Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Explained – 2022 Update
A lot has changed since I wrote my first version of this post in 2016. Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America and increased their network especially in California. The airline joined the oneworld alliance, giving Mileage Plan members access to additional partners for earning and redeeming miles. A global pandemic disrupted the industry and we saw Alaska Airlines evolve further. Premium Class and Saver Fares were introduced. A new elite level, MVP Gold 100K, was added.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan remains one of the best (if not the best) airline loyalty programs in the world.
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. Even when you book the low frills Saver Fare.
This post is to help you understand elite status — how to attain it and what it means — with Alaska’s Mileage Plan.
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. Some Economy fares actually earn bonus EQMs. These tend to be the more expensive fares during peak travel times. For example, I have noticed in the past flying home from Hawaii after Christmas I’ve earned bonus EQM.
First Class fares on Alaska (when purchased, not upgraded) always earn bonus EQM. The lowest First Class fares earn 150% EQM while the highest First Class fares earn 200% EQM. This means that if you fly 1,000 miles on a First Class ticket, you will earn at least 1,500 EQM.
You can see the various fare classes on Alaska Airlines flights here.
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). So if you fly SEA-PDX which is a 129 mile segment, you will still earn 500 EQM. If you fly it in First Class, you will earn 750 EQM (or more).
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 Airlines Mileage Plan members with status earn additional RM for each mile flown.
Elite Levels: There are four levels of elite status with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K, and MVP Gold 100K. Technically there is a top level of Million Miler — once you fly 1,000,000 miles on Alaska flights you get MVP Gold for your lifetime.
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 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.
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 Class of Service Bonus RM
- 5,456 Elite Bonus RM for being MVP Gold (100% bonus)
- 19,096 Redeemable Miles earned. Of those, 8,814 count towards Elite Status.
Upgrades: Upgrades are only available to elites that booked a Main Cabin fare or above. In other words, there are NO upgrades on Saver Fares.
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.
Additionally, some higher fare classes get upgrades at time of booking if there is upgrade space available. For example, an MVP Gold booking a ticket in K class will automatically get upgraded to First Class if there is upgrade space available at time of booking for no cost. If there isn’t upgrade space in First, then they will get to pick a Premium Class seat for no additional cost. MVP Gold 75K and higher get Premium Class seats at time of booking for any fare except Saver Fares.
If a Gold or higher is flying with someone else on the same reservation, that other passenger also will be upgraded.
MVP Guest Upgrades: In addition to the upgrades noted above, Golds get four MVP Guest Upgrade codes per year. These codes can be used to upgrade to First at the time of reservation on eligible fares when there is upgrade space available. 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. To be honest, MVP Guest Upgrades are a challenge for me to use as there is rarely upgrade space and when there is, it means you have to pay more for an eligible fare class.
Alaska Lounge: When flying in North America (including Canada and Mexico*), Alaska Airlines elites do not get lounge access. Lounge access is only for those flying a First Class ticket (upgraded tickets do not count), when using a Lounge Day Pass, or those with a paid Alaska Lounge Membership. However, if you are flying internationally (including Costa Rica, Belize, and Mexico City), MVP Gold and above get access to oneworld lounges, which include Alaska Lounges, based on their oneworld elite status.
Alaska Lounges are located in SEA (3 locations), PDX, SFO, LAX, JFK, and ANC.
Tracking Your Status
The best way to track your status is online. Once you sign in to Alaska’s website navigate to your “Overview and elite status” page.
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.