Imagine you have an elite status or VIP tier of a frequent flyer programme, for instance Flying Blue. You one day need to fly on a competing airline, but you have no status in theirs or the alliance. What do you do?
A few years ago, as a graduate student living in my parents' home earning under the London Living Wage, how was I able to simultaneously hold elite levels on Cathay Pacific Gold, Flying Blue Gold, Aerolineas Argentinas Gold, Turkish Airlines Elite all on my own expense and having never flown any of them?
The answer is “Status Matching”.
I started off my “how to earn airline elite status quickly” with a nice quote from Martin Lewis – “A company's job is to make money, not friends”. You should always make companies work for your money.
The status match trick is simple. You have one elite status card, then ask a competitor to see if you can match to an equivalent level on theirs, then ask another competitor, and so on. This applies to airlines, hotels and car rental agencies.
The benefit of concurrently holding these elite levels is that for airlines you get free lounge access, extra checked in bag, priority access at the airport, priority boarding etc. All make your travelling life much easier and stress free. I can't remember the last time I flew somewhere without being able to use a lounge. (Though in some airports, like Singapore, the facilities outside the lounge are better than within!)
There's a handy website where users submit the outcomes of their status matching experience. Sometimes there are anomalies or incorrect entries but you can usually identify a trend if there are sufficient data points. The website is called Status Matcher. It is how I also found out about the China Airlines match available at that time.
Usually a status match process happens something like this:
- You take a picture or scan your existing VIP card
- You take a screenshot of your account, showing your recent or previous year's activity
- You send the above two pictures to a competing business.
- You wait and see if they will grant a match.
Sometimes instead of a match, they will grant a ‘challenge', which is a shortcut to the elite level you're seeking. For instance instead of requiring 50 nights in a year to reach Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum, they will give it to you if you can reach 18 nights in 3 months. I have done this before, and I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel lounge access and the ‘upgrade to highest available room' published benefit of SPG Platinum until very recently.
Bear in mind, a company giving you a match is a privilege, not a right. They do not have to grant it regardless of historical outcomes!
One thing to remember though – don't match just for the sake of it. Wait until you're going to use it! Companies don't usually give matches to the same account twice, so time things carefully.
(For information here is a timeline of how I daisy-chained airline after airline to maintain my airport lounge access:
- April 2012 – Get free Cathay Pacific Gold, Oneworld Sapphire, from credit card (alas no longer!). Cathay Gold expires March 2014.
- February 2013 – Use Cathay Pacific Gold to request and match to Flying Blue Gold, Skyteam Elite Plus. FB Gold expires Feb 2014.
- April 2013 – Use Flying Blue Gold to request and match to Turkish Airlines Elite, Star Alliance Gold. TK Elite expires April 2015
- April 2015 – Use Turkish Airlines Elite to request and match to Air Berlin Gold. Oneworld Sapphire. AB Gold Expires April 2016.)