How Alaska’s most frequent flyers became MVPs of the sky

I still remember the first time I achieved “MVP” status on Alaska Airlines. We had just returned from Mexico when I got a note from the airline congratulating me on my achievement.

When I checked how many miles I’d flown that year, the total was 20,005. It was just barely over the 20,000-mile threshold for MVP. But the door was opened to upgrades, a VIP reservations line and even a box of cookies around the holidays.

These days, though, travelers have to jump through more hoops to get an upgrade.

For Alaska Airlines, there are four levels or “tiers” of frequent flyers: MVP (20,000 miles flown), MVP Gold (40,000 miles flown), MVP 75K (75,000 miles flown) and MVP 100K (100,000 miles flown).

As an MVP traveler, you get instant access to exit row seating when making reservations. MVP also gain access to the VIP reservations line. MVP flyers also qualify for upgrades, but only after the upper-tier travelers get their seats.

As you work up the tiers into Gold, 75K and 100K, it’s easier to get confirmed Premium seating and first class upgrades. Plus, the higher you are on the status list, the more miles you earn. For example, MVP Golds earn double miles on qualifying flights.

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Now that summer is over, many status-conscious travelers are looking over their mileage statements and wondering if they’re going to make it to MVP. Or to MVP Gold.

Alaska Airlines is one of the only airlines that still awards status based solely on the number of miles flown. So, if you aspire to a higher status level, you might have to make an extra trip or two to move the needle. That’s called a “mileage run.”

I’ve taken a few mileage runs, flying to Boston to see a college chum and another trip to Washington, DC to visit my cousin. But that’s “small ball” compared to Bart Parker’s strategy to achieve the coveted “MVP Gold 100K” status.

Parker loves to fly. “I’ve been at this for 23 years,” he said.

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Before flying with Alaska Airlines, he accrued more than 1.5 million miles on Delta. Most of those miles were on Northwest Airlines, before the carrier merged with Delta.

“Once you get used to sitting up front (in first class), you don’t want to sit in back,” he said.

Parker attended a travel event at the Alaska Aviation Museum, where he met a representative of Alaska Airlines. They offered him a “tier match” based on his extensive flying. That meant that he was able to start flying Alaska Airlines as a MVP Gold 75K, enjoying the special treatment on upgrades, fee waivers and extra flexibility on changes and cancellations.

When I caught up with Parker, he had just returned from a trip to Orlando, where he got upgraded on all of his flights. Soon, he’s headed for Hawaii. “I’ve already been upgraded on three out of four flights,” he said.

So far, Parker has flown more than 600,000 miles on Alaska Airlines.

“I’m treated very well by Alaska,” he said. “I get upgraded 99 percent of the time as a 100K,” he said.

Parker does his research to get the most miles when he’s flying. For example, when traveling from Anchorage to Newark, sometimes he’ll fly via Los Angeles to get more miles.

In addition to the frequent upgrades, Parker also appreciates the ability to make last-minute changes to his tickets. As a 100K traveler, Parker gets access to all of the Alaska Lounges in Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York/JFK.

“I love the lounges,” said Parker. “And I always bring candy for the staff at the lounge and for the flight crew.”

Looking over his mileage statement, Parker is about to cross the 50,000 miles-flown level for 2023. Will he make the 100K level for next year?

“Oh, yes. No question. I’ll be flying to Boston several times,” said Parker.

Most travelers who call Alaska home are Alaska Air frequent flyers. But many travelers prefer Delta Air Lines and the SkyMiles plan. In fact, there are many travelers who qualify as frequent flyers on both airlines.


Chris Ross is a management consultant who travels between 100 and 200 days a year. He’s a million-miler on Alaska Airlines and currently flies as an MVP 75K traveler. But Delta is his preferred airline.

“Diamond is where I like to live,” he confessed. Ross is referring to the top tier of Delta’s SkyMiles program.

“I get more perks from Delta,” said Ross, who recently traveled to Portugal to make sure he spent enough money on Delta to re-qualify for the Diamond level.

The SkyMiles program is a little different, because miles-flown is just part of the mix for the top-tier flyer. Travelers have to spend a minimum amount with the airline to achieve SkyMiles status. For Delta’s entry-level “Silver” SkyMiles status, travelers have to spend at lease $3,000 on Delta. The amounts of “Medallion qualification dollars” goes up for Gold and Platinum flyers. Diamond flyers must spend $20,000 during the year.

Ross has upcoming trips to Charlotte and Tri-Cities, Tennessee, both of which are Delta cities. But that won’t put him over the top.

“I’m not going on a mileage run,” he said. “I’m going on a cash run. I’m going to spend the money for a lie-flat seat across the Atlantic.”

Paul Schilling is a real estate broker in Alaska. But his kids are overseas. Plus, he and his wife are building a new home in Texas. So, between trips to Texas and flights to see his family in Asia or Africa, Schilling has about 4.5 million lifetime miles on Delta.

“I’ve been Diamond for 11 years in a row,” he said.


“We fly overseas once or twice a year to see our family. Right now my son is in Nairobi. While we were there, we went up to Israel, to Jordan, to Egypt and then to Ethiopia,” he said. “I’ve never had any trouble qualifying for Diamond.”

“Delta always has been responsive when there’s a problem,” said Schilling. “They’re consistent. But we really don’t have great expectations.”

Schilling is a fan of Delta’s lounges. In his years of flying, he’s accrued “lifetime membership” in the lounges three times: once with Western, another time with Northwest and then another time after he flew his first million miles!

“I’m not chasing status. Delta’s planes are good and the schedules are OK,” he said.

Over 17 years, Trini Amador flew more than four million miles. Most of those miles were on United Airlines of their “Star Alliance” partners including Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

“I was a road warrior. I saw the same people on the flights. We all were Global Services travelers (the highest invitation-only tier for United Airlines flyers),” he said. “United took very good care of us.”

But when COVID arrived in 2020, Amador’s travel stopped abruptly. “I flew out of United’s San Francisco hub to everywhere: South America, Russia, the mid-East, Africa, Turkey, Switzerland and at least 40 times to Singapore,” he said. “Global Services would hold flights, send a car to pick me up and make sure there was a shower for me. The works.”

Amador still does the work, but not the international travel. But with the miles he accrued, he flew with his wife to France and Egypt on an extended holiday. They flew in business class with the lie-flat seats.

Amador followed good advice for frequent flyers: you have to earn-and-burn. That means you can get the miles, but you have to use them, too. Holding on to air miles is like a reverse savings account: the miles are worth less the longer you hold them.

If you aspire to reach the higher frequent flyer tier, this is your wake-up call to get those miles and spend those dollars. If you’re done banking miles and just want to redeem them, it’s better to plan sooner than later.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit