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Airline offers first-of-its-kind promo to help passengers qualify for elite status — and to help the planet

"We're really seeing a lot of uptake in that next-generation traveler."

"We're really seeing a lot of uptake in that next-generation traveler."

Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines

Typically, getting upgraded to first class only happens if you're lucky or you've flown so many miles that you qualify for upgrades.

But Alaska Airlines is launching a first-of-its-kind program that will make it easier for customers to bump up their status — while contributing to the future of sustainable aviation.

Starting this week following a successful limited promo, Alaska Airlines customers will be able to purchase sustainable aviation fuel credits as an incentive to earn mileage points. 

📍 Quick refresher: Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is possibly the single most important lever for reducing aviation pollution, with the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of airlines by up to 80%. But high costs and limited supply mean switching to SAF is going to take time and teamwork.

Here's how Alaska Airlines' SAF program works:

• When you're booking a flight on AlaskaAir.com, you'll be prompted with the option to purchase SAF credits, thereby voluntarily reducing the impact of your travel. 
• Climate technology company CHOOOSE will power the booking process, which will be offered alongside other optional trip add-ons. 
• The nitty gritty: Travelers who are Alaska Mileage Plan members can earn 500 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) for every $100 spent on SAF (up to 5,000 EQMs per year).

When Alaska Airlines ran a pilot of the program in December 2023, Managing Director of Sustainability Ryan Spies told The Cool Down that the response "blew us all away." While the airline expected to sell 100,000 gallons during the December promo, it ended up selling over half a million gallons, according to Spies.

"Over 6,000 guests took part in this promo and we were just thrilled with the response," Spies told us. "People were putting out not $5, $10, $20, but increments of hundreds of dollars to participate in this, which … made us so excited about the future."

The airline industry accounts for 2.5% of global carbon pollution, and fuel is the biggest cause of that. Transitioning to a more sustainable fuel — which can be used in existing airplane engines — will be a huge opportunity to decrease aviation pollution. 

SAF is made from plant or animal materials — like corn or even municipal waste — instead of fossil fuels, so while "sustainable" may be a strong word, it certainly does have a lower carbon impact.

Alaska has one of the industry's most aggressive sustainability plans: to reach net zero carbon pollution by 2040 and achieve 10% SAF by 2030. Currently, less than 1% of the fuel in the world is sustainable aviation fuel. 

"We need all people, all of our customers, our corporate clients, and policy to help us get there, along with our ingenuity and partnerships along the way to build a new industry around sustainable aviation fuel," Spies told TCD. 

He said demand for more sustainable practices is coming from all sorts of travelers. 

"We're really seeing a lot of uptake in that next-generation traveler … but generally we're seeing it across the board," he said. "We're seeing it with frequent travelers, with business travelers, and so that's really exciting — it's not just one cohort."

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