… or in the case of American AAdvantage, just because you’re going to be doing a bunch of flying in the coming three months.
An airline status match is an old, useful, and venerated idea. I think it was about 9 years ago on Flyertalk that I created ‘The Status Match Master Thread’ to answer one of the most frequently asked questions across frequent flyer-dom, “will a specific airline match my current status with my preferred carrier? And how do I go about getting that match?”
Inside Flyer magazine even reprinted the post, because it addressed what was once a fairly secret, unpublished phenomenon — the idea that airlines were interested in acquiring their competitors’ best customers, but elite status had a lock-in effect. Sure, you might want to defect from United to American or from Delta to US Airways, but it’s pretty tough to do that and start from scratch with a new airline. You’re well treated as an elite, and it’s rough out there often times flying without any status (although now the bottom tier of status can be approximated in many cases with the airline’s co-branded credit card).
Status Matches and Different Kinds of Challenges
So airlines came up first with status matches (you have elite status with a competitor, we will give you that status on our airline to make it easier to move your business over) and then status challenges (we’ll let you earn the status in an expedited way but do want you to prove you’re moving some business over, and get in the habit of flying our airline). Challenges came in two forms — we give you temporary status while you earn it with a reduced qualification requirement usually over about 90 days, or we give you the status after you’ve flown the reduced criteria in that 90 days.
Of course US Airways will sell you a challenge (American has started to charge for it as well), and US Airways will also straight up ell you the elite qualifying miles or segments you need for status too.
What US Airlines Will Offer
Status matches and challenges are predominantly a U.S. frequent flyer program feature, very few foreign programs have public and widely accessible challenges. But the major US programs do. Matching can also be done through an airline’s sales department, large corporate contracts confer the opportunity to status match frequently, or just to confer status directly. And some foreign airlines follow that practice.
But the straight approach to ask an airline for a match yourself works as follows:
- American AAdvantage: American has very rarely over the past decade been willing to offer a straight status ‘match’ and when it has that’s usually been reserved for United’s 100,000 mile customers, and usually then for only those who could demonstrate they were also high revenue. Last year American matched United’s 1Ks more broadly, and then even tried to woo those matched customers with free lounge passes (to show that American’s lounges are a bit more modern and stylish overall) and free inflight wireless internet passes (since United has been behind in getting wifi up and running).
For most people, and on an ongoing basis, American offers status challenges which are well-described at Flyerguide.com.
You can’t use a challenge to maintain status or to requalify for status earned through a challenge or if you buy back your previous year’s status..
You can challenge Gold or Platinum but not top tier Executive Platinum. Last I knew a Gold challenge cost $120 to sign up for and a Platinum challenge $240. You can sign up with a phone call to American’s AAdvantage customer service (800-882-8880), and you do not need existing status with another airline to do so.
You need to fly 5000 elite qualifying points for Gold and 10,000 points for Platinum. Discounted coach fares only earn half a point, so flying those would mean having to do twice the miles as a required ‘point’.
Some folks signing up for a Platinum challenge have been able to at least be granted provisional gold status during the challenge, which provides access to premium seating (including exit rows) and priority boarding so you don’t wind up having to gate check your carryons.
- United MIleagePlus
United offers temporary 90 days of status while you fly a reduced number of miles to qualify to keep that status. If you do it right now the status will be valid for the rest of the year, if you wait until the second half of 2013 then the status will be valid for a year and a half.
Here are the new flight requirements:
Premier Silver Fly 7,000 PQM or 8 PQS on flights operated by United, United Express or Copa to retain Premier Silver status
Premier Gold Fly 12,500 PQM or 15 PQS on flights operated by United, United Express or Copa to retain Premier Gold status
Premier Platinum Fly 18,000 PQM or 22 PQS on flights operated by United, United Express or Copa to retain Premier Platinum status
United has a page for the offer. You can sign up by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, sending along your name, mailing address, email address and account number along with a copy of a current mileage summary or current membership card either of which showing your elite status in the program you’re matching from.
Even though you get status during the challenge, they don’t send you a card until you complete the challenge. So if you are challenging to Premier Gold or Platinum you may or may not be able to get lounge access with United’s partners during the challenge.
United status challenges aren’t once in a lifetime, you can do them every five years.
- US Airways Dividend Miles
US Airways used to offer status matches until they decided to sell you a challenge instead. The price you pay rises with the higher the level status challenge you sign up for. But here’s the thing — once you sign up for a challenge, even Silver, you can keep flying and earn higher status levels — meaning you can sign up for Silver trial preferred and earn Chairman’s Preferred (top tier) status. The higher priced trial status offers only determine what temporary status level you have for the 90 days of the challenge. The highest level you can buy for the 90 days is Platinum.
They will also straight up sell you the elite qualifying miles or segments you need for status. If you had 1 elite qualifying mile in your account for the year, buying enough to get yourself to top tier Chairmans Preferred costs $2999. Fewer miles or segments cost you less. With US Airways there’s often no reason to mileage run for status since you can mileage run from your coach at similar prices.
- Delta Skymiles
Although status match offers used to be secret, unpublished components of a program, Delta also publicly publishes the details of their status match offer.
They’ll give you status (up to Platinum, based on your current status with a competitor airline) for 90 days. If you sign up in the first half of the year and complete the challenge, you get the status for the rest of the membership year. If you sign up in the second half of the year and complete the challenge you get the status for the remainder of the year and the next membership year.
The Delta status challenge is once in a lifetime unlike American’s and United’s offer (that’s ‘old school’ although members have long gotten around this by reminding themselves that once in a lifetime means once in the lifetime of an account). And it isn’t open to current elites, so a United 1K who is also a Delta Silver cannot do a challenge on their Delta Silver account to get Platinum.
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines still offers true status matches — if you show them status with a competing airline, they will give you that status rather than making you do a ‘challenge’ to keep it.
They will match up to their MVP Gold level, but not to their ‘MVP Gold 75k’ level.
- American Golds would match to MVP while American Platinums and Executive Platinums match to MVP Gold.
- Delta Silvers get MVP while anything higher gets MVP Gold
- United Premier Silvers get MVP while anything higher gets MVP Gold
- US Airways Silvers get MVP while (see a pattern?) anything higher gets MVP Gold
You can submit your request to email@example.com with a copy of your online statement and elite card from the program you’re using to get the match. Include your Mileage Plan number in the note and a note of explanation for why you want the match.
Alaska’s status matches remain once in a lifetime though there are reports of exceptions being made.
Timing though is tricky. If you match before November 1, you only keep status through the end of the current member year. November 1 onwards and you keep it through the end of the following year. So that’s, roughly speaking, the best time to do a match.
There’s a great discussion of Alaska Airlines status matches in this Milepoint thread.
- American Golds would match to MVP while American Platinums and Executive Platinums match to MVP Gold.
- Virgin America Elevate
With the introduction of elite levels this past fall, Virgin America started status matching United and American elites.
It takes an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Virgin America frequent flyer number and either a screen shot of your elite status account with United or American or a copy of your elite card.
United Platinums and 1Ks and American Executive Platinums are matched to their top tier Gold status, and American Platinums and United Golds are matched to their Silver status.
Some — Although Very Few — International Airlines Will Match Status, and Why You May Want to be a Turkish Elite Member
It’s rare for a non-US frequent flyer program to offer a status match. Mostly it happens when a direct competitor goes out of business (or one airline acquires another).
When british midland was acquired by British Airways, BA offered status matches to affected bmi customers. I was a british midland Gold (originally acquired via status match — bmi was one of the few non-US programs with a liberal status match program, but I since requalified) and that made me a British Airways Gold, which I use not just for American Airlines lounge access whenever I’m flying on AA but also for American’s Flagship Lounge access because oneworld top tier elite status entitles not just lounge access but first class lounge access, which American does not give to its own top tier elites when flying American domestically however.
When Varig went out of business their were alliance-wide match efforts to retain their former customers, there have also been alliance-wide attempts to garner region-specific members. So once Star Alliance was willing to match any elite with a Hong Kong address with status in any Star Alliance program. It’s one of the only time I’ve seen status match offers from Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Lufthansa’s Miles&More, etc outside of a direct sales contact.
And in early 2011, Air France’s Flying Blue offered a status match program up to Platinum although Skyteam status doesn’t get one lounge access when flying Delta domestically within the U.S.
Currently though very few international airlines offer status match programs. Two that do, though, are:
- Aerolineas Argentinas which has a new program, it’s Skyteam so doesn’t get one lounge access except on international itineraries — one of the main reasons that folks often want to match to a non-U.S. frequent flyer program.
- Turkish Airlines where the match is valid for two years. Having status with Turkish will get you lounge access with United and US Airways even on entirely domestic U.S. itineraries. And while historically airlines were reluctant to match status from another airline in their own alliance so as not to poach customers from their partners, Turkish will actually match the status of United and US Airways elite members. Which means that any United or US Airways 50,000 mile flyer can effectively get two years of lounge access for free.
Status matches are a great strategic tool. They make it easier to switch your business from one airline to another, perhaps because you’re dissatisfied but also if you move or change jobs which changes your travel patterns. They can’t be done at will, so should be saved until you actually believe you’ll be flying the new airline consistently in order to both successfully complete a challenge and use the benefits of the new status to full effect.
International airline matches though I’m a bit more liberal with, I knew that Etihad was tightening up their complimentary car service policies for non-elites so when they offered a status match in 2012 — knowing I’d be booking some travel with them — I went ahead and grabbed the match. I certainly wasn’t concerned about any once in a lifetime possibilities.
And goodness knows that in the last days of Northwest Worldperks I decided to match over to their Platinum level, once in a lifetime for the program didn’t seem meaningful when the program was going away.
I also had tons of Delta eCredits to spend from Citi Thank You points redemptions (prior to the program devaluing premium cabin North America awards) so it seemed a match made in heaven.
Until I discovered that Northwest Platinums were frequently left in coach – like number 40 on the waitlist at the gate — when flying Delta’s Washington National to Salt Lake flight on a Thursday afternoon. That’s the effect of government employees on YCA fares treated as full fares, in the Nation’s capital area where a substantial portion of passengers are doing so, and those fares trumping status level for the upgrade. I knew quite quickly that the new program wouldn’t be for me.