If you fly regularly, elite status gives you an array of perks that make your travel experience more rewarding and less stressful. 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 — and what are those perks worth?
We want to quantify how much value you can get from each tier of elite status across the major frequent flyer programs in the U.S. We’ll crunch the numbers with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and help you decide whether it’s worth pursuing status in 2023.
Before we get to the details of the elite status tiers of the Mileage Plan program, here are 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 from a given elite status level.
Everyone has their 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 won’t care about free lounge access on international itineraries. As a result, you should adjust the numbers to make them more relevant to your situation since every traveler has unique priorities.
Second, these numbers are all based on the benefits you’d enjoy after achieving the given status level and continuing to qualify each year. If you’re starting from scratch, these values are skewed since the first 20,000 miles you fly will provide no benefits.
This brings us to the third and most critical part of this analysis: our underlying assumptions.
To unlock the true benefits, we have to assume a certain amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. We’re 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 may also qualify on segments rather than miles and travel more during certain times of the year.
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Two final bits of information: We’re valuing any bonus miles earned based on TPG valuations, which peg Alaska miles at 1.8 cents apiece. However, Alaska has devalued its miles by cutting many sweet spots. In addition, we’re rounding all the individual benefit valuations to the nearest $5 to simplify the math. With all of that said, let’s dive in.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines elite status tiers
Alaska Airlines offers four elite tiers. Here’s a quick overview:
|MVP||MVP Gold||MVP Gold 75K||MVP Gold 100K|
|Qualifications||20,000 elite qualifying miles or 30 segments.
At least two segments on Alaska-marketed and -operated flights.
|40,000 elite qualifying miles or 60 segments.
At least six segments on Alaska-marketed and -operated flights.
|75,000 elite qualifying miles or 90 segments.
At least 12 segments on Alaska-marketed and -operated flights.
|100,000 elite qualifying miles or 140 segments.
At least 24 segments on Alaska-marketed and -operated flights.
|Elite mileage bonus||50%||100%||125%
Plus, 50,000 bonus miles upon qualification.
Plus, 100K choice benefit options upon qualification.
|Priority check-in, security and boarding||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Free checked bags||Two bags.||Two bags.||Three bags.||Three bags.|
|Complimentary same-day flight changes||✓||✓||✓|
|First-class upgrades at the time of booking||Y and B fares.||Y, B, H and K fares.||Y, B, H, K and M fares.||Y, B, H, K and M fares.|
|Premium Class upgrades at the time of booking||Y, B and H fares.||Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S and N fares.||All fares except Saver fares.||All fares except Saver fares.|
|First- and Premium Class upgrades on other eligible Alaska fares||48 hours before departure.||72 hours before departure.||120 hours before departure.||120 hours.
Highest waitlist priority.
|Companion upgrades to Premium and first class||✓||✓||✓|
|Four annual first-class guest upgrade certificates||✓||✓||✓|
|Complimentary premium beverage or chocolate in Main Cabin||✓||✓||✓ (plus snack)|
|Four Alaska Lounge day passes (max four per year)||✓||✓|
|Main Cabin Extra seating on American Airlines||24 hours before departure.||✓||✓||✓|
|Upgrades on some American Airlines flights||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|International upgrade certificates on American Airlines||One one-way.||Two one-ways.|
How much is each Alaska elite status tier worth? Here’s our analysis:
Alaska MVP status: $685
The lowest tier in Alaska’s program is MVP status, which requires 20,000 elite qualifying miles or 30 segments with Alaska or its partners. For this analysis, we’ll base our numbers on earning 24,000 elite qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (for a total of $3,000 spent).
|50% mileage bonus||With 24,000 miles flown, that’ll give you an additional 12,000 Alaska miles. Just be aware that not all fare classes on partners will earn full miles, especially those in deeply discounted economy.||$215.|
|Priority airport services||Enjoy priority check-in, security and boarding when you fly on Alaska.||$50.|
|Checked bag fee waiver||You and your travel companions can check two bags for free when traveling with Alaska. This beats the legacy carriers, which only offer entry-tier elites a single checked bag. It’s also a step above the free-checked-bag perk offered to Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card holders.||$50.|
|Preferred seats||Preferred seats may include aisle seats, those in emergency exit rows or those located close to the front of the aircraft. Note that this isn’t available on the carrier’s Saver fares.||$50.|
|Upgrades to Premium Class||These seats provide 4 inches of additional legroom plus complimentary alcoholic beverages. Upgrades start clearing 48 hours before departure (expensive fare classes Y, B and H fares are eligible to clear immediately).||$100.|
|Upgrades to first class||Space-available, complimentary upgrades to first class start clearing 48 hours before departure (Y, S and Z fares are eligible to clear immediately). Upgrades fall behind higher-tier Alaska elites and eligible American Airlines elites so we’re giving them a modest valuation of 0.5 cents per mile flown for MVP status.||$120.|
|American Airlines benefits||MVP members receive a complimentary checked bag, Main Cabin Extra 24 hours before the flight and upgrades on some American Airlines flights.||$50.|
|Priority phone line||This may only pay off when you run into weather issues or other problems.||$25.|
|Oneworld Ruby||This provides priority check-in and standby on Oneworld partners. You also have the ability to pick Main Cabin Extra seats on American flights the day of travel.||$25.|
Related: Your complete guide to earning and redeeming with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska MVP Gold status: $2,635
Alaska’s middle-tier Gold status requires 40,000 elite qualifying miles or 60 segments. For this analysis, I’ll base our numbers on earning 48,000 elite qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (so a total spending of $6,000).
|100% mileage bonus||MVP Gold members earn twice as many miles on Alaska flights and with the program’s elite qualifying airline partners. Flying 48,000 miles in a year will give an additional 48,000 Alaska miles.||$865.|
|Priority airport services||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$100.|
|Checked bag fee waiver||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$100.|
|Preferred seats||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$100.|
|Upgrades to Premium Class||MVP Gold flyers are eligible for upgrades to Premium Class as well, but 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.||$250.|
|Upgrades to first class||MVP Golds have additional fare classes eligible for immediate upgrades (B and M) and higher upgrade priority, clearing up to 72 hours before departure. You’ll also be able to upgrade a companion so we’re boosting the value of this benefit to 0.83 cents per mile.||$400.|
|Gold Guest Upgrades||Every year, you’ll earn four Gold Guest Upgrades. These certificates can be used to upgrade to first class on Alaska-operated flights and are transferable to others. They’re even valid on flights booked using the companion fare benefit from the Alaska Airlines Visa 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.||$400.|
|Complimentary premium beverage or chocolate in the main cabin||If you aren’t able to land an upgrade, you can enjoy a complimentary beverage in economy. These normally cost $7-$8 each.||$30.|
|Fee waivers||MVP Gold members avoid paying phone ticketing fees ($15) and same-day confirmed changes (usually $50).||$50.|
|Priority phone line||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$50.|
|Oneworld Sapphire||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 business-class lounge access when traveling internationally.||$150.|
|American Airlines benefits||MVP Gold can check two bags, assign Main Cabin Extra seats shortly after booking and receive upgrades on some American Airlines flights.||$100.|
|Partner lounge access||Enjoy complimentary lounge access when traveling on certain non-alliance partners, such as the Saga Lounge at Reykjavik’s Keflavik Airport (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.||$40.|
Related: How to get airline elite status
Alaska MVP Gold 75K: $6,920
Alaska’s upper-tier MVP Gold 75K status requires 75,000 elite qualifying miles or 90 segments on Alaska or its partners. For this analysis, we’ll base our numbers on earning 90,000 elite qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (for a total spending of $11,250).
|125% mileage bonus||MVP Gold 75K members take home 125% more miles than travelers with no status. With 90,000 miles of flying, that equates to 112,500 extra miles.||$2,025.|
|Priority airport services||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$190.|
|Checked bag fee waiver||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$150.|
|Preferred seats||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$190.|
|Upgrades to Premium Class||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.||$470.|
|Upgrades to first class||You have an additional fare class (M) eligible for immediate upgrades and, for all other tickets, upgrades start clearing 120 hours before departure. This upgrade priority also applies to a companion.||$750.|
|American Airlines benefits||MVP 75K upgrades will clear as early as 72 hours prior to the flight on some American Airlines flights.
You can also check two bags, assign Main Cabin Extra seats shortly after booking and process complimentary same-day changes when available.
MVP Gold 75Ks get one one-way upgrade certificate to move to the next class of service on international American Airlines flights.
|Gold Guest Upgrades||You won’t enjoy any extra Gold Guest Upgrades for reaching 75K status, so we’ll keep this value at $100 apiece.||$400.|
|Complimentary premium beverage or chocolate in Main Cabin||This benefit is the same for both MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members. We’re keeping the value the same since you’ll hopefully spend most of your time in either first or Premium Class as a 75K traveler.||$30.|
|50,000 bonus miles||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).||$900.|
|Gift MVP status to a friend||When you qualify for 75K status, you’ll have 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, we’ll assume a value of roughly one-third of our valuation of MVP status.||$220.|
|Four Alaska Lounge day passes||When you qualify for MVP Gold 75K, you’ll receive four day passes to Alaska Lounge locations. You’ll find Alaska Lounges in Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; New York; Portland, Oregon; and Anchorage, Alaska. The retail price of these is $50, though we’ll peg them at $25 apiece.||$100.|
|Fee waivers||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$100.|
|Priority phone line||Same benefit, more frequent utilization and you’ll likely encounter more knowledgeable agents.||$90.|
|Partner lounge access||MVP Gold 75Ks can access the same lounges as MVP Golds and, given the relatively narrow footprint, we’ll keep the valuation the same.||$40.|
|Oneworld Emerald||Enjoy Oneworld Emerald status, with 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.||$265.|
Related: Best sweet spots with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska MVP Gold 100K: $9,380
Alaska’s top-tier MVP Gold 100K status requires 100,000 elite qualifying miles or 140 segments on Alaska or its partners. For this analysis, we’ll base our numbers on earning 120,000 elite qualifying miles at 12.5 cents per mile (for a total spending of $15,000).
|150% mileage bonus||MVP Gold 100K members enjoy the largest mileage bonus in the program, taking home 150% more miles than travelers with no status. With 120,000 miles of flying, that equates to 180,000 extra miles.||$3,240.|
|Priority airport services||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$250.|
|Checked bag fee waiver||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$200.|
|Preferred seats||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$250.|
|Upgrades to Premium Class||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$625.|
|Upgrades to first class||Upgrades still start clearing 120 hours before departure, but as an MVP Gold 100K, you’ll enjoy the highest upgrade priority.||$995.|
|Upgrades on American Airlines||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
Two extra international upgrade certificates after qualifying.
|Gold Guest Upgrades||You won’t enjoy any extra Gold Guest Upgrades for reaching 100K status, so I’ll keep this value the same.||$400.|
|Complimentary premium beverage or chocolate in Main Cabin||In addition to the beverage or chocolate, MVP Gold 100K members also get a free snack worth $2-$3.||$40.|
|50,000 bonus miles||You don’t receive any additional miles when qualifying for 100K status so we’ll keep this value the same.||$900.|
|Gift MVP status to a friend||You won’t be able to gift status to an additional friend so we’ll keep this value the same.||$220.|
|Four Alaska Lounge day passes||You won’t enjoy any extra Alaska Lounge passes for reaching 100K status so we’ll keep this value the same.||$100.|
|Fee waivers||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$150.|
|Priority phone line||Same benefit, more frequent utilization and you’ll likely encounter more knowledgeable agents.||$120.|
|Partner lounge access||Same benefit and, given the relatively narrow footprint, we’ll keep the valuation the same.||$40.|
|Oneworld Emerald||Same benefit, more frequent utilization.||$350.|
Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Alaska Airlines
What if I’m starting from scratch?
As mentioned at the outset, these calculations 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, we’ve taken the above valuations and converted them to a value per elite qualifying mile, as follows:
- MVP: $635 / 24,000 elite qualifying miles = 2.65 cents per elite qualifying mile.
- MVP Gold: $2,535 / 48,000 elite qualifying miles = 5.28 cents per elite qualifying mile.
- MVP Gold 75K: $6,670 / 90,000 elite qualifying miles = 7.41 cents per elite qualifying mile.
- MVP Gold 100K: $9,710 / 120,000 elite qualifying miles = 8.09 cents per elite qualifying mile.
You can then use these numbers to calculate how much value you’d get from the different status levels, given a certain amount of flying.
For example, let’s say you expect to earn 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 (worth $530 based on a rate of 2.65 cents per mile) and then enjoy MVP Gold benefits for the final 20,000 miles (worth $1,056 based on a rate of 5.28 cents per mile). This means that if you’re starting from scratch and estimate that you’ll earn 60,000 elite qualifying miles in 2023, you’d be able to get about $1,590 worth of perks from the Mileage Plan program.
Also, remember that if you currently hold elite status with a competing program, you may be eligible for a status match.
Related: Is airline elite status still worth it?
Is it worth pursuing Alaska Airlines elite status?
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 overarching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:
How much will you travel in the future?
If you earned Alaska elite status in 2022, it’s valid through Dec. 31, 2023; if you qualify in 2023, your status will last until Dec. 31, 2024. It’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn MVP Gold 100K, 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 it (or its 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.
Alaska Airlines is one of the smallest traditional U.S. airlines. Its hubs are mostly contained to cities on the West Coast, including:
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC).
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
- Portland International Airport (PDX).
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
- Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
Further, the airline has focus cities at San Diego International Airport (SAN), San Jose’s Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Boise Airport (BOI). If you live outside these areas, you may have difficulty flying Alaska Airlines (and using your elite benefits) unless you commute to one of the airline’s hubs regularly or plan to mostly use your benefits on partners like American Airlines. If you fall into this camp, you may want to chase status with an airline that better serves your home airport instead.
Related: All American and Alaska elites now eligible for reciprocal complimentary upgrades
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 determine if Alaska elite status is for you.
Related: How to earn miles with the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program
Can you fast-track Alaska elite status?
While holding a cobranded Alaska Airlines credit card won’t help, there are ways to fast-track Alaska Airlines elite status.
For starters, if you currently hold elite status with another North American airline, you may be eligible for a status match. If approved, Alaska will give you a comparable status tier based on the status you have with the competing carrier’s program for 90 days. You can then extend this status by flying a certain number of miles with Alaska.
Related: Alaska Airlines announces new elite status match challenge perk for California-based flyers
Alaska Airlines has typically been very well regarded in the frequent flyer community and consistently ranks as a top airline. However, the carrier has made some unwelcome changes like introducing dynamically priced awards and charging sky-high redemption rates for new partners.
Although the reciprocal upgrade benefits with American Airlines bring new value for Alaska elite members, it could also mean upgrades will be harder to score, particularly for lower-tier elite members, given a potential influx of passengers eligible for upgrades.
Nevertheless, it’s a favorite of many award travelers and we hope this analysis has given you some food for thought as you decide whether to pursue MVP elite status with Alaska this year.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh, Nick Ewen and Kyle Olsen.