Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Airline Elite Status Match and Challenge Options for 2016

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you’re looking to leverage an airline elite status match or challenge, it can be hard to keep track of all the options out there. To help simplify things, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen walks you through the major carriers’ current offerings below.

It seems hard to believe, but we’re almost through the first five months of 2016. Chances are you’ve already put a plan in place regarding elite status qualification (or requalification) for the rest of the year. However, if not, one of the best strategies to consider is a status match or challenge. Today, I want to go through the current offers from the major carriers to see if one is right for you.

AA-767-300-business-cabin
Utilizing a status match or successfully completing a status challenge can unlock some valuable perks.

Before getting into the specifics, though, a few quick disclaimers. First, be forewarned that airlines may verify that your request is legitimate (as one TPG reader discovered last year). Status that’s been granted rather than earned may not be enough. This also impacts any fraudulent requests. You may think that Photoshop and the resulting fake credentials will be enough to fool a new carrier into thinking that you actually hold status. Not only is this dishonest; it’s also unlikely to work.

Second, be sure you understand the full terms of the requirements for the match or challenge. With some programs, you don’t even need to currently have status with another airline, while others require proof. Some carriers will give you temporary status as you work toward qualifying for more permanent status. Others only count flights taken on certain airlines. Even the most legitimate requests for status can be waylaid by misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the rules.

Finally, take your time to consider the options and the timing before jumping in. Just about all programs impose a restriction on how frequently you can utilize a match or challenge. For some, it’s every five years, while others only allow it once per lifetime of the account. The timing is critical as well. You may be able to extend your status even longer by requesting it or completing it at the right time.

Now that all of that is out of the way, where do the major carriers currently stand on status matches or challenges? Unfortunately, only a few airlines make this information publicly available, but many will grant a match or challenge on a case-by-case basis. A great site with user-submitted data is StatusMatcher.com, which will give you an idea of your options. You can also always check a specific airline’s forum on FlyerTalk.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll currently find (remembering that there are always exceptions):

ALASKA AIRLINES

Alaska is rebranding in 2016.
Alaska is one airline that (for now) offers straight-up status matches.

Alaska is one of the few airlines that still grants full-on status matches to elites from other airlines. This even includes matches up to their top-tier MVP Gold 75K level (like TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig experienced to upgrade his friend’s parents on their trip to Hawaii). To submit a request, simply email elite.flyer@alaskaair.com with a photo of your current elite card (front and back), driver’s license, online account summary and Mileage Plan number. Reports indicate that all the major carriers are eligible for this match, including American, Delta, Southwest and United.

Here’s the great thing: If you submit the request before October 1, your status will be valid for the rest of the year. However, if you submit it after October 1, it’ll be valid for the rest of the year and the entire following year. I did this very thing last fall using my Delta Platinum Medallion status. My request was submitted October 5, and I was bumped to MVP Gold 75K just five days later. This status is valid through December 31, 2016, and will make our upcoming trip to Hawaii and San Diego (booked using the companion fare benefit on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card) that much more enjoyable and rewarding.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

You'll earn actual miles flown plus a 50% bonus for flights in American first class.
American’s status challenge program is open to any traveler, even if you aren’t an elite member with another airline.

American doesn’t typically offer straight-up status matches, but it is relatively consistent with its status challenge program. This is available to anyone (even if you don’t have elite status) and will only involve EQMs as a result of the new AAdvantage program. To initiate this request, simply call the AAdvantage support line at 1-888-697-5636 and request a status challenge. You’ll need to pay a small fee and then fly a certain number of miles within three months, though many reports indicate that you can choose a start date that can even be backdated up to 2 weeks. Check your email to see if you were targeted for a free status challenge.

While a few flyers mention Executive Platinum, the majority of travelers will be offered a challenge for the two lower tiers:

  • Gold: $100 – $140, complete 7,000 EQMs
  • Platinum: $180 – $200, complete 12,500 EQMs

This may (or may not) include temporary status, so be sure to inquire about that when you call. In addition, if you start your challenge before June 16 and complete the requirements, your status will only be valid through January 2017. However, if you initiate the challenge on or after June 16 and meet the requirements, your status will be extended through January 2018. Finally, only flights marketed by American, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas will count, so be sure to plan your travel accordingly!

For complete details, be sure to check out this FlyerTalk Wiki.

DELTA AIR LINES

Delta Platinum Medallion Bag Tag featured
Delta elite status comes with more than just fancy bag tags.

Like American, Delta is another of the legacy carriers that typically only offers status challenges. However, Delta does publish its criteria online. You can only match up to Platinum Medallion status, and even though the site only lists American, Alaska and United, you may be able to submit credentials from another airline for consideration. To submit your details, visit this link and enter your information (including supporting documentation). If you’re approved, you’ll be granted temporary status and then need to complete the following requirements within 90 days of enrollment:

  • Silver: 6,250 MQMs or 8 MQSs
  • Gold: 12,500 MQMs or 15 MQSs
  • Platinum: 18,750 MQMs or 25 MQSs

All of these flights must be on Delta (and not partners), but these thresholds are roughly 25% of those normally required to earn status the hard way, so this is a nice shortcut! If you register before June 30 and complete the requirements, your status will be valid through January 2017. The program page doesn’t address requests received after June 30, but if this year follows the same procedure as last year, if you register after June 30, 2016, and meet the requirements, you’ll retain your matched status through January 2018.

Just keep in mind that you can’t earn anything higher than your matched status (e.g., if you are matched to Silver, you won’t earn Gold by flying more than 12,500 miles). However, if you are matched to a higher status and fall short, you’re still eligible for a lower status (e.g., if you are matched to Platinum but only fly 13,000 miles, you’ll be Gold Medallion after the 90 days are up). In addition, you won’t have access to all partner airline benefits during your 90-day trial, including lounge access. For full details, be sure to visit Delta’s status challenge page.

JETBLUE AIRWAYS

jetblue
JetBlue recently opened up a new status match/challenge program.

JetBlue may have lost the bidding for Virgin America, but it’s been making a lot of noise recently with a big expansion of its Mint product and the release of three new credit cards (I added the JetBlue Plus Card to my wallet last month and am utilizing it to purchase a glass of wine at 50% off in-flight as I type this sentence). In addition, the carrier recently launched a new status match/challenge through May 31.

The following elite tiers are eligible for a status match to JetBlue Mosaic for the rest of 2016:

  • Virgin America Elevate: Silver, Elevate Gold
  • Alaska Airlines: MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75k
  • American Airlines AAdvantage: Platinum or Executive Platinum
  • Delta SkyMiles Medallion: Gold, Platinum or Diamond
  • Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or Companion Pass
  • United MileagePlus: Premier Gold, Platinum or Premier 1K
  • Emirates Skywards:‎ Silver, Gold or Platinum

However, any traveler can sign up for the challenge (and those who match are automatically entered). Once you’ve registered, you have 90 days to earn 3,750 base points. Since JetBlue awards points at a rate of 3 points per dollar spent, this is equivalent to spending $1,250 (plus taxes and fees). If you meet this requirement, you’ll earn Mosaic status through December 31, 2017. This includes perks like free drinks and discounted upgrades, so it’s definitely a step up from when I took advantage of a status match in 2014.

UNITED AIRLINES

united first class featured
United, like Delta, publishes the details of its status match/challenge program online.

United is another carrier that publishes a status match/challenge program, one that was just extended for the rest of 2016. Unfortunately, you must currently have elite status to take advantage of it. The registration page includes examples of how your current status maps to United status:

Matched United Level

Premier Silver

Premier Gold

Premier Platinum

Delta Medallion level

Silver

Gold

Platinum

American AAdvantage level

Gold

Platinum

Determined upon review

US Airways Preferred level

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Yes, it’s clear that the site hasn’t been updated in some time, as US Airways Dividend Miles hasn’t been around for more than a year. In addition, you may be able to utilize other programs besides those listed; I utilized my Alaska MVP Gold 75K status to match to United Premier Gold earlier this year (and then was bumped to Premier Platinum just before my temporary status expired). Just be aware that you can only use this program once every five years, so take that into account before initiating your request.

To register, open the MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge form and log in to your MileagePlus account. Confirm your details, attach your supporting documentation and choose a start date. The nice thing is that you can select a date up to 14 days before or after the current date, so you do have some flexibility.

VIRGIN AMERICA

Get up to 50% bonus points when you transfer Membership Rewards to Virgin America.
Virgin America’s new status match/challenge program runs until September 30.

Virgin America made headlines recently with its decision to merge with Alaska Airlines, but just before that deal was finalized, it announced a new status challenge for its Elevate frequent flyer program. If you currently hold elite status with American, Delta, Southwest or United (and weren’t the beneficiary of a status match with Virgin America in 2015), you can sign up to be matched to Elevate Silver or Elevate Gold for 90 days. Simply send an email to statusmatch@virginamerica.com with your Elevate number and proof of current elite status by 11:59pm Pacific time on September 30, 2016.

Here’s how your matched status will be determined:

 

Elevate Silver

Elevate Gold

American

Gold

Platinum, Executive Platinum

Delta

Silver Medallion, Gold Medallion

Platinum Medallion, Diamond Medallion

JetBlue

N/A

Mosaic

Southwest

A-List, A-List Preferred

Companion Pass

United

Premier Silver, Premier Gold

Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, Global Services

If you want to keep the status through the end of 2017, you’ll need to earn a certain number of Status Points within the 90-day period, though the thresholds are lower if you hold a Virgin America credit card:

  • Elevate Silver: 5,000 Status Points (3,000 with a credit card)
  • Elevate Gold: 12,000 Status Points (8,000 with a credit card)

You earn 5 Status Points per dollar spent on the base fare of Virgin America tickets, so you’d need to spend $1,000 to keep Silver status ($600 for credit card holders) or $2,400 to keep Gold status ($1,600 for credit card holders). Note that not all Elevate status benefits are provided during the 90-day trial period; be sure to read the status match terms and conditions for complete details.

Bottom Line

Utilizing a status match or challenge can be a great shortcut to elite benefits, and if you plan carefully you can use the above information to switch to a new airline or simply try out the perks on an upcoming flight. Just remember that these all come with various restrictions, so be sure to read and understand the full terms and conditions of the program before initiating the request.

What are your recent experiences with airline status matches/challenges?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit