How to maximize your Alaska Mileage Plan elite status

Some travelers earn elite status by accident, a byproduct of traveling for work. Other people are tempted by the possibility of upgrades and bonus miles and do everything they can to qualify. Whichever camp you fall into, Alaska Mileage Plan has some unique benefits that go over and above the competition. By familiarizing yourself with some of these perks you can earn more miles and potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars each year.

Receive more miles and free checked bags

It’s no secret that elite members often earn more miles for the same flight and get to bring some bags along, too. However, you may not have realized that Alaska’s policies are unusually generous.

MVP elite members receive a 50 percent bonus on base miles earned, MVP Gold elite members receive a 100 percent bonus, and MVP Gold 75K elite members receive a 125 percent bonus. Comparable elite status levels at most other airline loyalty programs offer a 40 percent, 60 percent, or 80 percent bonus, respectively. In every case you’ll get more miles thanks to your elite status when you fly Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, or Alaska Global Partners and credit your trip to Mileage Plan.

Mileage Plan elite status MVP MVP Gold MVP Gold 75K
Mileage Plan bonus on base miles 50% 100% 125%
Comparable bonus award miles* 40% 60% 80%

*  Qualification criteria for elite status vary by loyalty program and may not match exactly the criteria used by Alaska Mileage Plan.

Checked bags are easier to get, too. All elite members receive two free checked bags, even if you’ve only qualified for MVP. Companions in the same reservation have their fees waived, too. And all Mileage Plan members–with or without status–can check a free case of wine when they depart from airports in wine-producing regions. Even business travelers who prefer to bring their bags onboard can probably benefit from saving hundreds of dollars on fees when they take a vacation with Alaska Airlines.

Finally, Mileage Plan members have the option to apply for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, which offers cardholders a free checked bag on every flight regardless of status.

Change your booking with no penalty

Perhaps the most valuable and unusual benefit that Alaska Mileage Plan offers MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elite members is the chance to cancel or rebook a non-refundable ticket with zero penalty. Most other airlines may offer a waiver on award travel but still impose a fee between $100 and $200 on paid tickets. Feel free to book a trip during one of Alaska’s many fare sales and change your plans later if necessary.

And don’t forget, Alaska offers a price guarantee. If you book a flight on and the price drops later, you’re entitled to a credit back to your account for the difference. Rather than worrying about prices going up as you try to finalize the details of an upcoming trip, you can lock in today’s low price. Simply adjust your schedule if plans change. A difference in fare will still apply if the new ticket costs more. If the new ticket costs less (or if you cancel altogether), you can keep those funds in your “My Wallet” virtual account to use for a future flight.

These perks fall short of truly refunding your money–Alaska will hold onto it until you book a new ticket–but if you’re a loyal guest, this is likely not an issue. You can still look forward to saving hundreds of dollars a year on change fees and avoiding more expensive refundable tickets.

Enjoy 50,000 miles toward your next vacation

Some people are curious if it’s worth making MVP Gold 75K status a stretch goal. It’s Alaska Mileage Plan’s highest elite status level and requires 75,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America in a single year.

One motivation is a lump sum of 50,000 bonus miles. This is an annual benefit of MVP Gold 75K status and, by itself, is enough to book two round-trip tickets to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies in the continental United States (including Alaska)*.

But remember that by earning status you’ll also be earning miles on your individual trips and will be getting a 125 percent elite bonus. Altogether most MVP Gold 75K members should earn a minimum of 218,750 miles each time they requalify for MVP Gold 75K. That’s enough to book two round-trip tickets to any of the hundreds of other destinations served by Alaska Global Partners, and there’s a good chance you could end up flying in business or first class*.

Confirm your upgrades in advance

I saved upgrades for last. We all know they’re a major benefit of elite status but actually receiving one comes down to a bit of luck, depending on who else is on the plane. Fortunately, Alaska offers many types of confirmed upgrades to lock in that big seat months before departure and at a lower cost than a regular first class ticket.

Upgrades are complimentary and do not require any additional fees or costs. However, sometimes an eligible fare costs more than the cheapest main cabin ticket. Other times, they’re the same price.

All elite members are eligible to confirm an immediate upgrade without redeeming anything, although only certain fares are eligible. (One benefit of higher status is that more fares are eligible.) In addition, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members get four Gold Guest Upgrade certificates to use for themselves or a friend. There are many more eligible fares when you redeem one of these, so you can pay less for your main cabin ticket. If you run out of Gold Guest Upgrades, you can always redeem 15,000 miles for a one-way upgrade.

Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time (based on average historic system wide rates of upgrade) on Alaska Airlines flights. Complimentary upgrades on Airbus aircraft will debut for the first time ever in late 2018. Complimentary elite upgrades on Airbus flights will debut for the first time in late 2018, as Alaska expands its First Class and Premium Class seating to Airbus aircraft.

* Plus taxes and fees. Award pricing and availability may vary.