USAirways and most other airlines have offered status matches — a way to pilfer the best customers of other airlines.
Elite status with an airline usually locks a customer into flying that airline. They get upgrades, bonus miles, and other perks. How can they give that up, even to change to another airline?
Airlines make it easier for customers to switch by advancing status to customers who already have it with a competitor — if I were an American Platinum member I could get Continental to give me Gold status right away so I’d still have elite benefits when I switched.
(The definitive discussion of the subject is a Flyertalk thread I started in October, 2003 that’s still going strong.)
Most US domestic airlines offer status matches of one kind or another. American has long required challenges — an accelerated way to earn status, rather than granting it outright (although with no need to demonstrate existing status with a competitor, but they’re also not granting status right away anyway). United has recently been offering temporary status matches of 90, along with an accelerated way to earn status during that 90 day period. Both are more restrictive than the traditional challenge.
But as Upgrade: Travel Better notes, USAirways has gone more liberal. They’re letting customers buy trial elite status and challenges. In other words, no longer is there a requirement that customers be an elite customer with a competitor to get instant status with USAirways. All they have to do is fork over some cash. Now, in my view the price probably isn’t worth it. And their product isn’t so good as to entice too many elites over. But someone who is really going to start flying USAirways a great deal due to their specific routes and who wants to get status right away rather than starting from zero might well consider the offer.
It’s generated some outrage on Flyertalk, and I understand the sentiment, but I don’t see it as a huge issue since I don’t expect elite ranks to be swamped by the offer. It’s much less of a big deal than USAirways offering their ‘all miles count’ promotion last year when some members earned even top tier elite status (which can’t be purchased through the current offer) by sending enough flowers…