The Art of the Elite Status Match

Ramsey Qubein, February 22, 2011
Fares from Washington DC:

    Thinking of switching your preferred carrier, but don’t want to miss out on the upgrades and elite frequent flyer mile bonuses you earned this past year? Well, then the airline status match is your new best friend. Airlines are in the business of competing for your business. Frequent flyer programs truly build loyalty with their elite frequent flyer members who will often pay more to fly with their preferred carrier in hopes for a first class upgrade, bag fee waivers, and elite bonus miles.

    As a result, airlines want to steal elite members from each other. They typically offer status matches to certain tiers within their program. What is required is usually a copy of one’s current elite credentials and account activity. Some airlines are more lenient than others especially when a traveler is paying higher, more lucrative fares. Others offer challenges requiring new members to show they will be loyal by flying a certain amount within a specified time period to maintain a status level for the whole year. Be aware that some airlines limit the number of challenges available per member within a certain period of time so be sure to ask as it varies frequently.

    As the end of February nears (typically the time when elite status with most airlines expires although United/Continental now have a January 31 deadline), think about your upcoming travel this year. Will your current carrier be the best for you? Or have you been considering a switch to another carrier? Here's the low-down on the five legacy airlines and how they handle elite status matches.

    American Airlines

    AA does not offer an outright status match opting instead to challenge new members to fly a certain amount within a period of time. These are offered on a case-by-case basis. The airline offers the challenge for all but their top tiers although these are sometimes granted an exception based on the types of fares paid and number of trips taken. To ask about a challenge from your current carrier, call 1-800-882-8880. There are fees involved with American (big surprise). At press time, the cost is $120 for a Gold challenge (lowest elite tier) and $200 for a Platinum challenge (middle elite tier). The gist of the challenge is that one must fly 5,000 miles within three months or 10,000 miles within three months to earn Gold and Platinum status respectively. Challenges must begin on the 1st or 16th of the month. Typically, American does not offer elite status during the trial period meaning no upgrades for new American flyers until they complete the challenge successfully.

    Continental Airlines

    CO has been aggressive about targeting new flyers. After the airline switched from SkyTeam to Star Alliance, it offered status to all SkyTeam’s Delta elites with ease. These days, the merger with United may change things, but at press time challenges are being granted on a case-by-case basis by emailing onepass@coair.com. They typically require mileage earning of 10,000 for Silver status, 17,500 for Gold status, and 35,000 miles for Platinum status within 90 days. Qualification on segments is also available at a level of 15 segments, 22 segments, or 40 segments respectively. Status is granted immediately for the trial period allowing participants to experience the benefits immediately. Plus, no fees to participate! More information here. If you have participated in an elite challenge within the past five years, you are ineligible for this offer.

    Delta Air Lines

    DL offers immediate status matches based on various factors including current travel with one’s existing airline. To qualify, fax your airline statement with a request to status match to 1-404-773-1945. The airline typically only offers matches to Silver or Gold, the lower two of its four elite tiers. It takes a few weeks to process, but if approved, the status appears immediately and is good for the remainder of the elite year. No fees and no “challenge” requirements making it the easiest of the legacy airlines!

    United Airlines

    UA offers an elite match program, which is pretty much in line with its new merger partner Continental (UA actually convinced CO to switch to its current policy recently). The airline offers status matches to an equivalent level with one’s current program and requires a certain number of miles to be flown within 90 days to maintain that status. During the challenge period, one gets the status automatically allowing upgrade and elite bonus miles opportunities. Email premiermatch@united.com to qualify, but visit United for more information first. No fees are required to participate, which is nice. In the past, only status for the lower two tiers of the program (Premier and Premier Exec) were available for match. In 2011, one can match up to 1K status, which is their highest tier based on miles flown.

    US Airways

    US offers a similar trial challenge program to American’s, which requires a fee. It costs $200 to make a run for Silver, $400 for Gold, and $600 for Platinum. The fees for this program are a bit expensive, but worth it for those who have immediate travel needs on US Airways. The requirements in place include a trial period of 90 days flying 7,500 miles or ten segments for Silver; 15,000 miles or 20 segments for Gold; 22,500 miles or 30 segments for Platinum. It is open to anyone even if you don’t have elite status with another carrier, which is a nice perk for new flyers. To participate, call 1-800-428-1775. For more information, visit US Airways. This is one of the easiest, but most expensive elite trial programs out there.

    First Class upgrades, bag fee waivers, and bonus miles can be had by all if a little advance study on your travel plans is in order.  All of a sudden, taking to the skies doesn’t seem so bad.

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