After American Airlines and Alaska Airlines expanded reciprocal upgrade benefits earlier this year, we wanted to see just how far American Airlines AAdvantage elite benefits could go when flying Alaska Airlines. So I booked a flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to test out my AAdvantage Executive Platinum privileges.
Spoiler alert: Having American AAdvantage elite status can dramatically improve your Alaska Airlines flight experience.
All American Airlines elite members are eligible for perks like upgrades and complimentary checked luggage on standard economy fares on Alaska. However, Alaska gives the highest first-class upgrade priority to American AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members — just behind its own Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 100K and MVP Gold 75K elite members and ahead of its MVP Gold elites.
Including an enhanced ground experience and upgrades to the airline’s Premium Class or first class, here’s a closer look at what you can expect as an American Airlines elite traveling on Alaska Airlines.
American AAdvantage elite perks on Alaska Airlines
As an AAdvantage elite member, you get extra partner perks beyond the standard Oneworld elite benefits when traveling on Alaska Airlines. Here’s a look at some of the published American Airlines AAdvantage elite status perks for travel on Alaska Airlines.
|Benefits||AAdvantage Gold||AAdvantage Platinum||AAdvantage Platinum Pro||AAdvantage Executive Platinum|
|Preferred seating (Not applicable on Alaska saver fares)||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Free checked bags||2||2||3||3|
|Priority baggage tagging||✓||✓||✓|
|Complimentary same-day flight change||✓||✓|
|Complimentary Premium Class seats (Not applicable on Alaska saver fares)||Y, B or H fares after ticket purchase; all other fares at 24 hours before departure||Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S or N fares after ticket purchase; all other fares at 72 hours before departure||Shortly after ticket purchase||Shortly after ticket purchase|
|Upgrades to first class (Not applicable on Alaska saver fares)||As early as 24 hours before departure||As early as 48 hours before departure||As early as 120 hours before departure||As early as 120 hours before departure|
American elite members also receive the standard Oneworld status perks on Alaska, such as priority check-in and bonus mileage earning. American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members can access Alaska Lounges on eligible international itineraries, too.
If you’re an American Airlines AAdvantage elite, you can generally receive these perks regardless of whether you purchase your ticket through American, Alaska or an online travel agency. Still, you might not receive these perks on specially negotiated fares that some online travel agencies offer.
I bought my ticket through the Capital One travel portal; I charged the $278.90 airfare on my Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) to earn 5 miles per dollar on the purchase.
My S-fare ticket earned 2,031 AAdvantage miles: 923 miles for 50% of the actual distance and 1,108 miles for the 120% Executive Platinum accrual bonus. Yes, American Airlines AAdvantage members earn mileage based on distance rather than spend on Alaska Airlines tickets.
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Add your AAdvantage number to your reservation
Shortly after I purchased my Alaska Airlines flight, Capital One sent me my Alaska Airlines confirmation number. To ensure your AAdvantage number is on the reservation, you can manage your reservation directly on Alaskaair.com.
Selecting Premium Class seating on the seating map
As an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, I could select a complimentary seat in Premium Class (Alaska’s version of extra-legroom coach with some premium economy-style perks) when I booked my flight. This would have been an extra $81 on my itinerary.
The main benefits of Alaska Premium Class are four inches more legroom than the standard main cabin seats, priority boarding (which is already a benefit for AAdvantage elite members) and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails on flights greater than 350 miles.
AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members can select Premium Class seats when booking on some higher economy-class fares; otherwise, you’ll automatically be added to the Premium Class waitlist, which Alaska begins clearing 72 hours before departure.
I could also manage my reservation on the Alaska Airlines app. To view your flight in the Alaska app, you must manually add it with the confirmation number. This is because you can’t sign into the Alaska app with your American AAdvantage account. Likewise, Alaska flights that aren’t booked through American don’t appear in the American Airlines app. While it’s a small pain point, it’s worth pointing out, as you’ll want to keep your confirmation number handy to take advantage of all your benefits.
Upgrades to first class
American Airlines elite members of any tier and up to one companion on the same reservation are eligible for first-class upgrades on Alaska flights. Here’s how Alaska prioritizes upgrades:
- Alaska MVP Gold 100K
- Alaska MVP Gold 75K
- American AAdvantage Concierge Key, Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members
- Alaska MVP Gold
- American AAdvantage Platinum
- Alaska MVP
- American AAdvantage Gold members
A few days before departure, I noticed two unsold first-class seats. To my pleasant surprise, Alaska upgraded me to the last available seat in first class when I checked in for my flight about 24 hours before departure. Since my Executive Platinum AAdvantage frequent flyer number was attached to the reservation, Alaska processed this upgrade automatically.
Alaska has three rows of first-class recliner seats on the Boeing 737-800 I was flying, configured in a 2-2 pattern.
Here’s how they stack up against the economy and Premium Class seats:
|Economy class||Premium class||First class|
|Seat pitch||31 to 32 inches||35 inches||41 inches|
|Seat recline||3 inches||3 inches||5 inches|
|Seat width||16.5 to 17.3 inches||16.5 to 17.3 inches||20.45 inches|
The first-class armchair on my flight was comfortable but dated. For a four-hour flight, it was perfectly fine but lacked the storage and privacy of the next-generation first-class recliner seats that you can find on the Delta Airbus A321neo and some of United’s reconfigured Airbus A319s.
The recliner was in line with what American and United offer on the same aircraft, although there was no seat pocket for first-row aisle seat passengers. On the service side, there were no blankets available.
Pre-booked choice of meal (if upgraded)
After my upgrade cleared, I could pre-order breakfast for my flight the next morning with a choice of five entrees.
Once on board, the head flight attendant confirmed my pre-ordered chicken sausage breakfast bowl. The dish was salty but hearty. The fresh seasonal fruit hit the spot. However, I traveled this route last year on American, the plain bagel with smoked salmon they served was much more filling.
Same-day flight changes
If available, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites can change to an earlier or a later flight free of charge through the Alaska app. When you change flights, you’ll be confirmed in your original cabin, which, in my case, would have been economy.
Alaska requires you to keep the same origin, destination and connection cities for same-day changes. Additionally, your new flight must depart on the same calendar day as your originally scheduled flight.
You can request a same-day change while checking in for your flight on Alaskaair.com or on Alaska’s app.
Oneworld Ruby (American AAdvantage Gold) and Sapphire (American AAdvantage Platinum) members are entitled to two complimentary checked bags on Alaska flights. Companions on the same reservation are subject to Alaska’s standard baggage fees.
Oneworld Emerald (AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum) members are entitled to three complimentary checked bags. As with the Ruby and Sapphire policy, companions are subject to Alaska’s standard baggage fees.
As a Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald elite member, Alaska will place a priority tag on your checked bag.
I wasn’t checking bags on my flight. If I had been and didn’t have elite status, I would have been charged $30 for the first one, $40 for the second and a whopping $100 for a third.
I arrived at my gate early while agents were closing the previous flight.
In theory, Alaska offers priority boarding to first-class passengers and all Oneworld elite members. However, the placement of the boarding sign and the small boarding area weren’t conducive to priority boarding.
Still, the gate agents effectively kept the boarding area clear until preboarding and priority boarding passengers were called forward. Regardless of your cabin, American Airlines elites can take advantage of priority boarding with Groups A and B.
How does this affect my airline elite status strategy?
As a San Francisco-based traveler, the next time I’m flying a United hub-to-hub route, I’ll be sure to check the Alaska Airlines options in the hopes of spending more time in first class than I would be likely to enjoy on United.
In the last couple of years, it’s been common to find United flights with upgrade waitlists with more than 100 passengers on wide-body, hub-to-hub United routes. Even as a Premier 1K, I’ve found upgrades to be few and far between.
Last year, I only received upgrades on about 15% of my eligible United flights. This led me to pursue American Airlines status by earning status-qualifying Loyalty Points to receive more upgrades. I’m likely to continue with American thanks, not only to my elite perks on the airline itself, but also on partners like Alaska.
With the Alaska-American partnership, elite members with both airlines’ frequent flyer programs receive tangible value-added status benefits with both airlines.
I was thrilled with the perks I received on my Alaska flight thanks to my status with American. The most notable was a first-class upgrade, especially considering six other passengers on my Sunday morning departure weren’t cleared off the first class waitlist.
Alaska elite members receive similar reciprocal perks on many American Airlines flights. TPG’s managing editor for news, Clint Henderson, held top-tier Alaska MVP 100K status last year, and he enjoyed frequent upgrades on American Airlines. Additionally, Alaska’s upper elite members receive American Airlines systemwide upgrade(s), while American Airlines elite members don’t receive Alaska Gold guest upgrade certificates.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to earn status with American or Alaska. Remember that Alaska requires you to complete two, six, 12 and 24 Alaska-marketed and operated flights to qualify for MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K and MVP 100K status, respectively — in addition to the annual status requirements. On the other hand, American doesn’t have any flight segment requirements to earn AAdvantage status.
I’m looking forward to maximizing my American status on future Alaska flights.