Upgrades, lounge access and more: How to earn top-tier Oneworld status for $1,400

Dec 17, 2020

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There was a time when it was possible to earn huge sums of miles and top-tier elite status for very little travel or spending. This was because you earned elite qualifying miles based on the distance traveled and the cabin you flew. Since then, most airlines have added a spending component to their elite status requirements, making mileage runs a lot less attractive. There’s one notable exception, however, and that is Alaska Airlines.

Alaska is among the few airlines left to award elite status based on actual miles flown without a revenue requirement. The catch is that the benefits have been largely limited, so it’s only worth chasing status if you’re a die-hard Alaska flyer.

However, with the Seattle-based carrier joining Oneworld in the spring, elite members have many new benefits to look forward to, including lounge access and upgrades on American Airlines. And thanks to a new promotion Alaska is offering, 2021 may be the best time to go on a mileage run.

I’m not recommending you take unnecessary trips until the pandemic subsides. However, these deals are valid through August 2021 and you may be able to travel safely by then.

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(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

How to earn Alaska status in 2021

Before we dive into this post, let’s take a look at Alaska’s elite status qualification requirements for 2021.

  • MVP: 20,000 elite-qualifying miles or 30 segments
  • MVP Gold: 40,000 elite-qualifying miles or 60 segments
  • MVP Gold 75K: 75,000 elite-qualifying miles or 90 segments

You must also fly a minimum number of Alaska Airlines segments to earn or retain status: two for MVP, four for MVP Gold and six for MVP Gold 75K.

Alaska normally has higher mileage thresholds for those that chase status by taking a combination of Alaska- and partner-operated flights, but that is not the case next year. Any status earned in 2021 will be valid through Dec. 31, 2022.

Related: All of the elite qualification changes you need to know about for 2021

Low fares, high mileage earnings

In case you missed it, now through Dec. 19, 2020, Alaska Airlines is offering 30% off all flights between Jan. 5 and Aug. 31, 2021. This includes Saver (basic economy) fares, Main (standard economy) fares and first class – without blackout dates. Although there are more restrictions, Alaska is also targeting some flyers with up to 40% off economy flights.

There are some great fares you could book. For example, you could book cross-country flights between Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Los Angeles (LAX) for $42 in Saver economy, $63 in Main economy or $170 in first class. If you’re targeted for the 40% discount, those prices could drop to $37 for Saver or $55 for Main. And these low fares are fairly widespread throughout 2021.

Let’s look at another transcontinental route. You could book flights Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles from $65 in Saver, $79 in Main, $184 in first class. Again, these fares may be lower if you’re targeted for the bigger discount. These prices also don’t factor in the return you’ll get for paying with a card that earns bonus points on airfare purchases. For instance, The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x on flights booked directly with airlines, equal to 10% back based on TPG valuations. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.)

Screenshot courtesy of Alaskaair.com

Now, let’s look at the mileage earnings for these examples. As previously mentioned, Alaska awards elite qualifying miles based on actual miles flown and does not have a revenue requirement. The flight between Florida and California is 2,337 miles in length and the flight between New Jersey and California is 2,447 miles. You could tack on a couple of hundred miles to each flight by selecting flights with layovers, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say we’re flying nonstop.

FLL to LAX distance

All Alaska flights earn at least one elite qualifying mile per direct mile flown. Unlike American, which is removing mileage earning from basic economy tickets in 2021, this even includes Saver fares. If you’re flying first class, you’ll earn 1.75 miles per mile flown.

Related: How to earn miles with the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program

Going back to Alaska’s status requirements, this means you could earn MVP status (Oneworld Ruby) after four-and-a-half Saver round-trips between Florida and California ($378), MVP Gold (Oneworld Sapphire) after nine round-trips ($756) or MVP Gold 75K (Oneworld Emerald) after 16-and-half round-trips ($1,386). If you want to do less flying, you could earn MVP after two-and-a-half round-trips in first class ($850), MVP Gold after five round-trips ($1,700) or MVP Gold 75K after nine-a-half round-trips ($3,230).

Again, that is assuming you only fly nonstop between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. You could earn the status for cheaper or faster by flying different routes and flying a combination of economy and first class. However, you’ll generally get the lowest per-mile cost when “mileage running” on Alaska’s transcontinental routes.

Remember, you don’t need to take all of these flights back-to-back. You can take advantage of these low fares for travel from January through August. You must book your flights by Dec. 19, but you’ll be able to change or cancel your flights later for free.

Is it worth it?

TPG currently values Alaska MVP status at $740, MVP Gold at $3,015 and MVP Gold 75K at a whopping $6,825. These statuses will be worth even more once Alaska officially becomes a member of the Oneworld alliance on March 31, 2021.

MVP comes with benefits like a 50% mileage bonus, checked bag fee waiver, preferred seats at the time of booking (including emergency exit rows) and upgrades to premium and first class within 48 hours of departure.

MVP Gold comes with a 100% mileage bonus, upgrades that clear 72 hours before departure, guest upgrade certificates and more.

MVP Gold 75K members get an even bigger mileage bonus, immediate upgrades to premium class, upgrades to first class 120 hours before departure, guest upgrade certificates, Alaska lounge day passes, the opportunity to gift MVP status and more.

Come April, elites will get even more benefits, including business-class lounge access for mid-tier elites and first-class lounge access for top-tier elites. As such, Alaska MVP Gold 75K members will enjoy access to top-notch lounges, like Cathay Pacific’s The Pier at HKG and Japan Airlines’ First Class Lounge at NRT, even when flying in coach on those airlines. Alaska elites will also get reciprocal upgrade benefits when flying American Airlines.

Related: What is Alaska Airlines elite status worth?

 

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However, you wouldn’t just be earning status from these mileage runs — you’d also be taking home a ton of redeemable miles. When flying Alaska, you’ll always earn the same amount of redeemable miles as elite-qualifying miles. So, those chasing MVP will earn at least 20,000 miles, those chasing MVP Gold will earn 40,000 miles and MVP Gold 75K will earn 75,000 miles.

Alaska miles are among the most valuable individual airline miles, clocking in at 1.8 cents apiece. Sweet spots in Alaska’s award chart include flights from the U.S. to Asia in Cathay Pacific’s business or first class for 50,000 or 70,000 miles, respectively. You can also fly nonstop to Japan or beyond in Japan Airlines first class for just 70,000 miles one-way. Both Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines are known for having some of the best premium cabin experiences in the sky — first-class flyers enjoy premium Champagne, caviar and large lie-flat seats. One-way first-class seats on these routes routinely price out at over $20,000.

Related: Why Alaska Airlines miles are the most valuable

First class on Cathay Pacific’s 777-300. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

Use the right card

Like I mentioned, you’ll want to book your flights using a credit card that earns bonus points on airfare purchases, such as The Amex Platinum. In addition to a high return on your airfare spending, the card comes with trip delay and trip cancellation and interruption insurance, which can be lifesavers when things go wrong during a mileage run. It’s also the best credit card for airport lounge access, so your time at the airport will be more enjoyable.

For more on maximizing airfare purchases, see this post.

Bottom line

2021 may be the year for mileage runs (and mattress runs), especially with the COVID vaccine becoming more widely available.

Obviously, mileage runs aren’t for everybody and we don’t know yet when exactly it will be safe to start traveling again. However, if you’re able to take advantage of Alaska’s current promotion, you’ll be able to earn status for cheap and also bolster your Mileage Plan balance at the same time. Even the lower rungs of Alaska status come with decent benefits and will become even more valuable once Alaska joins Oneworld.

For more on mileage running, see:

Screenshots courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

Featured image of the Qantas International First Lounge LAX by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

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