Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Explained: Part 1 – Elite Status
I have been an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan member since 2000. However, I have been flying Alaska since before that time. I remember flying in the mid-1990’s when you were served a meal in Economy even on short flights. Each meal came with a bible verse card. Times change.
“Alaska Airlines” (under that name) has been around since 1944. It mostly served Alaska and the west coast for quite some time before deregulation allowed it to expand to the international network it is today.
While no longer a regional airline, Alaska is still not one of the heavy hitters in the US. Currently they are the 5th or 6th biggest airline (depending on how you measure). They are a fraction of the size of American, Delta, Southwest or United.
Where they are king is when it comes to loyalty programs. Their Mileage Plan is one of the few programs that still base their rewards on miles flown. One mile flown is one mile earned to redeem and towards elite status (also known as Elite Qualifying Miles). There are times you earn bonus miles, but you never earn less than one mile when flying on Alaska.
This post is to help you understand elite status — how to attain it and what it means — with Alaska’s Mileage Plan. I am not an expert. If you notice something that you think I am missing or is incorrect, please let me know. This can be a living post.
For help with figuring out all of this and for tracking your miles, you might want to download my mileage calculator.
What you need to know
To understand Alaska’s Mileage Plan, you have to know a few key terms.
Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): These are miles that count towards your elite status. For most Economy tickets on Alaska flights you earn this at a 1:1 ratio. You fly 1,000 miles, you earn 1,000 Elite Qualifying Miles. If you purchase a ticket in First Class (not when you are upgraded0, you earn it at a 1:1.75 ratio. You fly 1,000 miles, you earn 1,750 EQM.
EQM can also be earned from partner airlines at various rates. Make sure you add your Alaska Mileage Plan number to your partner reservation before travel as it can be a bit of a pain to retroactively credit the flight.
Note: There is a 500 EQM minimum for each flight (doesn’t matter if on Alaska or a partner flight).
Each EQM is a Redeemable Mile (below). Not every Redeemable Mile is an EQM.
Redeemable Miles (RM): These are miles that can be redeemed for award flights with Alaska Airlines or any partner airline. Each EQM is a Redeemable Mile. You can also get RM through various promotions and partnerships. Alaska passengers with status earn additional RM for each mile flown.
Elite Levels: There are three levels of elite status with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K. Technically there is a top level of Million Miler as well. Each of these levels resets each calendar year in January. You have 12 months to earn status. Once you earn status, you have it for the rest of that calendar year and then through the following year.
Scenario 1: SEA-LAX in Economy on Alaska as an MVP
- 954 EQM for distance traveled
- 477 Elite Bonus RM for being MVP (50% bonus)
- 1,431 Redeemable Miles earned. Of those, 954 count towards Elite Status.
Scenario 2: SEA-LAX in Economy (O Class) on American Airlines* as an MVP
- 239 EQM for distance traveled in Class O
- 261 additional EQM as there is a 500 EQM minimum per flight
- 119 Elite Bonus RM for being MVP (50% bonus)
- 619 Redeemable Miles earned. Of those, 500 count towards Elite Status.
*Note: American recently cut their earnings dramatically. Read more here.
Scenario 3: SEA-LHR in Club World (I Class) on British Airways as an MVP Gold
- 5,456 EQM for distance traveled
- 2,728 Class of Service Bonus EQM
- 5,456 Elite Bonus RM for being MVP Gold (100% bonus)
- 5,456 Promo Bonus RM for current promotion
- 19,096 Redeemable Miles earned. Of those, 8,814 count towards Elite Status.
Upgrades: Once you hit MVP level you get your pick of any available Economy seat on the plane. Note: Alaska is set to introduce a Premium Economy class shortly and this perk will likely change.
Elites also get unlimited complimentary upgrades if they are available starting 120 hours prior to the flight. This means if there are unsold First class seats, you will be upgraded automatically. Typically I have found that Alaska holds back a seat or two in First up until close to departure in case someone wants to pay for it. However as a 75K I have definitely been upgraded at the 120 hour out mark.
If a Gold or Gold 75K is flying with someone else on the same reservation, that other passenger also will be upgraded.
MVP Gold Guest Upgrades: In addition to the upgrades noted above, Golds get 4 MVP Gold Guest Upgrade codes. An additional 4 codes are added when an elite hits Gold 75K. These codes can be used to upgrade to First at the time of reservation on eligible fares. Either the elite themselves can use it or it can be gifted to another passenger. Each code is good for one-way travel (not round trip). The codes can be found in the My Account section of Alaska’s website.
Board Room: Unlike other alliance airlines, Alaska elites do NOT receive access to any airport lounges. Access to Alaska’s network of lounges can be purchased for a year starting at $295(!). Gold 75K members do get 4 Board Room day passes good at Board Room lounges in four airports (LAX, PDX, SEA, ANC). UPDATE: Now MVP Gold and Gold 75K get access to some partner lounges when flying the partner airline. More info here.
In my opinion, the lack of lounge access for elite members is one of the biggest gaps in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Tracking Your Status
The best way to track your status is online. Once you sign in to Alaska’s website navigate to your “Profile and tier status” page.
In my example above, I have only 8,394 EQM to go before hitting 75K. I can earn those on Alaska or a partner airline. You don’t have to meet the qualification for EACH category, just one. This year so far I have earned 21,681 EQM from Alaska flights and 59,925 from partner airlines.
It is always good to check your “Mileage Activity” especially when it comes to getting credit for partner airline flights. Often they either do not post or they post incorrectly. Alaska is good about correcting errors if you ask.
So you are on your way to earning Mileage Plane elite status. Congrats! Now what do you do with all of those Redeemable Miles?