Airline elite status match and challenge options for 2019
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We’re all looking for an avenue to make air travel more comfortable and affordable. Benefits like upgrades, lounge access, early boarding, free seat selection and waived baggage fees are universally desirable but only applicable to the small percentage of flyers who hold elite status — or the right credit card.
Most elites earn status via the traditional method of many days in the air and thousands of dollars spent with a single airline. However, there are ways to get around these requirements or leverage a soon-to-be-expiring status to jump ship to another carrier. This can be especially valuable if, as we pass the halfway mark of the year, you realize you might not be able to requalify for the same elite statuses you currently hold. Today I’ll highlight how you can shortcut your way to elite perks by completing a status challenge or (if you’re lucky) by utilizing a straight status match.
Preparation and precautions
To help you successfully complete a status challenge or obtain a status match, let’s first cover the basic principles of both strategies. With a status match, an airline will give you an equivalent or lower status tier based on the status you’ve already earned with another carrier’s program. The matching airline will ask for proof of your status, usually via a photo of the front and back of your membership card and a mileage statement showing your recent activity.
WARNING: A Photoshopped or HTML code-altered credential only risks getting yourself in trouble with programs, and it could lead to more severe consequences like losing your account altogether. It’s not worth it.
With a status challenge, an airline may or may not require you to already have status. The carrier will specify the number of elite-qualifying miles you must earn — and sometimes elite-qualifying dollars you must spend — in a given time frame in order to achieve a specific elite tier. Many challenges are structured with the ability to earn different elite levels, and some even allow you to enjoy temporary status during the challenge period.
Where most status hopefuls run afoul during challenges is not understanding the formulas for earning elite-qualifying miles and elite-qualifying dollars and finding themselves short at the challenge deadline. For example, elite-qualifying miles earned from cobranded credit cards generally do not count toward the requirements for a challenge, and only the base fare of tickets on certain airlines booked in certain ways will count towards the elite-qualifying dollars. It’s also important to note that elite-qualifying miles are typically calculated differently when flying on partner airlines, and these tickets are not always eligible for status challenges. With the complicated formulas often required to decipher these earnings, make sure you double- and triple-check your research when planning your challenge strategy.
Many times, members receive targeted offers for status challenges. Ensure your email preferences are set up to receive all offers available, and follow TPG to know when the occasional opportunity of a non-targeted status match or challenge arises.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Most status challenges and matches are limited to once per lifetime per account (United is a notable exception, offering these once per five years as well as Delta offering once every three years).
- Try to complete a match or challenge after June so you can enjoy status the rest of the calendar year and hopefully have a chance of keeping the status through to the following calendar year (though read and reread the terms to be sure this works on the specific carrier).
- Keep an eye on airline merger and acquisitions so you can strategically complete a status or challenge with the airline being absorbed. This will hopefully grandfather you into status with the new airline.
Airlines don’t always publicize their status match/challenge opportunities, so many phone calls and emails to generic “contact us” addresses are often necessary, as is reading sites like FlyerTalk and Status Matcher. For programs where an official status match program is not made publicly available, your experience may differ from what other flyers experience — since whether or not you get matched may depend on the agent who processes your request.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the current status match and challenge options readily available across major airlines.
Based off successful reports I read on Status Matcher, I contacted Air Canada’s Aeroplan program (and Air Canada directly) requesting any available status matches or challenges available. Neither phone agents nor the Air Canada Twitter team could give me specifics but did confirm the program exists and that an email with my credentials would be required.
Email your credentials to firstname.lastname@example.org for a 90-day challenge to a “comparable tier of Aeroplan’s Altitude elite status” (as the phone agents read from their screen). I looked around online and have not seen any reports of challenges offered to a status above Altitude Elite 50k, and you do not receive status during the trial period. Here are the requirements to successfully complete a challenge:
- Altitude Elite 50k: 18,500 AQM or 18 AQS
- Altitude Elite 35k: 13,000 AQM or 13 AQS
- Altitude Elite 25k: 9,250 AQM or 9 AQS
Alaska Airlines recently updated its status match policy to include a challenge element as well. You’ll still be able to match from the same airline programs as before, but now your Alaska Airlines status is only valid for a limited three-month period of time. In order to keep your new Alaska status after this period, you’ll need to fly the following number of miles on flights marketed by Alaska Airlines and operated by Alaska Airlines, Horizon or SkyWest depending on what tier you’re matching to:
- MVP: 5,000 miles
- MVP Gold: 10,000 miles
- MVP Gold 75K: 20,000 miles
The good news is that unlike many programs, Alaska will still allow you to match to its top-tier MVP Gold 75K level. To submit a request, simply head to the dedicated website Alaska has created and upload a screenshot of your current competing mileage statement with your name, current status and miles earned year to date.
If you’re matched to MVP Gold 75K, you’re not eligible for the 50,000 bonus miles associated with qualifying for MVP Gold 75K status. However, reports indicate that matches to Gold and Gold 75K do include the four Gold Guest Upgrades that are conferred when you reach those levels.
Note that if you make your elite status request on or after July 1 and fly the requisite number of miles, your status will be valid through the end of the following year so make sure to keep this in mind when deciding how to time your challenge.
With both elite-qualifying dollars and elite-qualifying miles now required to earn AAdvantage status, American also shifted its requirements for status challenges. A publicly available challenge for Gold or Platinum status is possible by calling American and requesting to partake, but it does require paying an upfront fee.
The standard cost of the Platinum status challenge is $200, but if you want Gold status immediately, you can pay an additional $200 for a total of $400. If you want Platinum status immediately, it will cost an extra $300 for a total of $500. Here are the requirements for the Gold and Platinum challenge, which require flying a certain amount (miles or segments) plus spending a certain amount:
Alternatively, you could get lucky and receive a targeted free status gift or challenge, with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost, and these have (in the past) allowed flyers to snag up to Executive Platinum status. This was the offer some flyers received last summer:
To begin an AA challenge, call AAdvantage at 888-697-5636 and request to start with the agent.
Delta has an official SkyMiles Medallion Status Challenge landing page where you can upload your proof of current status and request to begin a challenge. And now’s a great time to do so. The page says that registering for a challenge after July 1, 2019 and completing the requirements will give you status until January 31, 2021.
The most common challenges offered seem to require earning 12,500 MQMs in 90 days for Gold status or earning 18,750 MQMs in 90 days for Platinum status. I completed a Delta Platinum Medallion status challenge last January, and it was quite simple. I sent in copies of my expiring AA Executive Platinum status via the website and heard back eight days later that my challenge had begun.
Past reports online indicated that Emirates used to give a straight match to Skywards Silver for almost any airline status shown. I did this last year and filled out the generic “contact us” web form on Emirates.com and received an email 24 hours later offering Silver status in exchange for proof of my American status, which was valid through the end of 2019.
However, more recent reports indicate that you must now complete two, round-trip “Flex” economy class flights or one, round-trip business-class flight.
In addition, the email I received also specifically stated no other status would be given because, “To upgrade anyone into this (Gold) tier would devalue the support of some of our existing top flyers who have worked hard to achieve this status.” Most online reports back this statement up.
What makes this possibly lucrative is the recently-relaunched “Your World Rewards” partnership between Marriott and Emirates, since Silver status would allow you to earn 1 bonus Skyward mile for every dollar spent on qualifying Marriott stays.
Hawaiian Miles is offering straight matches all the way up to top-tier Platinum status, and with as little as a 24-hour turnaround. I specifically asked if my American Executive Platinum status would be matched to Hawaiian Platinum and was told yes, though reports online indicate that even mid-level statuses (like Delta Gold Medallion) have been matched to Platinum.
For status match requests, Hawaiian requires two things that can be submitted here. Provide proof of current elite status and documentation of flights completed that earned the elite status. Matches are good for one calendar year from the time of upgrade.
I got lucky in 2017 and filled out the TrueBlue “contact us” web form with a screenshot of my AA Executive Platinum status. I was given Mosaic status from September to January with no challenge requirement. Repeat attempts of my effort have not yielded success, though JetBlue has offered challenges at least once a year for the last few years.
The Southwest status match and challenge program was previously difficult to even find — it required calling in and finding an agent who knew the program existed. But the airline has now brought the program out of the shadows and has all the terms and conditions on its website, including the option to register for the match online.
You’ll need to have status with another domestic airline to be eligible to match to Southwest A-List status, but it appears any type of status will do. To start the process, submit proof of your status and information using the website linked above. You could also email your name, Rapid Rewards account number and documentation of your elite status to southwest.statusmatch@. According to Southwest, this typically happens within 12 business days of submission.
To extend your A-List status for an additional 12 months, you must book and complete three qualifying round-trip flights (or six one-way qualifying flights) within 90 days. Flights must be revenue flights, not award flights. Current A-List members whose status is expiring are not eligible to status match. Note that the terms and conditions state you must book and complete your flights during the 90-day period, so existing bookings theoretically won’t count. However, since Southwest makes it easy to cancel and rebook flights without penalty, you should be able to turn existing bookings into new ones without too much trouble as long as the fare hasn’t increased since you originally booked.
Do note that the Southwest status match is available to you if haven’t received promotional A-List status in any program — including a status match and challenge — within the last 12 months. This also means that after your matched status expires you’re eligible to request and complete another challenge.
United closed its Premier status match challenge at the beginning of October for 2019.
In addition to the above programs, I checked with Air France-KLM, Copa Airlines, Qantas, Etihad and Qatar Airways, all of which said they were not currently offering a match or challenge. In the fall of 2018, Frontier ran a status challenge where two round-trip flights would earn you Elite20k status. Hopefully we will see something return in the future.
Airlines typically utilize a match or challenge to lure elite customers (who represent a significant revenue source) away from the competition. However, that doesn’t mean we, the customers, can’t benefit from these opportunities as well; they provide a shortcut to great perks and cost-saving measures such as waived fees. It could even make sense to undertake a challenge to enjoy benefits for one specific (likely international) trip.
That being said, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions of a status match or challenge before you apply, and be sure you can meet the requirements before submitting your credentials. This is especially important with timing so you don’t miss out on a specific level. Also, don’t forget to check for match or challenge opportunities with foreign carriers that could provide alliance elite status and earn you lounge access or increased baggage capacity.
Please add your own status match/challenge experiences in the comments below!
Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.
Editor’s Note: This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for airline status matches and challenges. As a result, some comments below may refer to offers that are no longer available.
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