What Frequent Fliers Should Learn From The Minnesota Timberwolves And Kevin Love

a man in a basketball jersey

a man in a basketball jersey

If the title of this post throws you off, let me explain. We’re currently in the middle of NBA free agency and while the big dominoes that were Lebron and Carmelo have already fallen, there’s still a lot of wheeling and dealing to be done. That includes the fate of Kevin Love, who isn’t a free agent this summer but has just one more year left on his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s publicly stated that he does not want to return to Minnesota and will explore free agency next summer when his contract expires.

More than any other team sport, the fate of your NBA franchise can be carried on the shoulders of one superstar player. Superstar players don’t exactly grow on trees, and teams are willing to bend over backwards to get one. That’s why a disgruntled superstar going into the final year of his contract who plans to leave anyways can be a huge trade asset. As the Lakers learned the hard way with Dwight Howard, you should never ever let a superstar walk away without getting something in return. Bill Simmons has probably written a few 30,000 word columns like this one saying that exact thing a bunch of different ways.

So what does all this have to do with frequent flying? Well, your elite status is your superstar – you worked hard to get it, and it’s given you benefits like upgrades, priority boarding, and fee waivers. And if you’re getting into the latter part of the year and won’t be able to retain your elite status, then you should never let it expire without getting something in return. This is where a status match can help.
The process of status matching is a common practice both in the airline and hotel industries.
So how do you do it? First, think about what you want to get out of it. Am I jumping ship to another alliance? Do I want to stay within the same alliance (which will be trickier)? What are my travel plans for the upcoming year?

Then head over to www.statusmatcher.com which provides a ton of useful information. First, it’s a great inventory of all the programs out there and includes directories of airline, hotel, and even car rental programs. Focusing on airline programs for now, you’d be surprised how many options are out there, and by my count they list out 87 total airline programs. I mean, before today how many of you had even heard of the S7 Priority program?

For each program, Status Matcher will also provide user reviews on what elite statuses people have used to match into that program, as well as the elite statuses people have been able to get by leveraging that program. For example, here’s some information from the Alaska Airlines page, which even includes detailed instructions on a featured status match promotion:

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 A few things worth noting:

  • There are two types of potential matches offered. Status matches, where you will receive outright a specified level of status that is generally closely equivalent to what you had before, and status challenges, which typically involves a fee and also having to demonstrate some loyalty by qualifying under a prorated amount of travel activity.
  • In general, domestic airlines will only offer a status challenge, unless there is specific promotions available or they are targeting a specific airline’s customers, which has especially common to see during the recent mergers. Airlines within the same alliance will generally not allow a match.
  • Status matches/challenges are generally offered just once per lifetime, although it’s very much YMMV. In some cases you can get them more often – for example my corporate policy states that they will offer a status match every five years.
  • In addition to www.statusmatcher.com, this thread on FlyerTalk is a great resource for information on status matching
How does this all work in practice? I have a confession to make – even though I’ve held at least mid-tier elite status with an airline for the past five years, I’ve actually only earned it through butt-in-seat flying once in 2009 when I was first getting into this whole hobby and making monthly trips to Chicago to visit my (now) wife. While I had earned United 1K status by flying 125,000 miles that year, the next year she graduated from school and I was flying far less often and ended up with just 25,000 miles which is a fairly typical year for me. That would have kicked me down to United Silver status, which can basically be achieved by signing up for a credit card.

Unwilling to move down the elite ranks, I capitalized on a targeted offer from American Airlines to match my 1K status to Executive Platinum which is their top tier status and even scoring 8 systemwide upgrades to use in the process. After another year of flying just 25,000 miles, I was then able to leverage the AA EXP status to status match through my corporate travel agency back to United 1K. Next year, I status matched over to Alaska Airlines MVP Gold and even Emirates Gold for good measure.

Similar offers exist on the hotel side of things as well – a well-known and publicized offer is with Hyatt which provides a Diamond status challenge, but will generously upgrade your status to Diamond during that 3-month period and provides you four suite upgrades to use even if you don’t qualify.

So is it unethical or immoral to status match back and forth? In my opinion, absolutely not. Loyalty programs want to win your business, and status matches and challenges are their versions of coupons that you get for restaurants or free samples that you get at Costco. They are hoping that you will try it, like it, and eventually stay. So keep an eye out for opportunities to leverage your expiring elite status to obtain status with other programs, and never be status-less again.

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