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What is the Real Value of Status Matching?

Status matching is nothing new in travel. Many large hotels and airlines have some sort of status matching program. Wyndham launched a status matching campaign in the fall, and Hilton recently ran a status matching promotion.

Every successful business must deeply understand their “best customer” - those customers that have an emotional connection to their brand. Best customers have a 306% higher lifetime value, stay with the brand an average of 1.7 years longer (5.1 vs. 3.4) and evangelize much more frequently. So it’s no surprise that acquiring more best customers is a top priority for any loyalty program.

Status matching allows loyal customers of Company A to get equivalent benefits with Company B. The status match is valid for a set time period, say one year, to allow the consumer time to enjoy the perks of the new loyalty program. The hope is to lure members away from Company A and into the program of Company B.  In most cases all that’s required is a copy of your loyalty card in an equivalent program.

The Benefits of Status Matching

Status matching seems like a great way to try to attract loyal customers of your competitors. Many status perks are “soft costs” such as early check-in or free Wi-Fi. These items are easy for hotels or airlines to offer with minimal impact to their margins.

From a customer perspective, travelers will receive a higher level of treatment then if they started a new account from zero. In the consumer’s mind it lowers the risk associated with trying a new airline or hotel’s loyalty program.

Does it Work?

The real question is, what is the value of status matching campaigns? Are they successful in bringing new customers into the loyalty program fold? Despite the ubiquitousness of these programs, there are notable exceptions: Accor Hotels doesn’t match loyalty levels at all, and Delta’s status matching program is famously exclusive. There appears to be little consensus among top travel brands if status matching should be a priority.

We went in search of answers from some of the largest status matching campaigns.

Re: Starwood defectors in the wake of the Marriott acquisition

Status matching’s renaissance began in 2015 with the Marriott acquisition of Starwood. As angry Starwood loyalty members took to Twitter to express their ire, Hyatt and Hilton swooped in, offering generous matches.

@JonoH I apologize, we have had over 10,000 requests and are working around the clock as quickly as we can! ^BP - Hyatt Concierge via Twitter.

The message from the Hilton representative suggests that elite hotel members have been proactively reaching out to them rather than HHonors running its own outbound campaign. This may suggest that travelers are so willing to give up their loyalty that they’re actively pursuing other suitors.

Re: Southwest’s city-by-city status match run in 2017/2019

Southwest made a similar pitch earlier this year to targeted customers around the country, and in three California markets last year. The company declined to comment on the success of those earlier efforts.

Re: MSC Cruises status matching program in 2015/2016

MSC Cruises celebrating the first three months of its Status Match initiative after over 240 clients switched to the brand in the UK.

Re: Legacy airlines tightening their status matching qualifications

After 2015 and 2016’s status matching race to the bottom, suddenly airlines found their loyalty programs commodified. Delta, then United, then American suddenly buttoned up qualifications for status matching, confusing customers.

For many, it may no longer be worth it to earn top-tier elite status on American, United, or Delta next year. Between recent changes to credit card earning structures and airlines constantly moving the goal posts for status qualification, it’s just too hard for many to keep up.

It seems that status matching works best as a targeted strategy, not a blanket program. Brands should approach using this tactic strategically as they move into new markets, like Marriott has with Fliggy as they focus on Chinese travelers. Or as a way to capitalize on unhappy customers a la Hyatt and Hilton in the wake of the Starwood acquisition.

While we can’t be sure if the new wave of status matching programs signals that the trend is on the rebound, we feel confident that airlines and hotels will continue to take advantage of status matching as a low cost way to force loyalty-focused customers to self identify.

Best Airline Status Matching Programs

According to here are some of the most competitive airline status matching programs available.

  • Alaska Airlines grants an elite status match to their corresponding elite status with no further challenge requirements. The status is usually good for the remainder of the current calendar year or for up to 15 months, depending on when your request is approved.
  • Cathay Pacific usually grants status matches to their Silver level regardless of your current elite status. They usually require you to have either flown on a Cathay Pacific flight recently and/or have an upcoming reservation.

Best Hotel Status Matching Programs

The Points Guy recently did a roundup of the best status matching offers from hotels.

  • Wyndham Hotels offers status matching for all levels of their loyalty program with generous matching periods. Members can receive Gold level status match through the end of 2020. Some other status tiers have challenges to stay within the level, such as staying a certain amount of qualifying nights in a 90-day period.

  • Best Western has a well-known ‘Status Match No Catch’ program where you fill out a simple form with your information and competitor elite level, and Best Western will match you to a requisite status without question

  • Hilton allows elite members from other programs to qualify for Hilton elite status through March 2020. Status will be matched for 90 days and in order to extend status, you need to stay a number of qualifying rooms nights based on the status level.

Has your company done a status matching campaign? Tell us how it went in the comments below.

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