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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.