November is here. It's the season of elections, of Thanksgiving — and of high anxiety among a certain group of Alaska Airlines travelers.
Already, the emails are pouring in. "I don't think I'm going to make MVP Gold this year. What's the cheapest way to get 25,000 miles," writes one perplexed flyer.
Frequent flyers who get used to being fawned over in first class get nervous if they don't have the requisite number of "elite qualifying miles" to maintain their "status" for the following year.
Is it worth the trouble? I think so. Alaska Airlines works hard to make sure their high-level flyers are treated with extra benefits: mileage bonuses, upgrades and fee waivers.
If you're flying in the next couple of months, chances are you'll run into a "mileage runner." This is a traveler who is just making a quick trip to top off their mileage account to get MVP or MVP Gold status for 2019.
What does it take to earn that MVP Gold label? You have to fly 40,000 actual flight miles. You can't get "Gold" by shopping at Carrs or earning miles on your Visa card. The miles you earn by shopping can help you get a free mileage ticket, but they don't count toward your "elite" status.
The entry-level elite "MVP" status is available after flying 20,000 miles. That's the equivalent of seven roundtrip flights between Anchorage and Seattle. At that point, travelers start getting bonus miles (50 percent) and have access to the dedicated reservations number. MVP travelers also get two free checked bags. That's a little different than the "Club 49" baggage benefit, which is available only when flying to or from Alaska.
There's also a level above "Gold" called MVP Gold 75K. These travelers must fly 75,000 actual flight miles on Alaska. Or, they have to fly 90,000 miles on a combination of Alaska Airlines and their partners, including Emirates, Korean Air, Icelandair and a host of other carriers. These travelers are the ones who get upgraded first. They also receive a 50,000-mile bonus when they qualify and they can "gift" MVP status to another traveler.
For Anchorage flyers, Alaska's MVP Gold status is attainable and advantageous. You can change your flights on the day you're traveling with no charge. You get double miles on all of your Alaska Air flights. Your upgrades work more often than at MVP, but not as much as MVP Gold 75K. It also helps that Alaska Airlines has more flights from Anchorage than all of the other airlines combined. If you lived in Atlanta or Salt Lake City, you would work all of the angles on Delta's SkyMiles program. It's the same in Denver or San Francisco with United's MileagePlus program.
If you're still lacking a few miles to get that MVP Gold status, take advantage of the slack travel season between Thanksgiving and Christmas to pad your account. Here are a few "mileage run" itineraries on Alaska Airlines to help you reach the MVP or MVP Gold threshold:
1. Anchorage-Kona. I love the nonstop flight from Anchorage, which resumes on Nov. 4. It's $199 one-way between Nov. 12 and Dec. 12. You'll earn 2,880 elite qualifying miles (EQM). The flight doesn't operate every day, though. You also can fly to Honolulu between Nov. 6 and Dec. 11. It's priced from $197 to $227 one-way and you'll earn 2,780 miles each way.
2. Anchorage-Detroit. Motor City is a bit more expensive, but the cost is way below historic levels, thanks to the fight between Alaska and Delta. Fly between Nov. 22 and Dec. 10. Pay $204 to $231 one-way. Earn 3,360 miles each way via Seattle.
3. Anchorage-Boston. Fly between Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 for $197 to $230 each way. Earn 3,930 miles each way via Seattle.
4. Anchorage-Orlando. Fly between Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 for $192 to $221 each way. Earn 3,990 miles each way via Seattle.
5. Anchorage-Los Angeles/LAX. Fly between Nov. 22 and Dec. 10 for $191 to $216 each way. On Dec. 1, you can catch the nonstop for as little as $168 one-way. You'll earn 2,340 miles, or 2,394 miles if you connect in Seattle.
6. Anchorage-San Jose, Costa Rica. Bring your passport. There's a short window in December (Dec. 2-6 only) when you can fly for $235 one-way. Fly via LAX and earn 5,060 in each direction. Alaska Air also offers flights to Liberia, Costa Rica. Fly between Nov. 28 and Dec. 8 for $237 one-way. You'll earn 4,970 miles each way.
With the bonus miles you'll receive as an elite-level flyer, it's easy to build up a nest egg for emergency travel. But upgrades are the Holy Grail of airline loyalty programs and the more you fly, the more likely you are to get the bump up to first class.
The frequent flyer plans are real-life grownup games that lots of folks like to play. So get out your calculator and book your mileage-runner trip. I'll see you at the airport.