Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America formally closed late last year, though the two airlines are taking their time when it comes to streamlining the experience across the two airlines.
When the merger first closed, the only real reciprocity between the two airlines for frequent flyers was that:
- Alaska flyers could earn miles for travel on Virgin America, and vice versa
- Alaska elite members received priority check-in and boarding on Virgin America, and vice versa
Then a few months back, Alaska elite members could receive two free checked bags on Virgin America, and vice versa. So benefits are being added, though at a slow pace.
Over the past few weeks, Alaska Mileage Plan has started rolling out more elite benefits when flying Virgin America. Per an Alaska Airlines blog post yesterday:
Alaska Mileage Plan MVP, MVP Gold and Gold 75K members now receive enhanced elite benefits on Virgin America flights, putting Alaska flyers on par with its Elevate elite-level flyers.
New benefits include complimentary access to preferred main cabin seating, complimentary Main Cabin Select upgrades and access to advance purchase First Class upgrades. Mileage Plan Gold and Gold 75K members also receive waived changed fees when traveling on Virgin America flights.
This will be welcome news for Alaska Airlines elites who also receive priority check-in, priority boarding and two free checked bags on Virgin America.
Virgin America does not offer complimentary upgrades to First Class as part of its elite benefits, however this is something for elites to look forward to as the two airlines continue to integrate their operations in 2018.
While these improved benefits are nice, they’re not especially straightforward, and a couple of them even require picking up the phone. This page of Alaska’s website outlines how to take advantage of various elite benefits on Virgin America. To summarize the new benefits:
Waived change fees for MVP Gold & MVP Gold 75K members
One of Alaska’s best elite benefits is that MVP Gold members and above don’t pay any change fees, whether booking a revenue or award ticket. MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members are now eligible for waived change fees on Virgin America flights booked at virginamerica.com. To change your flight and waive change fees, call Virgin America at 1-877-FLY-VIRGIN. If you make changes online, the fees won’t be waived.
Upgrades to Virgin America Main Cabin Select for MVP members
Virgin America doesn’t offer complimentary first class upgrades, though they do offer upgrades to Main Cabin Select. This is their bulkhead and exit row seats, which offer free food and drinks. Alaska MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K members now get space available upgrades to Main Cabin Select. Here’s how you can opt-in to these upgrades:
- If booking through Virgin America’s website, you can opt-in during the booking process when you’re entering your Mileage Plan details
- If booking through Alaska’s website, you can opt-in by calling Virgin America at 1-877-FLY-VIRGIN after confirming your booking; just give them your confirmation code and tell them you’d like to opt-in to Main Cabin Select upgrades
The downside to opting in is that your upgrade could clear into a middle seat in Main Cabin Select. If you don’t want that under any circumstances, maybe just try to get the upgrade at the airport, so you can avoid that. However, this also reduces the chances of you getting the upgrade.
MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members will get upgrades at most 24 hours out, while MVP members will get upgrades at most 12 hours out. Upgrades are sorted by elite tier and then time of booking. The upgrade process is automatic, and you can see whether or not you cleared on Virgin America’s website.
Elite member companions aren’t eligible for Main Cabin Select upgrades.
Paid upgrades to Virgin America first class for MVP members
While Virgin America doesn’t offer complimentary first class upgrades, you can purchase discounted upgrades close to departure, and elite members get first dibs:
- MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members can purchase Virgin America first class upgrades for themselves and a companion at most 24 hours before the flight by calling Virgin America or through Virgin America’s website
- MVP members can purchase first class upgrades for themselves and a companion at most 12 hours before the flight by calling Virgin America or through Virgin America’s website
As a point of comparison, non-elite members can only purchase first class upgrades at most six hours before departure.
While the experience between Alaska and Virgin America is still very different, the airlines are doing what they can to align the experience as much as possible. It will be a while before there’s true “metal neutrality,” but at least they’ve added some more reciprocity within the past few weeks. The important thing to know is that almost nothing is automated, so if you want something, you have to pick up the phone to do it, or know when something is possible online.
Eventually Virgin America’s superior first class will be eliminating in favor of a more standard domestic first class, at which point first class upgrades should be available on both airlines.