Upgrading on Alaska Airlines is always a pleasure--and often free. You see, the airline issues paper upgrade certificates to elites that can be transferred to anyone and applied over the phone to any fare class, as long as there is upgrade inventory available. That means I can book a highly discounted ticket from Los Angeles to Washington National on Alaska's non-stop flight, then immediately call in and reserve an upgrade.
When an upgrade is applied, you cannot check-in online or at an airport kiosk, you must see an airport agent who is supposed to collect the paper upgrade coupon, about one inch by three inches (I've lost a few of them over the years...). The thing is, they often neglected to collect them. That translated to a free upgrade.
Alaska no doubt knew what was going on and in order to curtail "complimentary" upgrades, save printing costs, and theoretically streamline the upgrade process, guest upgrades will now be issued electronically. Here's some details directly from Alaska:
In October, 2011, search filters will be added to alaskaair.com to enable you to see Guest Upgrade eligible fares* and Guest Upgrade availability.
Once you have purchased an eligible ticket, you may request upgrades, if available, by using the electronic Guest Upgrade code. As an MVP® Gold, if you are logged into your My Account profile, your active codes will be automatically entered into the appropriate field. If you have given your code to a friend or family member, they will need to enter the code manually.
If you have any questions regarding the new Guest Upgrades, please call us at the MVP® Gold Desk or the Alaska Airlines Reservations call center at 1-800-ALASKAAIR or 1-800-252-7522.
*Flights booked in G or T classes of service are not eligible for an Electronic Guest Upgrade.
Electronic Guest Upgrade Rules
- Guest Upgrades are booked into "U" class of service and are subject to availability as "U" class may not be available on all flights.
- "U" Class must be available at the time of the upgrade request. Waitlisting is not available.
- Tickets purchased in G or T fares are not eligible for Electronic Guest Upgrades (please select "Guest Upgrade" from the "Optional Upgradeable Fares" list when shopping at alaskaair.com to view eligible fares for your itinerary)
- Electronic Guest Upgrades are not available when traveling on an award ticket, including the Money & Miles award.
- Each Electronic Guest Upgrade is valid for one-way travel for one person. Connecting flights must have no more than a 4 hour stopover between them.
- Electronic Guest Upgrades may not be used as a placeholder for a Complimentary Upgrade by an Elite Level member. Once a Guest Upgrade has been processed, you may not remove it in order to be placed on the upgrade request queue, upgrade waitlist, or receive a Complimentary Upgrade based on Elite Level
- Electronic Guest Upgrades are transferable but may not be bartered, bought, sold.
Of particular note is the new fare class restriction on these upgrades. G or T, the two cheapest fare classes will no longer be eligible for upgrades. In the future, if you intend to apply an upgrade you will need to choose "Guest Upgrade" when searching for flight availability and the search results will bypass the two ineligible fare classes.
Additionally, once you confirm an upgrade, it is set in stone--no playing the "cancel the upgrade if upgrade space remains and I can get a complimentary upgrade instead" game that many play on United and American. This makes sense, though I would hope there will be a little flexibility for special circumstances.
Upgrades still cannot be waitlisted--there must be space in "U" class to confirm an upgrade. While Alaska gives its first class passengers access to their Board Room airport lounges, upgraded economy tickets will still not have access.
The changes to Alaska's upgrade program are perfectly reasonable and have been expected for years. I do not like to see the fare class restriction, but I also do not mind paying an extra $50-100 for a transcon upgrade.