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Airline elite status match and challenge options for 2020

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 8/13/2020 Richard Kerr
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

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. That’s not an option right now due to the pandemic. 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 you realize you might not be able to requalify for the same elite status 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.

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In This Post

Status matching in the COVID-19 era

I can’t see many situations where undertaking a status match makes much sense, with travel greatly reduced. As noted below with several programs, status matches are capped at once in a lifetime or once every several years. I suspect most of us won’t be flying anywhere near the amount we were in 2019, so it would take a unique circumstance to try to match or challenge right now.

On top of that, elite status for almost every airline has been extended for an additional year, so 2021 would likely be a better time to spend financial resources on a status match or challenge for 2022. Finally, based on trying to get in touch with several of the programs below, things are currently in a constantly evolving state and agents either didn’t know much or cautioned that rules could change without notice.

Successfully matched or challenged status may also not be automatically extended for all of 2021. If it isn’t, you’d face an uphill battle pleading your case to non-empowered phone agents. I can’t currently recommend a status match or challenge to the vast majority of TPG readers.

Preparation and precautions

To help you successfully complete a status challenge or obtain a 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 earned with another 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 you in trouble with programs. 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.

Related: How The Points Guy earns his elite status

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 on certain airline tickets will count toward elite-qualifying dollars.

It’s also important to note that elite-qualifying miles are typically calculated differently when flying on partner airlines. These tickets are not always eligible for status challenges. With the often complicated formulas 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 non-targeted status match appears.

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 in five years. Delta offers them once every three years.
  • Try to complete a match or challenge after June so you can enjoy status the rest of the year and hopefully have a chance to keep it through to the following calendar year (you should read the terms to be sure this works on the specific carrier).
  • Keep an eye on airline mergers and acquisitions so you can strategically complete a status match 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 other flyers  — 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.

Related: Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

Air Canada

With all of the changes to Aeroplan just announced, it’s no surprise Air Canada elite status is also one of the affected assets. Air Canada Altitude is becoming Aeroplan Elite Status. The new program will have six different elite status levels, some available to earn without flying. You’ll be able to earn 25K status with the Everyday Status program by earning 100,000 Aeroplan points from any eligible transaction, including points earned from travel, credit card spending and purchases through the Aeroplan shopping portal. There are also vague details about earning high status with new co-branded credit cards.

Based on all of the new information released and a call to Altitude, I couldn’t confirm whether the old status challenge program Altitude had was still in existence. If you, for some reason, have a lot of Star Alliance and Air Canada travel coming up, it may be worthwhile to seek out the old status match program which could give you a higher status in the new Aeroplan Elite Status program. Here are the details of the program that existed at the start of 2020:

Email your credentials to status.match@aircanada.ca for a 90-day challenge to a “comparable tier of 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 completing the 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

Alaska Airlines recently updated its status match policy to include a challenge. 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. In order to keep your new Alaska status after this period, you’ll need to fly a certain 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.

Finally, any member who enrolled in the carrier’s status challenge program between Dec. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 will have their trial status extended through Dec. 31, 2021. This is an incredibly fortunate turn of events for anyone who was hoping to take a shortcut to Alaska elite status in 2020, as you’re essentially getting two years of “free” elite status.

Related: What is Alaska Airlines elite status worth?

American Airlines

COVID-19 has certainly wreaked havoc on formal status challenge programs of American, Delta and United. American has specifically addressed customers who were in the middle of status challenges when the pandemic hit and promised to roll out a new publicly available status challenge soon. While we wait to hear details of the new program, there are a couple other ways to possibly get a shortcut to American status.

You could also get lucky and receive a targeted free status gift or challenge, with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost. These have (in the past) allowed flyers to snag up to Executive Platinum status. These may or may not reappear in 2020.

Lastly, if you hold World of Hyatt Explorist or Globalist status, the program’s new partnership with American may offer you a status challenge. Some Hyatt Globalist members have even been gifted American Airlines Executive Platinum elite status, a worthy reminder to always consider partnerships in your quest for elite status.

Delta

Delta has an official SkyMiles Medallion Status Challenge landing page where you can upload proof of your current status and request to begin a challenge. There is a specific warning at the top about COVID travel restrictions and the impact on your travel, so be careful about undertaking a challenge right now. However, Delta is giving status earned from a successful challenge validity all the way until January 2022.

The challenge requires earning 12,500 MQMs in 90 days for Gold status or 18,750 MQMs in 90 days for Platinum. 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.

Related: What is Delta elite status worth?

Emirates

Past reports indicated that Emirates used to give a straight match to Skywards Silver for almost any airline status shown. Last year I filled out the generic “contact us” web form on Emirates.com. I 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 relaunched “Your World Rewards” partnership between Marriott and Emirates. Silver status would allow you to earn 1 bonus Skyward mile for every dollar spent on qualifying Marriott stays.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Miles is offering status matches all the way up to top-tier Platinum status and with as little as a 24-hour turnaround — but there seems to be a catch. If you submit documentation of status and activity with a partner airline, it needs to include flight activity to destinations Hawaiian airlines serves.

For status match requests, Hawaiian requires two things that can be submitted here:

  • Proof of current elite status
  • Documentation of flights completed that earned the elite status.

Matches are good for one calendar year from the time of upgrade.

JetBlue

There are currently no 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 in 2017 and filled out the TrueBlue “contact us” web form with a screenshot of my AA Executive Platinum status. I was matched to Mosaic status from September to January. 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 information for the JetBlue Plus card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: What is JetBlue elite status worth?

Southwest

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@wnco.com. Once the request is processed, you’ll receive promotional A-List status for 90 days. According to Southwest, this typically happens within 12 business days of submission.

Related: What is Southwest elite status worth?

To extend your A-List status for an additional 12 months, you must book and complete three qualifying round-trip flights (or six one-ways) within 90 days. Flights must be revenue fares, not award tickets. Current A-List members with expiring status 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.

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

United once again has a Premier Status Challenge Program on its website you can register for and undertake if you have Delta or American elite status.

After you enroll via the online form, you basically have 120 days to earn both a specific number of Premier qualifying flights (PQF) and Premier qualifying points (PQP) to obtain permanent Premier status. You will hold temporary status during the challenge period. 

Generously, United is also awarding status good until January 2022 for anyone who completes the challenge on or after July 1 2020. Challenges are limited to once every five years per MileagePlus account.

Bottom line

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 status 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 similar 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 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 request. 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.

Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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