American and Alaska Reveal Reciprocal Elite Upgrade Details

Some details have been released about the benefits elite flyers can expect when traveling via the new partnership.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Edited by Kevin Berry

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On March 31, Alaska Airlines joined the Oneworld Alliance — the alliance that American Airlines helped found in 1999. Now that Alaska is part of Oneworld, American and Alaska elite members are guaranteed elite benefits when flying on any Oneworld airline.

However, Alaska and American expanded elite benefits beyond the minimum required by the alliance. In November 2020, the two airlines teased that reciprocal upgrades would be added in mid-2021. Now, the two airlines surprised travelers by adding these perks at the end of March.

Here's what you need to know about the reciprocal elite upgrade and seat benefits for Alaska and American elites.

Mileage Plan elite upgrades on American Airlines

Starting April 5, Alaska Mileage Plan elites will get upgrade benefits and extra-legroom seating when flying on American Airlines. However, the details depend on the route and your Mileage Plan elite status.

Domestic and short-haul international first-class upgrades

Alaska MVP Gold 75K elites will get access to complimentary space-available upgrades when flying on American-operated flights. The MVP Gold 75K elite member can also upgrade one companion booked on the same reservation.

Upgrades are valid from economy or premium economy to the next class of service. But, these complimentary upgrades are limited to flights on the following routes:

  • Within the U.S. (including Hawaii).

  • Between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America.

These features make these upgrades similar to the unlimited 500-mile upgrades that AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elite members get. However, there's one key difference: Mileage Plan elites will have to wait until check-in to see if there's upgrade space.

For now, that means MVP Gold 75K elites are effectively prioritized behind all AAdvantage elites. Even AAdvantage Gold elites are eligible for upgrades 24 hours prior to departure. Also, it seems that American Airlines is simply using the check-in upgrade offer and setting the price to $0 for Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K elites:

Later in 2021, American will add MVP Gold 75K elite members to American's upgrade waitlist. Once they do, Alaska MVP Gold 75K elites can clear upgrades as far out as 72 hours until departure. MVP Gold 75K elites will be prioritized after AAdvantage Platinum Pro elites on the upgrade list. That means MVP Gold 75K elites will be prioritized ahead of AAdvantage Platinum and Gold elites.

International upgrades on American Airlines

Top-tier Alaska MVP Gold 75K elites will also get access to international upgrades on American. However, this isn't being rolled out quite yet.

Mileage Plan members who qualify for MVP Gold 75K status for 2022 will "receive an upgrade certificate valid for travel on eligible American Airlines international routes." More details will be shared this fall. These upgrades will likely emulate American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades, which require unique upgrade space availability to clear an upgrade.

Main cabin extra benefits

In addition to being eligible for first-class upgrades, Mileage Plan elites will get free access to American Airlines' extra-legroom main cabin extra seats. Alaska's MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elite members can select these seats at booking. But, Alaska MVP elite members will have to wait until 24 hours before departure to choose main cabin extra seats.

Alaska elites will be able to select main cabin extra seats even if they are booked in American Airlines basic economy.

This resembles the benefits AAdvantage elites get. AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites can select main cabin extra seats at booking. But, AAdvantage Gold elites need to wait until check-in to select main cabin extra seats.

How AAdvantage elite upgrades work on Alaska Airlines

American Airlines AAdvantage elites will get first-class and premium class upgrades when flying on Alaska. Here's how those upgrades will work.

First-class upgrades on Alaska

Only AAdvantage Executive Platinum elite members are eligible for first-class upgrades when flying on Alaska Airlines. No action is required by the elite member; Alaska will automatically add you to the upgrade list upon ticketing.

AAdvantage Executive Platinum elites will be prioritized after MVP Gold 75K elites, meaning presumably that they will be ahead of Mileage Plan MVP Gold and MVP elites on the list. If there's space available, upgrades will clear as early as 120 hours before departure. If your upgrade doesn't clear by check-in, you'll need to ask an Alaska agent to add you to the upgrade standby list.

For now, only the elite member is eligible for an upgrade. But Alaska plans to extend this benefit to a companion traveling on the same flight and on the same reservation at a later time.

Unfortunately, AAdvantage elites won't be eligible for first-class upgrades when flying on Alaska Airlines Saver Fares (booked in X fare class).

Premium class upgrades on Alaska

While first-class upgrades are limited to AAdvantage Executive Platinum elites, Alaska premium class upgrades are potentially eligible to all AAdvantage elites at purchase. However, you'll need to purchase a certain fare type to be eligible.

Executive Platinum elites can get an instant upgrade to premium class seats at purchase when booking any fare but Saver Fares. For other AAdvantage elites, you'll need to book select fare types to get an upgrade to premium class at booking. All other fares (except Saver Fares which are ineligible for all upgrades) require space-available upgrades closer to booking:

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

AAdvantage Platinum Pro

AAdvantage Platinum

AAdvantage Gold

Fare classes for instant upgrades

All fares except Saver after ticket purchase.

All fares except Saver after ticket purchase.

Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S or N fares after ticket purchase; all other fares at 72 hours before departure.

Y, B or H fares after ticket purchase; all other fares at 24 hours before departure.

If your upgrade didn't clear before check-in, you'll need to ask an Alaska agent to add you to the airport upgrade standby list. Upgrades will be prioritized in the following order:

  • Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K.

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum.

  • Mileage Plan MVP Gold.

  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Platinum.

  • Mileage Plan MVP.

  • AAdvantage Gold.

Premium class upgrades are originally limited to just the AAdvantage elite member. However, Alaska plans to expand this benefit to include one companion for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum elites. Presumably, AAdvantage Gold elites won't get this benefit.

The bottom line

American and Alaska teased at the end of 2020 that the renewed partnership would include reciprocal elite upgrades. These upgrades weren't supposed to be implemented until mid-2021 but, the airlines surprised us by sharing the details this week.

Starting April 5, AAdvantage and Mileage Plan elites will get first-class upgrades and other seating perks when flying on the partner airline — in addition to other Oneworld elite benefits. However, the details of how these upgrades work will continue to evolve throughout the year, with international upgrades and companion upgrades to be added later in 2021.

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