How to Upgrade to First Class on Alaska Airlines [In-Depth Guide]

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I occasionally envy my traveling friends who live in the western United States, since they have direct access to flying Alaska Airlines on a regular basis.

Alaska Airlines is firmly planted in the West Coast hub cities of Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but they fly to 115 destinations throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Costa Rica.

I hear loyalists rave about their Mileage Plan frequent flyer program to the point of a cult following, but even more impressive is that the Wall Street Journal ranked them as the #1 airline every year from 2014 through 2017.

If you’re one of the many Alaska Airlines loyalists, knowing how their upgrade process works is probably high on your list.

Even if you’re only an occasional Alaska Airlines flyer, you may still find it useful to be able to score an upgrade on that flight to Anchorage to hook up with your cruise ship, for that commute up the West Coast, or that weekend trip to Mexico.

Everything you need to know about upgrading to first class with Alaska Airlines is right here.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Types of upgrades available on Alaska Airlines
  • Upgrade hierarchy of elite status
  • How to upgrade with miles
  • How to purchase an upgrade
  • Everything else you need to know

Want an upgrade on Alaska Airlines? Let’s dive right in and find out how to do it.

Types of Alaska Airlines Upgrades

Alaska Airlines has several types of upgrades available. Most are limited to just those travelers who have elite status, but there are also upgrades that non-elite travelers can access.

First, a clarification. Alaska Airlines defines its Premium Class as those seats toward the front of the main cabin. Premium Class seats have 4 inches of additional legroom, include early boarding, and provide complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Elite members are those who have attained elite status in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan frequent flyer program.

Complimentary Upgrade

  • First Class Upgrades – Elite members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades to first class in order of elite status
  • Fare Class Upgrades – Elite members are eligible for immediate upgrades into Premium Class when purchasing qualifying fares, provided space is available
  • Premium Class Upgrades – Elite members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades to Premium Class in order of elite status
  • Companion Upgrades – Certain elite members can upgrade 1 companion traveling with them
  • Guest Upgrades – Certain elite members receive guest upgrade certificates each year, which can be used when guests are not traveling with the elite member

  • First Class Upgrades – All travelers may purchase first class upgrades based on availability at 24 hours prior to departure

Upgrades With Miles

  • First Class Upgrades – All travelers may purchase first class upgrades with miles when purchasing their ticket or on an existing reservation (based on availability)

Bottom Line: You don’t have to have elite status or purchase a first class ticket to travel in the front of the plane, but availability is the key to purchasing an upgrade or securing one with miles. 

Alaska Upgrade Priority: Who Gets the Upgrade First?

The Importance of Elite Status

Upgrades are the most treasured benefit an airline can bestow, so it’s no wonder airlines reserve upgrades for their best customers.

Alaska Airlines is no different, and it distributes its complimentary upgrades in order of elite status hierarchy from highest to lowest.

There are 3 levels of elite status in their Mileage Plan frequent flyer program:

  • MVP Gold 75K
  • MVP Gold
  • MVP

Here’s how upgrades are distributed among the elites:

MVPMVP GoldMVP Gold 75K
First class upgrades at time of bookingY,S, or Z faresY,S,B,M, or Z faresY,S,B,M,H, or Z fares
Premium Class upgrades at time of bookingY,S,B, or Z faresY,S,B,M,H,Q,L,B,N,K, or Z faresAll fares
First and Premium Class upgrades on discounted fares48 hours prior to departure72 hours prior to departure120 hours prior to departure
Companion upgrades to first classN/AYesYes
Companion upgrades to Premium ClassN/AYesYes
4 one-way first class guest upgradesN/AYesYes

If a complimentary upgrade is not cleared immediately, elites will be put on a waitlist and cleared in order of elite status level, fare class, and time of waitlisting.

Companion Upgrade Options for Elite Members

In addition to complimentary upgrades for the elite flyer, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K Elite members receive the benefit of complimentary upgrades for their travel companion.

If the traveling companion is not on the same reservation, the Gold elite member needs to call Mileage Plan customer service to upgrade the companion.

Only 1 companion upgrade is allowed. If there is more then 1 companion included on the same reservation, no upgrade will be granted for the entire reservation.

In addition to complimentary travel companion upgrades, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members receive 4 one-way first class guest upgrade certificates each year. These certificates can be used for travelers who are not flying with the elite member.

Companion upgrade process Alaska Airlines
Redeeming your guest companion upgrade certificate is simple when purchasing a new ticket or redeeming it on an existing reservation. Image courtesy of Alaskaair.com.

Guest upgrade certificates can be redeemed online when purchasing a ticket by selecting “MVP Gold Guest” under the Upgrade Type by accessing your reservation, or within your existing reservation by selecting “MVP Gold guest upgrade” next to your flight confirmation code.

Alaska airlines interior
You don’t have to have elite status to be able to purchase a first class upgrade on Alaska Airlines. Image courtesy of newsroom.alaskaair.com.

How to Purchase an Alaska Airlines First Class Upgrade

It is possible to purchase an upgrade on your existing Alaska or Sky West ticket (operating on behalf of Alaska) within 24 hours of the flight departure through online check-in.

You may also be able to purchase an upgrade on the day of departure at a kiosk, airport ticket counter, or at the departure gate. Upgrades are subject to availability, of course, and more likely to be offered on less-traveled routes.

One-Way Trip MileagePrice
0-450 miles$29
451-700 miles$49
701-1,400 miles$99
1,401-2,100 miles$149
2,101 miles and longer$199

Hot Tip: It is possible to secure a paid first class upgrade even if you don’t have elite status with Alaska Airlines. Available upgrade inventory is released for sale once all complimentary elite member upgrades have cleared. So if you’re interested in an upgrade, be proactive, ask at the gate, and don’t wait for an announcement that there are upgrades for sale. 

Upgrading With Mileage Plan Miles

How to Upgrade With Miles When Purchasing a Ticket

Upgrade with mileage Alaska Airlines
Upgrading to first class with miles is easy when purchasing your Alaska Airlines ticket. Image courtesy of alaskaair.com.

It’s easy to use your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to upgrade your flight when purchasing a ticket. Flights operated by Alaska Airlines or SkyWest on behalf of Alaska Airlines are eligible.

You simply visit Alaskaair.com and enter your departure/destination information as normal into the “search flights” section. Once flights are displayed, just select “mileage” from the upgrade fare type — fares shown with an “F” in a solid blue box are the ones with upgrade availability.

A one-way first class upgrade will cost 15,000 Mileage Plan miles.

How to Upgrade an Existing Reservation With Miles

To upgrade to first class on an existing Alaska Airlines reservation with miles, you would need to call Alaska Airlines reservations at 1-800-252-7522. The price is the same at 15,000 Mileage Plan miles for a one-way upgrade and includes connecting flights.

Upgrading on Partner Airlines

You cannot use Mileage Plan miles to upgrade on partner airlines.

The Value of an Alaska Airlines Credit Card

Having an Alaska Airlines branded credit card won’t get you upgraded on an Alaska Airlines flight, but it can jump start your earnings for plenty of Mileage Plan frequent flyer miles, which can be redeemed for upgrades and more.

The Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card offers 2 opportunities to receive their popular companion ticket within the first year of having the card.

  • Earn a generous sign-up bonus after completing required minimum spending on the card within the first 3 months after card approval.
  • Earn a Companion Fare ticket ($99 plus taxes/fees) after completing required minimum spending within the first 3 months after card approval.
  • Earn an additional Companion Fare ticket each year at your account anniversary for $99 plus taxes/fees. 
  • Get a free checked bag on Alaska Airlines flights for you and up to 6 other guests on the same reservation.
  • Earn 3 miles/$1 spent on Alaska Airlines and 1 mile/$1 on all other purchases.

If you fly Alaska Airlines or have plans to in the near future, having the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card makes perfect sense. The miles you’ll earn from the generous sign-up bonus, 2 companion fare tickets, and the ongoing earning potential all result in bottom-line good value.

Bottom Line: With just 1 annual family trip on Alaska Airlines after securing the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card, you’ll have saved enough on baggage fees alone to offset the $75 annual fee. 

Increase Your Chances of an Upgrade With Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines’ upgrade policies are straightforward, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to securing an upgrade. Knowing the rules, however, can give you an edge up.

With Elite Status

  • Achieving top Mileage Plan elite status is the primary way to secure complimentary upgrades on Alaska Airlines.
  • Select flights with available upgrade space. When booking flights, increase your chances of a complimentary upgrade by searching for flights with first class availability under “upgrade fare type.”
  • Use Alaska Mileage Plan miles for premium fare tickets. Mileage Plan miles can be used to purchase premium cabin flights on Alaska and their partner airlines.

Without Elite Status

  • 24-hour purchase upgrades. You may be able to purchase first class upgrades for as little as $29 at check-in, at airport kiosks, or at the departure gate.
  • Upgrade with miles when purchasing your ticket. A first class upgrade can be yours at the point of purchase for 15,000 Mileage Plan miles.
  • Upgrade an existing reservation with miles. Use 15,000 Mileage Plan miles to upgrade an existing reservation by calling Alaska Airlines.
  • Securing a guest upgrade code. Non-elites can be upgraded by MVP Gold members using upgrade certificates.
  • Money and Miles. You don’t need to have elite status to use the Money and Miles option to secure discounted first class fares — just a few miles in your Mileage Plan account. The Money and Miles option gives you up to a 50% discount on the fare: 10,000 miles is good for $100 off the base fare, and 20,000 miles equals $200 off.
  • Use Alaska Mileage Plan miles for premium fare tickets. You do not need elite status to purchase premium cabin tickets on Alaska and partner airlines.

Everything Else You Need to Know

Alaska Airlines is not a member of any formal airline alliance, but it has codeshare agreements with several airlines. A codeshare agreement is basically an arrangement between airlines to use the same flight number though the flight may be marketed or operated by either airline.

When flying on any of the partner airlines with Alaska Airline codeshare agreements, you can earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles. You can also use Alaska Mileage Plan miles to purchase flights on these partners. You cannot use Alaska Airlines miles for upgrades on these airlines:

  • Aer Lingus
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Condor Flugdienst
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Finnair
  • Icelandair
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Chile
  • PenAir
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska
  • Singapore Airlines

Final Thoughts

Alaska Airlines’ upgrade policy is thorough, but knowing the rules can give you a slight advantage over others who haven’t taken the time to review their options.

For example, upgrades are available for purchase 24 hours before departure if available. If you’re really interested in an upgrade and none are available at 24 hours, you can keep checking and maybe find one that comes available before your flight.

Another example is being able to purchase an upgrade with 15,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles. If you weren’t aware of this option, you might sit in the back of the plane on your significant other’s 40th birthday trip, when just 30,000 miles could have made it a special event.

If you’re a member of a frequent flyer program, it always pays to know how the program works for the purpose of leveraging your options when the situation arises.


*Featured image credit: Shutterstock.com

FAQ

How much does it cost to upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines?

The cost to upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines is based on the distance of your flight. If there is upgrade space available, it can cost as little as $29 for a flight 450 miles or less, up to $199 for a flight 2101 miles or more.

Upgrade space is released for sale 24 hours before departure after all complimentary elite upgrades have cleared, so availability to purchase upgrades is limited.

You could also use miles to upgrade your flight at the rate of 15,000 miles per flight.

How do I upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines using miles?

On the Alaskaair.com flight search page, you may purchase a first class upgrade with miles when you buy your ticket. Under the “Upgrade fare type,” you would select “mileage.”

The flights that show up with an “F” encased in a solid blue box have first class space available. You would select your flights, finish your purchase, then call Alaska Airlines to have the miles deducted out of your account and the ticket issued.

To upgrade an existing reservation, just call Alaska Airlines reservations at 1-800-252-7522. The price of 15,000 miles is the same for the one-way upgrade.

Can I use my miles to upgrade on Alaska Airlines partner airlines?

You cannot use Mileage Plan miles to upgrade on any of Alaska Airlines’ partners.

You can, however, use Mileage Plan miles to purchase flights on Alaska Airline partners, and you can also earn miles when flying on partner airlines.

Is it worth it to have an Alaska Airlines credit card?

If you fly on Alaska Airlines, it’s absolutely beneficial to carry an Alaska Airlines credit card. Free checked bag fees alone are worth having the card.

You’ll also be earning a lot of Mileage Plan miles that can be used to purchase flights and upgrades.

If you do not fly Alaska Airlines frequently, an Alaska Airlines credit card still holds value, since you would be earning miles from the sign-up bonus and ongoing purchases that can be redeemed on partner airlines.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

23 comments

  1. I am curious about first class upgrades by mileage if the “F” box is NOT solid blue. It is still allowing me to purchase the ticket at the higher mileage rate. Does this give me priority if first class mileage upgrades become available? I am watching flights, and currently none of the flights going to where I want to go have upgrades available…but at one point, one flight did, but then it went away. I just don’t want to pay for an upgrade and find out it didn’t do anything. Thanks in advance!

    • Christine Krzyszton · January 24, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Erin, thanks for your question. So if I understand what you’re asking, you want to use miles to upgrade and the flights you’re finding do not have first class availability for mileage upgrades? But there are first class seats available for purchase? Or first class seats available to purchase with miles? Or just main cabin seats that are more expensive? I need some clarification to answer your question. Thanks so much.

      • Sorry if this is a duplicate response! I am being allowed to purchase a first class upgrade seat with miles, but the “F” box is not solid blue. So does that mean if seats are available at a later date, I will have priority since I purchased at the upgradable price? When I select the flight, I get this message: One or more of your flights does not have First Class upgrade space available. Please confirm your flight information to continue. I am trying to get from WAS to SEA in September. And yes, there are also first class seats available, pretty much all of them! Thank you! I tried calling Alaska Air, but the girl knew nothing. I might just need another customer service rep. 🙂

        • Christine Krzyszton · January 30, 2019 · Reply

          Hi Erin and thanks for the clarification. So there are two flights on the itinerary you want from WAS to SEA and one of the flights does not have upgrade space available with miles. If you purchase the ticket, you will be able to upgrade one of the flights with miles by calling Alaska Airlines but not the other. I think the question you would want to ask a rep is whether you would be wait listed for the other upgrade and what are the chances of it clearing? We do know, that you would be paying the 15,000 miles for a one-way upgrade whether it is for 1 flight or 2. If all of the first class seats are available, they may just not have released any for upgrading with miles yet on that September flight and the rep may be able to give you alternatives.

  2. I tried to use 75K Gold status to buy/upgrade first class but not available but when I clicked on first class guest upgrade it was available so can I use the certificate for my own and my companion?

    • Christine Krzyszton · March 11, 2019 · Reply

      Hello Hoang. Fortunately you can use your upgrade codes for your own upgrade and for your companion. Alaska Airlines confirms this on their website: “Guest upgrades are electronic upgrade codes given to MVP® Gold members to upgrade friends or family members who are not traveling with them, or for their own use for immediate upgrade when not purchasing a qualifying fare. Once you have qualified for MVP® Gold status, your guest upgrade codes will be deposited into your My account profile.”

  3. I am a little confused about upgrading with miles.

    1) In your screenshot, the prices (in dollars) in the “first class upgrade” column are the same as those in the “main cabin” column, which is what I would expect (because, after all, you’re paying 15,000 miles to upgrade). When I search, I am seeing very different prices in those columns (e.g. from LAX to NYC on 5/9/19, $149 for Main and $392 for First Class Upgrade). Why is this? Does this mean that I have to essentially pay both $243 AND 15,000 miles to upgrade? Why?

    2) Why can I buy a ticket in the “first class upgrade” column (for a lot more money, as I explained above) if there are no upgrades available (the “F” box is white).

    In short, I guess I don’t understand why there is a separate column for upgrades at all. I thought I would just buy a normal coach fare (the first column) and then if there’s an upgrade available, pay my 15,000 miles and get a 1st class ticket. What am I missing? Thanks!

    • Christine Krzyszton · April 10, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Jon. I’ll try to explain briefly. 1) prices are the same for “main cabin” and for “first class upgrade” in the screenshot because I have checked the “mileage” upgrade box on the left. So, a first class ticket is going to be the same price as a main cabin ticket when fare classes are the same. The reason you are seeing different prices in those two columns is that the fare classes are different. Once you check the box, they will be the same if fare classes are the same. So, you would then be paying the main cabin price plus 15,000 miles to upgrade. 2)There may be first class seats available for purchase but all the allocated mileage upgrades have been taken. The assumption in your last paragraph is correct. You can just purchase a ticket in the main cabin and use 15,000 miles to upgrade if the upgrade space is available. Thanks so much and I hope this clarifies things.

      • Thanks for the quick reply! Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but that’s not what I am seeing. Here’s a specific example:

        I search for 1-way from LAX to NYC on 5/9 (on the main page, I don’t select an upgrade type). I get search results like I’d normally expect. There are 3 columns – “Saver”, “Main”, and “First Class”. To use a specific flight, #468 is $119 for Saver, $149 for Main, and $699 for First Class. So far so good.

        I then check “Mileage” as the upgrade type on the left, which is what I think you were talking about. Now, the 3 columns I see change – they are now “Main”, “First Class Upgrade”, and “First Class.” But the prices for Main and First Class Upgrade are still very different. For the flight above (#468) the “Main” fare is $149 but the “First Class Upgrade” fare is $392 (and the “First Class” fare is $699).

        Am I missing something? Are you saying that after I choose “mileage” as the upgrade type, the Main and First Class Upgrade fares should both be $149? They seem not to be in this case (and also for every flight from LA to NY on this day). What does paying the “first class upgrade” price (which is almost triple!) get me that the “main” price does not? If I can buy a “main” ticket and pay 15,000 miles to upgrade to 1st class, why would I buy a “first class upgrade” ticket?

        Thanks again!

        • Christine Krzyszton · April 10, 2019 · Reply

          Sorry Jon, the reason my prices are the same after I checked the mileage upgrade box is because the fare classes were the same. 15,000 mile upgrades can only be used on certain classes (Y, S, B, M, or H). The higher prices you are seeing for the first class upgrade are fares in those classes. Thanks for your patience. I have updated my original answer to clarify that.

          • Ah, got it. That makes a lot more sense – I didn’t even think of that. Thanks!

  4. Melanie Lukic · April 28, 2019 · Reply

    Yesterday I flew from Seattle to Raleigh (main cabin, not sure what class ticket). I have a mileage card, but am not mvp or elite. I started trying to purchase an upgrade 24 hours in advance….I phoned an agent and I constantly checked the app to see if the option would appear (it didn’t). I was at the airport the afternoon before my flight and asked an agent at the counter if I could upgrade. He said the seats were not released until 4 hours before the flight (this was in Portland). I also checked the app frequently. There were 6 seats showing for sale in first class. As soon as I got to Seattle I went straight to the agent and again asked to upgrade. I could see names on the board of people waiting or assigned, but I could not get my name on the list…the best he could do was take my seat number. I waited to board until the very end and again asked the agent. He said there was one person in front of me and if he didn’t want the last seat I could have it. I boarded…the agent came on board twice, but not to tell me I could upgrade. The flight took off and there was an empty first class seat…..I asked the flight attendant about it. She said it was a paid for seat and the passenger didn’t show up. This was an extremely frustrating experience

    • Christine Krzyszton · April 28, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Melanie. Thanks for sharing your experience. How frustrating that must have been, especially with the gate agent coming on board twice and the plane taking off with the empty seat. It’s difficult to say why it happened. Possibly there wasn’t time to process the paid upgrade, or another reason, but it’s a shame the gate agent didn’t acknowledge you and tell you why. I am sorry this happened to you.

  5. Maureen · May 19, 2019 · Reply

    If you buy a ticket on a partner airline with Gold MVP 75k status, are you eligible for an upgrade to the next class of service? For example, Economy to Business on Emirates, Aer Lingus or Finn Air? I don’t think so, but I had purchased a flight in Spain on Iberia from Malaga to Dublin last year on the Iberia website (I’m Platinum Pro on AA) and was surprised to get upgraded upon boarding.

    • Christine Krzyszton · May 20, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Maureen. Alaska Airlines is not part of any formal airline alliance, so although they have partner airlines with codeshare agreements, there are no reciprocal upgrade benefits. American Airlines is part of One World Alliance of which Iberia is a member also. This factor and your AA status of Platinum Pro accounted for your upgrade. I have had the same experience. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  6. If I have purchased my tickets in Economy with miles, do I have any option to upgrade? Is my only option the 24 hr cash option? Thanks.

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 16, 2019 · Reply

      Hello! Only paid tickets are eligible for upgrades with miles. Paid upgrades are only available for tickets purchased in fare categories B, G, H, K, L, M, N, Q, R, S, T, V, W, Y, and Z classes of service. You do have the option, of course, to purchase a first class ticket with miles. Thanks for your questions.

  7. Hi there! Once I select the flight and mileage upgrade to first class, it prompts me to choose my seats, none of which appear to be first class. Do I need to skip the seat selection page completely in order to ensure that I will be seated in first class? Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Christine Krzyszton · June 18, 2019 · Reply

      Hello and thanks for your question. Once your ticket has been purchased (and you’ve selected the option to use a mileage upgrade) you can redeem the First Class mileage upgrade award by calling Alaska Airlines. At that time you can select the First Class seats. The number is 1-800-252-7522.

  8. My question is similar to Jon’s. I want to upgrade with miles. The flight I’m looking at is from SMF to OGG. The fares that come up with No Preference checked are Saver (X) for $309, and Main (K) for $339. With Mileage checked they are Main (K) for $339, First Class Upgrade (H) for $469 and of course there is a first class option for both.

    If I understand your answer to Jon correctly, the difference between the Main (K) fare for $339 and the First Class Upgrade (H) fare for $469 is that the (H) fare is eligible for an upgrade by points and the (K) fare is not, correct? This of course assumes that the upgrades become available, which they are not currently.

    • Christine Krzyszton · July 28, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Gary. Yes, only certain classes (Y, S, B, M, or H) are upgradeable.

  9. Renae Tawney · August 28, 2019 · Reply

    When I have purchased the Main cabin fare and decide later to upgrade to first-class, I had to pay the difference in fare price + the 15000 miles. Never have I seen a first-class upgrade the same price as Main cabin. I have also not had the option to upgrade 24hrs before my flight. I do love Alaska and fly to Kona, HI 3-4 times a year from Seattle.

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 30, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Renae. Only certain fare classes are upgradeable with miles. You can select an upgradeable fare initially or pay the additional amount later, which is what you experienced.Thank you for reading.

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