Travel expert who writes the “Have Cards, Will Travel” column for CreditCards.com
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Achieving and maintaining elite status in hotel and airline programs is often an obsession for active travelers. The titles of gold, diamond and platinum come along with amenities such as room and flight upgrades, airport lounge access, free breakfasts and lots of priority perks.
If you don’t travel a lot, you may not care about these elite titles, but I’m guessing that when you do travel, you might be interested in taking advantage of some of these special benefits.
This week I’m writing from the new Park Hyatt in St. Kitts where I am visiting as a World of Hyatt Globalist – the top level of status in Hyatt’s loyalty program. Being an elite here has landed me an upgrade from the standard room I booked to a park suite, and free breakfast daily for two at the Park Hyatt’s gorgeous beachside restaurant. (The breakfast for two alone has a value of $102 each day for our three-night stay).
The rewards of elite status can really add up, and as this value increases to you, so does your loyalty. Sure, another hotel may offer a room rate that is $50 cheaper, but those savings might barely cover breakfast for one person.
Hotels and airlines know this, and their loyalty programs are a big business. Keeping you obsessed with maintaining your status means you’ll keep coming back to their hotels or flying on their airline time and time again. Understanding this system, however, can work to your advantage.
Competing hotels and airlines want your business, too. To tempt you to shift your loyalty, many hotel groups and airlines have special offers to give you the same level of status you already have in a competitor’s loyalty program.
This battle for your loyalty usually comes through two different types of offers which both benefit you: the status match and the status challenge.
How to earn a status match
With a status match, an airline or hotel will grant you complimentary status in its own loyalty program at the same level you have with a competitor. To claim the match, you need only prove your status in the comparable program.
Over a year ago when Starwood announced it was being acquired by Marriott, Hyatt made a play for Starwood’s loyal customers by offering a free match to SPG loyalists via Twitter. All you had to do was send Hyatt a screenshot of your SPG number and proof of status. I’m certain this status match brought a whole lot of SPG fans into the World of Hyatt program.
The biggest catch with a status match is that you must already have achieved a level of elite status to match with the other program.
If you aren’t a frequent traveler who maintains elite status in a hotel or airline program, you aren’t completely out of luck. In some cases, you will be able to match the status you receive as a credit card benefit.
For example, if you have an American Express Platinum card, you will automatically receive gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. With SPG gold, you then can acquire Marriott gold status by linking your accounts though the hotels’ reciprocity program.
To take things a step further, you could then use either your Marriott or SPG gold status to earn the same or comparable status with another hotel group offering a status match.
If you want a higher level of status, your credit card benefits can help you achieve this with a little extra effort.
Case in point: The Hilton Honors Ascend card from American Express gives you complimentary gold status as a new cardholder, but if you spend $40,000 in a single year, you’ll get upgraded to Hilton diamond – the top level of loyalty. Leverage that when Hyatt has a status match offer, and you could join me for free breakfast in St. Kitts. If you get the new Hilton Honors Aspire card from American Express, you get complimentary diamond status.
Timing-wise, it’s smart to look for a status match ahead of taking a trip where you’d be able to put the benefits to work. If I were planning a big trip to a Hilton resort, for example, it might be a good time to think about seeing if they have an offer to match my top-tier Hyatt status. Just note that you are limited to the number of times you can play this card (see details below).
My favorite way to see which hotels and airlines are currently offering status matches is to use the online tool on statusmatcher.com.
Complete a series of tasks to win a status challenge
A status challenge is similar to a match, but it requires you to complete a series of tasks to achieve your newly matched elite level.
For airlines, this often requires flying a set number of miles in a short period of time, and for hotels, this typically involves staying a set number of nights. The tasks required vary widely by airline carrier and hotel property group, and sometimes there is a fee to sign up.
American Airlines, for example, offers a status challenge that is available to anyone – whether or not you already have status in a comparable program – that lets you fast-track your way to earning either AAdvantage gold or platinum status by meeting both a flying requirement of 7,000 or 12,500 miles and spending at least $1,000 or $2,000 respectively within a period of 90 days.
While registering for the American challenge costs $200, the challenge is a much quicker path to earning status for the first time as the standard requirements are 25,0000 miles and $3,000 qualifying spend for gold and 50,000 miles and $6,000 qualifying spend for platinum. American does not let you earn its higher levels of status through a match – you can qualify for these only through the traditional methods of lots and lots of flying.
Undertaking a status challenge such as American’s is great when you know you’ve got a lot of upcoming travel, like before you begin a big international trip or round-the-world adventure when you know you’ll be spending a lot of time on planes and in hotels.
To find status challenge opportunities, I also use the statusmatcher.com tool, and I sometimes reach out to the loyalty program I want to match to check the availability of the challenge offers.
Read the fine print of the status match or challenge
If you’re thinking about taking on a status match or challenge, you should be aware of a few things.
- First, most hotels and airlines limit you to earning a status match or challenge only once in your lifetime.
- Also, before you take advantage of all the available matches, consider the timing of your match wisely. Once you’ve been granted the new status, you will keep it for a set period (usually one year). After one year, you will have to requalify under the program’s regular terms if you want to maintain your elite status.
- The timing of a status match or challenge is also key because, in most cases, you need to start with a level of status. I’m personally going to take a Delta status challenge this year because I currently have the highest level of elite status with American Airlines, which I can leverage to earn comparable elite status with Delta.
I’ll apply for the status right before a long-haul trip to Asia, and I’ll plan ahead to earn Delta’s waiver on qualifying dollars by meeting the spending threshold on my Platinum Delta SkyMiles card from American Express.
This timing ensures that I’ll have my top-tier elite benefits with American this year, and Delta’s next year when my AA elite status has expired. In my book, that’s two years of status for the price of one!
Finally, when you’re thinking about going after a status match, make sure you read all the details.
For airlines, understand how they calculate their qualifying dollars and check for any credit card spending waivers you can earn. In my case, I want to make sure I’m on target to earn my Delta qualifying dollars through my credit card during the 90-day period of my status challenge.
If you’re matching from a status that you’ve earned from a credit card, some hotel groups will ask you to prove your record in recent stays. In this case, be sure you’ve stayed as many nights as the hotel group requires and have this on your record before you request the match.
If you haven’t thought about a status match before, it may be the time to level up your loyalty – and your free breakfast benefits. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to test out the Park Hyatt’s free stand-up paddleboards.
Membership – and matched membership – does have its benefits!
See related: 3 ways many rewards cards give you hotel status, Know hotel \u2018categories’ to book the perfect stay, Use your credit card to score a hotel upgrade, How to stay at the best hotels for under $100
– To read more of Stephanie Zito’s pieces on CreditCards.com, check out her Taking Charge blog posts