How to Increase your First Class Upgrade Chances on Alaska Airlines

Ever since I moved to Seattle four years ago (has it been that long?) I have been lucky enough to hold Alaska Airlines top tier elite status and have enjoyed their benefits plenty, especially their MVP Gold75K upgrades to first class. But not everyone seems to have the same experience.

A few months ago I was exposed to a social media group exclusive to MVP75K members who have had a very different experience from the one I’ve had. After digging into some of their feedback and troubleshooting some of their concerns, I have noticed some people aren’t fully proficient on how Alaska Airlines (or just airlines, really!) work. Here are a few ideas to improve your chances of getting upgraded.

Alaska Airlines First Class

Alaska’s new Bulkhead, from Alaska Airlines

Be mindful of routes and dates.

You will probably not be upgraded from Seattle to New York on Thanksgiving. It’s time you accept that and stop complaining about it.

There are more upgrade chances on non-business-heavy routes. Think of business-heavy routes as large coastal cities and large IT hubs. If you’re competing for upgrades with business travelers who fly back and forth every week, you’re probably not going to get that cherished first class seat. Also, keep in mind that most contractors who travel for work for a living will fly in on Monday mornings and fly out on Thursday evening/Friday morning. If you’d like to increase your chances, then you’d do well to avoid flying those routes on those days.

Upgrades on Non-Business Heavy Routes

Upgrades on Non-Business Heavy Routes

Better chances on Connecting Flights

Let’s say you still need to get to one of those business heavy destinations. Fear not, if you have some slight flexibility and don’t mind a connection. Usually people want to fly direct routes and spend as little as possible on a plane and at an airport. Hence, you’ll find that if you add a connection to your flight, your chances of finding upgradeable space shoot up. You will of course be upgraded on each leg individually, but there’s better chances than in a direct route with zero availability.

No Upgrades on Non-Stop on Alaska

No Upgrades on Non-Stop on Alaska

 

Better Chances with Connection on Alaska

Better Chances with Connection on Alaska

 

Calculate your chances before you book.

Upon booking, do take a look at the seating chart in order to get a feeling for how many elites are flying that route. If premium economy shows somewhat full, that tells you there are lots of elite fliers who got to choose premium seats for free, which in turn tells you how many passengers are likely waitlisted for first class upgrades.

Harder Upgrade Chance on Alaska

Harder Upgrade Chance on Alaska since most of the Premium Seats are already taken by Elites

We get comments from people complaining about their complimentary upgrades not clearing when the first class cabin on their flight has been fully booked months in advance. Remember, you’re always able to place yourself on the upgrade list – regardless of whether there are any seats available at all.

No First Class seats available

No First Class seats available

Auto upgrade fares exist. Learn how to use them.

Yes, there is such a thing as auto-upgradeable fares on Alaska Airlines, and MVP 75K elite members are the ones who benefit from them the most. You see, Alaska lets you search for those fares specifically so you can buy a fare that, thanks to your top tier elite status, will automatically upgrade you into first class if U space is available.

In this case, an auto-upgradeable fare to Milwaukee is 50 dollars cheaper than first class. Considering it’s a 4 hour flight, you might want to secure yourself into that first class cabin.

First Class Auto Upgrade Fare

First Class Auto Upgrade Fare

Upgradeable fares for MVP Gold 75Ks: Y, S, B, M, H & Z.

Upgradeable fares for MVP Golds: Y, S, B, M & Z.

Upgradeable fares for MVPs: Y, S & Z.

If no U space is currently available at time of booking, then you will still most likely beat all of the other people on the upgrade list if and when it does open up, simply because you would have paid into a higher bucket.

The downside is, if space does not open up, you did just pay a higher price for that upgradeable seat regardless of whether you got the upgrade or not, so you should be aware of your chances going in. The system will allow you to book a higher price, upgradeable seat even if first class is sold out on your flight.

 

Understand how Gold Guest Upgrades work.

It’s important to understand that just having Gold Guest Upgrades in your account isn’t sufficient to be upgraded. There needs to be available space and you need to be booked into a certain fare class. Once you meet that criteria, you can apply your Gold Guest Upgrade and have that first class seat guaranteed.

It’s worth noting that when booking a multi segment flight, U space needs to be available on all segments for you to be in a first class seat all the way through on the one GGU.

Here’s where you can see the fare class you need to book for you to apply a GGU. Alaska makes it easy for you, if you know what you’re doing.

Alaska Guest Upgrade Rules

Alaska Guest Upgrade Rules

 

Understand how upgrade inventory works.

Some people still struggle with the idea that not all routes have upgradeable space every day. All airlines, Alaska included, manage their U space inventory according to how likely they are to sell those seats for revenue before they give it away for free.

In other words, U space does not become available the more you want it. It is proactively managed by the airline by hedging their bets on how likely someone else is willing to pay that sweet premium to snatch that free upgrade from your hands.

This especially comes into play around major holidays and Sunday nights, when they know most people are more willing to let go of their cash. Also, think special occasions like sports events and large conferences, where business travelers with expense accounts and extremely frequent travelers are more likely to congregate.

Easy Upgrade Chance on Alaska

Easy Upgrade Chance on Alaska

Always -ALWAYS- check the first class pricing.

Sometimes, especially when booking well in advance, first class seats go for a marginally higher price than economy. We’ve booked ourselves directly in first class when it made sense. When does it make sense, you ask? Consider that your first class flight credits you an extra 75% qualifying mileage as well as redeemable miles. That means you’ll reach your 75K goal for the year slightly faster and fly in first class, which is what you want at the end of the day.

How much more you’re willing to pay to secure that seat upfront along with the extra mileage is up to you, and it depends on how close you are to requalifying for the year.

First Class is Cheaper than Coach

First Class is Cheaper than Coach

 

Hopefully there’s a few good pieces of information sprinkled here that you can take advantage of for next time you book your flights on Alaska and are hoping to fly upfront without breaking the bank.

 

 

Author: Ben Nickel-D'Andrea

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9 Comments

  1. Valuable stuff. Thanks.

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    • You got it. Glad it’s helpful!

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  2. Good information. Howeyi am a bit confused, if we pay for first class the extra miles we receive will be considered as qualifying miles? I thought it was actual me miles flown.

    Post a Reply
    • You are bonused on both redeemable and qualifying miles, which is the best thing ever! Sometimes the difference in price is marginal but since I earn more miles, it saves me from having to do a few mileage runs at the end of the year. It’s certainly worth considering.

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      • Thanks, I didn’t know that.

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  3. Thanks for that article. Very useful!

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    • Glad it helped, Paul! Happy to write about any other topics readers suggest too.

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  4. Hi Ben, I found your article very useful. Thanks for taking the time to write it, include seat maps with notes, and go into detail then publish it. Appreciate it man.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you, Mickey! Let me know if you can think of any other topics you’d like to read about to learn more.

      Post a Reply

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