United Airlines is making a play for the top-tier frequent flyers of Qantas and Virgin Australia, along with a score of other competing airlines, through a generous status match which provides top-tier Gold status across all Star Alliance airlines.
Your Gold or Platinum membership in the Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity Frequent Flyer schemes is all it takes to unlock 90 days of Gold-grade benefits such as airport lounge access, priority check-in and boarding and a boosted baggage allowance across all Star Alliance airlines: a solid roster which includes Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, ANA, Lufthansa and Swiss.
And with a single flight, the 'status challenge' component of this offer you can extend your Star Alliance Gold status through to January 2021.
Ready to grab your Gold or Platinum-plated perks? Here's the drill.
Qualifying for the Star Alliance Gold status match
The Star Alliance Gold status match is being offered by United Airlines as part of what it calls a 'status challenge' promotion.
You'll start with 90 days at either United's Premier Gold or Premier Platinum frequent flyer tiers, both of which line up with Star Alliance Gold.
That status can then be extended to a much longer period by completing a 'status challenge' during which you have to fly a certain number of miles with United.
United Airlines accepts a wide range of frequent flyer programs for the status match, including Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One, and Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum.
Also on the list are the following cards from overseas-based airlines that fly to Australia:
- American Airlines (AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey)
- British Airways (Executive Club Silver, Gold, Premier)
- Cathay Pacific (Marco Polo Club Gold, Diamond)
- China Airlines (Emerald, Paragon)
- China Eastern (Eastern Miles Gold)
- China Southern (Sky Pearl Gold)
- Delta Air Lines (Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion)
- Emirates (Skywards Gold, Platinum)
- Etihad (Guest Gold, Platinum)
- Hawaiian Airlines (Pualani Gold, Platinum)
- Japan Airlines (Sapphire, Diamond, JGC Premier)
- Korean Air (Morning Calm Premium)
- LATAM (Platinum, Black, Black Signature: choose 'LAN Airlines' from the list and add a comment to your request as these names have recently changed)
- Malaysia Airlines (Enrich Gold, Platinum)
- Qatar Airways (Privilege Club Gold, Platinum)
The roster also encompasses airlines further afield like Air France, Alitalia, Finnair and Virgin Atlantic.
Of course, United won't do a status match to another Star Alliance airline. Also note that if you've taken advantage of a different United status match or status challenge in the past five years, even if that matched status has since expired, you won't be eligible to sign up this time around.
You won't lose your existing airline status in the process, of course, so there's no harm in taking part if you have some United or Star Alliance flights coming up – but whether you continue flying with these airlines, or return to your 'old' airline, is up to you.
Signing up for the Star Alliance Gold status match
Do you have your shiny Gold or Platinum card at the ready?
If you're already a member of United's MileagePlus frequent flyer scheme, get things moving by visiting this promotion page on the United Airlines website and logging into your account.
If you’re not already a MileagePlus member, you'll first need to sign up, and then return to the promo page to register for the challenge.
The next screen asks to confirm your email address, mailing address and your phone number.
This is where you'll also share the details of your current Gold or Platinum frequent flyer status, and provide proof of that status – either by attaching a photograph, scan or screenshot of your current membership card, or a copy of the most recent mileage summary from your airline which shows your status.
You also need to nominate a start date within 14 days of the current date, so don't send the application until you are ready to start flying (more on that below).
Once submitted, you'll get an email confirmation promising a response within 7 to 14 business days.
Planning your 'status match challenge'
The last part of the registration asks you to nominate the date you'd like to begin not only your 90-day status match to United MileagePlus Premier Gold and Premier Platinum but the 'challenge' to earn enough United frequent flyer miles to keep that status.
If you're looking only to grab that 90 days of gratis status just to cover lounge access, priority check-in and so on during a forthcoming trip on any Star Alliance, set the start date accordingly.
However, if you're serious about taking advantage of the challenge to pocket Star Alliance Gold status beyond 90 days, it's important to make the right choice on your challenge start date.
If you complete your challenge – that is, you take the last flight needed to hold onto your new status – on or before 30 June 2019, your Star Alliance Gold membership will be extended until 31 January 2020 which is at least 7 months.
However, if you complete your challenge on or after 1 July 2019, that same status will be yours until 31 January 2021 – giving you up to 19 months of lounge access and 'priority everything'!
Savvy flyers might choose to delay their status challenge application until May or even June when taking eligible flights in July or beyond, to make the most of this deal.
If you don't meet the requirements of your challenge – more on this below – you'll drop to your previous status with United when the 90-day period concludes, which means losing your Star Alliance Gold perks.
How to keep your new Star Alliance Gold status
It typically takes 7-14 days for United to approve your application.
And as soon as you've been bumped to United Premier Gold or Premier Platinum that 90-day clock starts ticking on earning the necessary amount of what United calls 'Premier-qualifying miles' (PQMs) on flights operated by United Airlines or its regional offshoot United Express.
Flights taken with other Star Alliance airlines don't contribute to your challenge. You can still fly with other Star Alliance carriers during the challenge period and can enjoy perks like airport lounge access if your boarding pass reflects your temporary Star Alliance Gold status: but to keep this for longer than 90 days, you'll need to fly with United and earn PQMs.
Think of PQMs as United's version of Qantas or Velocity status credits.
Frequent flyers matched to Premier Gold – typically by being a Qantas Gold or Velocity Gold member, for example – need to earn 12,500 PQMs to successfully complete their challenge and extend their status.
For travellers opting for Premier Platinum status by way of their existing Qantas Platinum or Velocity Platinum membership, the bar is set a little higher at 18,000 PQMs.
But it's very important to note that Qantas and Velocity Platinum frequent flyers (and other equivalents) can choose to chase United Premier Gold or Premier Platinum, but not both.
For example, if a Premier Platinum candidate earns 17,000 PQMs at the end of the challenge – technically enough for Premier Gold but just short of Premier Platinum – they will not fall back to Premier Gold either. Instead, they will lose their status after the 90-day challenge.
So if there's any doubt that your travel schedule can beat the Premier Platinum challenge, then it's better to play it safe and opt for the Premier Gold challenge instead.
How to lock in Star Alliance Gold status with a single flight
Keeping your United status is all about racking up the right number of PQMs – and because Australia is quite a distance from the United States, it's possible to earn all the PQMs you need to retain Premier Gold or Premier Platinum in a single return trip.
Take United's Sydney-Los Angeles route: even a one-way ticket in business class (or one return flight in economy) pulls in almost 15,000 PQMs. That's enough to complete the Premier Gold challenge and provide Star Alliance Gold until January 2020 or 2021, depending on when you take that flight.
The same is true of United's Sydney-San Francisco flights of a similar length, while its Melbourne-Los Angeles route offers closer to 16,000 PQMs on identical tickets, given its longer distance.
United's Sydney-Houston service provides just over 17,000 PQMs (return in economy or one-way in business class) – enough for Premier Gold, but just shy of the 18,000 PQMs needed for those completing the Platinum challenge.
That's where a connecting flight comes in handy, such as from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Houston to New York with United or United Express, on which you'd earn enough PQMs to get over the Premier Platinum mark.
The United website will show you how many PQMs you can earn for each flight and for the fare you've selected.
Meet your target and your United Premier / Star Alliance Gold membership expiry date will be updated within five to seven business days and a proper United membership card will arrive at your doorstep shortly after.
Finally, keep in mind that United Premier Gold and Platinum doesn't provide access to United lounges on domestic trips within the USA, but if that's a perk you're looking for, Singapore Airlines is also offering a fast-track to KrisFlyer Gold (Star Alliance Gold) after just three flights, which does open these doors.
Additional reporting by Brandon Loo and David Flynn