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

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Christine Krzyszton
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Christine Krzyszton

Senior Finance Contributor

316 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 98U.S. States Visited: 45

Christine ran her own business developing and managing insurance and financial services. This stoked a passion for points and miles and she now has over 2 dozen credit cards and creates in-depth, deta...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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It’s easy to envy our traveling friends who live in the western U.S. 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 (SEA), Portland (PDX), Anchorage (ANC), San Francisco (SFO), and Los Angeles (LAX), but it flies to 115 destinations throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and even Costa Rica.

We’ve heard loyalists rave about its Mileage Plan frequent flyer program to the point of a cult following but the airline’s recent leap to membership in the Oneworld alliance has created even more excitement.

If you’re one of the many Alaska Airlines loyalists, knowing how its 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.

Fortunately, our article focuses on everything you need to know about upgrading to a first class seat on Alaska Airlines, including the types of upgrades available, the upgrade hierarchy of elite status, and how to upgrade with miles or cash.

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, some clarifications:

  • Alaska Airlines defines its Premium Class as those seats toward the front of the main cabin; they 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 Upgrades

  • 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

Paid Upgrades

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

Upgrade 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 to 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?

Alaska Airlines new first class cabin
You don’t have to have elite status to be able to purchase a first class upgrade on Alaska. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

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 4 levels of elite status in its Mileage Plan frequent flyer program:

  • MVP Gold 100K
  • MVP Gold 75K
  • MVP Gold
  • MVP

Here’s how upgrades are distributed among the elites:

SCROLL FOR MORE

Type of Upgrade

MVP

MVP Gold

MVP Gold 75K/MVP Gold 100K

First class upgrades at time of booking

Y, S, or Z fares

Y, S, B, M, or Z fares

Y, S, B, M, H, or Z fares

Premium Class upgrades at time of booking

Y, S, B, or Z fares

Y, S, B, M, H, Q, L, B, N, K, or Z fares

All fares

First and Premium Class upgrades on discounted fares

48 hours prior to departure

72 hours prior to departure

120 hours prior to departure, MVP Gold 100K having the highest waitlist priority

Companion upgrades to first class

N/A

Yes

Yes

Companion upgrades to Premium Class

N/A

Yes

Yes

4 one-way first class guest upgrades

N/A

Yes

Yes

International Upgrade Certificates on American Airlines

N/A

N/A

1 for MVP Gold 75K, 2 for MVP Gold 100K each year

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, MVP Gold 75K, and MVP Gold 100K 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 than 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, MVP Gold 75K, and MVP Gold 100K 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 Credit: Alaska Airlines

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

How To Purchase an Alaska Airlines First Class Upgrade

Paid Upgrades

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

Prices for one-way upgrades to first class are based on distance and start at $23.

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.

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 (look for “U” class) 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

Alaska Airlines First Class Upgrade Search by Mileage
Upgrading to first class with miles is easy when purchasing your Alaska Airlines ticket. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

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 Book 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 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 at this time.

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 miles that can be redeemed for upgrades and more.

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

  • Earn a generous welcome bonus after completing the required minimum spending on the card within the first 3 months after card approval.
  • Earn a Companion Fare ticket each year at your account anniversary for $99 plus taxes and 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 per $1 spent on Alaska Airlines and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

If you fly Alaska Airlines or have plans to in the near future, having the Alaska Signature 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 Alaska Signature card, you’ll have saved enough on baggage fees alone to offset the $95 annual fee. 

First Class Upgrades for American Airlines AAdvantage Elites

If you have Executive Platinum or Platinum Pro elite status with American Airlines AAdvantage, you qualify for reciprocal complimentary upgrades to Premium Class and first class upgrades on Alaska Airlines.

Upgrades will be confirmed as early as 120 hours from departure but only after all MVP Gold 100K and MVP Gold 75K member upgrades have cleared.

Alaska Airlines Saver fares do not qualify for upgrades.

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 upgrade availability under Upgrade fare type.
  • Use Alaska Mileage Plan miles for premium fare award tickets. Mileage Plan miles can be used to purchase premium cabin flights on Alaska and its partner airlines.
  • Utilize your American AAdvantage Executive Platinum or Platinum Pro elite status to receive first class upgrades on Alaska Airlines.

Without Elite Status

  • Consider 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.
  • Utilize Money & Miles to discount your fare. You don’t need to have elite status to use the Money & 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.

First Class Seats on Oneworld Alliance Partner Airlines

First Class One World with Mileage Plan
Use your Mileage Plan miles to purchase first class seating on partner airlines. Image Credit: Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is a recent member of the Oneworld alliance, joining 13 other airline members, but it has codeshare agreements with several airlines listed below. 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.

It’s worth noting that Mileage Plan miles can be used to purchase first class seats on some partner airlines.

While Alaska Mileage Plan elite members receive priority seating on Oneworld airlines (indicated by *) paid flights, you cannot use Alaska Airlines miles for first class upgrades on paid flights at this time.

  • Aer Lingus
  • American Airlines*
  • British Airways*
  • Cathay Pacific*
  • Condor Flugdienst
  • El Al Isreal Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair*
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Iberia*
  • Icelandair
  • Japan Airlines*
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines*
  • Qantas*
  • Qatar Airways*
  • Ravn Alaska
  • Royal Air Maroc*
  • Royal Jordanian*
  • S7 Airlines* (temporarily suspended from OneWorld)
  • Singapore Airlines*
  • SriLankan 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.

The information regarding the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Prices for one-way upgrades to first class are based on distance and start at $23.

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, 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 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 at this time.

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 welcome bonus and ongoing purchases that can be redeemed on partner airlines.

Christine Krzyszton's image

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine ran her own business developing and managing insurance and financial services. This stoked a passion for points and miles and she now has over 2 dozen credit cards and creates in-depth, detailed content for UP.

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