Alaska Airlines Considering Replacement For Guest Upgrades

I’ve argued that as part of joining oneworld Alaska Airlines almost certainly has to devalue its loyalty program. In fact this was probably the price of getting American Airlines buy-in for a renewed partnership.

In early March I wrote about ideas they’re surveying about potential changes to the program. Now reader Thomas passes along a new survey today on how the airline might change its elite benefits, especially the 4 annual confirmed upgrade certificates given to MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members.

The survey asked about how much members used and valued benefits including,

  • Complimentary food and drink when seated in coach
  • Elite bonus miles
  • Fee-free ticket changes
  • Standby priority

Alaska Airlines First Class

The survey then asked about buy up behavior – how often a member spent more for a ticket in order to apply MVP Gold upgrade certificates (fare classes G, R, T, or X can’t be upgraded with these), how often they were able to find upgrade space, and whether they bought the higher fare even when confirmed space wasn’t available in order to improve upgrade chances.

In other words they want to know whether upgrade certificates are valued, and whether they’re driving incremental spend.

MVP Gold 75K members receive discounted lounge membership and four complimentary lounge passes annually. They also receive a drink when seated in economy, though American Airlines top tier elites by contrast receive both a snack and a drink (and Alaska is expected to accelerate its entry into oneworld).

Meals in coach, or a limited number of wifi sessions, seem pretty weak compared to confirmed first class upgrades.

They also surveyed specific alternatives to the confirmed (guest) upgrade benefit: complimentary upgrades confirmed at booking for higher fares (expensive!) and a set amount of credit to be used to buy up to first class.

Based on the survey it seems like the buy up credit might be $250, so roughly a one-way upgrade on one flight that wasn’t very full – but which didn’t require upgrade inventory to be available.

One cost-limited, but not inventory-limited, upgrade replacing four more restrictive upgrades doesn’t seem like a great trade but for people who can’t ever use Guest Upgrades at all it’s something.

Programs conduct survey research all the time, and don’t always go in the direction that the surveys imply. Nonetheless it’s interesting that they’re currently looking at replacing the confirmed upgrade benefit for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members – though sadly with alternatives that I’d consider to be less valuable than what they offer today.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I was an Alaska loyalist for several years but the hard product just fell so far behind, particularly for transcon flights. I was frequently upgraded to first, but it didn’t really matter to me much because the hard product was so bad. Since moving over to Delta I’ve experienced a couple upgrades to Delta One, and it’s been so worth it to me.

    Yes, the loyalty program is worse but without the ability to transfer points to Alaska from the major banks, it was difficult for me to earn enough miles to redeem for two people anyways.

  2. I thought one agreed to confidentiality when agreeing to take this type of survey. Obviously your correspondent broke that agreement and further violated it by taking screen shots, while you’ve published what in effect is stolen proprietary material. Have either of you an ethical base or do such things not matter any longer? Have you sunk to White House ethical standards?

  3. @DavidB – I have no idea what was agreed to by the person who provided it, sharing information from inside government and corporations that the producer of the information would prefer not to be shared is literally what journalists do, I am not genuinely confused by your beef

  4. Only once was I told to keep my participation confidential with AS. I was part of a focus group evaluating possible new seats at Boeing for Alaska Airlines. AS MVP for 14 years, taken plenty of surveys. We usually discuss on a different Flyer forum.

  5. Nice job DavidB! Your post leads off with “I thought . . .” meaning you had no idea whether or not a confidentiality agreement applied, but you still felt the need to go off on a self-righteous rant. Why don’t you apply to be a cop? Then you can police other people for a living.

  6. I’ve been MVP Gold for several years. The GGU’s are incredibly difficult to use on transcontinental routes — my usual is SEA-ATL and I don’t think I’ve ever seen availability except on the redeye. Nevertheless, we manage to use a couple each year on shorter flights and I actually fare pretty well getting complimentary upgrades to/from the east coast about 50% of the time. I think getting one upgrade a year capped at $250 is pretty awful, though.

  7. Unfortunately there are no ethics in blogs. Whatever it takes to generate clicks or as Quak or Quark says. We know who the scammers are.

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