Reader Joe asked,
I am US Chairman, and I have a trip to Alaska this fall (EWR-SEA-ANC). I would like to somehow get into First. I’m thinking I could do an Elite Match with AS to qualify for an upgrade. But I need the AA EQM’s to re-qualify for top AA status. Can I change the FF #’s after securing an upgrade?
This is an interesting challenge but one that has broader implications for members looking to use one airline status for benefits (perhaps they have status through a status match with a foreign airline and want waived checked bag fees and lounge access) while crediting miles to their main US program.
Why Airlines Status Match
Airlines will often give customers with elite status on one airline status on their carrier — or at least an expedited way to earn that status — to make it easier for the customer to switch allegiance and shift their business to the matching airline.
There’s a lot of both fraud (faked statements showing status) and folks looking to match for a single trip. As a result things have really tightened up and most US airlines will do temporary status (that may not be ‘full’ status) while you fly enough to keep the status, rather than just outright giving status.
Alaska’s Status Match Approach
Alaska Airlines though will not only provide matching status through the end of the calendar year (historically their “cut over” to where a match lasts through the following year is quite late, October or November). And they’ll even match top tier elites from American, Delta, and United to their top MVP Gold 75K level with an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using Status From One Airline While Crediting Miles to Another
Here’s where things get tricky, and it’s not just limited to Alaska and American as in this question, or to using status for upgrades while earning miles with another airline.
Say you have elite status with airberlin or with Turkish — a oneworld and a Star Alliance airline that offer status matches. You use the status with those programs to:
- Access American’s (airberlin) or United’s (Turkish) lounge, even on domestic trips. That’s pretty much no probably, agents will generally just accept your elite status card for access although the occasional agent will complain that you don’t have the number on your boarding pass.
- Get free checked bags. You need the elite status account in your reservation in order for the airline’s computers to waive checked bag fees.
Once you’ve checked in and had your bag fee waiver (or even once you’ve gotten into the lounge if the agent oddly so insists) you can have your account number switched to the program you want to credit to.
You already have your boarding pass that shows priority boarding due to your status, and you have a card to flash in any case. (Turkish says that they won’t mail credentials until you take a flight with them, but recent reports are that they will anyway.)
But What About Upgrades?
The same technique applies, but it’s a but more complicated.
You need your upgrade to clear before taking your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number out of the reservation. Upgrades on cross country flights like Newark – Seattle can be quite a challenge to get, so I wouldn’t assume that this clears early or in advance at all.
That means you’ll be standing at the gate hoping for an upgrade, and then will have to in real-time convince an agent to change your account number while trying to get the flight out. (You might try calling instead.)
The next problem you face is that if you take your Alaska number out of the reservation, it won’t be there to assist with an upgrade for your return trip.
Even airlines whose reservations support the capability to have more than one frequent flyer number entered, and a different number associated with different flight segments, present a challenge. I’ve rarely seen agents actually perform this procedure correctly.
There are occasionally reports of miles being credited to an account where members have been able to get the mileage credit backed out, and then were able to submit to another program for credit. This is a hassle in the extreme and not guaranteed to work.
Another Specific Idea for This Trip
It’s a long shot that there will be advance upgradeable space available on any given Newark – Seattle flight but if there is ‘U’ inventory available then find someone who has status with Alaska and confirm the upgrade with an MVP Gold Guest Upgrade instead. That’s much cleaner — you do not have to use an Alaska account number at all to accrue miles when confirming an upgrade in this manner.