There has been many changes at Alaska Airlines in the last year. Everything from a merger announcement, a new lounge name, a new livery, and recently changes to the airline’s upgrade policy. Many changes are both good and bad, and affect customers differently. Yet, I believe the three changes to the airline’s upgrade policy has actually broke Elite companion upgrades.
Alaska Airlines Upgrade Changes
In the last couple of months Alaska made three major changes to their upgrade policy. First, Alaska Airlines announced that companions must be in the same reservation as an Elite to receive an upgrade. Prior to October, a person traveling on a different reservation could have their reservation linked to an Elite to be upgraded. The two people could be traveling on completely different itineraries, but if a flight was shared, the Elite could upgrade a person for the flight the two passengers shared. This change in policy made sense as it ensures that people are actually traveling together. Otherwise, an Elite could upgrade a random stranger at the gate!
The second upgrade policy change affects the order of how an upgrade is processed. Instead of processing upgrades by request dates, upgrades now process by fare class. This ensures that Elite customers who pay more for their tickets are the first to receive an upgrade. Previously, an Elite passenger who bought a sale fare early was more likely to receive an upgrade than someone who bought a last minute more expensive ticket. Upgrade priority by fare class is nearly an industry standard. American Airlines is one the few airlines that still process upgrades by request date instead of are class. The leisure traveler hates this change in priority, but for the business traveler or those who travel last minute, it’s fantastic. A double edge sword yes, but it makes the higher revenue customer happy.
Finally, Alaska Airlines changed which fare classes receive an instant upgrade to first class. All Elite members will still receive an instant upgrade in select fare classes when available. MVP Elites receive an instant upgrade if traveling in Y, S, and Z fares. MVP Gold flyers will receive an instant upgrade on Y, S B, M or Z fares and MVP Gold 75k will receive an instant upgrade on all fares listed above and H fares. The change further restricts the number of instant upgrades available for MVP Gold and MVP members.
Overall none of the upgrade changes are horrible. For the infrequent flyer, the cheap mile runner, and those who like to travel hack, the changes do negatively affect upgrades. Alaska Airlines has closed loopholes and have attached upgrades to fare brackets and revenue. They also finally gave MVP 75K members some added benefits above MVP Gold. MVP Golds might be screaming about the changes, but Alaska is overly generous as it was. In my opinion Alaska is finally making 75K shine!
Alaska Airline Companion upgrade problems
All of these changes to the Alaska Airlines Elite upgrade program has created issues with companion upgrades. As Alaska has been busy working behind the scenes changing how the computer process upgrades for flyers, the new algorithm has broken companion upgrades. Companion upgrades should clear with the Elite flyers. If an Elite passenger has 75K status, their companion in treated the same. Both passengers should technically clear the upgrade list at the same time. In addition, when waitlisted for an upgrade within the 24 hours of departure, the Elite passenger and the companion should be on the upgrade list with the companion’s name directly under the Elite flyer.
On two trips over the last week, my companion was waitlisted for an upgrade but did not actually display on the upgrade list. Neither of our upgrades cleared in the 120 hour upgrade window. Instead, we were added to the airport day of departure waitlist. On the first trip I reached out to Alaska Airlines on twitter after check in as only my name was on the upgrade list. The agent told me that we were both listed for an upgrade and the systems might be out of sync. Five hours before the flight, the upgrade list was thirty people long and growing. I sent another message concerned that upgrades would clear and my companion would be bypassed. The Twitter team then informed me that the day of departure companion upgrade system is currently malfunctioning.
Alaska responded, “We have seen this happening a bit where the companion isn’t listed. It’s been reported and should be fixed soon… at this point you’ll have to just ask the agent at the gate about the upgrade for your companion.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t that the upgrade list was wrong, it’s that companions are not flowing to the day of departure upgrade list. Even if the app and website display “waitlisted”, your companion is likely not waitlisted on the day of departure.
Thankfully Alaska Airlines does not clear day of departure upgrades until 30 minutes before departure. This should allow for enough time to inform the agent about your companion and have the upgrade processed, if space is available.
On the first flight with my companion neither of us were upgraded due to a flight cancellation. We were placed on an early flight and had no chance of an upgrade. On the return flight, the day of departure upgrade list was still malfunctioning. We arrived at the gate an hour before departure, spoke with the gate agent and she ensured me we’d both be upgraded as there was plenty of space and I was number one on the list. Her computer system did not have my companion on the upgrade list but after confirming my status and our IDs she added him to the upgrade list and processed the upgrade.
The gate agent was very helpful and understanding of the waitlist issue. She too told me that this has been an ongoing issue. She then advised me to always check with a gate agent an hour before the flight departure time to ensure my companions would be upgraded if we were not upgraded prior to checking in.
Final Thoughts – Ensure Your Companion Upgrades
Alaska Airlines is aware that day of departure companion upgrades are not working. All the changes to the upgrade priority have clearly broken the system. Hopefully this issue will be rectified in the near future. However, until this is fixed, check the upgrade list! If only your name is listed, talk with the gate agent. If you do not arrive early or talk with the gate agent, your companion risks missing the upgrade.
A companion upgrade is a generous benefit of the Alaska Airlines’ Elite program and should clear with the Elite passenger. Gate agents are aware of the issue, so processing space available upgrades should not be an issue. Just be sure to arrive early! Once you explain the situation you’ll both be enjoying your upgrades!