Alaska Airlines MVP Gold Status Match Reflections

I moved to Seattle a bit over a year ago, and that’s also when I status matched to MVP Gold status in the Alaska Mileage Plan program.

Now that I’ve been an MVP Gold for a bit over a year I figured I’d share my experiences. And it’s probably a good time to reflect, since later this month I’ll hit MVP Gold 75K status, which is their top tier.

MVP Gold status benefits

MVP Gold status comes with the obvious benefits like first class check-in, priority boarding, exit row seating, etc. But beyond that, the benefits that I value most include:

  • Free ticket changes/cancellations. This is huge, and almost in and of itself justifies going for MVP Gold status. Whether a revenue or award ticket, you can change and cancel tickets for free. There are no change fees, and if you need to cancel a revenue ticket the money goes back into your “travel bank” with no fee whatsoever. I tend to plan last minute, but with Alaska I feel comfortable tentatively locking in travel even when I’m not sure I can take the flight.
  • Upgrades 72 hours before departure. I’ve yet to miss an upgrade on a west coast flight, though upgrades on longer flights (including midcons, transcons, and flights to Hawaii) are nearly impossible out of Seattle. Upgrades out of Portland are a bit easier, and upgrades out of Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose (all of which have Hawaii service) are much easier.
  • Companion upgrades 72 hours before departure. While this is technically the same point as above, I do think this is enough of a selling point that it deserves to be under a different header. Alaska offers complimentary companion upgrades, and the companions clear at the same time as the member. So every time I’ve flown with a companion they’ve cleared as well. That’s a much more generous policy than American (where you have to use stickers to confirm companion upgrades) or Delta (where companions only clear day of departure), for example.
  • Free same day flight changes. Alaska has a fairly generous same day flight change policy. You can change to any flight with at least one coach seat left for sale, even if it’s in a different fare class than what you originally booked. Given the number of frequencies they have in many markets, this is extremely useful, especially in conjunction with no fees for changes/cancellations.
  • 100% redeemable miles bonus. For a status level that requires only 40,000 miles per year (50,000 miles if partners are involved), I’d say the 100% mileage bonus is pretty generous. While American and Delta also offer their mid-tier members a 100% mileage bonus, United and US Airways only offer a 50% bonus.
  • Four Gold upgrade certificates. So you don’t get these if you status matched (but rather only if you earned MVP Gold “the hard way”), but for earning top tier status you get four confirmable upgrade certificates that can be used to confirm an upgrade for you or a friend in advance. They did add fare restrictions to these upgrades in 2011, but the eligible fare classes are still reasonable.

Status match policy

I figure this post is especially timely since yesterday was November 1. That’s Alaska’s starting date for status matches lasting the entire following year. That means if you status match to Alaska now, your status will be valid through December 2014 (while if you matched two days ago it would have only been valid through the end of December 2013).

It’s worth noting that Alaska will match up to MVP Gold status in their Mileage Plan program. If you have entry level status with another airline they’ll typically match to MVP status, while if you have mid or top tier status with a competing airline they’ll usually match up to MVP Gold. To request a status match simply send an email to elite.flyer@alaskaair.com.

The value of Alaska Mileage Plan miles has skyrocketed

What I’m most excited about with Alaska is how much the value of Mileage Plan miles has increased this year. Earlier this year it became possible to redeem Alaska miles for travel on Emirates, which is really exciting. As far as I’m concerned award redemptions really don’t get more exciting than first class on an Emirates A380 — you can’t beat showering on a plane!

Perhaps even more exciting than that is that earlier this year Alaska introduced one-way award tickets on most of their partner airlines. Not only that, but they allow stopovers on one-way award tickets, which makes them one of few airlines with such a generous policy. For example, they charge just 70,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket on Cathay Pacific from the US to South Africa via Hong Kong, so for that many miles you could fly San Francisco to Hong Kong, have a stopover, and then several days later continue from Hong Kong to Johannesburg.

Alaska-Airlines
View departing Seattle on Alaska Airlines

Partnerships

One of the features of Alaska’s MVP program that makes elite status with Alaska so compelling is the number of partners they have despite not being part of a major alliance. For example, Alaska partners with both Delta and American, so it could make sense to credit flights from both those carriers to Alaska’s Mileage Plan. They do offer some reciprocal elite benefits as well, though Alaska elites are not eligible for complimentary upgrades with American, and have the lowest upgrade priority with Delta.

  • In addition to Delta and American, you also earn elite qualifying miles on Aeromexico, Air France, Emirates, KLM, and LAN.
  • I have no idea how they determined which partner miles would not be elite-qualifying, but you can also earn redeemable miles on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Korean Air, Qantas, and a few intra-Alaska airlines.

Overall

On balance, I’ve been quite happy having Alaska as my “standby” airline this year. While there’s nothing glamorous about the product, their route network on the west coast is awfully convenient, and there are times where even I prefer a direct flight. 😉

Having elite status with Alaska makes those trips even easier,  so I’m certainly happy to have made the effort to go for MVP Gold 75K. While the marginal benefits above MVP Gold might not be huge, the 50,000 bonus redeemable miles you earn for achieving the status are valuable to me for Cathay Pacific and Emirates redemptions.

Comments

  1. I find Alaska to be a wonderful airline, glad it has worked out for you. Still miss the credit card companion deal in F though.

  2. I left United last year for AS and I’ve never been happier. Great airline! I status matched 2 years ago, then lost my status due to having a kid and am once again regaining it this year. I honestly have to say AS treated me better with no status than UA does as a Premier Platinum. I still mileage run over at UA but I refuse to fly the unfriendly skies with my family anymore. Given yesterday’s massive devaluation of Mileage Plus, I can definitely see myself doing much more business with AS, and partners AA and DL. I really enjoyed your write up on what I think is one of the most overlooked/undervalued programs out there right now.

  3. It’s nice to hear that Alaska does status matches, not challenges. As a SEA flier as well, I have status on DL and AA, so all AS flights get credited to one of them. I didn’t realize AS elites got these benefits! May have to pull the trigger on the match.

  4. So you are saying that the value of AS miles went up due to UA devaluation. But while that maybe true overall, it’s not true for traveling to EU. The biggest hit of UA mile devaluation is from LH F. There’s no substitute to LH F to EU with AS miles. BA has enormous fuel surcharges, DL doesn’t have F, even J is hard to come by. What’s your advice for best AS mile redemption to EU?

  5. I was offered a match to 75k as DL diamond this week. It was on the phone. I figured it was part of the increased competition between the two. Didn’t jump at the time but might still. Thanks for the nice summary.

  6. Did you fly 75K solely on AS or you went for 90K with the partner? Could you share with us on how you find mileage runs on AS? Cause AS does not have as many deals as other major airlines do.

  7. MVP Gold is great especially the 4 upgrade frets which allow me to easily upgrade to Hawaii. Also happy that AS is one of the few airlines to have good flights from secondary airports like OAK and SJC.

    MVP is almost worthless unless you are a solo traveler.

    Emerates business class does not guarantee lie flat seats and the food is vastly inferior unless you like choice of spicy Indian entrees. So not as nice as many other partners.

  8. The best reason of all to fly AS is the people are great. With UA it was like being in Soviet Russia. Really I’m not kidding. The stories I could tell.

    No they’re not perfect but the employees from top to bottom all have brains and are empowered to use them. Time and time again when a problem comes up, and problems always come up, their approach has always been to recognize the need to get it taken care of.

    Bug in the website? No problem we’ll do it on the phone no charge and report the problem (and sure enough it gets fixed). Never have I gotten the deer in the headlights stare that UA seems unable to get beyond.

    I have no connection to AS but would encourage anyone who is tired putting up with the stupidity that comes when a company is poorly managed to try AS even with MVP status. You’ll be amazed. Good people do that.

  9. @lucky
    One comment I recalled from FlyerTalk thread is that AS only offers status match ONCE, have you heard about that?

    so one better chooses carefuly WHEN to status match, perhaps only if there are upcoming plans to fly AS a lot more

  10. @ Jerry — Right, that’s pretty much the policy for any airline. Status matches are once in a lifetime — I guess the question is whether it’s the lifetime of the member, the airline, or the frequent flyer account.

  11. My assessment of MVPG is pretty similar to Lucky, except I haven’t found it worthwhile to MR to hit 75K – the marginal benefits and extra 50K points didn’t seem worthwhile.

    For me, the flexible change policy is by far the most valuable benefit, and therefore AS is my go-to carrier on any trip that is tentative. If I may have to go somewhere, I book it on AS. And sometimes inertia takes over and I don’t ever check anyone else’s schedule or fares and just fly AS (even though I am otherwise a *A flyer.)

    The SDC change policy is OK but it is far weaker than UA’s. First, there are plenty of routes where AS has just 1 or 2 flights/day, so the SDC just doesn’t work. Whereas on virtually any route UA operates they have dozens of choices via their many hubs. Plus UA lets you travel +/- 23:59 so you can go the night before or the next day. So AS SDC is OK on the west coast only.

    The biggest drawbacks to AS are that there is no Economy Plus, and the only seats where I can use my computer are exit rows and row 6 – you cannot count on those if you are doing SDC. And there is no IFE or at-seat power. (They rent Digeplayers and power is coming.)

    The other drawback is that AS’s F product is awfully weak – ridiculously tight seat pitch and virtually no recline at all and weak meals and no power… Of course the F product is also unattainable as an upgrade on transcon routes. So it usually ends up being a better choice to fly UA transcon.

    Which opens up the dilemma of, how do I get 40,000 BIS miles on AS (or 50K with partners.) AS doesn’t really have milerun opportunities out of SEA. I have no status on AA. I think if I use DL status, I can’t credit to AS (or can I switch crediting at the last minute?) But it also means that the first 10K of EQM are wasted unless I already have other DL activity credited to AS.

    Lastly, I haven’t usually had much luck finding partner award availability. If I try to fly on EK, or CX, how easy is it to find space?

    But as a SEA resident, you kind of have to fly AS these days. At least they are generally running a decent operation, and their employees are generally friendly. On the whole I don’t find employee friendliness materially different than other airlines – there is much greater variability from crew to crew or gate agent to gate agent than there is between airlines.

  12. When you get money refunded to your travel bank can you use them to buy tickets for other people or only for yourself?

  13. @lucky
    If you fly on American or Delta with you Alaska FF#, do you still consistently get TSA Pre-Check?

  14. AS has a small business product called Easybiz. If you but all your tickets through this product, then any Gold members who cancel trips, can put their credit back into the Easybiz wallet without paying any cancellation or change fees, and the wallet can be used to buy tickets for anyone. However, if you buy a ticket for a non-Gold member, that cannot be cancelled for free.

    I believe that AS has tightened up who can apply for Easybiz, but if you have a business the product is very much worthwhile because it makes it easy to track tickets for multiple travelers. You can also run reports looking for unused tickets, etc. And it earns miles at the rate of one mile per dollar spent – which is not a lot but eventually adds up to a little…

  15. Sounds interesting, but I have one very big question. Assuming that you ticket through AS with your AS number, which benefits in your list apply when flying American and Delta metal? Does it make a difference whether it is an AS codeshare or a pure AA or DL flight?

  16. @ VG — You get priority check-in, security, boarding, and seating on American and Delta regardless of whether it’s a codeshare or not. With Delta you even get upgrades, though they rarely clear given how low your priority is compared to Delta’s own elites.

  17. @ al613 – I have used money in “My Wallet” to purchase flights for others.

    I’ve had luck with transcon upgrades, especially with the red eyes. Delta didn’t seem to care too much about my MVP Gold status – no upgrade even to Economy Plus when first class was fairly full and E+ was barely filled at all.

    Best part of MVP, let alone Gold, is access to better seats (emergency exits, row 6, …) on both Alaska and Horizon flights (in case you don’t get the upgrade).

    Staff and crew do seem friendlier and more helpful than most airlines. Planes are usually quite clean and with exception of their handful of 737-400, AS runs a pretty young fleet.

  18. @lucky No Status match for QANTAS Platinum. Maybe I have misinterpreted your paragraph

    “It’s worth noting that Alaska will match up to MVP Gold status in their Mileage Plan program. If you have entry level status with another airline they’ll typically match to MVP status, while if you have mid or top tier status with a competing airline they’ll usually match up to MVP Gold”

    Love your stories 🙂

  19. @ Keith Smith — They’ll usually only match status with a competing airline, so my guess is they don’t consider Qantas to be a competing airline since they don’t have any overlapping routes.

  20. 🙁 Thanks for quick reply..missed buying bonus miles with Alaska in the last bonus round. Will buy soon Never ‘bought’ miles before & a little cautious. Want to use on CX for my Aus-HKG Trips 🙂

  21. Great post! I just matched Delta Gold to MVPG myself (and I make the weekly trudge between SEA and SFO). I will probably be hitting Delta Platinum in a few weeks. Is there any reason to use my Delta Plat status on AS at all, or just put in my MVPG number now that I have the benefits?

  22. @ Sky — You’ll have higher upgrade priority with your MVP Gold number than your Delta Platinum number, so I’d definitely put your Alaska number on the reservation.

  23. I made the trek between SEA and SAN for two years, and have highly enjoyed MVPG status. I have been upgraded pretty much every flight, unless I switch my flight last minute (you lose your upgrade place in line when you do that).

    I flew Delta from SEA to SLC because there were some competitive deals recently, and thought I might be upgraded using my MVPG status with Delta, but no-go. The only benefit was priority boarding, and two free checked bags, which I guess helps.

    Love my MVPG, and hoping to gain it again this year!

  24. As a Delta Platinum, I’m thinking about getting a status match with Alaska. I wonder if they will now take advantage of the situation and lure more Delta elites by matching their top status as well.

    My strategy is to selectively credit my Delta flight to Alaska. Basically I would wait until the time of boarding and if I do not get upgraded by then, I would call to make the change to have miles credit to Alaska.

  25. @Lucky – following up on E’s earlier comment on AA/SWUs- for a Cathay flight in which I upgrade using Asia Miles- is it still possible to credit flight to AS?

  26. I was just matched to MVP Gold 75K. Will I receive the 50,000 bonus miles even though it was a match? No bonus is showing up in my account yet, but WOW would that be something!

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