Why Alaska Airlines has the most generous change policies in the industry for their elite members

Back in October I wrote a post entitled “Is Alaska the weirdest airline in the US?” I’ve just found it odd the degree to which Seattleites take pride in “their” hometown airline, which, oddly enough, is named after a completely different state. But then again there are many parts of Seattle culture I don’t understand.

I status matched to Alaska Airlines MVP Gold from American Executive Platinum status at the beginning of November, and plan on using them for my flights up and down the west coast, for which they’re tough to beat. While American elite members get certain benefits on Alaska, like priority check-in, security, boarding, and exit row seating, they’re not eligible for upgrades or many fee waivers. And since Alaska upgrades are quite easy I decided it was worthwhile trying to maintain MVP Gold status.

And the program is awesome, at least for their routes with multiple frequencies. The first cool benefit is that they allow free ticket changes. That means that you can speculatively make bookings and still change the times/dates later/routes, while only paying the difference in fare (and not any change fees).

But what I really, really love about their program is their same day confirmed change policy. If you’re an MVP Gold member, you can make free same day flight changes for you and your companions on the same reservation starting at 10PM the night before you travel. That in and of itself doesn’t sound that great, but you get last seat availability on any flight. That means if a flight is “Y1″ (meaning only one seat is left for sale) you can switch on to it at no cost — your original fare class doesn’t have to be available.

Even better than that? If you’re in upgraded first class you can switch to any flight with first class space, even if there’s no upgrade space. So if the flight is “F1″ (meaning only one first class seat is left for sale), you can switch from your flight in upgraded first class to any flight that has at least one first class seat left for sale.

This almost makes it advantageous to book the off peak flight time where fares are cheapest and upgrades are easiest, since you can go back and confirm yourself on just about any flight you’d like in first class the night before.

Comments

  1. Greg says

    You can thank Southwest Airlines for that change policy. Probably benchmarking them more than the global network guys.

  2. lucky says

    @ Greg — In advance I totally agree, but Southwest’s standby/same day change policy is ridiculous.

  3. German Expat says

    F9 has a pretty good change policy too for their Summit members, same day change is free and all change fees waived for tickets. You can even cancel a ticket and keep the credit for 1 year.
    I don’t like WN’s same day standby, basically they are selling you a very expensive same day ticket with a credit to your fare.

  4. alliance says

    Southwest’s same-day/standby policy is designed to prevent exactly what you are talking about doing with Alaska: “This almost makes it advantageous to book the off peak flight time where fares are cheapest…” Southwest wants to charge higher fares for the most popular flight times and they make sure they succeed at it with their standby policy.

  5. says

    This is great, but the title suggested you would explain WHY Alaska offers this benefit. Can you expand on that? I’d be interested to learn why Alaska feels the need to be so generous.

  6. Carl says

    When do you plan on booking the Mileage Plan 140k CX JNB award with HKG stopover? You won’t be disappointed. South Africa is spectacular.

  7. ffi says

    Lucky,
    There you go giving away all secret benefits again.
    Maybe that is why the Seattleites liked it, and it was so secret they even named it after another state ……
    Maybe we should change the blog to Million Mile Secrets exposed.
    Wait, is that taken?
    :-)

    Southwest could have been a bit better by allowing standby for free on cheaper tickets. After all how is demand high and fare high when the plane is actually flying with empty seats?

  8. ace says

    Gee Lucky, please don’t ever publish anything that benefits others, just in case it eliminates the grandfathered people’s free reign.

  9. thumbelina says

    I called to ask if coterminal cities flights were allowed (as SWA allows coterminal cities for “flat tire” rule. I was told they are not, but they would suggest it to management. AS does not fly into a lot of places with coterminal airports (SFO/OAK/SJC) is the only one that comes to mind(don’t know if they do( LAX/BUR/ONT) know they don’t do (DNA/IAD), so this would be a particular incentive for Californians to join MVP, which I believe is something they have been trying to increase. How about we mention it at the next MVP GOLD Lunch attended?

  10. lucky says

    @ Scottrick — Well I suspect they offer no change fees for elite members to match Southwest. As far as the other policies go, I suspect it’s simply because they’re a small airline and don’t realize how generous their change policies are.

    @ Carl — Working on accruing Alaska miles and hope to do it before the program is devalued.

    @ Andy Assareh — It is for non-elites. For elite members it’s 10PM the night before.

    @ ace — My apologies. ;)

  11. BFrankley says

    I HOPE it’s midnight, not 10, or I stayed up late for nothing last time I made a change.
    Great meeting you last night, Ben. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and my wife. She was a little star struck meeting the guy responsible for scoring us SQ Suites! :)

  12. lucky says

    @ BFrankley — Pleasure meeting you as well! Better keep up the funny comments cause they make my day(s)!

  13. says

    “This almost makes it advantageous to book the off peak flight time where fares are cheapest and upgrades are easiest, since you can go back and confirm yourself on just about any flight you’d like in first class the night before.”

    This is my guess why Air Canada charges even their highest tier customers a $75 same day change fee :(

  14. Eponymous coward says

    AS used to allow coterminal changes on SDC. They also usd to allow 24 hour change (meaning you could actually change the day you flew, change a Saturday AM flight to a Friday night flight).

    Took those away, though. :(

  15. Eponymous coward says

    Actually, I misremembered the part about SDC on coterminals. It was standby on coterminals (no irrops needed) that got yanked, along with SDC at 24 hours (as opposed to day of with a limited exception for redeyes).

  16. Alex says

    AA elites actually do get upgrades on AS. Its low status on the list, but still on the list. I was waitlisted recently, but the flight was F1 a week out so wasn’t expecting to either.

  17. lucky says

    @ Alex — Interesting. Definitely not the policy as only Delta elites have reciprocal upgrade benefits, so curious how that happened.

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