A Guide to Status Matching

airline status match

For years status matching of elite level frequent flyers has been common practice in the airline industry.

Let’s say you have elite frequent flyer status with airline A. Status matching is where you apply to an airline B to see if it can offer you complimentary equivalent status in its loyalty program. Such status can give you benefits such as priority check-in and boarding, lounge access and mileage bonuses.

Airlines offer free status matches in the hope of gaining high revenue customers from direct competitors.

Flyers tend to request status matches for a variety of reasons – perhaps they are changing jobs or moving to a new city / country which could require different travel patterns on other airlines and alliances; or they just have a number of upcoming flights booked on a new carrier they wish to try and would like to temporarily enhance their benefits.

Airlines sometimes offer status matches on a temporary basis only – such as targeting residents of a specific country or frequent flyers from a bankrupt airline.

Can I do a status match with one of my airline’s alliance partners?
Generally no. Partners in each of the 3 main alliances – Oneworld / Skyteam / Star Alliance – have informal agreements in place to ensure they don’t ‘steal’ each other’s elite passengers. It may be possible to match within an alliance if moving to another continent or via a corporate program.

How often can I status match with one airline?
In most airline frequent flyer programs you can only undertake a status match once-in-a-lifetime of membership. However some airlines in the US will allow more frequent matching such as every 5 years.

How do I get a status match?
Status matching is discretionary and is generally done on a case-by-case basis. The first step is to contact your target airline’s loyalty program by phone or email – you should already have a membership.

You will then have to send some documentation – a photo of your frequent flyer card along with account statements which gives the airline a review of your flying activity. Try to make a compelling case for the match – mention how much business you will do with the new airline. It will help your case if you have some up-coming flights booked with them.

If the airline accepts the match they will upgrade your account in due course.

Can I apply for a status match with an airline where I already hold lower tier elite status?
No, in general you cannot use matches to upgrade your status on an airline. You should not be an elite member of your target airline.

What about status challenges?
Whilst info on most status matches are generally undocumented online, the situation is a little different in the US market. The big 3 airlines offer flyers a status challenge rather than a straight match. Basically they require you to fly a specific number of miles over a 90 day period to earn the status.

American Airlines (Oneworld) offers a challenge to gain AAdvantage Gold or Platinum status. Note, top-tier Executive Platinum status cannot be gained through challenges – it can only be earned in the normal way.

Challenges can be initiated on either the 1st or 16th of the month. Over the 90 days you need to gain the following Elite Qualifying Points (EQPs):

Gold: 5,000 EQPs (challenge fee: $120)
Platinum: 10,000 EQPs (challenge fee: $240)

and you must specify which one you are going for. Note, if you already have American status then you cannot take a challenge to maintain it. Points for the challenge can also be earned when flying some selected Oneworld partners.

Aadvantage status will expire at the end of February. If you initiate the challenge during the first 6 months of year 1 then any gained status lasts until the end of February of year 2. Initiating the challenge in the last half of the year means status lasts until February of year 3. Therefore the optimal time to apply is June 16th or July 1st.

Delta Airlines (Skyteam) offers a challenge to match elite status to its Skymiles program. Comparative status is given up-front and then you have 90 days to fly a minimum number of MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles) or MQSs (Medallion Qualification Segments):

Silver: 6,250 MQMs or 8 MQSs
Gold: 12,500 MQMs or 15 MQSs
Platinum: 18,750 MQMs or 25 MQSs

Initiating the match in the first half of the year gets you status until January 31 of the following year; initiating in the second half of year get you status until January 31 of year 3. The optimal time to start your match is July 1st.

United Airlines (Star Alliance) will match your current frequent flyer status to Mileage Plus Premier Silver, Gold or Platinum levels. Like Delta status is given up-front and you then have a 90 day period to fly a specific number of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS) with United Airlines:

Premier Silver: 7,000 PQMs or 8 PQSs
Premier Gold: 12,500 PQMs or 15 PQSs
Premier Platinum: 18,000 PQMs or 22 PQSs

Note, Star Alliance Gold and Silver members cannot take the United challenge.

On completion you keep the status for the rest of the year. If you complete after July 1st then you keep status for the following calendar year.

Which other US airlines offer status matches?
Virgin America will status match elite members of American, Delta, Southwest and United to its Elevate program. Alaska Airlines will also match status on a case-by-case basis from other US airlines.

Which European airlines offer status matches?
AirBerlin TopBonus (Oneworld) will status match elite members of other airlines – though not other Oneworld members. Note, the Air Berlin offer is currently only available to German, Swiss and Austrian residents. Alitalia (Skyteam), Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance) and Virgin Atlantic are also known to regularly offer status matches.

The main Euro carriers (AirFrance-KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa) tend only to match status in rare cases where you present a very strong reason.

Which Middle East airlines offer status matches?
The non-allianced Middle East based airlines are known to offer status matches. Emirates will match other programs to Skywards Silver level. Etihad will offer status matches up to Etihad Guest Gold level. Gulf Air may also status match to its Falconflyer Gold level.

Note that Qatar Airways (Oneworld) rarely does status matching.

Which other airlines offer status matches?
Cathay Pacific (Oneworld) will generally match status of selected flyers to Marco Polo silver. EVA Air (Star Alliance), China Airlines (Star Alliance) and LAN (Oneworld) will also selectively match status.

Airline status matching can be a useful tool for the frequent flyer to use strategically and at the right moment. It can give you status on alternative airlines and alliances; it can even lengthen status when re-qualification looks unlikely.