Other airlines are more ambiguous about challenges, but it can never hurt to call. Being a loyal customer with a history of accruing frequent flyer miles helps. For instance, I called US Airways to inquire about a challenge, and the representative told me that based on my empty mileage account, they could not offer me a challenge. However, when my coworker—who is a frequent US Airways traveler with over 35,000 miles in her account—called, she was told that a challenge would likely be available beginning March 1, in which she would have three months to fly 10,000 miles or 12 segments.
Also, most airlines won't let you do a challenge every year, so the opportunity could be once in a lifetime. Before you sign up, make sure that you have a very good shot at succeeding in your efforts to attain status and that you'll be flying enough in the coming year to benefit from that status. Otherwise, you will have wasted your fleeting elite standing.
If you've got elite status on one airline, you may have a chance to get similar status on another carrier without flying a single mile. Airlines are always eager to pilfer elite members from other carriers, mostly because elite flyers by nature spend a lot of money on frequent flights and upper-class travel. Therefore, the airlines are willing to extend status in their program for free to elite travelers planning to switch their loyalty. However, complimentary status is often a once-in-a-lifetime perk, so think twice before you ask for it.
To find out about comps, call the frequent flyer customer service center of the airline on which you want to get status. Most likely, you will be asked to submit a copy of your current carrier's frequent flyer statement, proving your elite status. You might also need to explain why you want to switch your loyalty or outline your upcoming travel plans on the new airline. Status is never guaranteed through a comp attempt, but being a very frequent flyer increases your chances. Also, some airlines have a policy of not stealing members from their partners; for instance, Continental will comp status to American's members but not to partner Delta's.
While this policy of comping status is mostly hush-hush, some airlines make it a point to reach out to elite members of other programs with public promotions. For instance, Frontier's Quick Ascent offer promises its lowest-tier Ascent Level status to travelers who submit a statement showing elite status on another carrier as well as their Frontier EarlyReturns number.
Don't forget to look for the occasional elite promotion on your airline's websites or through the marketing e-mails you receive. Sometimes the airlines offer public challenges or other offers geared to getting you elite status faster. At this writing, United is offering prepaid cards for $5,000 to $20,000 that grant automatic elite status. The cards work like gift cards for the purchase of flights, and even give a discount for air travel purchased online. In addition, United is offering extra elite-qualifying miles for airline tickets purchased with a Mileage Plus Visa this year.
And in the past, airlines such as America West have offered fast-track promotions to elite status on their websites. So if you really want to attain status, keep an eye out for promotions that will aid you in your quest.
What's elite status anyway?
Now that you know how to obtain status, you might be wondering what you get once you become elite. While each airline offers different perks, in general, you can hope to receive:
- Priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and seating
- Exclusive elite member reservations phone line
- Elite bonus on flight miles
- Complimentary or priority upgrades
- Fee waivers (including change fees and last-minute booking fees)
These perks can make your reservations, airport, and in-flight experiences more comfortable and stress-free. However, if you're going to make the effort to go for elite status, be sure you're going to take at least a few flights after your qualifying ones. You can't reap the rewards of status without heading for the airport.