How Often Can I Match or Challenge for Airline Elite Status?

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TPG reader AJ sent me a message on Facebook to ask about matching airline status:

“I completed a status match about a year ago, but didn’t travel enough to maintain it. However, I’ll be traveling a ton in 2016 and would like to see if I could get another shot. Is there a limit to how often one can attempt a status match or challenge?”

There’s a lot to love about airline status (especially at the top tiers), but earning it the old-fashioned way often means spending a lot of time in the air. Fortunately, there are some shortcuts (such as cross-branded partnerships and benefits on airline credit cards) that make it easier to qualify. In addition, status matches and challenges allow you to leverage status with one airline in order to attain status on another.

Airlines offer status matches and challenges because they want your loyalty; it doesn’t make much sense for them to give you elite benefits outright if you’re just going to switch to yet another airline the following year. That’s why most airlines limit how often you can match or challenge for status. For example, United only allows you to challenge for Premier status every five years, while Delta rules out anyone who has previously received a status match or other complimentary Medallion status. AA is a bit more flexible, often allow members to apply for a paid status challenge multiple times.

That makes it difficult to maintain elite status without meeting the normal qualification requirements at least some of the time. AJ didn’t specify which airline he matched to previously, but chances are he’ll have a tough time doing it again so soon. On the other hand, it never hurts to ask. If you successfully completed a challenge one year, but then didn’t fly much the next year (perhaps for health reasons or because of other personal hardship), the airline might be sympathetic and give you another chance.

If you're going to challenge for airline status, make the most of it!
If you’re going to challenge for airline status, make the most of it!

AJ is smartly thinking about earning status in advance of a period when he knows he’ll be flying a lot. That strategy not only makes it easier to complete a status challenge, but also allows you to get more mileage out of your elite benefits. There are other factors to consider, such as the time of year and expiration date of your existing status. Also, the airline might take as long as a month to process your match/challenge request, so plan accordingly.

Status matches and challenges come and go — for example, Air Berlin recently opened its Topbonus status match to US residents, which could help Star Alliance and SkyTeam elites looking for an easy way to earn Oneworld benefits. If you don’t see any good opportunities now, be patient and see what pops up later in the year.

For more ideas about how to earn and maintain airline status, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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