Starting a Status Challenge Too Early — Reader Mistake Story

May 11, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jim, who lost an extra year of elite benefits after he mistimed an airline status challenge. Here’s what he had to say:

Uni
Jim may have missed out on an entire year of United elite status by completing his challenge too early.

I recently took your advice and initiated an airline status challenge. United matched my Southwest A-List status, giving me 90 days of complimentary Premier Gold status and the opportunity to retain it for longer after earning 12,500 PQMs over that time period. I knew that wouldn’t be a problem, since I had several long-haul trips planned for April.

My mistake was signing up for the challenge too early. I registered on March 28, which meant I had until the last week of June to meet the requirements. The problem is that completing the challenge before July 1 only gave me status through January of 2018, whereas completing it after that date would have given me status through January of 2019. 

If I had waited three more days to register on April 1 (just before my first long-haul flight), my Gold status would have lasted for another year. I realized my mistake within 24 hours of signing up, but United was unable / unwilling to change my registration date. I’ve already reached 12,500 PQMs from my April travel, but my status only takes me to next year unless I earn another 30,000 PQMs before the end of 2017.

Lesson learned!

Jim’s story is worth heeding, but his mistake may have been less costly than he thinks. The MileagePlus Premier status challenge awards you benefits as soon as you meet the requirements, and United uses that date as the basis for determining how long those benefits last. Since Jim qualified after his travel in April, the scheduled end of his challenge period was irrelevant. If he could have easily completed the requirements after July 1, then waiting to sign up would have been a smart play to extend his status.

In general, you should try to time a status challenge in a way that maximizes your benefits. That could mean waiting until later in the year so your status will last longer, but it could also mean taking a challenge right away if you have a lot of upcoming travel planned. The value you get from having status during the challenge period may outweigh whatever value you get from extending that status in the future (when your travel plans are less certain).

Calendar table photo
Factor in both your travel plans and the program rules when you’re participating in an elite status challenge.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jim for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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