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Elite airline status provides a lot of great perks, but earning it takes determination. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at ways to circumvent the usual qualification requirements by way of status matches and challenges.
We’ve officially reached the halfway point of 2015! With just six months left to (re)qualify for elite status, I’m sure many of you are thinking about a status match or challenge with a competing airline. This could be for your own benefit, or you could use it like TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig did and help friends snag some upgrades!
In this post, I want to show you some strategies for leveraging your existing status to enjoy perks on another airline, and some shortcuts to earning status if you’re just starting out. Whether you’re running short on options to qualify in 2015 or thinking ahead to 2016, 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’re 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 we move into the second half of the 2015 qualification year, many of you are probably planning out your strategy for the rest of this year and beyond. Status matches and/or challenges can be an integral component to this strategy, and this year is especially important, given the recent integration of American Airlines AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles, and the continued devaluations from Delta. You might also just be sick of an airline and wanting to change!
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 Airlines — 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 Alaska to process and update your account (although your match will likely be processed within a day or two).
In the past, you could typically match only to MVP and MVP Gold — the program’s low and middle tiers of elite status. However, reports in this FlyerTalk thread indicate that Alaska has been granting matches up to MVP Gold 75K since last year. Posters have indicated that American Executive Platinum, Delta Platinum and United 1K all now match to Alaska’s top tier. Matches requested before October of a given year are only valid through the end of that year, so if you can hold out until October, you’ll enjoy the matched status for all of 2016.
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 next few weeks that you plan on crediting to Alaska, don’t expect to receive elite benefits immediately. While Alaska has a relatively limited route network and isn’t part of an alliance, there are still 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 its flights last year, and Alaska then slashed earning rates for Delta-operated flights when its announced the new Mileage Plan program before Thanksgiving. Keep all that in mind as you decide whether Alaska Mileage Plan should be your new crush.
American Airlines — Status Challenge
American Airlines is much stingier when it comes to granting status, and doesn’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 number of elite-qualifying points:
- AAdvantage Gold — $100 – $120 plus 5,000 EQPs
- AAdvantage Platinum — $200 – $250 plus 10,000 EQPs
To initiate a request, call AAdvantage customer service at 1-800-882-8880. It’s been reported that this paid challenge is open to anyone. Unfortunately, since deeply discounted economy tickets don’t earn full elite-qualifying points, you may need to spend a fair amount during the trial period. However, I’ve read some recent reports of status challenges being offered with elite-qualifying miles rather than points, so as with most things in this industry, your mileage may vary.
While American doesn’t officially grant challenges (or matches) for top-tier Executive Platinum status, it can’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re a high spender and are defecting from either United or Delta. There are reports of some United 1K members being matched to Executive Platinum, with a requirement to earn 25,000 EQPs within three months of enrollment. Unlike the challenges outlined above, the Executive Platinum match grants temporary status right away, and doesn’t require a co-pay.
Delta Air Lines — Status Challenge
Delta typically offers status challenges for Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallion. You’ll be granted temporary status for 90 days, and then must fly a certain number of elite qualification miles or segments to retain your status beyond the trial period. Any challenges completed after June 30 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 the next few months, you can enjoy elite status through January 31, 2017.
Delta has also been known to release targeted fast-track offers to earning status. The most recent one is aimed at travelers based in Los Angeles, and offers Platinum Medallion status after just one round-trip transoceanic or transcontinental Delta One flight. Other past offers have included fast tracks to Gold or Platinum (last September), as well as one TPG received a few months ago with a fast track to Gold (with requirements similar to those of the current LA offer).
United Airlines — Status Challenge
United also offers a status challenge to elite flyers from other airlines, and actually has published information available. Even though the site only lists Delta, American and US Airways as eligible programs, Status Matcher includes reports from LAN, Southwest, Airberlin and even Alitalia elites who were given approval to participate. However, if you currently hold Star Alliance Silver or Gold status through another carrier, you cannot take advantage of this offer.
To take part, simply complete the online form (you’ll need to sign in to 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
Unfortunately, there’s no way to use this as a fast track to a higher status than your matched tier. In other words, if your current status only allows you to match to Premier Silver, that’s the highest status you can keep through this offer. Even if you fly 20,000 PQMs or 25 PQSs, you’ll still only be Premier Silver. To earn a higher status, you’ll need to hit the regular qualification thresholds.
Keep in mind too that your status may take 7-14 business days to be updated, but if you meet the requirements of the challenge this year, your elite status is valid for the rest of 2015 and the entire following year. In other words, if you complete the challenge now, you’ll enjoy United status through January of 2017. Just be sure to submit the request by September 30, 2015.
Alitalia — Status Match
I include this last (somewhat random) option because of the benefits it can offer on partner flights. Alitalia recently announced that it would offer status matches into its MilleMiglia program, giving you a fast track to SkyTeam Elite or Elite Plus status:
- Silver-level statuses match to Ulisse Club (SkyTeam Elite)
- Gold-level statuses match to Freccia Alata Club (SkyTeam Elite Plus)
- Platinum-level statuses match to Freccia Alata Plus Club (SkyTeam Elite Plus)
All three of these status levels give you extra baggage allowance, priority check-in, preferred seating and priority boarding. SkyTeam Elite Plus also gives you and a guest automatic lounge access when traveling on an international SkyTeam flight.
To initiate the match, send an e-mail to StatusMatchMilleMiglia@alitalia.com by December 31, 2015 with your first and last name, MilleMiglia code and a legible copy of your existing frequent flyer card. The status will be effective within 5 working days of the request. However, it may take up to three weeks for other airlines’ systems to recognize the new status, so if you plan to use the benefits on an upcoming trip, be sure to allow plenty of time.
For most requests, the matched status will be valid through March 31, 2016. However, if you have already qualified for elite status with your current program this year (with expiration later than March 31), you’ll actually retain your status until March 31, 2017.
Frequently Asked Questions
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. Delta and United, for example, use June 30 as the cut-off date for determining how long your earned status will last. If you complete a challenge with one of these carriers 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.
Alaska uses October 1 as the cut-off date. If you request a match on September 30, you’ll have less than three months to enjoy those benefits! If you request it on October 1, you’ll have almost 15 months of status.
Q: So shouldn’t I go ahead and request a match/challenge immediately?
A: Not necessarily. It all depends on your upcoming travel patterns. Sure, you’ll want to enjoy the status for as long as possible, but you also want to request a challenge when you know (or are nearly certain) that you can meet the requirements to extend the status. Remember, too, that some airlines may take a bit of time to process the request, and I wouldn’t expect flights to be counted retroactively (though I’ve read reports that they occasionally are). It’s a delicate balancing act, so be sure to consider your own specific situation before initiating the match or challenge.
Q: When I request a match or challenge, does it matter if my status is expiring in early 2016?
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 (a plan I hope to duplicate this October!). As always, however, your experience may differ.
Q: Can I 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 like United, which only restricts you from participating if you requested a match within the last 5 years. For complete details, read the T&C of the program in question or ask the agent when you call/e-mail to confirm the details.
Q: How do the 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, the PQD/MQD requirements would be a part of requalification in future years, 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 now?
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 August 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. For Alaska, I’d say there’s no urgency to request a status match now, since you can wait until October 1 and enjoy the status for the rest of 2015 and all of 2016.
TPG has said before that elite status can be like a drug, so if it looks like you aren’t going to retain your existing status 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 enjoy the last half of 2015 and kickstart your 2016 travel year with a bang.
Are you planning a status match/challenge, or have you undertaken one recently? The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.