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.

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