gold 75K. Posters have indicated that American Executive Platinum, Delta Platinum, US Airways Platinum, and United 1K all now match to Alaska’s top tier. Matches requested before October 1st of a given year are only valid through the end of that year, so if you request your match this month or next, you’ll enjoy it for all of 2015.
Just remember that it may take up to a month to have your new status recognized by the system, so if you have flights in the first part of 2015 that you plan on crediting to Alaska, don’t expect to receive elite benefits immediately. While Alaska’s route network is relatively limited and they aren’t part of an alliance, they do have some useful partners like Delta, American, Emirates, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific. In addition, revenue miles earned from all of those partners now count toward MVP (re)qualification.
However, Delta cut MVP benefits on their flights earlier in the year, and Alaska then slashed earning rates for Delta-operated flights when they announced their new Mileage Plan program before Thanksgiving. Keep all that in mind as you decide whether Alaska Mileage Plan should be your new crush.
American – Status Challenge
American Airlines is much stingier when it comes to granting status, and they don’t have any standard “public” offer. The vast majority of requests will be granted challenges for 90 days to earn low or mid-tier status, typically requiring copays and a certain amount of elite-qualifying points:
- AAdvantage Gold: $100 – $120 plus 5,000 TQPs
- AAdvantage Platinum: $200 – $250 plus 10,000 TQPs
To initiate a request, call AAdvantage customer service at 1-800-882-8880. Be prepared to provide proof of your current status, and since deeply discounted economy tickets don’t earn full elite-qualifying points, you’ll be expected to spend a certain amount during the trial period. While they usually do not grant challenges (or matches) for top tier Executive Platinum, it can’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re a high spender and are defecting from either United or Delta amidst their slew of devaluations.
Delta – Status Challenge
Delta typically offers status challenges for Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion. You’re granted temporary status for 90 days, and then must fly a certain number of elite qualifying miles or segments to retain your status beyond the trial period. Any challenges completed after June 30th in a given year are valid for the rest of the year and the entire next program year, so if you submit the request now and meet the challenge requirements in early 2015, you can enjoy the status through January 31, 2016.
JetBlue – Status Challenge
JetBlue’s TrueBlue program only has one level of elite status (Mosaic), and they have a challenge program for current elites with American, Delta, US Airways, United, Southwest, and Alaska. Simply e-mail email@example.com with your TrueBlue account number, TrueBlue statement, and proof of current elite status before December 31st at 11:59 pm ET. Challenges are typically approved (or denied) within 2 weeks, and you then have 90 days to earn 3,750 base points by spending at least $1,250 on JetBlue flights. Keep in mind that Mosaic status isn’t nearly as rewarding as elite status on other airlines.
United – Status Challenge
United also offers a status challenge to elite flyers from other airlines, and they actually have published information available. Even though the site only lists Delta and US Airways as eligible programs, the website Status Matcher includes reports from American, Southwest, and even Alitalia elites who were given approval to participate.
Simply complete the online form (you’ll need to sign into your MileagePlus account) and provide documentation of your current status. You’ll then receive 90 days of Premier status that begins on a date of your choosing, which must be within 14 days of the request.
To retain that status, you must then fly a certain amount on flights operated by United or Copa:
- Premier Silver: 7,000 PQMs or 8 PQSs
- Premier Gold: 12,500 PQMs or 15 PQSs
- Premier Platinum: 18,000 PQMs or 22 PQSs
Keep in mind that your status may take 7-14 business days to be updated, but if you meet the requirements of the challenge after July 1st, your elite status is valid for the rest of the program year and the entire following year. In other words, if you complete the challenge now, you have status through January 2016. If you complete the challenge after July 1, 2015, you have status through January 2017.
US Airways – Trial Status
US Airways is unique on this list, in that they do not restrict status matches or challenges to elite flyers from other airlines. Instead, any Dividend Miles member can pay $200 – $600 for trial preferred status (valid for 90 days), and then earn more permanent status by flying a certain number of miles or segments:
- Silver: 7,500 miles or 10 segments
- Gold: 15,000 miles or 20 segments
- Platinum: 22,500 miles or 30 segments
- Chairman’s Preferred: 30,000 miles or 40 segments
This is basically a fast-track method to qualify for US Airways elite status, and you can enroll at this link. However, only US Airways and American flights qualify. If you purchase Trial Preferred after June 30th in a calendar year and meet the requirements of the challenge, you’ll enjoy the status for the rest of the year and the entire following year.
Frequently Asked Questions
So now that you’ve seen the current offers out there (including how to actually request the status match/challenge), here are answers to some common questions related to these programs.
Q: How long will my status be valid if I request it before the end of the year?
A: It depends. As you can see above, Delta, United, and US Airways explicitly use June 30th as the cut-off date for determining how long your earned status will last. If you complete a challenge with Delta or United before that date, you’ll receive elite benefits for the rest of that program year; if you complete it after that date, you get the rest of the year and all of the following year to enjoy the benefits. US Airways, meanwhile, uses that date as the cut-off for enrollment in the Trial Preferred program.
Alaska uses October 1st as the cut-off date. If you request a match on September 30th, you’ll have less than three months to enjoy those benefits! If you request it on October 1st, you’ll have almost 15 months of status.
Q: So to get the best bang for my buck, shouldn’t I wait until mid-2015 to request a match/challenge?
A: Not necessarily. The big gamble here is that the programs will still be around in the 2015 program year. The landing page for the United Status Challenge claims that this is an “Ongoing Offer”, but also states that it’s only valid “for requests received between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014.” There’s no telling what will happen come 2015. Remember, if you request it now and complete the challenge in the early part of 2015, you’ll still have all of 2015 to enjoy the benefits.
This is especially important when it comes to US Airways Trial Preferred. With the upcoming integration of the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs, a lot will change. While I have no official inside knowledge of this, I would bet that the current Trial Preferred program will disappear in early 2015 (if not immediately on January 1st). After all, the Dividend Miles program will cease to exist at some point in the second quarter, so it wouldn’t make sense to give out trial preferred status in a program that has an expiration date.
Q: So how will the merger affect those who earn status through a challenge or trial preferred offer?
A: It won’t. When the two programs are combined in the second quarter, there will be three types of elite flyers out there:
- 100% American travelers
- 100% US Airways travelers
- Those with a combination of American and US Airways travel
If you qualified for AAdvantage Gold, be it through the traditional means or through a status challenge, you’ll be Gold in the new AAdvantage program. Likewise, if you qualified for Chairman’s Preferred, it doesn’t matter whether you did it the hard way (with 100,000 miles or 100 segments) or the easy way (through Trial Preferred by flying 30,000 miles or 40 segments). You will become Executive Platinum in the new AAdvantage program.
Q: When I request a match or challenge, does it matter if my status is expiring in the first part of 2015?
A: It shouldn’t. When the program asks for proof of current status, you can send them a screen shot or a current elite card, and most reports indicate that the expiration date doesn’t matter. They also likely won’t look at current year activity. I read one report of a Delta Platinum Medallion who had a light travel year and wasn’t even going to qualify for Silver getting matched to Alaska Gold MVP 75K. As always, however, your experience may differ.
Q: So can I just status match (or challenge) back and forth between airlines and keep perpetual status without ever meeting the traditional qualification thresholds?
A: For the most part, no. Alaska, for example, limits these matches to once during the lifetime of an account. However, there are exceptions. United only restricts you from participating if you requested a match within the last 5 years, and US Airways’ Trial Preferred program can be purchased every 12 months. For complete details, read the T&C of the program in question.
Q: How do the new PQD/MQD requirements on United/Delta affect these challenge programs?
A: They don’t (at the moment). If you enroll in these challenges, you do not need to meet spending thresholds to earn the status. However, in future years, the PQD/MQD requirements would be a part of requalification, so be sure to factor that into your decision.
Q: Do I lose my current status if I match (or challenge) on another airline?
A: No. All of these programs were designed to poach customers from a competitor, and if you match or complete a challenge with one airline, your old status with another airline will not be impacted. Of course, it will expire as usual under the rules of that program if you fail to requalify.
Q: What is the urgency to request a match or challenge by the end of the year?
A: It all depends on the airline. Since some of them take up to a month to process requests, you might miss out on an early January flight counting toward a challenge if you don’t get the ball rolling now. United makes it easy by allowing you to request a specific start date for the challenge, and I’ve read that American will do the same when you request the challenge over the phone.
I would also strongly consider taking advantage of US Airways Trial Preferred by the end of the year as well. Again, I don’t know have insider knowledge, but that program is definitely on life support.
TPG has said before that elite status can be like a drug, so if you’re about to lose status on one carrier or are done with your preferred airline due to massive devaluations (ahem, Delta), then a status match or challenge can be a great way to kick start your 2015 elite status.
Are you planning a status match/challenge, or have you undertaken one recently?
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