Planning for 2011/2012 Status

Old Jan 4, 11, 3:53 pm
  #1  
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Planning for 2011/2012 Status

Hello Everyone.

I'm a young flyer, but I love to fly. In a typical year I usually fly around 15k miles, not enough for status anywhere, so I usually buy the cheapest fares available. In 2011, though, I will be flying around 25k miles, so if I plan it right then I'll be able to make status on one airline. The question is, which one? Right now I'm trying to decide between AS and UA.

Most of my flying is to visit family. They are in Seattle, Oakland, and Juneau and I am in Southern Connecticut (I usually fly out of LGA/JFK because of public transportation accessibility). I also visit MSP about once a year. Flying is also on my own dime, so I am a bit sensitive to price.

What I am looking for in status is upgrades (isn't everyone?). I recently suffered a back injury playing rugby, and the docs say it will take about a year to 18 months to heal, so the extra leg room helps a ton with pain management. Therefore, I am perfectly willing to blow miles for upgrades, at least until my back heals.

The way I see it right now, UA is probably my best bet because of automatic E+ for 2p, and having status on UA means no copay when upgrading with miles (even on the cheaper tickets if I understand correctly). But, my travel for the first half of 2011 is to LAS, ONT, and RNO and it looks like the flights on DL/AA are cheaper and more convenient for me than on UA/*A.

Being a Seattle native, I'm a little biased towards my hometown airline. I understand that I will probably be flying DL or AA most of the time where I am based. Since looks like upgrades for MVPs on DL is finally happening, that might not be so bad. I will also probably fly to JNU at least once in the next 2 years (e.g. UA status won't help me there).

The availability of flights between UA/*A and DL/AA are about the same for the destinations.

So my questions are:
How hard/easy are MVP upgrades on DL metal from JFK/LGA to SEA?
What's the mileage upgrade opportunity the EWR-SEA flight on AS like? (and are mileage upgrades confirmed at booking if there is upgrade inventory available? The website confused me)
Any other advice?

Thanks in advance for the help
yaychemistry is offline  
Old Jan 4, 11, 4:31 pm
  #2  
 
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Originally Posted by yaychemistry View Post
So my questions are:
How hard/easy are MVP upgrades on DL metal from JFK/LGA to SEA?
What's the mileage upgrade opportunity the EWR-SEA flight on AS like? (and are mileage upgrades confirmed at booking if there is upgrade inventory available? The website confused me)
Any other advice?

MVP upgrades on JFK-SEA are not likely. You will be behind all Delta elites, including Silver Medallions (FOs). However, on off peak days, like Saturday mornings, JFK-SEA can be pretty easy to catch an upgrade on. The afternoon/evening flights which connect from international flights, you're probably not going to get an upgrade.

On Alaska, mileage upgrades require you to buy a value fare or higher, which isn't good if you are trying to fly for cheap. Besides, Alaska rarely releases upgrade space on transcontinental flights. If there is U space (upgrade space) and you are on a value fare or higher, you can upgrade with 15,000 miles and it will confirm instantly.

If you are based out of New York, crediting to Alaska really isn't the best option, IMO. Mileage upgrades on Dultah aren't great either, but you *might* have a shot at complimentary upgrades as a silver medallion.

Honestly, flying UA is your best option since they have E+ (for now...) and your upgrade chances are very slim as a lower tier elite on pretty much any airline. If you are using 30,000 miles each trip you take to do a round trip upgrade (if there is even upgrade space), you are bound to run out of miles at some point, especially as a lower level elite. Besides, using miles to upgrade is a pretty bad use of miles because for upgrading 7 one-way itineraries on United, you could get business class to Europe with a stopover.

And welcome to FT.
United757 is offline  
Old Jan 4, 11, 4:50 pm
  #3  
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First of all, welcome to FT and the AS forum! We're glad to have you.

Secondly, let's set some expectations about the number of upgrades you're realistically likely to score as a low-level elite: very few if any (read: expect none and be surprised if you do get one). Further, with 25K of flying in a year, you won't have status for most of the year, and your benefits will really only kick in starting next year.

EWR-SEA may be AS's toughest upgrade, right up there with DCA-SEA. People buy F on these routes a lot, and even as a top tier elite, one is not assured an upgrade. If you're trying to upgrade with miles on AS, be aware that this is only available when there is upgrade space available (rare but not impossible) AND you have already purchased an "expensive" ticket (booked in Y/S/B/M/H class). These tickets correspond to the "Full Flex" and "Value" buckets when viewing fares on alaskaair.com, and are rarely discounted. As a leisure traveller, it's not likely you'll be inclined to purchase fares this expensive unless you normally book travel at the last minute. The mileage upgrade is 15K miles per one-way, and is not confirmed at booking time (though you may confirm it immediately after booking if space is available).

I can't speak to upgrading on DL metal, but on a transcon route, with status less than DL Silver, I probably wouldn't count on much of anything.

In general, it's wise to try and obtain status on the airline you'll be flying with the most. If you have a good chunk of AA and DL flying, AS is a good program to accumulate miles with, but as a low-tier elite, you probably shouldn't really count on upgrades. At this level, the primary benefits are premium seat selection, free baggage, priority boarding, and the 50% mileage bonus.

How tall are you and how much leg room are you really looking for? In most cases, the leg room you'll get in premium seating areas (E+ on UA; bulkhead and exit rows on DL/AS) will be equal to or greater than the legroom you'll get in first. This is probably a much more realistic expectation and goal to shoot for in your first year(s) with elite status. If the 5 extra inches of legroom in E+ are acceptable enough to make you comfortable, that's probably your best option. Even as a 2P, you'll be virtually guaranteed a seat in E+ on every flight, and before you're elite you can pay up a modest amount to secure a seat. For me, E+/bulkhead/exit row make all the difference between agony and a tolerable flight.
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Old Jan 4, 11, 7:21 pm
  #4  
 
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Originally Posted by baliktad View Post
First of all, welcome to FT and the AS forum! We're glad to have you.

Secondly, let's set some expectations about the number of upgrades you're realistically likely to score as a low-level elite: very few if any (read: expect none and be surprised if you do get one). Further, with 25K of flying in a year, you won't have status for most of the year, and your benefits will really only kick in starting next year.
Allow me to echo the welcome, FT is welcoming, especially the Alaska section. Ask questions here and elsewhere and make the choice that is best for you.

Earning the status is something I had forgotten about, don't expect much of anything in 2011, by the time you get the status holiday travel will have filled up the flights. With that said let me begin the hard sell of Mileage Plan.

I too am a lowly MVP and qualified primarily on Delta flights with American and Alaska making up equal minorities. The consolidation of travel makes status much more achievable and the flexibility of domestic award booking is awesome as is the 50% bonus once you earn it.

Originally Posted by baliktad View Post
I can't speak to upgrading on DL metal, but on a transcon route, with status less than DL Silver, I probably wouldn't count on much of anything.
Alaska MVP and a Delta Silver on a T fare, the cheapest bucket, are pretty much the same for upgrade odds. You likely will be out of luck for transcon flights but flying cheap you will likely be connecting somewhere.

Originally Posted by baliktad View Post
In general, it's wise to try and obtain status on the airline you'll be flying with the most. If you have a good chunk of AA and DL flying, AS is a good program to accumulate miles with, but as a low-tier elite, you probably shouldn't really count on upgrades. At this level, the primary benefits are premium seat selection, free baggage, priority boarding, and the 50% mileage bonus.
Upgrades are not impossible but by no means should be considered a sure thing. I took 26 AS/NW/DL flights with a first cabin and made the upgrade or the flight left with empty F seats (pre agreement) 13 of those. Upgraded half the time is pretty good. This success includes some longer legs: YVR/MSP, MSP/LAS, SFO-MEM. I do fly outside of peak times so if you have the flexibility use it.

golfingboy might be along to further attest to the number of seats Alaska Elite could have had if the upgrade agreement were in place earlier in the year.

The 50% mileage bonus coupled with the 500 mile minimum will make award bookings at the pointy end of the plane come much faster. Priority seating is also not to be dismissed. Light loaded flights can result in an empty middle seat giving you space and you also have a shot at exit rows if you book early enough.
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Old Jan 4, 11, 9:35 pm
  #5  
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I was going to point out the AS monopoly on JNU, but went back and realized you'd already done so

Like earlier posters have mentioned, upgrades are pretty slim as a low-level elite (though I've had a surprisingly good record as an MVP on AS in the past). AS+partners are probably going to give you more nonstop options out of LGA/JFK, although connecting flights may give you better upgrade chances; flying UA out of EWR is going to be very similar to flying DL out of JFK. Whether you're willing to spend longer travelling to get a better shot at spending part of it in First is up to you.

IIRC, the only transcon I've ever been upgraded on without using a Gold paper certificate is LAX-DCA, which has a much lower elite load than anything out of Seattle. However, I can't remember the last time I flew AS coach in anything other than an exit row (other than the time I almost missed my flight and lost my seat assignment as a result).
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Old Jan 4, 11, 9:43 pm
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Welcome to FT!


I was in the same position as you last year. I originally planned on choosing UA and qualifying by segments if I couldn't reach 25,000 miles. However, since UA tightened its routing rules and doesn't have 500-mile minimums for non-elites, I decided to earn elite status on AS instead and have been very happy with my decision.

Much of my travel is on DL, with some flights on AS, QX, and AA. As a non-elite, I have generally been able to get seats with plenty of legroom on the day of departure.

One benefit of AS that you might not know about is its willingness to ticket other carriers' (including UA/CO) flights on its own ticket stock as long as you include an AS/QX-marketed segment (this can often be done online or by phone for free after you book your AS/QX flights). With this, the change fee is only $75 online or $100 by phone. Should you need to call AS, your call will be always answered by an agent in SEA (afternoons and early evening, IME), PHX (nights and the MVP desk), or BOI. DL still has some outsourced agents, but I've been getting agents in TPA and DFW on many of my calls.

Since your primary airports are JFK and LGA, you have lots of service on both sets of airlines. AS might not fly to either airport, but it often has competitively-priced codeshares going to destinations throughout the West Coast in addition to those fares offered by AA and DL. I recently flew on an AS fare that included segments on Atlantic Southeast (Delta Connection), Delta, Horizon, and Alaska.

Best of luck in your decision to earn elite status with either AS or UA.
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Old Jan 5, 11, 8:45 am
  #7  
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Thanks to everyone for their informative replies. I've been reading this forum for quite a long time, and it's one of the reasons that I would want status on AS over any other airline. It's great that everyone chimed in with good and friendly advice.

I'm going to go with UA, but that's mostly because my boss -just- told me that he might send me to a conference in Belfast this summer. CO/UA has a direct flight there from EWR and I might be within a MR of 2p by the time that flight happens.

I probably would have gone with UA anyway. The extra leg room from E+ helps my back considerably, and is free to 2p, rather than having to hope for upgrades (or burn too many miles). However, once my back heals and leg room is less of an issue you guys made a great case for going back to AS. Plus I'm a sucker for Alaskan Amber, even for $6.

Thanks so much for all of the great advice!
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Old Jan 5, 11, 1:30 pm
  #8  
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Originally Posted by yaychemistry View Post
Thanks to everyone for their informative replies. I've been reading this forum for quite a long time, and it's one of the reasons that I would want status on AS over any other airline. It's great that everyone chimed in with good and friendly advice.

I'm going to go with UA, but that's mostly because my boss -just- told me that he might send me to a conference in Belfast this summer. CO/UA has a direct flight there from EWR and I might be within a MR of 2p by the time that flight happens.

I probably would have gone with UA anyway. The extra leg room from E+ helps my back considerably, and is free to 2p, rather than having to hope for upgrades (or burn too many miles). However, once my back heals and leg room is less of an issue you guys made a great case for going back to AS. Plus I'm a sucker for Alaskan Amber, even for $6.

Thanks so much for all of the great advice!
Yeah AS' fleet doesn't go across the pond... yet And as far as Alaskan Amber, once you achieve MVPG 'the first one is on us' if you end up in the back
beckoa is offline  
Old Jan 5, 11, 5:03 pm
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I don't know if others have had the same experience, but I have seen both easy upgrades and low prices on AS trancons out of BOS, which might be another option for you (but I don't fly this route often).

Let me echo the welcome and also say that there are many ways in which I prefer AS and its mileage plan, including MVP status after 20K AS miles. Low or no status flights on the bigger airlines can be very unpleasant compared to AS, and as others have mentioned, you're going to have several of these on your way to the first tier of status. I also think there are a couple of handicapped seats near bulkheads which might be available to you on the basis of medical necessity.
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Old Jan 5, 11, 6:41 pm
  #10  
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Originally Posted by yaychemistry View Post
What I am looking for in status is upgrades (isn't everyone?). I recently suffered a back injury playing rugby, and the docs say it will take about a year to 18 months to heal, so the extra leg room helps a ton with pain management. Therefore, I am perfectly willing to blow miles for upgrades, at least until my back heals.
Avoid CO Y at ALL COSTS until your back heals... The Y seats have no back padding and feels like a cloth covered over a wooden panel.

The bottom part of the seat is fine, but not the back part.
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