Home Airline Loyalty Surprising: American & Alaska Airlines Will Offer Reciprocal Upgrades

Surprising: American & Alaska Airlines Will Offer Reciprocal Upgrades


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With Alaska Airlines expected to join the oneworld alliance at the end of the first quarter of 2021, it’s not a major surprise to find out that the two airlines plan to offer reciprocal elite benefits next year. What is surprising, however, is that both airlines say that they will go as far as offering select elite flyers from the other airline’s loyalty program complimentary domestic upgrades on the flights they operate.

Reciprocal Elite Benefits On The Way

From March 2021, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines will offer each other’s elite flyers an enhanced set of benefits when they book travel on the flights that they operate. Among the benefits that will be offered will be the following:

  • Lounge access
  • Priority check-in
  • Access to preferred seating and extra legroom seats with the ability to book Main Cabin Extra seats on American or Premium Class seats on Alaska.
  • Elite baggage allowances
  • Free same day flight changes

Members of Alaska’s Mileage Plan and American’s AAdvantage program can already “earn and burn” their miles on the other airline’s network but, from some unspecified point next year, both airlines say that they will offer their members the opportunity to earn “even more miles”.

Alaska Airlines First Class – Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Reciprocal Upgrades

In a surprise move, American and Alaska Airlines have confirmed that in addition to the reciprocal elite benefits outlined above, select elite flyers will also be eligible for complimentary domestic upgrades on both airlines at some point in 2021.

American Airlines Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members will be eligible for free domestic upgrades on Alaska Airlines operated flights and Alaska’s MVP Gold 75K elites will be eligible for free domestic upgrades when traveling on American Airlines. In addition, American Airlines has confirmed that it plans to offer Alaska’s MVP Gold 75K elites access to upgrades on long-haul flights across its network.

Neither airline has yet provided details of how they will be prioritizing upgrades and American Airlines hasn’t said how, exactly, it plans to open up long-haul upgrades to MVP Gold 75K elites so there are still quite a few details that are yet to be made public. There’s a reasonable chance that neither airline has yet finalized how they plan to approach reciprocal upgrades.

Thoughts

Once Alaska Airlines announced that it was planning to join the oneworld alliance it was a forgone conclusion that American and Alaska would offer reciprocal benefits to the elite members of each other’s loyalty programs. The unexpected news here is that reciprocal upgrades are on the way here too.

As far as long-haul upgrades go, Alaska’s MVP Gold 75K elites probably shouldn’t get too excited about their prospects because, historically, long-haul upgrades on American Airline have been getting harder and harder to come by (especially when it comes to having them clear at the tie of booking) so setting expectations low is probably a good idea.

As far as domestic upgrades go, it’s hard to comment one way or the other without knowing how the upgrades will be prioritized but, to make this offering of any material use, I would expect Alaska’s top-tier elites to have their upgrades clear ahead of American’s mid-tier elites and American’s top-tier elites to have their upgrades clear ahead of Alaska’s Gold elites, and that would have to be seen as a hit to both airline’s mid-tier members.

American Airlines A321S First Class

Overall, I can see how AAdvantage members may fit into Alaska’s upgrade lists but with American’s loyalty program using the number of Elite Qualifying Dollars that a member has earned in a rolling 12 month period to help determine their place on the upgrade list and with Alaska’s Mileage Plan not having any kind of equivalent, I’m struggling to work out how American plans to integrate Alaska Airlines elites into its upgrades lists – it will be interesting to see how the airlines decide to approach this.

Bottom Line

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines will offer reciprocal elite benefits to each other’s elite flyers from March 2021. At further points in 2021, both airlines will offer flyers the chance to earn more miles than they can earn right now, reciprocal domestic upgrades will be introduced for select elite levels and Alaska Airlines’ top-tier elites can expect to be given the opportunity to upgrade their long-haul American Airlines flights.

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