Alaska Airlines Updates Their Companion Upgrade Policy

Filed Under: Alaska

Alaska Mileage Plan is one of the all around best frequent flyer programs there is for a variety of reasons:

  • They still award miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent
  • They allow you to cancel your paid tickets for free, and add the entire ticket value to your “travel bank” towards a future ticket
  • They partner with a lot of unique airlines, so you can earn Alaska status without even stepping foot on one of their planes
  • They have a really lucrative mileage earning structure; for example, top tier MVP Gold 75K members receive a 125% mileage bonus, plus receive 50,000 bonus miles when they qualify for status


Alaska also has a very generous upgrade program. Elite members get unlimited complimentary space available upgrades for themselves and a companion, and MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members even receive four complimentary guest upgrades, where they can upgrade a friend or family member who isn’t even traveling with them.

One thing that makes Alaska’s companion upgrade policy especially generous is that your companion doesn’t even have to be on the same record locator as you. In other words, you can upgrade anyone who is booked on the same flight as you, even if they’re not on the same itinerary, don’t have the same final destination, etc. Heck, I know when there are empty first class seats, some elite members have used this to upgrade someone cute in the gate area.


Alaska will finally be changing this policy. As of October 15, 2016, Alaska Mileage Plan elite members will only be able to upgrade companions on the same record locator.

The previous policy was extremely generous, and I can’t blame Alaska for this change. One could argue that it was actually unfair, since it meant that a companion traveling on a separate record might be cleared ahead of another elite member, who was on the upgrade waitlist. Then again, a lot relating to frequent flyer programs isn’t “fair.”

All of this comes around the same time that Alaska is making quite some changes to the products they offer. Over the coming months:

  • Alaska will roll out Premium Class, which will be an extra legroom economy section, featuring an extra 3-4″ of legroom
  • Alaska will increase first class seat pitch from 36″ to an industry leading 41″, though they’re eliminating a row of first class in the process

Rumor in the industry for a long time has been that eventually airlines will just offer elite upgrades into extra legroom economy, and not into first class. Arguably Alaska is eventually hoping to follow the competition in that regard as well.


Bottom line

Alaska’s change in their companion upgrade policy is quite logical, so I can’t blame them for that. Alaska said they’d have 60 planes reconfigured by the end of the year with their new first class and extra legroom economy section, though that hasn’t started yet. I’ll be curious to see when that’s rolled out, and what it will look like.

How do you feel about Alaska’s change in their companion upgrade policy?

(Tip of the hat to this FlyerTalk thread)

  1. I already thought that was the policy. My wife would have been rather upset if I had upgraded anyone cute in the gate area besides her.

  2. Not terribly surprising that they’re changing this, and it’s not really an unfair change, all things considered. The changes to first class are interesting, though!

  3. This actually hurts pretty bad for me. I used to book my mom on her own itinerary and immediately upgrade her to first class using a guest upgrade. Then my dad and I would be on our own itinerary and hope for upgrades to clear before the flight (MVP 75k). It sounds like I won’t be able to do that anymore.

    I was told you could have a max of two people on an itinerary to get on the upgrade list even if one was already booked into first class.

  4. @Eric – as far as I can tell, you’d continue to do the same thing. This appears (per the Flyertalk thread, if I’m reading it right) to only affect *companion* upgrades – since you’re using guest upgrades for the separate itinerary, you’d continue to do that.

  5. Ben quick note,

    Alaska is only eliminating a row of first class on their -800s, -900s will retain their 4 rows of first class.

  6. Lucky, Isn’t that you have to first pay$125 to cancel the flight and then apply credit into the “travel bank”?

  7. @ Sean — Nope, if you’re MVP Gold or above you can deposit the ticket value into your travel bank at no cost.

  8. Glad to see they’re updating their poor hard product, but 41″ pitch in domestic F is still a full *two feet* less than the VX F they’re taking over. I suppose it will be “industry leading” when they retire VX’s superior fleet.

  9. Always worry a little when airlines announce changes. Not sure if the enhanced leg room first class will be a good thing or not, especially if they eliminate free upgrades. Will need to wait and see. Really, for me on a shorter flight say 4 hours or less, its not the legroom that matters, rather its the free meal, drinks and better access to a bathroom that makes the difference.

    I was sure that you previously could only upgrade a companion on the same record locator, or at least as a MVP gold back in 2002, I remember being told that.

  10. Last week, when boarding in Anchorage, I was told that, starting in 2017 my roll-aboard would not qualify as a carry-on on Alaska Airlines. Looking at the new dimensions, it seems they are reducing allowed volume by 33%. I’m not happy at all about this.

  11. I don’t believe that considering they have been adding space bins and on flights with them I see no carry on problems.

  12. Not a big surprise re: change in policy. The increase in First Class pitch and the introduction of a premium economy section sounds like they’re listening to and learning from Virgin America and their customers . . .

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