Maybe you want the free upgrades. Or you’re in it for the bonus frequent flyer miles. Or maybe you just covet those little ramekins of warm nuts.
Whether you fly often already with Alaska Airlines or are considering switching loyalty from another airline, MVP Elite status can be hugely rewarding. It can also feel overwhelming. In this guide, we break down how to earn MVP status with Alaska, the benefits and value you’ll get from the three elite levels and details on upgrading to first class.
» Learn more: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Your complete guide
In This Article
Changes for 2021
Most airlines made changes to their elite status programs during the pandemic, and Alaska is no exception. Because even frequent flyers are unlikely to travel as much, Alaska is offering the following incentives for 2021:
Extending existing status from 2020 through 2021, regardless of how much you flew in 2020.
Giving out a 50% bonus on elite qualifying miles earned between June 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
Removing the separate earning requirements for partner airlines. Now all MVP levels require the same number of miles flown, regardless of whether these miles were flown with Alaska or a partner.
How MVP status works
Alaska Mileage Plan members earn MVP status either by flying on Alaska and its partners or via status matching (explained below).
You keep your status for the remainder of the year in which you earn it, as well as the following calendar year. For example, if you reach MVP Gold status in April 2020, you’ll enjoy the benefits of that status through December 2021.
You can even keep your status indefinitely by becoming a Million Miler. The requirement (you guessed it) is flying 1 million miles on Alaska-operated flights. That will earn you lifetime MVP Gold status. If your goal is lifetime MVP Gold 75K status, 2 million miles will get you there.
The three levels explained
Alaska offers three levels of elite status:
MVP Gold 75K
Each level provides bonus frequent flyer miles, the opportunity for upgrades to premium and first class, free checked bags and other benefits. The higher levels receive even better benefits. Here’s the full breakdown:
MVP Gold 75K
125%, plus 50,000 bonus miles when you attain status
Discounted cost of annual Alaska Airlines lounge membership (normally $450)
Oneworld reciprocal status
Other flight perks
• Priority check-in and boarding
• Dedicated phone lines for reservations and customer service.
MVP benefits plus:
• Express security line at select airports.
• Free same-day standby when a confirmed flight change isn't available.
• No fee for booking flights by phone (usually $15).
MVP Gold benefits, plus:
• Four complimentary Alaska Lounge day passes.
• Ability to nominate someone for MVP status (so they get the benefits without having to earn the status).
• Free premium beverage in main cabin (beer, wine or cocktail, usually $6 or $7). • Four first class guest upgrades per year. For you and a companion: • Unlimited First-class upgrades when available • Unlimited free upgrades to seats with more legroom (usually $15) when available
Free checked bags
2 per flight for you and your companions on the same reservation.
*Benefits listed apply to flights on Alaska Airlines flights. You can get similar benefits on partner airlines, but the details vary. Check Alaska Airlines' website for more information.
Mileage bonus: Alaska elite members earn extra frequent flyer miles for flying. For example, if you have MVP Gold status and receive a 100% mileage bonus, you’ll earn a total of 2,000 miles for a 1,000-mile-long flight. Note that this bonus only applies to miles flown, not those earned through credit cards or other means. Additionally, the bonus does not apply to elite-qualifying miles (see below).
How much is MVP status worth?
That’s the question, isn’t it? After all, if you’re going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a given airline, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth in the value of elite status benefits. We performed a comprehensive analysis of airline elite status, and found that the Alaska MVP program is highly valuable.
MVP Gold 75k
Cost to earn
Elite reward rate
The “value” (first row) is just what it sounds like: How much the perks, upgrades and other benefits are worth. This assumes that you fly as much with Alaska as is required to earn each status level. That is, if you earn MVP Gold 75k status but then only fly sparingly in the following year, you obviously won’t see the full $9,031 in benefits.
The next two columns are equally important, because the real “value” of a given elite level is always relative to how much it costs to earn. We boil this down as the “elite reward rate,” which is simply the value of each MVP level divided by the cost to earn it. As you can see, Alaska MVP Gold 75k status actually earns as much in benefits as it costs to earn, making it one of the best elite reward rates of any airline elite status program.
Earning MVP Status
Alaska elite status is earned in one of three ways:
Earning enough elite-qualifying miles within a calendar year.
Earning enough elite-qualifying segments within a calendar year.
Matching status from another airline (see “status matching” below).
Elite-qualifying miles are miles earned by flying on Alaska and its qualifying partners. They do not include:
Bonuses earned from loyalty status.
Miles earned on co-branded credit cards.
Award tickets (which do not earn any miles).
Elite-qualifying segments are the individual portions of a given itinerary. So a roundtrip flight with a stop in each direction would earn four qualifying segments.
Here’s how many miles or segments you need to earn each elite status level:
MVP Gold 75k
Earn this many elite-qualifying miles
OR earn this many elite-qualifying segments
» Learn more: Review: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
One of the most compelling — and confusing — benefits of Alaska MVP elite status is the opportunity to receive upgrades from the main cabin to first class.
There are three ways to leverage your elite status to get yourself in front of the curtain:
Instantly upgrade to first class by purchasing an appropriate “First Upgrade” ticket
Join the waiting list for complimentary upgrades
Use an MVP Guest Gold guest upgrade
Buy an appropriate 'First Upgrade' ticket
Each flight has a certain number of “First Upgrade” fares available. As an Alaska elite, you can buy these fares directly at a lower price than the full first-class fare. You have to use the Alaska search tool.
To see these fares, click the “all search options” below the flight search tool on the Alaska homepage.
Then select the “Upgrade Type” dropdown and select your own elite status level.
You’ll be presented with a search result that looks like this:
Note the all-important “F” box to the right of the departure time. A blue box indicates that the fare is available for immediate upgrade. A white box indicates that it isn’t. In general, you’ll only want to select the available blue fares. As you can see above, the MVP Gold upgrade fare is only $444 compared to $649 for the normal first-class ticket.
These upgrades do not apply to companions on the same itinerary who do not have the same MVP status.
Note: Alaska’s basic economy “saver fares” are not eligible for upgrades.
Join the waitlist for complimentary upgrades
If you don’t want to shell out extra for an instant upgrade, you can always roll the dice and hope for a complimentary one. If you have elite status with Alaska, you’ll automatically qualifying for a complimentary upgrade, unless you opt out.
Your chances of scoring a free upgrade depends on a number of factors:
The availability of first-class seats.
Your elite status level.
The number of Alaska elites on the same flight.
The “fare class” of your ticket (generally, how expensive it was).
When your ticket was purchased.
Complimentary upgrades begin clearing 120 hours prior to departure for MVP Gold 75K members, though the upgrade waitlist is only viewable 24 hours prior to departure.
Overwhelmed? Don’t worry — Alaska will handle everything after you opt in for the upgrade.
Use an MVP Guest Gold guest upgrade
MVP Gold and Gold 75K members receive four Gold guest upgrades per year. The term “guest” here is a little misleading since they can be used to upgrade your own travel, as well as anyone else flying on Alaska.
The upgrades can be applied to any Alaska flight with available first-class availability, except tickets in the G, T, R, or X classes of service. Basically, you should use the “MVP Gold Guest” selection in the search dropdown when looking for a qualifying ticket.
Again, look for flights with the blue “F” and avoid those with a white “F.”
Premium class upgrades
Alaska’s premium class at the front of the main cabin offers extra legroom and perks such as a free alcoholic drinks. Cash upgrades start at $15 per leg and vary based on the length of the flight. Alaska elite flyers are eligible for free upgrades. The process for premium-class upgrades are similar to first class, with a few differences.
Some fares are eligible for instant upgrades, depending on your MVP level. When searching on the Alaska tool, enter your elite level in the “upgrade type” field. The price of a premium-class fare will appear in a separate column.
Note: You can ignore the “F” boxes when researching premium-class upgrades.
Similar to first-class upgrades, main cabin fares are eligible for complimentary upgrades based on availability and your elite level. Keep in mind that Saver fares are not eligible for premium-class upgrades.
» Learn more: You can now use AmEx points to bid on flight upgrades
Partner earning and benefits
Alaska’s 18 airline partners offer a good way to earn elite-qualifying miles, especially when flying internationally. And starting March 31, 2020, Alaska joins the Oneworld Alliance and will receive reciprocal benefits on airlines within that alliance.
Earning on partners
Before you book an around-the-world flight hoping to score MVP Gold 75K status, keep in mind:
The number of elite-qualifying miles needed to reach each level is higher when partner flights are included.
Flying economy class on most partners may result in earning just 25% of the actual miles flown.
The number of miles earned varies by partner and fare class. Check each partner page to calculate how many elite-qualifying you’ll receive from a given flight.
Some sweet spots:
All economy flights on Qantas earn 100% of flown miles. Given the distance of all Qantas flights from North America, this can be a great option for earning status.
First-class and business-class tickets on British Airways offer “class of service” bonuses up to 200% of flown miles. A 10,000-mile flight in first class (F) will earn 30,000 elite-qualifying miles (10,000 miles + 20,000 class of service miles), enough for instant MVP status.
Partner and Oneworld benefits
After Alaska officially joins the Oneworld alliance on March 31, 2021, Alaska elites will automatically receive reciprocal Oneworld status, which offers benefits when flying on those airlines.
Alaska MVP elites receive Oneworld Ruby status. This offers some seat selection benefits when flying with Oneworld airlines.
Alaska MVP Gold elites receive Oneworld Sapphire status. This offers seat selection benefits, business class lounge access, priority boarding and baggage allowance when flying with Oneworld airlines.
Alaska MVP Gold 75k elites receive Oneworld Emerald status. This offers seat selection benefits, first and business class lounge access, priority boarding, expedited security, and baggage allowance when flying with Oneworld airlines.
In addition to these Oneworld benefits, some of Alaska’s partners separately extend lounge access to MVP Gold and Gold 75K members when flying through their hubs. These include:
British Airways (London-Heathrow).
Hainan airlines (multiple airports in mainland China).
Qantas (multiple airports in Australia).
Already have status with another domestic airline and are interested in switching to (or testing out) the MVP program? Alaska offers one of the most generous and straightforward status matching programs out there.
To see which MVP level you qualify for based on your current airline elite status, check this page.
To receive the status match, you’ll need to prove your current elite status through Alaska’s status match tool. All you’ll need is a screenshot of your current status membership page.
You’ll only receive the corresponding status until the end of the calendar year, it will not extend into the following year. Therefore it’s generally best to do your status match as early in the year as possible.
You can only status match once.
The bottom line
Alaska’s MVP elite status program is a great way to improve your flying experience. The details of the program can feel overwhelming at first, but compared to many other domestic programs, it’s actually fairly straightforward. The only thing you need to do to earn MVP status is fly a bunch on Alaska and its partners.
Want to learn more about earning and redeeming miles on Alaska? Check out our guide to the Alaska rewards program.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
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Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card