Airlines lure elites from competitors with status match challenges, where they will offer to match the same status the traveler has on another airline. Generally, airlines target elites from select airlines only and do not poach from alliance partners. Also, challenges to top-tier levels are increasingly rare. Delta does not challenge to Diamond, while United’s Premier 1K challenges are case-specific. American Airlines occasionally runs promotions for Executive Platinum; look for opportunities during the merger with US Airways. The website StatusMatcher.com is a forum for travelers to report their status match experiences.
Flyers should contact an airline to inquire about a challenge and any unpublished offers. The sign-up process is simple, requiring only proof of existing elite status. Those at large employers may also try their corporate travel departments to see if they can arrange a match or challenge.
Typically a challenge is offered only to an elite status comparable to one already held and requires a certain minimum number of flown miles or segments during a 90-day time frame. Elite status may be granted during the challenge period; however, certain benefits, such as upgrade certificates, require meeting the full, standard annual elite requirements.
Strategy is key since a challenge, whether or not successful, may be allowed only every five years. Many flyers time their challenge to be completed after July 1 since that may grant status through the entire following year in addition to the current year. Watch out for exclusions such as codeshares and partner flights that can derail a challenge.
A case in point is my 2013 United Premier 1K challenge from my Delta Diamond status. I had to complete 35,000 Premier Qualifying Miles within 90 days so I aligned it with confirmed business travel to Asia. I avoided a big mistake by not booking a Chicago–Tokyo flight that was a codeshare operated by ANA and therefore not eligible for the challenge. I instead flew through Denver on United. I completed the challenge in September, which granted me status through February 2015. Even if I did not fly United again, I could enjoy more than a year of Star Alliance Gold benefits on United’s Star Alliance partners.
With careful planning, a successful match challenge is a great way to jump-start a new airline relationship. Like any relationship, however, there are no guarantees that it will be better than the prior.
This Executive Travel story appeared in the October, 2014 issue of Fortune.