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Most U.S. airlines offer the ability to match a competitor's elite status to that airline's loyalty program. The rationale behind this move is that elite-status travelers must be pretty valuable flyers if they have earned elite status with another airline. Offering free airline elite status is a cheap way of attracting valuable patrons.
These elite status match offers are a win for travelers too. They allow flyers to switch allegiance without having to start from scratch or lose the elite status perks they've already earned.
When's the best time to status match across airline loyalty programs? Of course, that depends on the airline to which you're matching. Here's a rundown for each of the major U.S. airlines.
July is the best time to start an Alaska Mileage Plan status match. That's because you have the chance to enjoy elite status for almost one-and-a-half years by beginning an elite status match in July. However, you might only get six months of elite status if you start a challenge in June.
Here's how it works. Alaska lets flyers match airline elite status from other North American airlines to Mileage Plan. Your elite status level with Alaska depends on your status with a qualifying airline.
Alaska will initially grant you this Mileage Plan elite status for 90 days. During that period, you'll need to fly a set number of miles on Alaska Airlines to extend your elite status:
MVP status: fly 5,000 miles.
MVP Gold status: fly 10,000 miles.
MVP Gold 75K status: fly 20,000 miles.
Alaska will extend your elite status until at least the end of the year if you meet this challenge. But here's where the timing aspect comes in. If you begin your elite status match from January through June, Alaska will only extend your elite status through the end of the current year. However, matches started from July through December are extended through the end of the following year.
So, for example, say you match your airline elite status on June 30, 2022. You'll initially get 90 days of elite status — giving you access through Sept. 28. If you meet the challenge, Alaska will only extend your Mileage Plan elite status through Dec. 31, 2022. However, if you start the status match on July 1, 2022, and meet the challenge, you may extend your status through Dec. 31, 2023.
» Learn more: How to earn miles with Alaska Airlines
Generally, you can't get an American Airlines status match. However, American Airlines started offering Instant Status Pass offers in mid-October 2022. Through this program, targeted members will instantly receive elite status. Then, you'll need to hit set Loyalty Point thresholds every four months to extend your status for longer.
November 1 is the best time to begin one of these challenges, as you'll earn status into the next calendar year. American Airlines' elite status membership year runs from date you qualify to March of the following year.
» Learn more: The guide to American Airlines elite status
Delta Air Lines
July is the best time to start a Delta elite status match. Like Alaska, Delta offers complimentary elite status for a trial period. In Delta's case, you'll get Medallion elite status for three months. You can then meet an elite status challenge to extend that status for longer.
In Delta's case, the timing is all about when you sign up for the elite status match. Enroll before June 30 and you can earn Medallion status through Jan. 31 of the following year. But wait until July 1 and you have the opportunity to earn status through Jan. 31 two years after.
For example, you'd earn Medallion elite status through Jan. 31, 2023, if you enrolled by June 30, 2022, and meet the requirements within the three-month trial period. However, by waiting until July 1, 2022, you can earn Delta elite status through Jan. 31, 2024.
» Learn more: Benefits of Delta Air Lines credit cards
The best time to complete a Southwest Rapid Rewards elite status match is right before you're about to fly Southwest. That's because Southwest only grants A-List airline elite status for 90 days. However, Southwest will extend your elite status for an additional 12 months if you book and fly six one-way flights — or three round trips — during those 90 days.
When figuring out the best time to submit your Southwest status match, factor in that Southwest may take up to 12 business days to verify your status match. And you'll need to wait to book and fly your flights until after Southwest confirms the match.
The program is designed to attract new flyers, so you can't be a current A-List elite status member when you request the airline status match. Additionally, this Southwest status match isn't a good option for extending an expiring A-List status. And you can't take advantage of this elite status match if you've received promotional A-List status in the past 12 months.
» Learn more: Southwest Airlines sweet spots
Consider starting a United Premier elite status match between mid-March and late June — depending on how much you plan to fly United. You can earn United Premier elite status for an extra year by getting your timing right. But starting a United status match too early can make you miss an entire year of elite status.
As with other airlines, United offers status match applicants temporary elite status. Currently, United offers Premier Silver, Premier Gold or Premium Platinum elite status for 120 days. The elite status level that you receive depends on your current elite status with a qualifying airline.
By meeting set flying requirements during these 120 days, United will extend your elite status through at least the end of the current year. However, timing is critical. For example, if you complete the challenge before June 30, you'll only get elite status through the end of that year. But you'll earn Premier elite status through the end of the following year if you complete the challenge on or after July 1.
You'll want to be precise about when you submit your United elite status match request — and when you meet the flying requirements. Consider applying for a United status match in mid-March if you think it will take you all 120 days to meet the challenge. But you can start the challenge as late as June if you have lots of expensive travel soon. Make sure you don't meet the requirements until July 1 or later.
» Learn more: The best United Airlines credit card offers
If you want to match your airline elite status
The best time to match your airline elite status depends on which loyalty program you're trying to match. But, for some reason, many optimal airline elite status matches center around July 1.
Match your airline elite status to Alaska or Delta after July 1 for the opportunity to earn elite status for the most extended period. Meanwhile, apply for a United elite status match between March and June, and plan to meet the status challenge requirement after July 1.
For Southwest, it's about when you will fly Southwest and how often.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card