September 28, 2009

How to Request an Airline Status Match

red-carpet-club-elite-status

In 2008 I earned Executive Platinum status with American Airlines the hard way– through lots of flight hours logged all over the world. In 2009 I also earned the same, highest-level status with Northwest, Delta, and Continental, but I flew less than 10,000 miles with each of them.

On a recent Atlanta-Miami flight operated by Delta, my upgrade cleared three days ahead of the flight. I watched as more loyal Delta passengers waited at the gate thirty minutes before departure in hopes of getting a seat up front. Is it fair? Depends on how you look at it, I suppose– but travel hacking is all about gaining some kind of advantage over the system.

Once you obtain elite status with one airline, you can leverage it to receive complimentary status with several others. There are a couple of caveats, but it really does work. Here’s how.

One Status to Rule Them All

Elite status is typically broken down into three tiers, usually called some variation of Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The benefits of status vary by airline, but you can usually count on receiving at least the following services:

  • Dedicated check-in desk
  • Priority seat requests
  • Priority boarding
  • Improved availability for awards seats

The more important benefits, at least for me, are complimentary upgrades and lounge access. Upgrades vary by airline, but most airlines offer some form of complimentary domestic upgrades. Upgrade requests are placed in a queue based largely on elite status, although a few other factors are also considered. On more than half of my domestic flights, I’m now upgraded to the front of the plane for free.

Alas, it doesn’t always work– on a recent flight from Chicago to Seattle, I enjoyed seeing “GUILLEBEAU C” listed as #1 of 13 on the upgrade board at the gate, meaning that I was ahead of all other passengers for an upgrade… but then every seat in First Class checked in full, leaving me in the back with everyone else.

Since I work from wherever I am, lounge access is also important to me. Most airline lounges in the U.S. suck, but overseas, they can be quite nice. As mentioned long ago in my review of the Ultimate Airline Lounge, the best lounges don’t allow passengers to buy access– they have to either have elite status or be traveling on a premium ticket.

Last but not least, the ability to get a helpful person on the phone also comes with elite status. Perhaps this should not be a benefit strictly for the airline’s most loyal customers, but that’s often how it works. While I typically bang my head against the phone when phoning other airlines, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of American Airline’s Executive Platinum desk.

How to Request the Status Match

This FlyerTalk thread serves as the master list of status match info, with details and addresses for most major North American and European airlines. Status matches are harder to come by from Asian airlines, although every once in a while a specific offer comes up.

Let’s look at the example of Continental Airlines. I’ve never been a big Continental traveler, but since they recently switched from SkyTeam to Star Alliance, I’m planning on flying them more often next year.

Using the info in the FlyerTalk thread, I wrote a letter to Continental asking for the match based on my AA status and planned 2010 travel. I included a copy of my AA Executive Platinum card, a recent AA statement, and my Continental OnePass number (available for free on Continental.com).

They sent me back this letter within a week:

Dear Mr. Guillebeau;

Thank you for contacting the OnePass Service Center.

Congratulations on becoming a Continental Airlines Platinum Elite member through our Other Airline Match Program!

Your Elite benefits and privileges are effective immediately. Please allow up to three weeks for your new Elite status to be recognized by our SkyTeam partners.

We realize you have a choice of airline carriers and are pleased you decided to select Continental Airlines.

Regards,

[name]
OnePass Customer Service Manager

By the Way

It’s important to note that I’m not really taking unfair advantage of Continental in this exchange. After nearly two years with OneWorld, next year I’ll be taking a Round-the-World trip on Star Alliance again, so I’ll likely pick up some Continental flights as part of that trip. Also, having the status motivates me to fly more often with them so I can retain it for the following year. In other words, it’s a win-win for both the airline and the traveler.

If I needed any more incentive, I recently earned 45,000 Continental miles by opening two checking accounts, so I’ll be looking for a way to redeem them. It looks like Continental has some good redemption opportunities in Micronesia, a part of the world I’ve yet to visit, so my plan is to work on setting up a trip there early next year.

What If You Don’t Have Status in the First Place?

An elite status match is primarily a benefit for passengers who already have one status. If you never travel or travel only infrequently, you probably don’t need this anyway. However, if you’re just starting to travel or otherwise just want the status, you have a few options:

Complete a “challenge” with an airline that you’ll be flying a lot in a short period of time. American Airlines will award either Gold or Platinum status to passengers who sign up for the challenge in advance. A few other airlines sometimes offer this on a case-by-case basis.

Get free introductory status during a promotion. Every once in a while an airline will get desperate and offer to give away free status. Last month, U.S. Airways offered free Silver status for 90 days to anyone who signed up on their web site. (I referred a number of people to it on Twitter. When I see more opportunities, I’ll post about them there.)

Leverage the spending of your company to request the status. If you work for the man and the man has a travel department that sends a lot of people on airplanes, you may be able to use that to request the status.

Just ask nicely. This probably won’t work, but you never know. It you plan to travel on a number of flights for one particular airline, send them the record locators and a polite request.

***

Other Tips and Notes

  • International readers, take heart. My advice is to avoid flying U.S. airlines whenever possible, but their Frequent Flyer programs are better than most, and open to everyone regardless of where you live. (It could be a new slogan– “Come to the USA: Bad airlines, good Frequent Flyer programs.”)
  • Because there are so many elite status members these days, you should work on getting the highest (Platinum) status if possible. Silver or Gold status is better than nothing, but you’ll be competing with a longer list of fellow passengers for upgrades.
  • You can usually only request one status match per airline per life. That’s right, life– so you should only request matches that you think will actually benefit you over the next year. Otherwise, if you need it later, you won’t be able to get it without earning it the hard way.
  • Most airlines won’t completely drop your status one year; you’ll usually get a “soft landing” where you go down to the next-lowest tier. If you start from the highest one, you can usually retain some kind of status for three years without flying at all.

***

Wrap-Up

For a brief few months, I have Platinum (or equivalent) status on all three major airline alliances. I suspect the SkyTeam one will drop back to Gold after February 2010, but I’ll continue with OneWorld and Star Alliance status until at least early 2011.

This makes travel easier, gives me lounge access when traveling internationally, and helps me earn double miles on most of my flights. It’s one of the most useful travel hacks I know.

If you have any tips or experiences of your own that might help other readers, feel free to share them in the comments section.

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Find me on Twitter: twitter.com/chrisguillebeau
Join AONC on Facebook: facebook.com/artofnonconformity

Red Carpet Club Image by Drink for Design

Comment on this article

14 Responses to “How to Request an Airline Status Match”

  1. This was a very timely article for me Chris. As I am looking to start traveling at the first of the year, any info that will make my life a little more comfortable as I am traveling is very welcome.

    While I unfortunately don’t currently have elite status with ANY airline, I have actually had some very good luck with asking politely. You would be surprised what an agent can do for you if they like you!

  2. The OnePass match can also be done via email which I did this past May. I called OnePass customer service and they referred me to their email address and required documents to attach and I had my status match in about a day or two.

  3. United pulls out all the stops with their luxurious, members only polystyrene cups; however, I was surprised to see Virgin serves their first class beverages in real, honest to goodness glassware. Clay-zay!

  4. Chris,
    If the offers are still valid, would you please post a comment including links to the two checking account deals for 45,000 Continental miles? Thanks.

  5. @James,

    I posted them on Twitter a couple weeks ago, but can’t find the links at the moment. I’ll keep looking, but perhaps this one has expired– I’m not sure.

  6. Gee, if only I could get a copy of someone’s statement and let my graphics guy modify….

  7. Good post and this is information that’s nice to know. Also worth mentioning is Continentals Lifetime Flight Miles and Million Miler program. Fly a million miles and have permanent elite status.

    All the continental credit card offers are on their website.

    There are other ways to earn miles from your everyday activities.

  8. There is something that you forgot to mention, and that is, that these status matches are usually one-time only. I.e., if you get the status match from an airline this year, then drop back to becoming a non-status member the next year, most airlines won’t allow you to do a status-match again in the future.

    This may result in short-term benefits to most, if they don’t plan on actually completing the required amount of flying on each airline the following year. Upgrades and priority check-in/baggage handling on several airlines in one year may seem like its worth it, but if in a few years, you drop off the radar of an airline that you genuinely want to switch back to, there could be unintended consequences of making the switch. In this case, you would have to fly on the your new preferred airline as a regular member for a year, until you fly the required miles that everyone else has to fly.

  9. @Elliot,

    Look at the “Other Tips and Notes” section:

    “You can usually only request one status match per airline per life. That’s right, life– so you should only request matches that you think will actually benefit you over the next year. Otherwise, if you need it later, you won’t be able to get it without earning it the hard way.”

  10. My husband & I have been gold elite with KLM, and Delta for some time. We wanted the same with United, so wrote a letter to them last Fall, hoping they would give us premier elite status for 2010 when we knew we would be doing a lot of traveling. We were thrilled when we got a positive response, however, dismayed to learn it was only granted through the end of 2009. We plan our travel 3 months or more in advance and there was no way to log the needed miles by the end of the year to retain the status. Now we are back to no status with United, but hopefully will eventually get it back!

  11. simple and probably dumb question. :)

    when you travel with redeemed flight miles, does that flight still get counted towards miles or is that flight a “mile-less flight” so to speak?
    thanks

    russ

  12. It’s not a dumb question at all — and your assumption is correct. An awards ticket does not accrue additional miles.

  13. thank you chris,

    you’re an awesome guy! keep up the great work! your work and efforts effect so many peoples lives positively! you should be very proud.

    thank you
    russ

  14. October 4, 2011

    Harvey Sosin

    I have been a Elite one pass customer for the past 20 years (#AV241565)
    I moved to Novi, Mi. would like Delta to match my one pass status I have used Delta several times since moving. To Baltimore on flieght #1536 9/21/2011, & LAX on flieght #2015, 9/29/2011 I also have booked a flieght to Austin Texas on 10/13/2011, flieght #5727. Many more to follow.

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