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We’re all looking for an avenue to make air travel more comfortable and affordable. Benefits from elite status like upgrades, lounge access, early boarding, free seat selection and no baggage fees are universally desirable but only applicable to the small percentage of flyers who hold elite status.
Most elites earn status via the traditional method of many days in the air and thousands of dollars spent. Today, I’ll highlight how you can possibly skip the archaic method of earning airline status and shortcut your way to tangible benefits by completing a status challenge or, if you’re lucky, a straight status match.
Preparation and Precautions
To help you successfully complete a status challenge or achieve 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 have 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. Be forewarned: A Photoshopped or HTML code-altered credential only risks getting yourself in trouble with programs and 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 even enjoy status during the challenge period.
Where most status hopefuls run afoul during challenges is not understanding the formulas for earning EQMs and EQDs and finding themselves short at the challenge deadline. For example, EQMs earned from co-branded credit cards do not count toward the required EQMs for a challenge. With the complicated formulas often required to decipher EQM and EQD earnings, make sure you double- and triple-check your research when planning your challenge strategy.
Many times, members receive targeted offers for status challenges, like I did last year. 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 once per 5 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.
- 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.
With the basics covered, let’s look at airline status match and challenge opportunities available (and sometimes unavailable) through a variety of sources. 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.
Based off successful reports I read on Status Matcher, I contacted Air Canada’s Aeroplan program requesting any available status matches or challenges available for my AA Executive Platinum status. After a lengthy hold to check with her help desk, the agent said nothing was currently available.
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 its top-tier MVP Gold 75K level. To submit a request, simply email email@example.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. Successful matches are currently good through the end of 2017.
With both elite-qualifying dollars and elite-qualifying miles now required to earn AAdvantage status, American 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 either segment or EQM goals plus EQDs earned.
Alternatively, you could get lucky and receive a targeted challenge, with no upfront out-of-pocket cost, to earn all the way up to Executive Platinum status. This was the offer my wife received on February 10:
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. The page currently says registering for and completing a challenge will give you status until January 31, 2018. 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. Also note that the response time to begin a challenge is reportedly 2.5 to 3 weeks from the date you submit the web form.
Reports online indicate that Emirates will give a straight match to Skywards Silver for almost any airline status shown. I 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. The email 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.” Silver status would be good until the end of 2017.
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. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, attach proof of your current status and your 2016 and 2017 mileage summaries. Matches are good for one calendar year from the time of upgrade.
There currently are no open status match or challenge options for JetBlue. You can earn Mosaic status by spending $50,000 dollars annually on the JetBlue Plus Card. I got lucky last year 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.
I spoke with Rapid Rewards agents (1-800-435-9792) who did not believe any program was available. I then spoke to customer relations agents (1-855-234-4654 option 5) who said a challenge program is available. From the beginning of the challenge, you have 90 days to take 3 round-trip or 6 one-way revenue flights, or earn 8,000 tier points. After completing the challenge you will have A-List status for six months. If you have elite status with another domestic airline, send an email with “90 day tier challenge” in the subject line to email@example.com. The email should contain your name, Rapid Rewards account number and documentation of your elite status. It can take up to 30 days to process your request.
Turkish Miles & Smiles has been routinely offering status matches and challenges for the last few years. If you call and speak with phone agents or try and find a landing page on the Turkish site, you’d believe nothing is available. However according to this FlyerTalk thread, you can request a match via this web form. The match is now reportedly only good for a four-month trial period, during which one international segment flown on Turkish metal is required to extend the match to a period of one year. Earning 15,000 status miles during that year will extend the status match for an additional year. Lately, however, flyers are having a hard time getting Turkish to honor the challenge agreement after completing 15,000 status miles, and their accounts are not being updated.
American and Delta elites are specifically listed as eligible to complete MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge, but some other airline programs are also reportedly eligible. You’ll be given the equivalent status you are pursuing the for the 90 days you have to complete the required PQM or PQS milestones. While the option to match to Premier 1K is not on the official chart, it was possible to match to this level last year. Completing the challenge before July 1 will result in status through January 2018 and completing the challenge on or after July 1 will result in status through January 2019.
In addition to the above programs, I checked with Air France/KLM, Copa Airlines, Qantas, Etihad and Qatar Airways, all of whom said they were not currently offering a match or challenge.
Airlines typically employ a match or challenge to lure elite customers, who represent significant revenue, away from the competition. That doesn’t mean we, the customers, can’t benefit from these opportunities as well; they provide a shortcut to great benefits 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.
Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions of a status match or challenge before you apply, and determine that you can meet the requirements before submitting your credentials to begin. 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.
Featured image of Hawaiian Airlines’ new lie-flat business class.
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