If you want to fly in first class on Alaska Airlines, it might seem logical to buy a first-class ticket — but there are other methods to get to the front of the plane.
Alaska offers several ways for Mileage Plan elite members and those without elite status to score an upgrade. Some of these options are even available when you book your ticket.
Alaska Airlines is one of the few airlines to offer upgrade options even on its lowest-priced economy tickets, called Saver fares. So if you’re wondering, “Can I upgrade my Alaska Airlines flight?” The answer is likely yes.
Here’s how Alaska Airlines seat upgrades work.
Elite status upgrades
The most common way to get an Alaska Airlines first-class upgrade is to hold elite status with Mileage Plan, the airline’s frequent flyer program. Mileage Plan elite members receive space-available complimentary upgrades to first class.
Upgrades at booking
If space is available, Alaska Mileage Plan elite members can be upgraded immediately after booking their ticket, provided they book a qualifying airfare.
So what is a qualifying airfare? Airlines sell tickets for the same cabin and flight at different prices, often with different restrictions and advance purchase requirements. These fares are each coded using a letter that designates its fare class.
The highest-priced economy fare classes on Alaska Airlines are Y, B, H, K and M. If you hold elite status and book in a high-fare class, your fare is eligible for an upgrade.
Here are the fare classes eligible for an immediate upgrade depending on your Mileage Plan elite status level:
Mileage Plan Elite Status
Fare class upgradeable at booking
Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75k and Mileage Plan MVP Gold 100k
Upgrades before departure
If you purchase discounted airfare and don’t qualify for an immediate upgrade, you may still get an upgrade as an Alaska Airlines MVP member.
Starting several days before departure, Alaska Airlines will begin processing upgrades based on available seats. Your frequent flyer status and fare class determine when your upgrade will clear.
MVP Members: 48 hours before departure.
MVP Gold members: 72 hours before departure.
MVP Gold 75k/100k members: 120 hours before departure.
Saver fares, which are booked into the X fare class, won’t be cleared until two hours before departure, regardless of your Alaska Airlines status.
Sometimes more passengers are eligible for an upgrade than there are available seats. Like many airlines, Alaska Airlines prioritizes who gets moved up front first by creating a waitlist. Here’s how Alaska Airlines determines upgrade priority:
Elite status level: MVP members who have earned higher elite status tiers get upgraded first.
Fare class: Tickets booked into higher fare classes (usually more expensive tickets) get upgraded before lower fare classes.
Million Miler milestones: Members who have achieved a Million Miler milestone get upgraded before members who haven’t.
Time of booking: This is the final tiebreaker, and the earlier you book your ticket, the better.
If you hold MVP Gold or higher status, you can get a complimentary upgrade for a traveling companion booked on the same flight as you, as long as you are on the same reservation. Your companion will be upgraded alongside you based on your upgrade priority.
Companion upgrades are only available for one additional traveler. If you are an elite member traveling with more than one companion on your same reservation, no passenger on that reservation is eligible for an upgrade.
Upgrading with miles
You can upgrade an economy fare using miles when you book your flight on Alaska Airlines. However, not all tickets are eligible for mileage upgrades, so you must search specifically for fares that can be upgraded with miles.
First, click “All search options” when you search for tickets on the Alaska Airlines website. On the advanced booking search page, select “Mileage” as your upgrade type.
Flights eligible for an upgrade will display a “U” next to the airfare in the search results.
After you purchase your flight, you’ll need to call Alaska Airlines at 800-252-7522 to apply your upgrade award. Mileage upgrade awards cannot currently be redeemed online. First-class upgrades are available for 15,000 Alaska Airlines miles.
In some cases, Alaska Airlines may offer you the chance to upgrade to first class for a fee. First-class upgrades start at $23.00. Paid upgrades become available at online check-in within 24 hours of your flight. If an upgrade is available at check-in, you will see an offer during the online check-in process.
On the day of departure, you might see an offer to upgrade to first class at a check-in kiosk. You can also inquire about paid upgrade options at the airport ticket counter or the departure gate. Keep in mind that Saver fares are not eligible for paid upgrades. For maximum points earning, consider using the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card which earns 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases.
If you don’t have elite status with Alaska Airlines and don’t want to pay for an upgrade, there is still a way to get in the forward cabin for free — but only if you have a friend with MVP Gold or higher status. That’s because MVP Gold members receive guest upgrade codes to give to friends and family.
You can apply guest upgrades when booking a flight or after your ticket has already been purchased.
To book a flight and immediately apply the guest upgrade, click on “All search options” on the booking panel at AlaskaAir.com and select “MVP Gold guest upgrade” from the “Upgrade type” list.
When selecting your flight, be sure to choose a flight with first-class upgrades available; a blue box with the letter F will indicate this.
If you are an elite member, you must select “I want to apply an MVP® Gold guest upgrade code to one or more of my flights” during the booking process. Click the MVP Gold guest upgrade link on the confirmation page to apply your upgrade.
If you have already purchased your flight, open your reservation on AlaskaAir.com and find the link next to your confirmation code for “MVP Gold guest upgrade.”
You can apply the guest upgrade code online if your flight is eligible. Mileage Plan elite members must call reservations to process a guest upgrade for an existing reservation.
Alaska Airlines MVP Gold members can also use a guest upgrade code to upgrade their flight when they purchase airfare that does not qualify for an immediate upgrade.
Alaska Airlines upgrades recapped
Having elite status gives you the most options to score a free upgrade to Alaska Airlines first class, but loyalty isn’t the only way to get moved up front.
The airline offers several options for those looking to enter the first-class cabin, including paid upgrades, mileage upgrades, companion upgrades and guest upgrade codes.
(Top photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)