Holding frequent flyer status with an airline comes with plenty of perks: access to the best airport lounges, priority check-in and boarding, a higher checked baggage allowance and often a bonus serve of points on every flight.
Most travellers achieve their prized Gold or Platinum status the hard way – clocking up hours of bum-numbing miles in business class or, worse, economy.
However, there are ways to catapult yourself into the top tier with just a single flight: by taking advantage of free yet little-known 'status challenge' programs.
Fight for your flight
These are primarily used to woo business travellers away from competing airlines by offering a shortcut to status and the privileges which come with it, so that high-spending corporate flyers who already hold status on another airline don't have to forego the equivalent perks and start at the bottom of the frequent flyer food chain.
But you don't get something for nothing: these challenge promotions require that travellers do a certain amount of flying with the airline offering a fast-track status deal.
You'll also need to hold status with a competitor of the airline offering the challenge.
Here are three status challenges open to Australian travellers.
Qantas Tier Accelerator
The Tier Accelerator scheme is a bit 'fight club' in that Qantas doesn't talk much about it. It's not publicised and is issued at Qantas' discretion, but the Tier Accelerator provides a fast-track to Qantas Gold or Platinum membership against equivalent status with the frequent flyer schemes of rivals such as Virgin Australia Velocity, Air New Zealand Airports, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and more.
The Qantas Tier Accelerator dramatically reduces the number of status credits – and thus the amount of flying – you need to qualify for that shiny Qantas Frequent Flyer card.
A mere 200 status credits is required to earn Gold status, compared to 700 status credits under the usual QFF rules.
Rocketing from a no-status zero to a Platinum hero takes just 400 status credits – a feat that'd usually take a solid 1400 status credits.
These status credits must be racked up within three months of signing up for the Qantas Tier Accelerator offer, but that's not a big ask.
A single business class return trip from Sydney to Singapore or Hong Kong will net you 240 status credits, so you'll make Gold with room to spare.
Two of those trips (or just one flexible business class return fare to Los Angeles or London) is enough for instant Platinum status.
Note however that you won't be gifted Qantas Platinum or Gold status during that initial three month period: the only status you get is that which you earn through flying.
To apply for the Qantas Tier Accelerator, contact the Qantas Frequent Flyer team on 13 1131 in Australia.
You'll need proof of your current Platinum-grade or Gold-grade status with a competing airline and supply a copy of your account showing your recent travel with that airline. This is to weed out freeloading status-seekers who have done relatively little flying.
It's then up to Qantas to decide if you're a customer worth chasing – as noted earlier, an invitation to take part in the Qantas Tier Accelerator program is solely at the airline's discretion.
Virgin Australia Velocity Accelerate Pilot Gold
Virgin Australia's Pilot Gold scheme works along similar lines as the Qantas Tier Accelerator but also adds provides three months of gratis Gold status with the Velocity Frequent Flyer program, so you can immediately enjoy those Gold-lined perks.
Pilot Gold is a component of the airline's Accelerate business travel program for companies spending from $20,000 to $300,000 per year on Virgin Australia flights.
However, Pilot Gold can also be offered to individual Qantas Gold or Platinum flyers prized by Virgin Australia, although it's not an automatic offer and is made at the discretion of Velocity CEO Karl Schuster, who tells High Flyer "it's not unusual for me to grant it, but we scrutinise requests quite closely and try to use (Pilot Gold) in a very strategic way because it's using airline assets."
"You know what the lounges are like at peak periods, so it's not something we throw around the place – we use it smartly and judiciously, in a very thoughtful way."
Only one Virgin Australia flight and 80 Velocity status credits is required to convert the Pilot Gold trial into full Velocity Gold status. That's achievable with a business class trip between the east and west coasts.
Keen to take Pilot Gold for a test flight? Start by contacting the Velocity Frequent Flyer team on 131875.
United Airlines (Star Alliance)
United Airlines offers a challenge to reach Premier Gold or Premier Platinum status, and as United is a member of the Star Alliance group both of these tiers are equivalent to Gold status across all other Star Alliance airlines (Star Alliance doesn't have a Platinum level).
This delivers airport lounge access, priority check-in and boarding and a boosted baggage allowance with the likes of Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, ANA, Lufthansa and Swiss, so it's perfect for the globe-trotting business traveller.
You need to hold Gold or Platinum status with a competing airline, and both Qantas and Virgin Australia are on that list.
Once you've registered and been approved for United's MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge you'll start with 90 days of Premier Gold or Premier Platinum membership.
(If you're not already a United Airlines MileagePlus member, you'll first need to sign up, and then return to the promo page to register for the challenge. It typically takes 7-14 days for United to approve your application.)
Your 90 days of free status can be extended to as far as January 2020 by flying a certain number of what United calls 'Premier-qualifying miles' (PQMs, similar to status credits) on United Airlines flights.
Premier Gold status is the sweet spot here as it's earned with just 12,500 PQMs.
Any United Airlines flight from Australia to the USA – such as Sydney or Melbourne to Los Angeles, Sydney to San Francisco or the new Sydney-Houston service – pulls in upwards of 15,000 PQMs for one-way in business class or a return flight in economy.
That's enough to land you Premier Gold status through to January 2019 if your qualifying flight is on or before June 30, or through to January 2020 if your flight is after July 1.
Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.
Have you tried any status shortcuts? Share your experience in the comments section below.