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This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.
So you've flown those many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of miles and earned Gold, Platinum or some other shiny badge of elite status with the frequent flyer scheme of your favourite airline. Well done.
But how do you parlay that piece of plastic into status with another airline, especially a competing carrier? The answer is a status match or status challenge. Here's what you need to know.
Why airlines offer a status match
Many airlines rely on a status match (or status challenge – we'll get into the difference below) to provide high-value travellers with a shortcut to status its their own loyalty program.
Let's say that you hold Qantas Gold status. This entitles you to prized perks such as lounge access, checking in for your flight at the business class counter, and having priority boarding and priority luggage handling. In short, even when you fly premium economy or economy you'll enjoy many of the benefits of business class.
That Gold status helps keep you flying with Qantas or at the very least its Oneworld partner airlines, as those same perks apply right across the Oneworld alliance.
So if a competitor to Qantas wants a shot at winning your business – and as a Gold-grade flyer, you'd be a good customer to land – it's in their best interest to let you sample their flights without having to forego those perks to which you've become accustomed.
That's when a status match kicks into gear: by dint of having Qantas Gold status, the airline will tempt you across with the equivalent status in its own frequent flyer plan.
For many travellers, a status match can also act as a kind of 'insurance policy' for when they're not flying with their regular airline or one of its alliance partners.
If you're jetting to and around Asia, for example, your Qantas status is useful only if you're flying with Qantas or fellow Oneworld member Cathay Pacific – but a status match for an airline which is part of the Star Alliance or SkyTeam families will cover you for trips on a dozen other airlines.
A status match can also be sparked by changes in the competitive landscape.
Virgin Australia ran a very popular status match against Qantas in September 2011 to capitalise on ongoing disruptions to Qantas flights due to union disputes as well as to promote its then-new Velocity Platinum tier.
United Airlines rolled out a selective status-match against Qantas to key staff at the Sydney offices of many technology companies when Qantas suspended Sydney-San Francisco flights in early 2011 as a way to encourage those regular Bay City travellers to use United's direct Sydney-San Fran service rather than fly with Qantas to LAX and then take a second connecting flight to San Francisco.
Who is eligible for a status match?
A status match is typically reserved for a top-tier frequent flyer – someone at levels approximating Gold or Platinum, in the parlance of many frequent flyer schemes – because their status is proof that they do a lot of travel, and quite likely in the premium cabins of business class or even first class.
This makes then far more valuable to airlines than travellers who sit lower down the food chain with the likes of Silver, Blue or Green status.
That said, some airlines will offer a status match to almost any grade of frequent flyer, and sometimes even the lowest status tiers still come with useful privileges such as priority check-in and boarding.
In many instances you'll need to provide a copy of a recent activity statement with your current frequent flyer scheme to show that you are a frequent flyer, and ideally do so at the pointy end of the plane.
Some airlines dangling shiny status match in your face may also want to see that you've already booked travel with them in the near future.
Status match vs status challenge
A status match is a very straightforward affair: your Gold or Platinum status with one airline will entitle you to a year of equivalent status with another airline. Show your shiny card from Airline A and receive an equally shiny card from Airline B – that's all there is to it.
That new status won't always be Gold or Platinum, of course, because not all airlines use the same branding.
Some set Silver and Gold as their two top tiers; others Gold and Diamond; still others might add Elite or Plus as a status suffix. All that counts is that you get the same set of benefits as in your original status, the one which you're matching against.
Also, not every status match works on a like-for-like basis – some airlines will take a more cautious approach and match you one rung down in their own frequent flyer scheme, as long as that lower level still delivers the basics of lounge access (although this might mean business class lounges rather than first class lounges), priority check-in and so on.
A status challenge is more rigourous than an outright status match, and is becoming more popular with airlines because it requires that you earn your status by flying with them.
Under the status challenge model, you'll typically be given only 90 days of status equivalent to your status with a competing airline. That's to get you started with those creature comforts of lounge access and the like.
You'll then need to earn a certain number of status credits (also known as tier miles or qualifying miles, depending on the airline) by flying with the airline within that 90 day period.
This is typically set at a much lower threshold than what a regular frequent flyer would need to reach, so it works like a fast-track to status.
Which airlines will offer you a status match?
Some airlines will widely promote a status match or status challenge, complete with online forms where you enter all your details plus a clear set of eligibility criteria and how you go about retaining that gratis status.
The United Airlines 2018 status challenge is open to a wide range of airlines including Qantas and Virgin Australia, and a single flight between Australia and the USA can be all it takes to get Gold status right across all Star Alliance airlines through to early 2020.
Similarly, Delta Air Lines' SkyMiles Medallion status match challenge is open to Qantas frequent flyers – but not Virgin Australia, which is a Delta partner.
Successful 'challengers' can snare SkyMiles Gold, Platinum and Diamond SkyMiles status, which in turn equates to SkyTeam Elite Plus status across all SkyTeam Alliance member airlines, up to January 2020 by completing as little as one Delta or Virgin Australia flight to Los Angeles or even a Virgin Australia flight to Hong Kong.
Other airlines prefer to keep their status match options under wraps and run them as invitation-only affair, extended to a high-value frequent flyer at the airline's discretion and on a case-by-case basis.
That's certainly the case with the Qantas Tier Accelerator and, to a lesser extent, Virgin Australia's Velocity Pilot Gold.
At Australian Business Traveller we hear many anecdotal reports of other airlines offering selective status matches or challenges – so if you're looking for an airline status match the simplest way is to approach that airline's frequent flyer program and ask.
How to ask for a status match
First up, you'll want to make a persuasive case that as a frequent flyer you'd be a good catch.
This may be based not only on how often you travel and what your future travel plans are (if you can point to an emerging pattern of travel on that airline) but also if you make travel decisions for your company or clients.
Ring the airline's frequent flyer call centre and try to get a specific person or status match email address to send your request to. This makes follow-up easier than sending it to a generic email address.
If you get a "sorry, we don't do status matches" answer, try calling back later to catch a different operator – you may also get a different and more positive answer. (This is the "call centre bingo" approach, and it works for more than just status matching.)
It also helps to show that you're status-savvy by knowing that airline's equivalent tier to your current rating.
In your email, consider making the following points to underscore your prospective 'value':
- how frequently do you travel – and how many high-tier loyalty cards do you have?
- have you heard good things about the airline from colleagues?
- has your company just won a contract taking you to this airline's hub airport and beyond?
- what are your travel plans for the next year (and can you point them to an emerging pattern of travel on their own flights?)
- do you make the travel decisions – and especially airline decisions – for your company or clients?
As a rule, you'll need to provide a scan of your card and a copy of your most recent account statement. Reiterate your usefulness and value to them as a customer when you send this in – it certainly can't hurt.