This is a continuation on my series about how to get the best prices and routings to Europe. Now I’ll talk about how to make it more comfortable and one of the few cases where status matters: international flights in economy class.
If you travel any amount for work, you’ll likely be aware of the ability to earn status with carriers. Usually, in the real world, I fall squarely in the camp of “status is dead, earn a ton of miles and book the cabin you want to fly.” But in this case we’re talking about going to Europe, and in the summer. It’s a bizarro world in which many of the traditional rules and conventional wisdom don’t make sense, and it’s probably the only time that having mid-tier status (conferring Star Alliance Gold, SkyTeam Elite Plus, or oneworld Sapphire status) is actually worth it.
Mid-tier status is invaluable here because you may not find business class seats you were hoping for and have to slum it in coach. So lounge access, free bags, and premium economy seating will ease the pain, especially with the family in tow
Close to reaching it? Great, do it! Not flying on the same carrier/alliance you hold status with? Consider a match to a European counterpart. US carriers have gotten more stingy, now offering challenges instead of outright matches. But many European carriers, especially if you have an upcoming booking with them, will be more likely to confer status on you if you show a strong revenue record in your account statement on your home carrier.
Pro-Tip: Check out Statusmatcher.com for instructions on how to match with various carriers (remember mid-tier – lounge access, premium economy seating and waived bag fees are what you’re going for) and success reports.
Match to Foreign Programs over Domestic
Many of the US airlines have moved to offering status challenges over outright matches to ensure that only people traveling a significant amount are actually attaining status. They’re also in the process to thin the ranks because it’s considerably easier to fly 50,000 miles coast to coast than to do something similar in other parts of the world, so the US programs simply have more elites to cater to.
It’s better to try to match to a foreign program because they have fewer elites and are more likely to be interested in attracting your business to them, even if you are simply crediting partner flights.
Furthermore, having gold status on Star Alliance or sapphire or emerald status on oneworld with a foreign carrier lets you access lounges (UA and AA clubs) while traveling on solely domestic itineraries (though you will miss out on United Economy Plus, Delta Comfort and American Main Cabin Extra seats). Status on domestic carriers on the other hand, if you can match or fly enough to attain it, will give you access to seats with extra legroom on the US carrier you have status with. It’s a bit of a tradeoff, but worth knowing. Also, having status, particularly on the carrier you are flying, will dramatically protect you if something goes awry and your flight is cancelled or delayed. You’ll be closer to the front of the queue to get re-accommodated.
Pro-Tip: Consider matching to a foreign program if you value lounge access and a domestic program if you value extra legroom seats.
Wait until after July 1st to Match
Many programs accrue status on a calendar year, so it can make sense to wait til July 1st.
Why? Because then you’ll get that status for the remaining six months of this year, as well as the following year, keeping it for a full 18 months.
Other programs like British Airways tie your qualification year when you open your account, so make sure you pick a time of year where you’ll be able to use it immediately after the match.
Lastly, Alaska is a bit of an outlier in that you’ll only keep status during the subsequent year if you match after November 1st.
Pro-Tip: Wait til after July 1st to match so you can keep status for 18 months.