Changes to Alaska’s Boarding Process

Filed Under: Alaska

Posts from me are going to be a bit lighter over the next week as I travel to the MaldivesAs you may (or may not) know, I also have a points consulting service, whereby we help people redeem their airline miles. I have several colleagues working with me, and they’re some of the most knowledgeable and passionate people I know in this hobby. They’ve offered to pitch in and write a few posts to give me a bit more time off while I’m traveling, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the additional unique perspectives. This post is from my friend Alex, who is even more of an airline nut than I am.

While checking my email this morning, I noticed a little tidbit at the bottom of my Alaska Airlines E-Statement:


Presumably, this email only went out to MVP Gold and Gold 75K members who opt into these emails. I rarely open them, so I wonder how many people missed this.

MVP Golds and Gold 75Ks to board after first class

Alaska’s mid-tier and top-tier elites will no longer board with first class as of April 15, 2015. Delta recently made changes to their boarding priority, allowing Diamond Medallions to board with first class in the “PREM” zone. Previously, they boarded after first or business class.

Alaska’s current first boarding call is messy, given that they board first class, MVP Golds and Gold 75Ks, and top tier elites from American and Delta all at once. This should improve the boarding experience for first class passengers (of which many are Golds and 75Ks), but it adds yet another step to a process that needs clarification. Alaska doesn’t use zoned boarding like other major US carriers, but I imagine they could benefit from it.

Alaska is also guilty of boarding way prior to posted times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up to the gate 40 minutes prior to departure, only to find the gate area deserted.


Alaska gate at LAX with no passengers – they all boarded early 

Also, don’t you love the way they try to sell the changes in the email? They’re making this change because “at the heart of our service, we’re committed to taking the time to provide personal attention to all our travelers.”

Widening the gap between MVP Gold and Gold 75K

At the very least, I can’t understand why Alaska won’t allow 75Ks to board with first class, especially with the recent change over at Delta. I’ve never been on a flight with more than a handful of 75Ks, and it would be a free way to better distinguish between their two Gold tiers.

I remember when Gold 75K was introduced in 2010, Alaska didn’t want to create too much separation between tiers to avoid pissing off Golds who were once top tier elites. It’s now 2015 with a much different playing field (cough… Delta in Seattle… cough). I find myself wanting to credit my flying to American after qualifying for MVP Gold, rather than shooting for 75K. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this thinking.

When Ben posted about Alaska status matching to MVP Gold 75K last October, he mentioned there’s marginal difference between the two tiers. Reiterating what he wrote, the major incremental benefits of MVP Gold 75K over MVP Gold are:

  • 50,000 bonus redeemable miles upon requalifying for status every year
  • Higher upgrade priority (75Ks clear 120 hours out, vs. Golds at 72 hours out)
  • Ability to nominate someone to MVP status

Alaska introduced a higher elite mileage bonus for 75Ks this year, and this would be yet another benefit over Gold.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, we’re talking about an airline that only flies 737s and likes to board their flights a day early. Honestly, I think an entirely new boarding process is what Alaska should focus on. They could even call it Boarding Beyond😉

I’m really curious to see if this sticks. There will definitely be some resistance to change, especially from elites who like to line up to board an hour prior to departure.

If you’re an MVP Gold or Gold 75K, what are your thoughts on this change?

  1. A sensible change, given that it seems these days more and more people seem to be MVP Gold…

    Also agree with you that this would have been an easy way to distinguish 75K, a status which is a bit lacking in incremental benefits over the mid-tier in our view.

  2. Sensible change due to increasing numbers of Gold and Gold75k due to new matching allowances. Don’t worry so much about early boarding. When the plane has fully boarded, gate check of bags is available for Gold & 75k. You just pick up your carry on at the door of the aircraft after the flight.

  3. This is a change that makes sense. 1st class customers are your best and highest paying customers. They should get priority. I don’t understand the gripe or the silly complaint that 75K Gold should be treated like first class. I do, however, with they would also give 75K a separate boarding process but perhaps that might be too nit picky.

  4. AS should completely separate MVPG/75K from Partner elites. On DL and AA we board after their elites so why should AS give them higher priority?

  5. AS should completely separate MVPG/75K from Partner elites. On DL and AA we board after their elites so why should AS give them higher priority

  6. Well, it is normal, since 1st class pax are the passenger that will make the company profitable. One exception is the UGS, since they fly so much, they board before group one.

  7. @Jolly K – it is very possible that a first class passenger traveling on an upgrade is a much lower spending customer than a 75K that has bought a full Y fare at the last minute. So you cannot generalise that ‘1st class customers are your best and highest paying customers’.

  8. So, how is boarding early worthy of a “guilty” ? It makes an on-time departure more likely b/c people can get on and stow their huge roller bags and giant personal items. Moreover, it shows they care about being on-time. Anyhow, if this is a trend, why not just adapt to it? Why do you see this as a negative? Is it that you want the recognition of boarding during the elite call? Or want guaranteed overhead bin space? If so, just change your routine to show up 40 min before departure. If they don’t board early, well, you’re 10 min early and can take a deep breath. Or, better yet – linger around the podium until your boarding group is called. *end sarcasm*

  9. @ Dave — Because from the perspective of a business traveler, it leads to further lost productivity. Say you fly 200 segments per year. Factoring on an extra 10 minutes per segment translates to an extra 33 hours per year.

    There’s no need to board more than 30 minutes before departure, and there’s no reason it should be needed to achieve an on-time departure. Emirates can board an A380 in 30 minutes, so surely Alaska can board a 737 in 30 minutes.

  10. I fly Alaska several times a month for well over a decade. Since 9/11, they have added military to the pre-boarding list to the children and folks who need assistance. So First Class, 75K, Gold and other elite members from partners are really the second grouping in Alaska’s world. I didn’t even notice that announcement as just like most folks, I do not read my newsletter. However I was just on a flight the weekend of 4/18 and don’t recall that change made. I agreed that elite members from partner airlines should be after Alaska’s own elite members. Other than that, however they group FC, 75K & Gold – I don’t really have care much one way or the other. There will always be a boatload of people (who might be frequent Southwest passengers) roaming around the gate lining up waiting to be boarded, well beyond thier group being called. That same routine goes with 75K, Gold or elite members. So it seems to always be one big crowd in front of the gate where you have to navigate thru to board. That will be regardless how they priortize the boarding orders. Trust me, those peeps who want to stand in line (in a Southwest fashion) in front of the gate 30 mins before they are due to board will disregard the Alaska boarding order. Just my 2 cents.

  11. I’ve been 75k for 5 years and the new policy is another reason why I’m losing loyalty with Alaska. When I fly partner airlines I never get this treatment but here Alaska doesn’t want to distinguish me from them. Talk about a slap in the face.
    Let’s not forget that all the MVPs come up and never get turned away so ya, I’m still having to ensure there is room for my overnight backpack.

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