Last-Minute Elite Status Strategies for Alaska Airlines MVP 2016

Dec 9, 2016

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It’s that time of year aUpdate: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

gain. We’re in the final stretch of 2016, and that means one thing: the deadline for airline elite status qualification is quickly approaching. With just a few weeks left to qualify or requalify, it’s time to check your balances and take a few simple steps if you’re coming up short.

Over the next several days, we’ll be covering the elite status programs of five major carriers: Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest and United. In addition to discussing the qualification requirements and the benefits of each tier, we’ll include some last-minute earning ideas, and even suggest a few routes for a mileage run or two if you need a few final flights to finish out your year.

Today, we’ll look at Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan’s MVP program and what you need to know to bring that status home for another year. Note that while Alaska has been approved to acquire Virgin America, there currently are no reciprocal benefits on the airlines, so I’m going to leave Virgin out of the considerations below.

Useful Posts

Before we get going, be sure to check out some of these posts for helpful hints and reminders about what you should be doing around this time of year.

ALASKA AIRLINES MVP

Often overlooked in favor of legacies like American and Delta (both of which, incidentally, are Alaska partners), Alaska is like the little airline that could. Though most of its routes serve the western US, it partners with great international carriers like Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Its mileage program is one of the most generous out there, as well as the most traditional remaining among the US airlines.

TIER QUALIFICATION AND BENEFITS

Alaska elites receive many benefits when flying American as well.
Alaska’s MVP program has three tiers.

While other US carriers have shifted (or are going to) to an elite status qualification formula based both on distance or segments flown and a spending requirement, Alaska maintains a more traditional qualification system. Its MVP program has just three tiers, and you can qualify for each by flying a certain number of miles or segments on Alaska and/or its partners.

MVP: Earn 25,000 elite-qualifying miles (20,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 30 elite-qualifying segments.

Here are the benefits:

  • 50% mileage bonus on base miles from flights on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners
  • First-class and Premium Class upgrades starting 48 hours prior to departure
  • Instant upgrades from full-fare tickets (Y, S or Z)
  • Premium Class upgrades on some fares (Y, S, Z or B)
  • Upgrades on select Delta flights
  • Two free checked bags for you and a companion on Alaska Airlines, one free checked bag for you and a companion on American
  • Priority check-in and boarding on Alaska, American and Delta
  • Preferred seating on Alaska, American and Delta
  • 50% off Main Cabin Extra on American
  • Priority phone line
  • Board Room membership discount ($25)

MVP Gold: Earn 50,000 elite-qualifying miles (40,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 60 elite-qualifying segments.

Here are the additional benefits:

  • 100% mileage bonus on base miles from flights on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners
  • Complimentary first-class upgrades starting 72 hours before departure for you and a companion
  • Four first-class Gold Guest upgrades per year
  • Instant upgrades from full-fare tickets (Y, S, B, M or Z class)
  • Instant Premium Class upgrades on some fares (Y, Z, S, B, M, H, Q, L, V, N or K)
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra on American
  • Two free checked bags for you and a companion on Alaska Airlines and American
  • Express security lines at select airports
  • Complimentary same-day standby and flight changes
  • Complimentary premium beverage on most Alaska flights when traveling in the main cabin
  • Waivers for Mileage Plan service charges and ticket change fees
  • Board Room membership discount ($55)
Alaska Airlines announced their new Preferred Plus seats this week.
Top-tier elites get access to Alaska’s Premium Class seats and in-flight entertainment players.

MVP Gold 75K: Earn 90,000 elite-qualifying miles (75,000 if flown entirely on Alaska) or 90 elite-qualifying segments.

Here are the additional benefits:

  • 125% mileage bonus for flights on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners
  • 50,000 bonus miles when you attain status (not through status matches)
  • First-class upgrades for you and a companion starting 120 hours prior to departure
  • Instant first-class upgrades from more fare codes (Y, S, B, M, H or Z class)
  • Instant Premium Class upgrades on all fares
  • Complimentary in-flight entertainment player
  • Nominate a friend or family member to MVP status
  • 4 complimentary Board Room day passes annually

EARNING IDEAS

Alaska
Alaska’s route network is primarily in the western US, but it has plenty of partners you can earn on, too!

As you can see, it’s fairly straightforward to earn Alaska status and the benefits are pretty great at the top tiers. So if you can maximize your earning through the end of the year, it might be worth taking a few extra steps to gun for a higher status.

Maximize Routing

It’s definitely more time-consuming, but if you’ve got a couple extra hours to spare and some creative license, it might make sense to squeeze in a few more miles or segments when you book upcoming travel. By making a couple connections instead of flying nonstop between your origin and destination, you can rack up the extra distance you might need to get you to the next tier of status.

For example, instead of flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to earn 2,308 elite-qualifying miles, you could fly from Los Angeles to Seattle to Washington to earn 3,281 elite-qualifying miles. On the face of it, that’s not much, but those 973 miles could be the difference between qualifying for one tier or another.

Get creative with your routing and snag a few hundred extra miles.
Get creative with your routing and snag a few hundred extra miles.

Status-Matching

Besides trying an end-of-year mileage run, if you’re thinking of switching from another airline program to Alaska, now might be a great time to ask for a status match since Alaska is one of the few airlines that still grants full matches from other programs instead of just challenges.

To submit a request, email elite.flyer@alaskaair.com with a photo of your current elite ID card from another airline (front and back), your driver’s license or passport, an online account summary with your year-to-date miles from the other program and your Mileage Plan number. If you submit your request now and are accepted, your matched status should be valid through 2017.

Alaska might offer the chance to buy up to elite status again this year.
Alaska might offer the chance to buy up to elite status again this year.

Buy Elite Miles

There’s no guarantee that Alaska will offer flyers the chance to buy elite miles or status outright, but there have been reports in past years that the airline has offered elites who have not requalified the chance to purchase elite-qualifying miles. If you’ve been contacted with such an offer, please feel free to report it in the comments below. Last year, you could buy EQMs in the following bundles:

  • $200: 500-1,500 EQMs
  • $400: 1,501-3,000 EQMs
  • $575: 3,001-5,000 EQMs

That might or might not be worth it to you, depending on the tier you’re going for and whether or not you can just hop on a quick, cheap flight instead. But if you don’t have any flexibility and you are within striking distance of qualifying for MVP Gold 75K (and earning those 50,000 bonus miles), it might be worth shelling out a few hundred dollars just to be certain.

Mileage Run Scenarios

Though time is getting short, you could still take a mileage run or two in the few weeks we have left of 2016. Alaska’s been know to offer one-way airfares starting as low as $49, so you can rack up some extra miles on the cheap.

If this course is of interest to you, don’t forget to check the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for cheap fare news and ideas. In the meantime, here are a couple options I recently found that should give you an idea of what to look for.

1,000 miles short: It might seem unlikely, but some people do indeed miss out on elite status by as little as a 1,000 miles. Luckily, it’s easy to avoid that fate, especially since Alaska credits you with a 500-mile minimum per flight, so you can take any number of cheap short hops within Washington, Oregon or California.

For example, here’s a quick round-trip from Seattle to Portland that you could do after work one day. It would cost you $126 and earn you 1,000 EQMs.

alaska-sea-pdx

Here’s another example where you could book a same-day turnaround from San Francisco to Portland that’ll earn you 1,100 EQMs for $151.

alaska-sfo-pdx

5,000 miles short: One of the most logical ways to aim for this amount of miles is on the airline’s transcontinental routes from Seattle to New York or Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. For example, here’s a quick round-trip from Seattle to Newark (via San Diego on the outbound) that would net you 5,872 EQMs for a cost of $345.

alaska-sea-ewr

10,000 miles short: There is still enough time to rack up a few cheap short trips to hit this mark, but if you’re looking to do it in one fell swoop, I’d suggest looking to Alaska’s airline partners for flights to Asia, such as on American, Delta or Cathay Pacific to Asia; or Air France/KLM, British Airways or Icelandair to Europe. Or, you could think about booking a more expensive ticket in a premium cabin since you generally earn class-of-service bonuses. Just be sure to look at the earning rates of the fare codes of your tickets airline by airline here, since not all partners earn miles at the same rate.

For an extreme example, here’s an itinerary from Las Vegas to Beijing in business class aboard Alaska’s partner, Hainan Airlines.

hainan-las-pek

Now, this itinerary is not cheap, at $2,521. However, because the fare books into the R code class, you earn 100% miles plus a 100% class-of-service bonus per Alaska’s earning rules. So all told, you’d end up with 25,072 EQMs!

Segments

Don’t forget that you can also qualify for elite status based on segments instead of miles, and that might be easier for some folks.

When searching for good deals segment-wise, I find that the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk is the best place to get ideas, even if the entries are a bit of a jumble.

From there, I go to Google Flights to the Multi City booking link and manually enter a few cities and dates and see how the itinerary comes together. Google Flights dynamically prices things out, so you’ll often see the airfare rise or fall slightly as you enter new cities and dates.

Here’s a sample trip I put together with San Jose as the starting and ending point, with stops through Seattle and Oakland for $334 and a total of six segments. Even better deals are out there, though, if you have time to play around.

alaska-segments

Have any Alaska MVP strategies of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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