Alaska Airlines Makes Changes To First Class Upgrades

Filed Under: Alaska

Up until now, Alaska Airlines has had one of the more straightforward upgrade policies:

  • All elite members get space available upgrades on all routes
  • MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members receive complimentary space available companion upgrades as well
  • MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members receive four Gold Guest Upgrades per year, which can be used to confirm an upgrade (however, there are some fare class exclusions) for anyone

Well, it looks like Alaska Airlines will be making some changes to their first class upgrade policies, which kick in starting in the coming months. Whether or not they’re good news depend on the type of traveler you are.


Alaska is changing the upgrade hierarchy

Up until now, Alaska has prioritized upgrades first by status and then by the time of booking. In other words, an elite member booking a cheap fare far in advance had a great shot at an upgrade, while an elite member booking an expensive fare close to departure had a not-so-great shot at an upgrade.

That’s changing. Starting for flights purchased December 5, 2016, Alaska will prioritize upgrades based on status and then by fare class. The time you book will no longer be a factor. Here’s what the fare class hierarchy will look like:

Y, Z, S, B, M, H, Q, L, V, N, K, G, T, R, W

Alaska is introducing upgrades on award tickets

Economy award tickets booked in the “W” or “N” fare class (which includes the cheapest awards) will be upgradable to first class as of December 5, 2016. These upgrades will clear in the same way that upgrades on revenue tickets do.

As you can see based on the above hierarchy, “W” fares clear last. However, it’s interesting that “N” fares (which are non-saver level awards) clear ahead of many revenue fare classes.

Furthermore “Z” fare class awards (which are the absolute most expensive) will feature instant upgrades to first class.

This is certainly a nice new benefit, and should be valid even if redeeming other mileage currencies (like American AAdvantage miles or British Airways Executive Club Avios) for award tickets on Alaska. However, keep in mind those tickets would be booked in the “W” fare class, so would clear last.

Alaska is changing fares eligible for instant upgrades

Alaska is fairly generous as far as instant upgrades go, in the sense that elite members can quite easily snag an instant upgrade when booking several types of fares. However, Alaska is changing this up quite a bit, and it’s bad news for most elite members:

  • For MVP members, “B” fares will no longer qualify for instant upgrades
  • For MVP Gold members, “H” fares will no longer qualify for instant upgrades
  • MVP Gold 75K members will maintain the current fare classes eligible for instant upgrades

In all cases “Z” fares (the most expensive economy awards) will now be eligible for instant upgrades.


Bottom line

These changes can be either good or bad news depending on the type of traveler you are. If you’re someone who typically books cheap economy fares way in advance, the change in upgrade hierarchy will hurt you. If you’re someone who typically books expensive last minute tickets, the improved upgrade priority will be great news for you.

Upgrades on award tickets are certainly a nice touch, though instant upgrades becoming more restrictive on some revenue fare classes for MVP and MVP Gold members aren’t good news.

I’m not totally sure about Alaska’s motivations here, especially given that we’re just waiting for the Alaska and Virgin America merger to close

What do you make of Alaska’s upgrade changes?

  1. You only get what you pay for. As a long time high mileage flyer and normally pays the instant upgrade or full fare buyer I have always been a revenue based fan, like the old days

    One has to think that there are more coming. Alaska is no longer “that hometown” airline

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