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As we enter the second half of 2015, many frequent flyers are having to decide just how much they value elite benefits. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan elite status, and sets out to quantify each benefit in order to make those decisions easier.
At the end of last year, TPG looked at the value of American Airlines elite status, and Jason Steele examined the value of elite status with Delta, United and US Airways (RIP Dividend Miles). In this post I’ll continue this series by examining Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and its three levels of elite status: MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K.
Alaska’s frequent flyer program has long been appealing to many travelers for several reasons. For starters, Alaska miles tend to be quite valuable thanks to the program’s extensive list of partners, including British Airways, Emirates and Cathay Pacific. You can also build in a stopover on one-way international awards (or two on round-trip awards), extending the value of your miles even further. TPG redeemed Alaska miles for a flight in first class on Emirates’ A380 from India to New York-JFK, and built in a stopover in Dubai. Check out Eric Rosen’s post on Alaska’s award routing rules for more information on these options.
The other appealing aspect of the Mileage Plan program is that it partners with two of the three major legacy carriers in the US (Delta and American). This means that a casual traveler who might never earn elite status on one of those airlines can bank his/her miles to Alaska and potentially earn elite status there instead. Unfortunately, as of January 1, 2015, discounted economy tickets on Delta no longer earn full elite qualifying miles on Alaska. Be sure to check out Alaska’s partner page for Delta for complete details.
One other thing to keep in mind is that Alaska has two different sets of elite qualification criteria. The first (with lower thresholds) is when all of your travel is on Alaska-operated flights. The second (with higher thresholds) is when you have a combination of travel on Alaska and partner airlines. Keep this in mind if you’re considering a status match to Alaska and want to maintain your status beyond the match window.
As TPG and Jason Steele did with the other airlines, I’ll base the value of each status level on flying 20% more miles than the minimum, and I’ll assume that you’re flying a combination of Alaska and its elite qualifying partners. I’ll also use TPG’s latest valuation of Alaska miles (currently 2 cents each), and will round the value of each elite status level down to the nearest $25.
This status level requires 25,000 elite qualifying miles (20,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 30 elite qualifying segments.
- 50% mileage bonus for flights on Alaska and elite qualifying partners ($300). This assumes 30,000 miles flown, which equates to 15,000 bonus miles.
- First-class upgrades granted 48 hours prior to departure ($200). While regular MVP members will fall behind MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members, I’ve found that the upgrade lists on Alaska flights aren’t nearly as long as those on many Delta flights I’ve taken. For more details, check out my post on Alaska upgrade priority.
- Upgrades from full-fare tickets (Y, S or B class) ($100). These high-fare tickets enjoy immediate upgrades when available; if not, you’ll be added to the wait list and should wind up near the top.
- Upgrades on Delta flights ($50). Even though Delta and Alaska are in the midst of a heated battle for Seattle, the two do still offer some reciprocal benefits to elite flyers. MVP members can request an upgrade on Delta-operated flights, though you’ll fall behind all Medallion members (and their companions). Check out my post on Delta upgrade priority for additional information.
- Dedicated phone line ($25). MVP members get priority reservations assistance. This is worth more if you frequently book complicated itineraries that can’t be put together online, especially award tickets with stopovers and/or open jaws.
- Two free checked bags on Alaska Airlines ($150). This benefit applies to the member and companions on the same reservation, and is more valuable than what other carriers offer to their lowest tier members. Non-elite members pay $25 apiece for their first two checked bags.
- One free checked bag on American ($25). The value of this benefit obviously depends on how frequently you fly on American and how often you check a bag when traveling, but it’s a nice perk to have.
- Priority check-in on Alaska and American ($25). This can be valuable on busy travel days when the airport kiosks are crowded, but generally it won’t save you a ton of time.
- Preferred seating on Alaska, American and Delta ($100). MVP members can reserve preferred seats at the time of booking on all three of these carriers, though this doesn’t include Main Cabin Extra on American or Comfort+ on Delta.
- 50% off Main Cabin Extra on American ($25). Again, the value you’ll get from this benefit is largely dependent on how often you fly with American.
- Priority boarding on Alaska, American and Delta ($25). If you don’t check a bag, you’ll be able to board ahead of non-elite passengers and snag overhead space before it’s all gone.
- Priority AAccess on American ($25). Priority check-in and boarding are part of Priority AAccess, but the major added benefit here is expedited security (which is interesting considering that MVP members can’t even access express security lanes when traveling on Alaska).
- Board Room membership discounts ($25). MVP members enjoy 50% off the initiation fee for new Board Room memberships, and they’ll also get $25 off annual membership or $75 off 3-year memberships. However, if you do not plan on becoming a Board Room member, this benefit is worth nothing.
This status level requires 50,000 elite qualifying miles (40,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 60 elite qualifying segments. Many benefits are the same as MVP, meaning that the additional value comes from using them twice as often.
Additional Benefits: $2,400 (total $3,475)
- 100% mileage bonus for flights on Alaska and elite qualifying partners ($900). Assumes 60,000 miles flown, which equates to 60,000 bonus miles (adjusted downwards by $300 due to the MVP bonus counted above).
- First-class upgrades granted 120 hours prior to departure ($400). You’ll enjoy higher priority, and you’ll be able to take advantage of that higher priority on twice as many flights.
- Companion upgrades ($100). This can be an incredibly valuable benefit if you often travel with a companion, especially because both you and your companion will clear into first class based on your status.
- Four annual Guest Upgrades ($100). You’ll be awarded four Guest Upgrade certificates every year after (re)qualifying for MVP Gold status. These can be used to immediately confirm an upgrade for you, but can also be shared with friends or family members (like TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig did last month).
- Complimentary beverage when traveling in the main cabin ($10). Ideally you’d be enjoying free drinks in first class courtesy of a complimentary upgrade, but it’s still nice to be recognized when that doesn’t happen.
- Upgrades on Delta flights ($50). You’ll still be near the bottom of the priority list, but you may have more opportunities to take advantage of this benefit.
- Two free checked bags on Alaska Airlines ($300). You have the same benefit here as MVP members; the only difference is that you’ll be able to use it more frequently.
- Two free checked bags on American ($50). You can check two bags for free on American flights, whereas MVP members only get one.
- Priority check-in at Alaska and American ($25).
- Preferred seating on Alaska, American and Delta ($100).
- Free Main Cabin Extra on American ($50). MVP Gold members get complimentary Main Cabin Extra seats on American.
- Priority boarding on Alaska, American and Delta ($25).
- Priority AAccess on American ($25).
- Board Room membership discounts ($55). MVP Gold members enjoy a waived initiation fee for new memberships, and discounts on 1- and 3 year memberships jump to $55 and $165, respectively. Again, if you don’t plan on becoming a Board Room member, this benefit is worth nothing.
- Fee waivers for service charges and ticket change fees ($125). If you frequently change your travel plans, the value of this benefit may increase significantly. Changes made within 60 days of departure are normally subject to a $125 fee.
- Standby and wait list for full Alaska flights ($25).
- Free same-day flight changes ($50). MVP Gold members can use Alaska’s same-day confirmed process to change their travel plans on the day of departure at no cost, including all passengers on the same reservation. The normal charge for this is $25.
- Express security lines ($25).
MVP Gold 75K
This status level requires 90,000 elite qualifying miles (75,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 90 elite qualifying segments. Many benefits are the same as MVP Gold, meaning that the additional benefits come from using them approximately twice as often.
Additional Benefits: $4,750 (total $8,225)
- 125% mileage bonus for flights on Alaska and elite qualifying partners ($1,500). This increased bonus went into effect as part of the 2015 Mileage Plan program. Assumes 108,000 miles flown, which equates to 135,000 bonus miles (and then adjusted downwards by $1,200 due to the MVP bonus counted above).
- First class upgrades granted 72 hours prior to departure ($800). You’ll enjoy higher priority, and you’ll again have twice as many opportunities to take advantage of it.
- Companion upgrades ($100).
- Complimentary beverage when traveling in the main cabin ($10).
- Upgrades on Delta flights ($100). You’ll have the same low priority, but more chances to score the upgrade.
- Two free checked bags on Alaska Airlines ($300).
- Two free checked bags on American ($50). Same benefit as MVP Gold.
- Priority check-in at Alaska and American ($50).
- Preferred seating on Alaska, American and Delta ($200).
- Free Main Cabin Extra on American ($100).
- Priority boarding on Alaska, American and Delta ($50).
- Priority AAccess on American ($50).
- Board Room membership discounts ($55). MVP Gold 75K members have the same discounts offered to MVP Gold members.
- Fee waivers for service charges and ticket change fees ($100).
- Standby and wait list for full Alaska flights ($25).
- Free same-day flight changes ($50).
- Express security lines ($25).
- 50,000 bonus miles when you attain status ($1,000). Note that this won’t apply to status earned through a match from another program.
- Nominate a friend or family member to MVP status ($100). This can be very valuable if your nominee travels frequently on Alaska.
- 4 complimentary Board Room day passes annually ($100). While you can purchase one-day passes for $45 each, I can’t see them being worth more than $25 apiece.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan clearly offers a compelling value proposition, and can be a great alternative to the Delta SkyMiles program. In fact, its top-tier status (MVP Gold 75K) actually wound up in a near tie with American Executive Platinum status for the most valuable elite levels out there. One of the most valuable benefits I identify above is the accrual of bonus miles. The 50% mileage bonus to low-tier elites, 100% to mid-tier elites and 125% to top-tier elites is the most generous elite mileage bonus out there, and it can be a quick way to boost your Mileage Plan account.
Despite its relatively small stature, Alaska Airlines continues to expand to new routes, and has even begun challenging Delta on its own turf in Salt Lake City. Here’s hoping that Alaska continues to stand out from the pack with its valuable frequent flyer program and flexible redemption options.
I would love to hear from other Mileage Plan elites about how you value your status. Please share your thoughts in the comments below! The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.