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If you fly Alaska Airlines frequently, you can make your journeys easier and much more comfortable by learning how to easily get an upgrade with the airline.
Instead of jostling through the crowd at the boarding gate, you could enjoy first-class priority boarding that will get you nestled in your cushy seat sipping a predeparture beverage while other passengers file onto the plane and hoist bags into the overhead bins. And getting an Alaska Airlines upgrade may be easier and less expensive than you imagined.
This guide will outline all the ways you can get upgraded to first or premium class on Alaska Airlines and will give you all the info you need to secure that great seat and all those amenities affordably — or even for free — on future flights. Note that upgrades may not be available on all flights, and terms and conditions apply.
How to get an Alaska Airlines upgrade
There are several ways you can snag an Alaska Airlines seat upgrade. You should start by joining Mileage Plan, the Alaska Airlines frequent-flyer program. Joining the program is quick, easy and free. Being a Mileage Plan member will allow you to rack up miles that you can cash in for upgrades and to work toward earning elite status, which can get you free upgrades. Not a member yet? Don't worry. You can also pull out your wallet to purchase upgrades. In order to get an upgrade, you've got to have an eligible ticket and there must be space available in your desired class on your flight.
Here are the four main ways you can get an Alaska Airlines upgrade:
- Upgrade with miles on Alaska Airlines. You can use your Mileage Plan miles to upgrade to first class. There are several ways you can upgrade using your miles, and we'll cover those in detail below. However, you can't use miles to upgrade to premium class.
- Pay cash for an Alaska Airlines upgrade. You can pay an Alaska Airlines seat upgrade fee of as little as $29 one way. The price to upgrade is based on the total mileage of the trip and can be as high as $199 one way for longer flights. You may be able to get a paid upgrade through online check-in within 24 hours of departure. Or you can request an upgrade on the day of departure at the airport kiosk, ticket counter or departure gate.
- Use your elite status to get a free upgrade on Alaska Airlines. Passengers who have earned Mileage Plan elite status are eligible for complimentary upgrades. In fact, some fares can be immediately upgraded to first class when you buy your ticket, as long as space is available. The types of fares that qualify for an immediate upgrade vary based on your elite status tier. If you purchase an eligible discounted fare that doesn't qualify for an immediate upgrade, you may still be able to get a free upgrade in the days leading up to your flight.
- Get a friend or family member to upgrade you. Really want an upgrade but lack the necessary miles, cash or status? You may be able to sweet talk a friend or family member into giving you an upgrade whether or not you're traveling together. Elite members in the top two tiers can upgrade traveling companions on the same reservation to the same class of service. And Mileage Plan members who have reached the top two tiers of elite status receive free guest upgrade codes. These electronic codes can be used to upgrade friends or family members who are not traveling with the elite member.
What types of upgrades are available on Alaska Airlines?
The main upgrade available on Alaska Airlines, and the most desirable one, is a first-class upgrade. Alaska Airlines does not offer a business class, so the only other type of upgrade available is a premium-class upgrade.
Here's an overview of the two types of Alaska Airlines upgrades.
Alaska Airlines first-class upgrade
A first-class upgrade will make your flying experience more comfortable in many ways. On Alaska Airlines, you get to kick back in comfortable seats and enjoy local food and carefully selected wines. Here's an overview of Alaska Airlines' first-class perks:
- Two free checked bags
- Express security screening at select airports
- Expedited priority first-class boarding
- Roomy leather seats with a "generous" recline, a 40-inch pitch and power outlets
- Meals inspired by local West Coast ingredients, paired with hand-selected wines
- Choose your entree or a fruit-and-cheese plate in advance via the Alaska Airlines app on most Airbus and Boeing flights that are more than 3.5 hours long
- Service from a dedicated first-class flight attendant in cabin during the flight
Alaska Airlines is in the process of redesigning first-class seating to include footrests, tablet holders and cup rests on many flights. On flights with expanded first-class service, first-class passengers also get cozy quilted blankets and larger entertainment tablets.
It's important to note that getting an upgrade to first class will not allow you to unwind in the Alaska Lounge in the airport. Passengers with a purchased or awarded first-class ticket get access to the lounge on the day of their flight, but an upgrade ticket won't get you in the door. If you want to relax, recharge and snack in style at the airport with your fellow first-class passengers, you can get an Alaska Lounge day pass for $50 per person. Or, you can get a pass for half price if you buy it with your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card.
Alaska Airlines flights with expanded first-class service include: all flights to and from Hawaii and flights to and from: Baltimore; Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Fort Lauderdale; Orlando and Tampa.
So what does a first-class upgrade mean on Alaska Airlines? Don't expect the luxury you'd receive if you were flying first class on some international carriers known for their stellar first-class cabins with reclining beds and bathrobes. However, Alaska Airlines' first class stands out for its good food and friendly in-flight service. If you can get an upgrade without breaking the bank, it's definitely worth doing so.
Alaska Airlines premium class upgrade
A premium class upgrade provides additional space for comfort and a couple of extra benefits. Here's an overview of the Alaska Airlines premium class perks:
- Priority premium class boarding
- Seats with 4 inches of extra legroom, a cup holder and a larger seatback pocket
- A special premium snack and complimentary beer, cocktails and wine
The Alaska Airlines premium class is a newly added option and may not be available on all flights. While premium class isn't nearly as cozy as first, the perks can make your flying experience a little more pleasant.
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program is key for getting upgrades, especially if you can reach elite status. The Mileage Plan program has three elite status tiers:
- MVP: The lowest tier of Alaska Airlines elite status
- MVP Gold: The middle tier of Alaska Airlines elite status
- MVP Gold 75K: The highest tier of Alaska Airlines elite status
How to upgrade with miles on Alaska Airlines
There are two main ways you can use your miles to get a first-class seat for less:
1. Alaska Airlines upgrade to first class with miles
You can get an Alaska Airlines mileage upgrade at the time you book your ticket or after you have purchased your ticket. The first step is to make sure you have enough miles in your account and that you purchase a flight that is eligible for an upgrade. When searching for a flight on the Alaska Airlines website, select "mileage upgrade" as your upgrade preference option. The first-class Alaska Airlines upgrade cost in miles is 15,000 miles each way.
After you book your flight, you can request a mileage upgrade by calling Alaska Airlines reservations at 1-800-252-7522.
Or, you can request a mileage upgrade during online check-in within 24 hours of your departure or at the check-in kiosk when you arrive at the airport. Your chances of getting an upgrade will be based on availability. Keep in mind that elite members will get first priority, so you probably don't want to wait until the last minute.
2. Get a first-class seat with Alaska Airlines Money & Miles
While it's not technically an upgrade, you can get a deeply discounted first-class ticket at the time of booking when you combine your miles with cash. There are two Money & Miles options:
- 10,000 miles gives you a 50% discount up to $100 off the base fare for both one-way and round-trip flights.
- 20,000 miles gives you a 50% discount up to $200 off the base fare for both one-way and round-trip flights.
As you can see, cashing in some of your Alaska Airlines miles offers an easy way to get into first class affordably.
How to buy an upgrade on Alaska Airlines
Another option is to pay to upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines. However, this is a fairly unreliable method for getting an upgrade since you need to wait until close to your departure date to see if any upgraded seats are available.
If seats are available within 24 hours of takeoff, you may purchase an upgrade during your online check-in. You may also be able to complete the purchase at a kiosk or airport ticket counter on the day of departure.
If possible, you should upgrade before you pay to check bags. If you get the upgrade after you have paid the checked-bag fee, you won't be able to get a refund. You can purchase upgrades to premium class starting at $15, but if you want top-notch flight accommodations, then you'll want to move on up to first class.
Here is a look at the Alaska Airlines upgrade cost:
|2,101 or more||$199|
How to get an elite upgrade on Alaska Airlines
One of the best and cheapest ways to get an upgrade on Alaska Airlines is to earn Mileage Plan elite status. Elite members get upgrade priority, and many fares qualify for a free immediate upgrade at the time of booking. Not only does that save you money, but you get the peace of mind of not having to compete for an upgrade right before your flight.
Complimentary upgrades are classified as "U" class flights, which shows that you received an upgrade and did not pay for a first-class seat. Holding a "U" ticket means you can't get into the airport lounge for free as you would if you bought a first-class ticket. Otherwise, you get all the perks of first class without having to pay.
If you're an elite member and want to view your upgrade options at booking, you'll need to select "Upgrade type" as a filter on the advance search on the Alaska Airlines website. If you use that search option, only fares that are available to upgrade will show in your search results. You'll also need to enter your Mileage Plan number when making the reservation.
If you choose a flight that does not qualify for the automatic upgrade, you will be placed on the Alaska Airlines upgrade list for a possible upgrade later based on the waitlist terms.
Alaska Airlines fares are designated by letter, and they vary based on your elite tier. Here is a breakdown of the qualifying fares for each elite tier:
|First class upgrade: must buy Y, S or Z fares|
|Premium class upgrade: must buy Y, S, B or Z fares|
|First class upgrade: must buy Y, S, B, M or Z fares|
|Premium class upgrade: must buy Y, Z, S, B, M, H, Q, L, V, N or K fares|
MVP Gold 75K
|First class upgrade: must buy Y, S, B, M, H or Z fares|
|Premium class upgrade: all fares except X* upgraded at booking|
*Saver fares (X) are not eligible for upgrades on Alaska Airlines.
How to upgrade friends and family on Alaska Airlines
Guest upgrades are a perk of the top two tiers of elite status, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K. There are two types of upgrades you can use for others: one for your travel companions and the other that can be used even for guests who aren't traveling with you.
- Alaska Airlines companion fare upgrades: Elite members can take one friend or family member with them to first class or premium class with a companion fare upgrade. The companion must be on the same reservation as the elite member to be eligible for an upgrade. That means both you and a friend can get more legroom and a more enjoyable flight.
- Alaska Airlines guest upgrades: MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elite members receive four one-way guest upgrades deposited into their online account. These electronic codes can be used to upgrade friends, family members or others who are not traveling with the elite member. For example, a small-business owner could provide the code to a client as a thank-you gift. You can also use a guest upgrade to get an immediate upgrade for yourself if you've bought a fare that ordinarily wouldn't qualify.
How to request an Alaska Airlines Gold Guest Upgrade
When you are upgrading at the time of purchase, follow these steps:
- Select the advanced search booking form.
- For "Upgrade type," choose MVP Gold guest upgrade.
- The icon next to the flight will show whether the first-class upgrade is available.
- Choose to apply the guest upgrade code during booking.
- Once you get to the confirmation page, you will be prompted to enter your guest upgrade code.
When the ticket has already been purchased, follow these steps:
- Go to AlaskaAir.com, log in and view your reservation.
- Select the link that says "MVP Gold guest upgrade."
- If the flight is eligible, enter your guest upgrade code.
If you are using a guest upgrade for yourself, you will have to call Alaska Airlines reservations to remove yourself from the waitlist before requesting a guest upgrade.
How to get Alaska Airlines elite status
Elite status is extremely important for getting Alaska Airlines upgrades for free, so here's a guide to how you can achieve that status. Not only will elite status give you free seat upgrades, but you'll also enjoy many other perks. You must first sign up for the Mileage Plan program at AlaskaAir.com. Once you join and book a flight, there are a few ways you can get points to earn elite status.
You can earn elite status by flying on Alaska Airlines and its elite-qualifying partners. Though Alaska Airlines is not a member of any alliances, it has partnership agreements with many other airlines. Here are the main ways to earn miles toward elite status:
1. Fly with Alaska Airlines or one of its partners.
The simplest way to rack up elite-qualifying miles is to fly with Alaska Airlines or one of its 16 elite-qualifying partner airlines. Alaska has 18 partners, but miles flown on PenAir and Ravn do not count toward elite status.
Once you reach elite status, you will begin earning bonus miles that can help you rack up miles more quickly so you can get free flights and upgrades. If you reach 1 million miles, you are then classified as a Million Miler and are granted MVP Gold status, the middle tier of elite status, for life.
While you can earn miles with Alaska Airlines' partners and purchase flights with miles, you cannot use your Mileage Plan miles for upgrades on partner airline flights.
Here's a chart that shows how many miles or segments you need to reach each tier of elite status:
Qualifying flights/earning benefits
MVP Gold 75K
|Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines||20,000||40,000||75,000|
|Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners||25,000||50,000||90,000|
|Segments flown on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partner||30||60||90|
|Elite bonus miles||50% bonus||100% bonus||125% bonus + 50,000 bonus miles upon qualification|
2. Ask for a status match offer.
Alaska Airlines will match your current elite status from some other airline frequent-flyer programs. This is a one-time-only offer, and you have to maintain the level annually by flying the necessary number of miles with Alaska Airlines or one of its partner airlines. You will need to provide a screenshot of your current online elite account showing your name, current status and your year-to-date miles flown.
Match to MVP status from:
- Aeromexico Gold
- Air Canada Altitude 25K and 35K
- American Airlines AAdvantage Gold
- Delta Silver Medallion
- Frontier Elite
- Hawaiian Pualani Gold
- JetBlue TrueBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List
- United Premier Silver and Premier Associate
Match to MVP Gold status from:
- Aeromexico Platinum
- Air Canada Altitude 50K
- American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum
- Delta Gold Medallion
- Hawaiian Pualani Platinum
- JetBlue TrueBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List Preferred
- United Premier Gold
Match to MVP Gold 75K status from:
- Aeromexico Titanio
- Air Canada Altitude 75K and 100K
- American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum
- American Airlines ConciergeKey
- American Airlines Platinum Pro
- Delta Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion
- Southwest A-List Preferred & Companion Pass
- United Platinum, 1K, and Global Services
The nice thing about getting a status match is that you get all the perks available to an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan elite, including complimentary upgrades.
Want to know more about elite upgrades? Here is a chart showing a side-by-side comparison of all of the elite upgrade perks at each tier:
MVP Gold 75K
|Automatic first-class upgrades||Y, S or Z fares||Y, S, B, M or Z fares||Y, S, B, M, H or Z fares|
|Automatic premium-class upgrades||Y, S, B or Z fares||Y, S, B, M H, Q, L, V, N, K or Z fares||All fares except saver fares|
|Upgrades on Alaska nonqualifying fares||48 hours before departure||72 hours before departure||120 hours before departure|
|Companion upgrades to first class||No||Yes||Yes|
|Companion upgrades to premium class||No||Yes||Yes|
|Four one-way guest upgrades to first class||No||Yes||Yes|
|Complimentary beverage in main cabin||No||Yes||Yes|
|Complimentary inflight entertainment player||No||No||Yes|
What if an Alaska Airlines upgrade is not available right away?
If an upgrade is not available immediately when you make an upgrade request, you'll be placed on the Alaska Airlines upgrade list. The airline uses one waitlist for both first-class and premium upgrades, so you won't get placed on a separate waitlist for each class.
The waitlist is also used for passengers who have purchased discounted fares or used nonrefundable awards and have requested an upgrade.
From the waitlist, all seats are upgraded first by fare class and then by the time of booking. Elite members are placed in a request queue. They will not be eligible for the upgrade until an "upgrade window" opens. An upgrade window is a specified amount of time before each flight departs. Here are the assigned upgrade window times for the waitlist according to upgrade type and elite status.
Elite waitlist window times
|MVP: 48 hours prior to departure|
|MVP Gold: 72 hours prior to departure|
|MVP Gold 75K: 120 hours prior to departure|
Premium class upgrade
|MVP: 48 hours prior to departure|
|MVP Gold: 72 hours prior to departure|
|MVP Gold 75K: Immediate upgrade|
For anyone placed on the waitlist, Alaska Airlines will continue to look for an upgrade until one hour before departure. Can't wait to find out if you've snagged your upgrade? You can check the waitlist on the Alaska Airlines mobile app, at AlaskaAir.com and on the gate information display.
Do I keep my seat preference when I get an Alaska Airlines upgrade?
If you've chosen an aisle or window seat and you get upgraded, you'll get the same type of seat in the upgraded class. For example, if you select a window seat in the main cabin and you are upgraded to first class, then you will also have a window seat in first class.
However, this effort to keep passengers happy can backfire and prevent you from getting your upgrade. If your seat choice is not available in the upper-class cabin, you will not be upgraded unless you check in at an airport kiosk. So you may want to head straight to a kiosk if you'd be happy to swap your window seat for an aisle as long as you get to sip sparkling wine in first class.
An Alaska Airlines credit card can help you get an upgrade
Want to stock your account with miles so you can start getting Alaska Airlines mileage upgrades right away? The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card can help you get there almost instantly. The card offers a generous sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from just $22). To qualify simply make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account. This is enough to get you two upgrades right away with miles to spare.
Another great perk with this card is that you can bring a friend with you on a flight using your companion fare benefit. Once you reach your cardmember anniversary, you will earn an additional companion fare.
Final thoughts on getting an Alaska Airlines upgrade
If you fly Alaska Airlines frequently, it's smart to learn the ins and outs of how the Alaska Airlines upgrade system works. The airline offers multiple ways to get upgraded to first or premium class, and these upgrades are often free for elites.
And while the Alaska Airlines credit card doesn't offer automatic elite status with Alaska Airlines, it does allow you to earn a pile of miles that you can use to upgrade. You can then leverage your daily spending on groceries, gas and restaurant meals into even more upgrades and free flights.
Alaska Airlines is especially generous with upgrades for its elite members, allowing them to upgrade instantly at booking with most fares. This means becoming an elite member is your ticket to frequent upgrades, but it also means that nonelites must be especially savvy about planning their move up to first or premium class.
Tips for getting upgraded on Alaska Airlines
Whether you have elite status or not, here are five tips that will help you get upgraded on Alaska Airlines:
- Book flights on less-busy travel days. Understand that you may not be able to get an upgrade on the busiest flights to the busiest airports. Try to book your flight on a less-popular travel day to increase your chances of getting an upgrade. For example, avoid holidays and three-day weekends, and try to book on a Tuesday or Wednesday instead. Even Saturday may be a better travel day than Sunday, when everyone else wants to head back home from vacation.
- Consider a flight with a connection. Direct flights are more popular, so you may have a better chance of getting an upgrade if you're willing to book a flight with a layover. It's a trade-off, but it may be worth the inconvenience if you really want that first-class seat.
- Check availability before you book. If first class is already nearly full or full at the time you book your flight, that tells you your chances of an upgrade are practically nil. Taking a look at the seating chart in advance can save you a lot of wondering, waiting and stress.
- Use the advanced search menu. If you do have elite status, make sure you use the advanced search menu when you are looking for a flight. This will tell you before you book whether you can get an immediate upgrade or not, and it's a great way to avoid surprises.
- Be proactive when asking for an upgrade. If you want an Alaska Airlines mileage upgrade, call the reservations line as soon as possible to ask for one. If you want to score a paid upgrade, go up to the desk and ask for one as soon as you get to the airport. If you enlist help, you'll be more likely to beat less-proactive passengers.
Learn the system, work toward elite status if you can, and follow these tips to increase your chances of enjoying your next Alaska Airlines flight from a cozy leather seat with a fresh local meal and a glass of fine wine on the tray table in front of you. And if you work the system right, you can easily enjoy all these perks with your favorite travel companion by your side.