United Airlines continues to make a play for the top-tier frequent flyers of Qantas and Virgin Australia, along with a score of other competing airlines, with its year-long 2020 Status Match Challenge.
Up for grabs is top-tier Gold status across all Star Alliance member airlines: a solid roster which includes Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, ANA, Lufthansa and Swiss.
Your Gold or Platinum membership in the Qantas or Velocity frequent flyer schemes is all it takes to unlock 90 days of Gold-grade benefits such as airport lounge access, priority check-in and boarding and a boosted baggage allowance when travelling on any Star Alliance airline.
If you time your travel right, it's possible to extend your Star Alliance Gold status all the way through to January 2022. Ready to grab those Gold or Platinum-plated perks? Here's the drill.
How United's 2020 Status Match Challenge works
The Star Alliance Gold status match is being offered by United Airlines as part of what it calls the 'Status Match Challenge' promotion.
As the name implies, there are two components to this: the status match gives you short-term United and Star Alliance status, while the status challenge lets you keep that status for an extended period. Here's how they work together.
You'll begin with a status match. At United's discretion, you'll have 90 days at its MileagePlus Premier Gold or Premier Platinum frequent flyer status – both of which line up against Star Alliance Gold – based on your existing status with an eligible competing airline. (Premier Silver is also part of the offer, but since it lacks many of the benefits of the higher tiers, it won't be covered here).
Those 90 days are also your window for completing the status challenge, during which you can lock in your United status through to 2021 or even 2022 by flying a certain number of miles with United Airlines.
Qualifying for a United Airlines status match
United Airlines accepts a wide range of frequent flyer programs for the status match, including Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One, and Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum.
Also on the list are the following cards from overseas-based airlines that fly to Australia:
- American Airlines (AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey)
- British Airways (Executive Club Silver, Gold, Premier)
- Cathay Pacific (Marco Polo Club Gold, Diamond)
- China Airlines (Emerald, Paragon)
- China Eastern (Eastern Miles Gold)
- China Southern (Sky Pearl Gold)
- Delta Air Lines (Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion)
- Emirates (Skywards Gold, Platinum)
- Etihad (Guest Gold, Platinum)
- Hawaiian Airlines (Pualani Gold, Platinum)
- Japan Airlines (Sapphire, Diamond, JGC Premier)
- Korean Air (Morning Calm Premium)
- LATAM (Platinum, Black, Black Signature: choose 'LAN Airlines' from the list and add a comment to your request as these names have recently changed)
- Malaysia Airlines (Enrich Gold, Platinum)
- Qatar Airways (Privilege Club Gold, Platinum)
The roster also encompasses airlines further afield like Air France, Alitalia, Finnair and Virgin Atlantic.
You won't lose your existing airline status in the process, of course, so there's no harm in signing up if you have some United or Star Alliance flights planned (whether you continue flying with these airlines, or return to your 'old' airline, is up to you).
Of course, United won't do a status match to another Star Alliance airline such as Singapore Airlines or Air New Zealand. Also note that if you've taken advantage of a different United status match challenge in the past five years, even if that matched status has since expired, you won't be eligible to sign up this time around.
Signing up for the United Airlines status match
Got your shiny Gold- or Platinum-grade frequent flyer card at the ready?
If you're already a member of United's MileagePlus frequent flyer scheme, get things moving by visiting this promotion page on the United Airlines website and logging into your account.
If you’re not already a MileagePlus member, you'll first need to sign up, and then return to the promo page to register for the challenge.
This is where you'll provide details of your current Gold or Platinum frequent flyer status, and proof of that status – either by attaching a photograph, scan or screenshot of your current membership card, or a copy of the most recent mileage summary from your airline which shows your status.
The final part of this screen asks you to nominate a start date for both the 90-day status match and the period of flying needed to meet the status challenge. This start date must be 30 days of the current date – so don't submit an application until you're ready to start flying.
If you're only looking to grab that 90 days of free status for lounge access, priority check-in and so on during a forthcoming trip on any Star Alliance carrier, set the start date accordingly.
However, if you're serious about taking advantage of the challenge to pocket Star Alliance Gold status beyond 90 days, it's important to make the right choice on your challenge start date.
- if you complete your challenge – that is, you take the last flight needed to hold onto your new status – on or before 30 June 2020, your Star Alliance Gold membership will be extended until 31 January 2021
- if you complete your challenge on or after 1 July 2020, that same status will be yours all the way through to 31 January 2022 – that's an extra year of lounge access and 'priority everything'.
For this reason, savvy flyers might choose to delay their status challenge application until May or even June when taking eligible flights in July or beyond, to make the most of this deal.
Once submitted, you'll get an email confirmation promising a response within 7 to 14 business days.
If successful, you'll be granted MileagePlus Premier Gold or Platinum status depending on the airline status you applied with: for example, Qantas and Velocity Gold will match to MileagePlus Premier Gold, while Qantas and Velocity Platinum will match to MileagePlus Premier Platinum.
While these tiers offer different perks when flying with United Airlines, both are equal to Star Alliance Gold.
How to keep your new United Airlines Gold or Platinum status
As soon as you've been bumped up to United's MileagePlus Premier Gold or Platinum status, that 90-day status challenge countdown clock starts ticking.
If you don't meet the requirements of this challenge, you'll drop to your previous status with United when the 90-day period concludes, which means losing your Star Alliance Gold perks.
If you'd rather stay with the high flyers, you'll need to earn the necessary amount of what United calls 'Premier qualifying flights' (PQFs) and 'Premier qualifying points' (PQPs). Think of these as United's version of status credits that you'd be familiar with on Qantas and Virgin Australia.
PQFs are earned per eligible flight, while PQPs are tied to the cash value of your fare (1 PQP per US$1) rather than the distance and class of travel specifically: they're both available on flights operated by United Airlines or its regional US offshoot United Express.
Flights taken with other Star Alliance partner airlines don't contribute to your challenge. You can still fly with Star Alliance carriers during the challenge period and enjoy Gold-level perks with your temporary status, but to keep this for longer than 90 days, you'll need to fly with United and earn PQFs and PQPs.
Here are United's 2020 status challenge requirements:
|United Premier Status||Challenge requirements within 90 days|
|Premier Gold||Fly 6 PQFs and earn 2,000 PQPs on flights operated by United or United Express|
|Premier Platinum||Fly 10 PQFs and earn 3,000 PQPs on flights operated by United or United Express|
For clarity, 2,000 PQPs is US$2,000 (A$2,900) and 3,000 PQPs is US$3,000 (A$4,350) spent on United-operated flights before taxes and surcharges.
Set your target: earning United PQFs and PQPs
United raised its status challenge bar for 2020 compared to previous years: it's no longer possible to meet the Premier Gold or Premier Platinum challenges with a simple return business class trip from Australia because of the PQFs requirement, meaning you'll need to take at least six to ten individual flights with United, respectively.
A Sydney-New York business class return flight with United can net you 4 PQFs and around 6,000 PQPs.
While that will easily satisfy the PQPs requirement for Premier Gold or Platinum, it's short on the PQFs tally: you'll still need two more PQFs for Premier Gold or six more PQFs for Premier Platinum.
That's where extra domestic flights with United or United Express can come in handy, as you'll eventually earn the required PQFs to meet the challenge criteria.
Of course, if work sees you jetting between Sydney and New York return twice in 90 days, then you'd easily meet the Premier Gold threshold without any problems or be just two PQFs short for Premier Platinum.
The United website will show you how many PQFs and PQPs you can earn for each flight and for the fare you've selected. Bear in mind that award travel (booked with miles) and Basic Economy fares don't count to the challenge
Meet your target and your United Premier (Star Alliance Gold) membership expiry date will be updated within five to seven business days and a proper United membership card will arrive at your doorstep shortly after.
United's status match catch
There is one caveat in all this. As noted earlier, United chooses your MileagePlus Premier status based on the status you hold with a competing airline.
If you hold Platinum status with Qantas, for example, United will set you up with MileagePlus Premier Platinum – which means you'll need to collect more PQPs and PQFs than if you were status-matched to MileagePlus Premier Gold.
If you don't earn that full Platinum-qualifying serve of PQPs and PQFs you won't automatically drop back to Premier Gold: you could land at a lower tier or bottom out completely, at United's discretion.
One way around this is to not shoot for the highest status match. If you have Platinum with one airline and Gold with another, consider applying for United's status match using your Gold card. If you hold Qantas Platinum as your yearly status but have also reached Lifetime Gold, use your Lifetime Gold to apply for the status match.
Inversely, you can't earn a United Premier status level higher than what you've been matched to through the challenge, except for meeting the normal published thresholds.
For example, someone matched to United Premier Gold who flies 11 PQFs and earns 3,500 PQPs – technically enough for Premier Platinum – will still only earn full Premier Gold status at the end of the challenge period.
Finally, keep in mind that United Premier Gold and Platinum still doesn't provide access to United lounges on domestic trips within the USA, just like all other US-based airlines. But if that's a perk you're looking for, Singapore Airlines is also offering a fast-track to KrisFlyer Gold (Star Alliance Gold) after just three flights, which does open those doors.