What is Alaska Airlines elite status worth now that Alaska has joined Oneworld?
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Many road warriors are rabidly loyal to their airline of choice. After all, elite status gives you an array of perks that make your travel experience more rewarding and less stressful, so it’s easy to love those value-added benefits (and the carrier that offers them). But are you sure you’ve selected the best carrier to meet your needs?
Today I’ll continue my series that quantifies just how much value you can get out of each tier of elite status across the major frequent flyer programs in the U.S.
I’ve already taken a look at some of the larger U.S. carriers starting (like American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus). But today, I’ll shift gears and consider Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Let’s dive in!
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How I developed these valuations
Before we get to the details of the elite status tiers of the Mileage Plan program, a couple of disclaimers.
First, it’s important to note that these mathematical analyses represent just one way of calculating the value you’d get out of a given elite status level.
Everyone has their own way of valuing the various benefits of loyalty programs; some may always pay for first and business class and thus do not need complimentary upgrades, while others may travel exclusively in the U.S. and don’t care about free lounge access on international itineraries. As a result, feel free to adjust the numbers I use to make them more relevant to your own personal valuation.
Second, these numbers are all based on the benefits you’d enjoy after achieving the given status level and continuing to qualify each year thereafter. If you’re starting from scratch, these values are a bit skewed since the first 20,000 miles you fly will provide no benefits. I’ve provided some analysis for those of you in that position toward the end of the post, including an Excel spreadsheet to help with your estimates.
This brings me to the third and final critical part of this analysis: the underlying assumptions I’m making. To really hit a value for benefits, I have to assume a certain amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. For the sake of the airline portion of the series, I’m making the following assumptions:
- You earn 20% more elite-qualifying miles than the minimum required for the given status level.
- You spend an average of 12.5 cents per elite-qualifying mile.
As always, adjust these numbers based on your given travel patterns. Those who travel exclusively in the U.S. may spend less than 12.5 cents per mile, while those who travel in paid first or business class internationally likely spend significantly more. You also may qualify on segments rather than miles, and you may have heavier travel in certain parts of the year.
Two final bits of information: For the sake of this analysis, I’m valuing any bonus miles earned based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which peg Alaska miles at 1.8 cents apiece. In addition, I’m rounding all of the individual benefit valuations to the nearest $5 to make the math a bit simpler.
Things to consider before chasing Alaska elite status
There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you decide whether to chase Alaska Airlines elite status in 2021. Here’s a look at some things to consider — these are especially important as 2021 is far from a typical travel year.
How much are you traveling during the coronavirus pandemic?
It’s hard to talk about travel without discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has changed travel as we know it, and many of us are traveling less. Airlines have responded to the pandemic by extending elite status and making it easier to earn status in 2021.
Most major airlines responded to the pandemic by extending elite status and making it easier to earn in 2021. Alaska is one of these airlines, and it extended all 2020 elite status through 2021 and made Alaska status slightly easier to achieve by lowering requirements for earning status with partner flights. It’s also offering a 50% bonus on elite qualifying miles earned through June 30, 2021.
That said, I can’t be sure of how much you’ll travel. It’s up to you to look through your travel plans and see if it makes sense to chase elite status during the pandemic. Make sure to also look toward the future and think about how much you’ll travel in future years.
Remember, you can edit the provided Excel sheet and make changes to my assumed valuations for a more accurate look at the value of elite status.
Note that I’m not reworking the valuations for 2021 to reflect the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on travel. With the global vaccine rollout, we’re finally getting closer to a normal travel landscape. Likewise, the status you earn this year will be valid through 2022, when travel will (hopefully) return to normal.
Does Alaska have a large presence at your home airport?
Alaska Airlines is one of the smallest traditional U.S. airlines. Its hubs are mostly contained to cities on the West Coast, including:
- Anchorage (ANC)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Portland (PDX)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Seattle/Tacoma (SEA)
Further, the airline has focus cities in San Diego (SAN) and San Jose (SJC). If you live outside these airports, you may have difficulty flying Alaska Airlines (and using your elite benefits) unless you commute to one of the airline’s hubs regularly. If you fall into this camp, you may want to chase status with an airline that better serves your home airport instead.
Remember that Alaska Airlines operates a mainly domestic route network, with limited connections to Central America and Canada. The airline does have partnerships with a handful of international carriers, but you’ll only receive limited benefits. Keep this in mind if your travels often take you to Asia, Europe and beyond — chances are, you’d be better off with another airline.
That said, Alaska Airlines elite status is a great match for West Coast travelers who usually travel domestically. The benefits will make your travel experience more enjoyable, with complimentary upgrades, preferred seating and bonus mileage earning. When it comes time to travel abroad, you can earn and redeem miles with Alaska’s huge network of international partners.
This is especially true for travelers based in Portland and Anchorage, where Alaska Airlines is the dominant carrier. Travelers in other Alaska hub cities may want to shop around and see if another airline — for example, Delta in Seattle — is a better fit for their travel needs. But again — even in these other cities — Alaska provides an excellent domestic route network.
Alaska recently joined Oneworld
Another thing to note is that Alaska Airlines joined the Oneworld alliance in late March.
This brings new elite status benefits, like reciprocal checked bags, lounge access and priority boarding on other Oneworld carriers like British Airways and American Airlines. This will largely be a net-positive for Alaska elites as they will gain access to useful benefits on Oneworld airlines.
The airline is also set to introduce a new 100K status tier at the end of 2021. Benefits are yet to be announced, but it will likely increase upgrade priority and other expanded benefits on Oneworld carriers. This will reward Alaska’s top flyers more than ever before, which is great news for West Coast road warriors.
On the flip side, we could see Alaska’s Oneworld membership hurt Mileage Plan in other ways.
For example, we could see Oneworld membership cause Alaska to devalue Mileage Plan miles in the coming months. This could be to bring Alaska miles in-line with American AAdvantage. Likewise, we could see Alaska move toward revenue-based mileage earning for the same reason. This is all speculation for now, but everything is on the table as Alaska prepares for such a large change.
Additionally, the airline could shed some of its non-alliance partners once in Oneworld. This includes Emirates, Singapore Airlines, LATAM and others. While no official news has been announced, this is a possibility if Alaska wanted to shift business toward Oneworld carriers.
All that being said, how much is each Alaska elite status tier worth? Here’s my analysis:
Alaska MVP status ($765)
The lowest tier in Alaska’s program is MVP status, which normally requires 20,000 elite-qualifying miles with Alaska or its partners. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 24,000 elite-qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (so a total spend of $3,000).
50% mileage bonus ($215)
MVP members will earn a 50% bonus on Alaska flights and with the program’s elite-qualifying airline partners, including British Airways and Emirates. With 24,000 miles flown, that’ll give you an additional 12,000 Alaska miles, worth $216. While the carrier doesn’t have a revenue-based program yet, just be aware that not all fare classes on partners will earn full miles, especially those in deeply discounted economy.
Priority airport services ($75)
As an MVP traveler, you’ll enjoy priority check-in and boarding when you fly on Alaska. This may not be the most valuable perk but can still save some value during busy travel days.
Checked bag fee waiver ($100)
You and your travel companions can also check two bags for free when traveling on Alaska flights. This is a decent jump over similar perks offered to low-tier elites with the legacy carriers, as they only allow a single checked bag. It’s also a step above the free-checked-bag perk offered to Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit cardholders. These savings can really add up if you regularly check multiple bags, but I’ll assume a conservative valuation of $100.
Preferred seats ($50)
MVP travelers can also select preferred seats on Alaska, which may be aisle seats or those located close to the front of the aircraft. Note that this isn’t available on the carrier’s saver fares and doesn’t typically include Premium Class seating.
Upgrades to Premium Class ($100)
At the end of 2015, Alaska announced a new Premium Class section on its planes. These seats provide four inches of additional legroom plus complimentary snacks and drinks, similar to Delta’s Comfort+.
Unfortunately, Alaska also followed Delta’s lead by requiring a formal upgrade process to gain access to those seats. MVP members are eligible for immediate upgrades into Premium Class seats at the time of booking for expensive fare classes (Y, S, Z or B). But all other fare classes won’t be upgraded until 48 hours before departure. This perk also doesn’t extend to companions at this lowest elite tier.
Given these restrictions, I’ll assume a relatively conservative valuation of $100.
Upgrades to first class ($150)
In addition to Premium Class upgrades, MVP members are still eligible for space-available, complimentary upgrades to first class on Alaska-operated flights. These will start clearing 48 hours before departure (Y, S or Z fares are eligible to clear immediately). Unfortunately for MVP travelers, they will fall behind MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members. You also can’t upgrade companions, so I’ll peg this perk at $150.
It’s hard to value exactly how much first-class upgrades are worth without knowing your travel habits. That said, I’m giving them a modest valuation of 0.62 cents per mile flown for MVP status. You may get far more value than this if you’re flying transcontinental, or less if you’re flying short-haul flights like Seattle (SEA) to Portland (PDX).
Priority phone line ($50)
The final MVP perk is a priority phone line, though this may only pay off when you run into weather issues or other problems.
Oneworld Ruby ($25)
Now that Alaska is a Oneworld member, MVP elites are granted Oneworld Ruby status, which provides priority check-in and standby. This includes the ability to pick Main Cabin Extra seats on American flights the day of travel. To keep in-line with other Oneworld valuations, I’m valuing this benefit at $25 per year.
Alaska MVP Gold status ($3,095)
Alaska’s middle-tier Gold status normally requires 40,000 elite-qualifying miles on Alaska or 50,000 elite-qualifying miles. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 48,000 elite-qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (so a total spend of $6,000).
100% mileage bonus ($865)
MVP Gold members will earn twice as many miles on Alaska flights and with the program’s elite-qualifying airline partners. By flying 48,000 miles in a year, that’ll give you an additional 48,000 Alaska miles, worth $864. Again, be aware of those fares that won’t earn full miles, especially many deeply discounted economy ones.
Priority airport services ($175)
As an MVP Gold member, you’ll enjoy the same priority services at the airport as MVP travelers plus express security lines (where available) when flying Alaska.
Checked bag fee waiver ($200)
Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
Preferred seats ($100)
Same benefit, more frequent utilization
Upgrades to Premium Class ($250)
As an MVP Gold flyer, you’re eligible for upgrades to Premium Class as well, though you have three distinct legs up on regular MVP members. First, most fares are eligible for immediate upgrades (Y, Z, S, B, M, H, Q, L, V, N and K). And even if you book a lower fare class that can’t immediately be upgraded, you’ll start clearing into available seats 72 hours before departure. Finally, you can upgrade a companion traveling with you. As a result, I’ll bump the value of this perk up to $250.
Upgrades to first class ($480)
First-class upgrades are also available for MVP Golds. You’ll have additional fare classes eligible for immediate upgrades (B and M) and higher upgrade priority, clearing up to 72 hours ahead of your flight. You’ll also be able to upgrade a companion, though keep in mind that MVP Gold 75K travelers are now eligible for upgrades on award tickets, which may lower your upgrade chances slightly.
I’m boosting the value of first-class upgrades to 1.0 cents per mile for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members. This is in large part due to the ability to upgrade a companion on your itinerary. That said, the true value is still dependent on the types of routes you fly.
Gold Guest Upgrades ($400)
Every year, you’ll earn four Gold Guest Upgrades when you qualify for MVP Gold status. These certificates can be used to upgrade to first class on Alaska-operated flights, and they’re fully transferable to friends or family members, even when they aren’t traveling on the same flight as you. They’re even valid on flights booked using the companion fare benefit from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, though you can’t use them on deeply discounted and/or award tickets (G, R, T and X classes).
You also must have U inventory available at the time of the request, as there’s no way to waitlist for an upgrade (a perfect example of why ExpertFlyer — owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures — and the site’s alert feature can come in handy). Even though the difference between coach and first class can be hundreds of dollars, I’ll peg these at $100 apiece.
Complimentary beverage in the main cabin ($25)
If you aren’t able to land an upgrade, you can enjoy a complimentary beverage in economy. These normally cost $6-7, so depending on how frequently you’re able to ride upfront or in Premium Class, this could be much less (or much more) valuable.
Fee waivers ($300)
MVP Gold members will also avoid paying a few additional fees that can really add up, including phone ticketing fees ($15), same-day confirmed changes (usually $25) and ticket change/cancellation fees (usually $125). That last one can be incredibly valuable, as you can essentially change or cancel any ticket, be it award or paid, without penalties. In fact, this perk got even more valuable in 2018 when Alaska updated its change/cancellation policy for non-elite members. In the past, any traveler could change or cancel a flight more than 60 days before departure, but now that’s limited to MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K travelers.
Priority phone line ($100)
Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
Partner lounge access ($50)
Another perk for MVP Gold members is complimentary lounge access when traveling on certain partners, including the Galleries Lounge in London-Heathrow (LHR) when flying British Airways and the Saga Lounge in Reykjavik (KEF) when traveling on Icelandair. You can also bring at least one guest with you, though be sure to review the full details on Alaska’s partner elite benefits page.
Oneworld Sapphire ($150)
MVP Gold members are granted Sapphire benefits when traveling on Oneworld airlines. This includes the same priority check-in and standby offered to MVP plus priority boarding and lounge access when traveling internationally. This includes the ability to pick Main Cabin Extra seats on American Airlines flights at the time of booking.
Alaska MVP Gold 75K ($7,335)
Alaska’s top-tier MVP Gold 75K status normally requires 75,000 elite-qualifying miles on Alaska or its partners. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 90,000 elite-qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (for a total spend of $11,250).
125% mileage bonus ($2,025)
MVP Gold 75K members enjoy the largest mileage bonus in the program, taking home 125% more miles than travelers with no status. With 90,000 miles of flying, that equates to 112,500 extra miles, worth $2,025.
Priority airport services ($325)
Same perks, more frequent utilization.
Checked bag fee waiver ($325)
Same perks, more frequent utilization.
Preferred seats ($175)
Same perks, more frequent utilization.
Upgrades to Premium Class ($500)
MVP Gold 75K members are eligible for immediate complimentary upgrades to Premium Class on almost all tickets, regardless of the fare class purchased, though Saver (X) tickets are excluded. As a result, I’ll bump this perk to $500.
Upgrades to first class ($900)
As an MVP Gold 75K, you’ll enjoy the highest upgrade priority on Alaska-operated flights. You have an additional fare class (H) eligible for immediate upgrades, but for all other tickets, you’ll start clearing into first class 120 hours before departure. This upgrade priority also applies to a companion.
Upgrades on American Airlines ($450)
MVP Gold 75K members are eligible for first-class upgrades on American Airlines flights too. Upgrades are available on flights within the U.S. (including Hawaii) and between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America. You and one travel companion are eligible to upgrade from Main Cabin and premium economy to first class.
Upgrades process the day of departure or at check-in. You must opt-in to upgrades online when checking in to your American Airlines flights. Later in 2021, MVP Gold 75K members will be added to the upgrade waitlist 72 hours before travel. They will be automatically placed behind Platinum Pro members on the waitlist.
I’ll peg this at half the value of Alaska Airlines upgrades since, as an Alaska elite, you’re likely to fly American less than Alaska.
Gold Guest Upgrades ($400)
You won’t enjoy any extra Gold Guest Upgrades for reaching 75K status, so I’ll keep this value at $100 apiece.
Complimentary beverage in the Main Cabin ($25)
This benefit is the same for both MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members. I’m keeping the value the same since you’ll hopefully spend most of your time in either first or Premium Class as a 75K traveler.
50,000 bonus miles ($900)
When you qualify for MVP Gold 75K status, you’ll receive 50,000 bonus miles (note that this doesn’t include memberships upgraded through a status match), worth $900.
Gift MVP status to a friend ($250)
Another perk you’ll unlock by qualifying for 75K status is the ability to gift MVP status to a friend or family member. As with just about any elite status, the true value depends on how frequently that person actually flies Alaska (or the carrier’s partner airlines). However, I’ll assume a value of roughly one-third of my valuation of MVP status.
Four Alaska Lounge day passes ($100)
When you qualify for MVP Gold 75K, you’ll receive four-day passes to Alaska Lounge locations. You’ll find Alaska Lounges in Seattle, New York-JFK, Portland, Los Angeles, and Anchorage. The retail price of these is $50, though I’ll peg them at $25 apiece.
Keep in mind that some of these lounges do participate in the Priority Pass program. This means they’re accessible to holders of several premium cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required). However, there have been many reports of overcrowding in these lounges, so admittance isn’t guaranteed as a Priority Pass member.
Fee waivers ($450)
Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
Priority phone line ($200)
Same benefit, more frequent utilization, and you’ll likely encounter more knowledgeable agents.
Partner lounge access ($50)
MVP Gold 75Ks can access the same lounges as MVP Golds, and given the relatively narrow footprint, I’ll keep the valuation the same.
Oneworld Emerald ($260)
MVP Gold 75K members enjoy Oneworld Emerald status, giving access to first- and business-class Oneworld lounges plus extra baggage allowance along with the same perks outlined above for MVP and MVP Gold members. Like MVP Gold, this includes the ability to pick Main Cabin Extra seats on American Airlines flights at the time of booking.
Upgrades on international American flights (coming soon)
MVP Gold 75K members will soon be able to upgrade to business class on international American Airlines flights. According to Alaska’s website, MVP Gold 75K members qualifying for status for 2022 will receive an upgrade certificate that’s valid on eligible American Airlines international routes. We should have more information this fall.
What if I’m starting from scratch?
As I mentioned at the outset, these numbers are based on the benefits you’d enjoy by spending a full year with the given status. However, if you’re starting from scratch, the calculations become a bit more complicated since you won’t start to enjoy any benefits until you hit the 20,000-mile mark and earn MVP status. To help modify the analysis for those individuals, I’ve taken the above valuations and converted them to a value per elite-qualifying mile, as follows:
- MVP: $765 / 24,000 elite-qualifying miles = 3.19 cents per elite-qualifying mile
- MVP Gold: $3,095/ 48,000 elite-qualifying miles = 6.45 cents per elite-qualifying mile
- MVP Gold 75K: $7,335 / 90,000 elite-qualifying miles = 8.15 cents per elite-qualifying mile
I then created an Excel spreadsheet that uses these numbers to calculate how much value you’d get from the different status levels, given a certain amount of flying. All you need to do is change the number in cell A2 to represent the number of elite-qualifying miles you expect to fly in 2021, and the spreadsheet will update with the corresponding value.
For example, you’ll see that I have pre-loaded 60,000 elite-qualifying miles. At this rate, you’d get no benefits from the first 20,000 miles, then enjoy MVP benefits for the next 20,000 miles (at a rate of 3.19 cents per mile) and then enjoy MVP Gold benefits for the final 20,000 miles (at a rate of 6.45 cents per mile). This means that if you’re starting from scratch and estimate that you’ll earn 60,000 elite-qualifying miles in 2021, you’d be able to get $1,927.08 worth of perks from the Mileage Plan program.
Related: Consider jump-starting your travel in 2021 with an airline elite status match or challenge.
As always, feel free to adjust the numbers above for each tier (loaded into the “Base Data” tab of the spreadsheet) based on your own personal valuation.
Is it worth it?
Given these values, is it worth pursuing elite status (or the next tier of elite status) with Alaska? As discussed earlier, there isn’t an easy answer to this, as it depends entirely on your individual situation. However, here are a few over-arching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:
How much will you travel in the future?
If you earned Alaska elite status in 2020, it’s valid through Dec. 31, 2021, and if you qualify in 2021, your status will last until Dec. 31, 2022. It’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn MVP Gold 75K, for example, the valuable perks outlined above only apply when you actually travel.
What’s the incremental value of one tier over another?
Many of you may wind up within striking distance of the next tier, so be sure to consider whether the benefits are worth pushing for it. There’s no sense in going out of your way for perks that don’t matter to you.
How well does Alaska’s route map (and/or those of its partners) match your typical travel patterns?
There’s really no point in pursuing elite status with an airline if you can’t feasibly fly them (or partners) regularly. Be sure to consider Alaska’s service from your home airport(s) and how easy it is to get to your desired destination, and remember to pay careful attention to fare classes that don’t earn full elite-qualifying miles.
How sensitive are you to price and convenience?
There are many trade-offs in this hobby, and one of the most common is deciding whether to use your preferred airline or hotel chain when it’s not the most convenient or cheapest. Would you book a one-stop Alaska flight if United had a cheaper nonstop option? If the answer is no, it may not be worth going out of your way to earn status with Alaska (or elite status with any airline, for that matter).
These questions are also not easy to answer, as many different factors come into play with each of them. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate your own situation as you decide to determine if Alaska Airlines elite status is for you!
Alaska Airlines has typically been very well-regarded in the frequent flyer community and came out on top in our 2017 airline elite status analysis. However, the carrier has made some unwelcome changes (like the overnight devaluation of Emirates awards) and did devalue its award chart in 2018, resulting in its miles dropping to 1.8 cents apiece in our monthly valuations.
The program will continue to change as the airline joins Oneworld this year. This will bring new benefits to each elite status tier but could bring the possibility of devaluing Alaska miles too. Time will tell what the future holds.
Nevertheless, it’s a favorite of many award travelers, and I hope this analysis has given you some food for thought as you decide whether to pursue MVP status with Alaska this year.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh
Featured photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.
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