What Is Alaska Airlines Elite Status Worth?

What Is Alaska Airlines Elite Status Worth?

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As the only airline to award miles and status based on distance flown, Alaska Airlines has one of the best value elite status programs of any domestic airline. Members at every status level get a miles earning bonus, elite parental leave, discounted Alaska Lounge access and two free checked bags per flight. For West Coast business travelers, the airline is a great alternative to the Big Three. Alaska provides less value to travelers outside of this region, however, particularly those in large East Coast cities.

What Are the Benefits of Status on Alaska Airlines?

At every level of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan status program, frequent flyers get the benefits of priority boarding and security, a miles bonus, two free checked bags and seat upgrades. Compared to the elite status programs of the Big Three—American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines—Alaska's Mileage Plan has the advantage when it comes to earning miles toward award flights. Whereas the other airlines award miles based on dollars spent, Alaska awards miles based on distance flown.

Bonus miles50% bonus100% bonus125% bonus
Elite Leave for new parentsYesYesYes
Priority check-in and boardingYesYesYes
Free checked bags222
Preferred seatingYesYesYes
Upgrade time on nonqualifying fare classes48 hours before departure72 hours before departure120 hours before departure
First Class upgrades at bookingS, Y and Z faresB, M, S, Y and Z faresB, S, Y, H, M and Z fares
Premium Class upgrades at bookingS, Y and Z faresB, H, K, L, M, N, Q, S, V, Y, or ZAll fares

Alaska's status program is unique in that it has three tiers of elite status rather than the four offered by most other airlines. Also unique is that at each of the three levels of the program, members have access to unlimited complimentary upgrades to Premium Class, Alaska's premium economy product, at the time of booking. (This depends on fare class, which can be found on your itinerary. You can visit this site for more information on what the letter of your fare class means.) Most competitor airlines restrict this benefit to upper status tiers or require entry level status members to wait until check-in to upgrade.

Companion Benefits

For status members in the mid-level and high-level tiers, Alaska allows traveling companions to upgrade to either premium or first class. This benefit will allow both you and your partner to upgrade when traveling together. Alaska also gives four guest upgrade certificates to MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members, which your traveling partner can use to get a guaranteed seat upgrade.

Companion upgrades to First ClassNoYesYes
Companion upgrades to Premium ClassNoYesYes
Four one-way First Class guest upgradesNoYesYes

MVP Status Benefits

The most useful benefits at the MVP status level are the unlimited upgrades to Premium Class, the elite leave for new parents and the two free checked bags for flights. If you usually check two bags when you fly, this benefit alone can save you up to $100 per round trip (without status, each bag costs $25 to check one way).

Alaska's elite parental leave policy—which is unrivalled by competitor airlines—allows new parents to suspend their status during their time off from work after having a baby or adopting. When you're on elite parental leave, status is extended until the end of the next calendar year, which gives you time to requalify for status when you resume your travel schedule.

MVP members will also benefit from a 50% miles earning bonus. This means that you'll earn 1.5 miles for every mile you fly on Alaska. This is a better earning bonus than what entry level status holders get from the Big Three airlines, who give a 40% bonus. Combined with Alaska's distance-based earning system, Mileage Plan MVP members will likely be able to earn their first reward flight quicker than United Premier Silver or American AAdvantage Gold members.

MVP Gold Status Benefits

At the MVP Gold level, frequent flyers have access to benefits like standby and waitlist for full flights and an express security line at certain airports. Mileage Plan members at MVP Gold and above will get a free beverage when flying in Alaska's Main Cabin (economy class). In addition, you'll get a 100% miles earning bonus as an MVP Gold member, meaning that you'll earn two miles for every mile flown.

Free beverage in Main CabinNoYesYes
One-year Alaska Lounge membership$375$295$295
Service hotline for reservationsYesYesYes
Complimentary same-day flight changesNoYesYes
Waived ticket change feesNoYesYes

Compared to other mid-level status programs, Alaska's MVP Gold has a competitive miles earning rate and decent in-flight perks. It's also easier to earn Alaska's MVP Gold status than it is to earn mid-level status on other airlines, due to a lower miles threshold.

MVP Gold 75K Status Benefits

For travelers who fly more than 75,000 miles a year with Alaska, Gold 75K provides benefits that either improve the quality of your flight experience or make it significantly easier to earn rewards flights. For example, Gold 75K members get four complimentary Alaska Lounge day passes and a complimentary in-flight entertainment player on every flight. In addition, you'll earn 2.25 miles per mile flown and can gift MVP status to a friend or family member.

Is Alaska Airlines Status Worth It?

For travelers who can be serviced by Alaska's route map, elite status on the airline provides an excellent upgrade policy and unmatched miles earning potential. The main drawback of elite status on Alaska has more to do with the airline's size and location than the program itself. Alaska's flight traffic is concentrated on the West Coast, so there are limited direct flights among East Coast cities and between East Coast cities and destinations in the middle of the country.

Other major domestic airlines also have an advantage over Alaska when it comes to partnerships with international airlines. While Alaska has partnerships with British Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair and Qantas, the airline is not a member of an international alliance. In contrast, United is affiliated with Star Alliance, Delta with SkyTeam and American with oneworld. These partnerships allow for elite status members to earn points and redeem award space on international airlines. Options for doing this are a bit more limited for Alaska Airlines members.

For travelers based on the West Coast who mainly travel domestically, the benefits of Mileage Plan elite status outweigh the downsides. However, if your home airport is based in the middle of the country or the East Coast, you'll likely be better served by one of Big Three airlines.

Benefits of Elite Status vs. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

If you already fly a decent amount with Alaska but don't qualify for status, one way to get some of the same benefits is to open Alaska's co-branded credit card, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card. The annual fee for the card is $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $75, and you'll get one free checked bag, Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. And, your miles don't expire on active accounts. Each year that you renew the card, you'll get a companion fare pass. This allows you to buy one round-trip fare for a traveling partner for $99 plus taxes and fees.

Annual FeeMiles earningGeneral spending rewardsFree checked bagsAlaska Lounge access
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $753 miles per dollar1 mile per dollar1$450
MVP1.5 miles per mile flown2$375
MVP Gold2 miles per mile flown2$295
MVP Gold 75K2.25 miles per mile flown2$295

For those who are solely interested in earning points, your best option is to open a travel rewards credit card rather than try for elite status. You won't be restricted to flying with one airline in order to earn points, so you'll have the freedom to bargain hunt for the fares and itineraries that work for you. A general rewards card also lets you redeem points at a variety of airlines and hotels, so you won't be stuck with redemption options in one specific loyalty program.

What Are Alaska's Elite Status Requirements?

To qualify for entry level elite status on Alaska Airlines, you'll need to earn at least 20,000 miles on Alaska-operated flights during the annual qualification period, Jan. 1 to December. You can also qualify by earning 25,000 miles on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners or by flying 30 segments on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners during the same period.

Qualifying flightsMVPMVP GoldMVP Gold 75K
Miles earned on Alaska20,00040,00075,000
Miles earned on Alaska and partners25,00050,00090,000
Segments flown on Alaska and partners306090

Like the other major airlines, Alaska rewards qualifying miles based on distance-flown—not dollars spent. However, there is no spending requirement to qualify for status on Alaska, which means it can be easier to earn status on Alaska than the other major airlines. In comparison, the Big Three have a spending minimum of $3,000 to qualify for entry level status, in addition to a 30 segment flight minimum and 25,000 miles minimum.

If you're taking mid-distance domestic flights with Alaska, you can likely qualify for elite status with under 10 round trips. On the route between Seattle and Dallas for example, you'll earn roughly 3,200 miles per round trip—and you'll be an MVP member after your sixth departure. On an airline with a spending and flying qualification system, it would likely take three to five more round trips to qualify for status, depending on fare price and class.

The information related to the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.  

Yowana is a former product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages, banking and insurance for the website. Yowana graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

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