Alaska Airlines Selling Cash Upgrades More Aggressively

Alaska Airlines Selling Cash Upgrades More Aggressively

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In recent years, US airlines have gotten much better at monetizing first class, rather than largely filling the cabin with elite members getting complimentary upgrades. This has come in many forms, from pricing first class more reasonably in the first place, to selling attractively priced first class upgrades.

Along those lines, historically Alaska hasn’t been nearly as aggressive as American, Delta, and United, when it comes to selling upgrades to first class. That’s slowly starting to change.

Alaska now consistently selling first class upgrades

Historically, Alaska hasn’t put much effort into selling first class upgrades in advance, prior to check-in. However, that appears to have changed, as Alaska is now consistently encouraging passengers to pay to upgrade to first class.

Alaska is now selling first class upgrades

After you ticket your itinerary and manage your reservation, you’ll now consistently see the option to upgrade. For example, if you look at the economy seat map for your flight, you’ll also see the first class seat map, and then can select a first class seat at an extra cost, just as you can upgrade to a Premium Class seat.

This was only recently implemented, and as of now there are more questions than answers. It would appear that for the most part, the upgrade cost is simply the fare difference between economy class and first class. This is good news for those looking for a complimentary elite upgrade, and bad news for those looking to pay to upgrade.

Let me just give an example for a Fort Lauderdale to Seattle ticket that I had booked for $199.

Alaska fare options

After ticketing, when I went to Alaska’s website to manage my reservation and visited the seat map, I saw the ability to select first class seats at an extra cost. In this case, the cost is just over $400, which is the fare difference between economy and first class.

Alaska first class upgrade for cash through website

Similarly, if you go into the Alaska mobile app, you’ll see that most reservations now have a new indicator showing “Upgrade available.”

Alaska first class upgrade for cash through app

When you click through, you’ll see a pop-up showing the price and what’s included.

Alaska first class upgrade for cash through app

It would appear that this is being offered to most passengers, where you paid cash or redeemed miles, and regardless of your elite status. It’s not clear to me if you’d earn miles based on the higher class of service or not.

Now, some might say that this is no big deal, since it has always been possible to just rebook an economy ticket in first class by paying the fare difference. While that’s true, I wouldn’t underestimate the impact this could have on people upgrading:

  • A lot of people traveling for business might be scared to reprice a ticket paid for through work, but if you can just pay the fare difference to upgrade with a couple of clicks, they may do so
  • Many people may not otherwise consider booking first class or upgrading, but the prompt might be the push that they needed

Now, there are actually a couple of situations where it’s now possible for savvy travelers to pay to upgrade to first class, when that wasn’t previously possible:

  • If you redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for your ticket, you can still pay cash to upgrade your ticket, and the fare difference between cabins is what you’d pay
  • For those with an Alaska companion certificate, it appears that you can upgrade both passengers using this method, just paying the fare difference between the economy fare and first class fare; so this creates an incentive to book an expensive economy ticket with a companion fare, with a minimal fare difference to first class

Personally I do think this new prompt to upgrade to first class will move the needle a bit when it comes to people repricing their ticket and flying first class. However, it shouldn’t have the same impact as super discounted upgrades to first class, as we see at other US airlines.

Alaska is now selling first class upgrades consistently

Alaska still sells discounted upgrades at check-in

Separately from the above new opportunity, it’s worth noting that Alaska sometimes sells discounted upgrades to first class at check-in:

  • This is only available at check-in, so starting 24 hours out
  • Upgrade costs aren’t published, but are typically going to be very attractive, somewhere around $150 for a transcon flight
  • Cash upgrades are only supposed to be available after all upgrades have cleared; however, Alaska’s upgrade processor has some issues, so there are situations where there might be “U” space (which is needed to upgrade) when there are still people on the upgrade list

Absolutely don’t expect to consistently see these upgrade opportunities, as they’re the exception rather than the norm. However, these will be the best value cash upgrades that you’ll find with the airline.

Alaska sells discounted upgrades at check-in

Bottom line

Alaska Airlines is seemingly getting more serious about monetizing first class. The airline is now pretty consistently offering cash upgrades through both the website and app when managing your reservation. For now, it seems to me that the upgrade cost is usually the fare difference, or somewhere around that.

From the perspective of diminishing elite perks, I don’t think this is nearly as bad as the super discounted upgrades that other airlines sell. However, this will surely increase demand for upgrades among people who may not have otherwise considered them.

What do you make of Alaska’s new approach to selling upgrades?

Conversations (18)
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  1. Missy Guest

    I used miles for a ticket and then upgraded with cash to first class last week. I may need to change my flight to a same day later flight main cabin. SLC to PDX. Is the first class cash upgrade refundable?

  2. dwondermeant Guest

    To echo the comment elite status is near worthless I agree
    I once was Emerald with Alaska for 5 years or Gold at the least
    This airline and its program are near worthless IMO
    Once went out of my way to stay loyal to them never again
    Condor Biz Awards one way went from 55 K to 260 What???
    American First Class 110 is 130k on Alaska if you can...

    To echo the comment elite status is near worthless I agree
    I once was Emerald with Alaska for 5 years or Gold at the least
    This airline and its program are near worthless IMO
    Once went out of my way to stay loyal to them never again
    Condor Biz Awards one way went from 55 K to 260 What???
    American First Class 110 is 130k on Alaska if you can even get a seat
    And then any partner award is 12.50 extra
    They charge elites for bulkhead seats which are free at american
    The agents many while nice are poorly trained with booking International and adding Alaska segments near impossible.

    I seriously dislike their program and as a one World elite they wont let me add my AA FF number to an Alaska award.I'd fly Southwest before I'd fly Alaska
    Little respect for the management there now.It once was a caring great Domestic Airline.They also cant get you to most destinations either.
    The party is over and they think their product is way better than it actually is
    Good riddance

  3. Sel, D. Guest

    Other side of this, which isn’t being pointed out, at least Alaska and AA seam slower to upgrade elites, even when the window opens up, in attempt to sell more seats. I’m seeing 4 seats open for game day upgrades regularly now, when it used to almost always be only 1.

  4. Chase Guest

    I don’t thinks it’s accurate to say this is the price difference between Y and F at all. SLC-SEA is $50 flat for each of my three upcoming, and SEA-SNA was $100 flat (which I gladly paid). I used 5-7.5k AS miles for all these.

  5. iamhere Guest

    Also agree with the comment about the value of the loyalty programs. Not the value of the points but the value of the membership and membership benefits.

  6. iamhere Guest

    The price difference for a relatively long flight not bad. Usually US airlines want an unreasonable amount for first within the US.

  7. Daniel Rall Guest

    How will these upgraded fares earn EQMs? (Given pricing being set as a fare difference, you'd hope you'd get the fare class you're upgrading into.)

    How will these upgrades bill (e.g. will I be able to claim these as seat selection charges, as I do with Amex's airline incidental benefit when I select a premium seat, something that's now even billed separately when done as part of the initial booking)?

  8. Trey Guest

    I'm not seeing the option to cash upgrade to First on my itinerary (even though there's plenty of space). There's cash upgrade to premium (Y+). I have a AS award on AS metal. Maybe because it has a multi-day stopover? MCO-PDX/4-day stopover/PDX-OGG

  9. Pete Guest

    Giving away a product you can sell for cash money was always a foolhardy pursuit, and US airlines finally seem to have woken up to themselves in this regard. Customers will have to adjust their expectations. If you want a first class seat, you'll have to buy a first class ticket.

    1. Bill n DC Diamond

      True now. Although back n the day when upgrades were available, it was fun. Loved to get upgraded when traveling with my office crew. Ha!
      But seriously I need to check out the companion hack for First Class. Thanks, Ben!

    2. Jerry Wheen Gold

      Yes, giving away the majority of first class seats to elite members may have been a bit much. On the other hand with airlines increasingly reducing elite perks like this - why remain loyal?

      "Want first, buy first?" Sure, but then I'm a free agent.

  10. Steve from LA Member

    The writing has been on the wall for sometime now. AS elite status is slowly becoming worthless.

    1. Brizone Diamond

      yep. I'm puzzled by people who talk about relatively recent/impending AS Mileage Plan devaluations. It's been a slow drip for the last 5 years!

  11. George Romey Guest

    Just following the competition. Your airline is just not that much into you and road warriors are no longer the focus of their attention.

  12. Steven R. Guest

    Yeah, I’d say they’re aggressively selling first class upgrades. I have an upcoming flight on Alaska Airlines and I’m already in first class. I just now checked my flight status in the AK Air app and there’s a notification to upgrade to first class for $839.

    1. Brizone Diamond

      Now THAT'S aggressive!

      (Seriously though: that's the AS IT Dept for you... Bottom of the barrel.)

  13. Lee Guest

    Yet another factor undercutting the value of tier status.

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Daniel Rall Guest

How will these upgraded fares earn EQMs? (Given pricing being set as a fare difference, you'd hope you'd get the fare class you're upgrading into.) How will these upgrades bill (e.g. will I be able to claim these as seat selection charges, as I do with Amex's airline incidental benefit when I select a premium seat, something that's now even billed separately when done as part of the initial booking)?

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Bill n DC Diamond

True now. Although back n the day when upgrades were available, it was fun. Loved to get upgraded when traveling with my office crew. Ha! But seriously I need to check out the companion hack for First Class. Thanks, Ben!

1
Pete Guest

Giving away a product you can sell for cash money was always a foolhardy pursuit, and US airlines finally seem to have woken up to themselves in this regard. Customers will have to adjust their expectations. If you want a first class seat, you'll have to buy a first class ticket.

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