Report: United Airlines Ending Its Status Match Program, Something Totally New Coming

It’s easy to manufacture elite status out of thin air. I’ve known pets with frequent flyer elite status, and not from flying elite.

Right now anyone with a travel credit card can get Frontier Airlines elite status. And that’s a real offer. I’ve seen plenty of people use photoshop over the years when asking for an airline to ‘match’ the status they already have in order to move their business.

  • Status match fraud is something that concerns many airlines. United has been willing to share elite member information with other airlines – working with competitors – to verify whether customers really have the status they say they do.

  • In the past Delta has been willing to status match a ham sandwich but has reportedly reached out to other airlines to verify whether the status shown to them when requesting a status match is real.

United Airlines is reportedly eliminating their current program which offers to match status for 120 days (up to 1K status, though that’s not mentioned on their website) along with a certain amount of business to the airline to keep the status after that period. The end date is supposedly late summer, with a new program coming next year. That would leave a gap of several months where the airline lacks a public matching program.

American Airlines status is earned from all kinds of activity, travel on the airline and its partners as well as online shopping, co-brand credit card spend, and other activity. They have conceived of a new kind of status match that’s complicated enough almost no one that contacts me understands it.

United has increasingly moved in the opposite direction. Credit towards status via co-brand card activity is limited, while status is largely earned on ticket spend (without regard to quantity of travel). I do not know what United has in mind for its status match program, and am curious what my United Insider readers know.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Although I noticed the terms and conditions changed to reflect this, I am also curious to see what happens. To be honest the current way to earn status is hard and I feel they might be changing it to the way AA does it with loyalty points. I’m not a fan of the loyalty points concept but do believe that’s what might be coming to UA.

    Whatever happens I hope UA keeps the Million Miler program the same as that should always be butt in seat miles and the same tiers for each additional million mile tier unlike Delta.

  2. I spoke with a United CS rep. this week and she offered some insight. United plans to include a system that better rewards their 1K members who actually fly on their steel and spend on their flights.
    United keeps stats of all their 1K upgrades and the goal is to improve those chances.

  3. About the only thing you can be sure of is that with Kirby at the helm the new program will be worse for customers.

    Maybe I’m flattering myself here but I think I understand AA’s new program. Exactly what is it that people don’t get about it?

  4. Generalized Question: when it comes to the three major alliances (oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam), why would one need to match status to an airline *within* their respective alliance? If you have status with (e.g.) AA, and that grants you oneworld Sapphire, what would be the benefit of getting a status match with BA, Iberia, JAL, etc.? You already hold the status equivalent of Sapphire (or Emerald, etc.) with every other airline within the alliance. What am I missing?

    I certainly understand the idea of a match or challenge between alliances — using your status with UA to get status with DL, for example. But the reason to do so within a single alliance escapes me.

  5. @ Crhistian — Yeah, AA’s program is very straightforward — waste your money by charging everything you buy to our terrible credit cards to earn our low-value miles, and we will give you priority opportunity to not get upgraded! Why bother? If all airlines go this route, we will quickly see no one being loyal to any airline, but instead being loyal to poor-value credit cards. I don’t see this ending well for the airlines or consumers.

  6. Jason B,

    To get access to elite status benefits a carrier may keep for its own program members and not provide as a benefit for alliance program elites; to keep having elite status in the alliance without having to meeting the flying/spending qualification requirements to get there.

  7. @Christian: Gary is not referring to the Loyalty Points program to earn status (which is, in fact, quite understandable), but AAs status match program called Instant Status Pass. In this program you a fee up front for four months of status, during which you must meet a Loyalty Point challenge to renew for four more months (and receive a new challenge) and then again for the last four months. This interacts in odd ways with the status you’re simultaneously accruing outside of the Instant Status Match (so, for instance, it’s possible to earn Gold but have temporary Platinum, dropping back to Gold if you don’t meet the challenge).

    @Jason Brandt Lewis: If you match towards the end of a year in which you haven’t requalified you can extend your status for at least a year.

  8. I’m okay if UA dials status match back. The big three need to thin the ranks of elite. When everyone is elite, no one is elite. Too many flights with too many elites dilutes benefits like complimentary upgrades, early boarding, wait times on the call center elite lines, etc.

  9. I suspect increased tie in with credit card spend, maybe 3X as much PQP as currently offered, plus a credit card based status challenge? With decreased business travel it’s all about capturing the wallet share.

  10. Agree w/Sobre Doc. Am 1k 2 mil ‘er. Seldom get upgrade even w/plus points. Am 16th on list for Den to ORD tomorrow with “minus points in economy minus. sheesh.

    Everyone is now “Elite”. I just pay for 1st now.

  11. For what it’s worth, it seems United has also quietly ended the so-called priority baggage handling. There is no.longer mention of “priority handling” for Premier Status persons, and the attachment of the red-orange priority tag on checked luggage is quaint at best. There is no evidence at luggage carousels that the tag has any meaning other than possibly quicker recognition by owner.

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