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Crediting American Airlines Flights to Alaska in 2016

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In light of American Airline’s recent announcements regarding changes to its frequent-flyer program, many AAdvantage members may be considering their mileage and elite-status strategy for 2016. Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen explores another option for crediting American flights.

Among the legacy carriers in the US, Alaska Airlines will be the only one left with a “traditional” mileage program where you earn miles based on how far you fly rather than how much you spend. So if you’re an American flyer and you’ve weighed the changes and they look to impact your points portfolio negatively, you might want to consider switching your loyalty — or at least where you credit your miles.

Alaska introduced new flights connecting cities in the Western US this month. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
You might want to consider crediting your flights to Alaska’s Mileage Plan instead. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

I’m only going to touch briefly on partner earning/redeeming because though American and Alaska share several airline partners, there are quite a few that they do not, so be sure to check their partner lists over carefully before diving into a new strategy.

The Changes

American released the new details of the AAdvantage program back on November 17. They included changes to mileage earning, elite-mileage earning and its award charts.

You can find all the details in these two posts:

However, here’s a brief reminder of the changes.

Redeemable/Award Miles

These changes will go into effect during the second half of 2016. Instead of earning 1-1.5 award miles per mile flown, you’ll now earn the following amount of miles based on your airfare and level of elite status:

  • 5 miles/US dollar — AAdvantage member
  • 7 miles/US dollar — Gold
  • 8 miles/US dollar — Platinum
  • 11 miles/US dollar — Executive Platinum
Elite-status qualification won't really change.
Elite-status requirements won’t really change much.

Elite-Qualifying Miles

Changes to American’s elite-status program go into effect January 1. American Airlines is doing away with its elite-qualifying points system altogether when it comes to elite-status qualification.

Instead, you’ll just earn between 1-3 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) per mile flown based on the fare class that you purchase according to the following rates on American-marketed flights:

It’s a tidy little simplification of the system. Remember, though, that this is for American-marketed flights, so if you purchase flights through a partner, you should double-check the partner earning rates, and remember that AA recently dropped some of these.

Which program is going to be a better choice for you?
Which program is going to be a better choice for you?

Award Chart Changes

Finally — and this was no surprise, but still disappointing — American announced an overhaul to its award chart that will go into effect March 22, 2016. The airline has created separate award charts for its own flights versus those on partners, and raised many premium-cabin awards.

Here’s the new chart for American Airlines redemptions on its own flights, and the new chart for partner redemptions.

Here’s a comparison of AA’s old versus new chart to/from the US:

Travel from US to: Off-Peak Coach (Old) Off-Peak Coach (New) Coach (Old) Coach (New) Business (Old) Business (New) First (Old) First (New)
Contiguous 48 US states N/A N/A 12,500 12,500 25,000 25,000 32,500 50,000
Domestic < 500 miles N/A N/A N/A 7,500 N/A 15,000 N/A N/A
Canada & Alaska N/A N/A 12,500 15,000 25,000 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii 17,500 20,000 22,500 22,500 37,500 40,000 47,500 65,000
Caribbean 12,500 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Mexico 12,500 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 15,000 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 15,000 17,500 17,500 20,000 30,000 30,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 20,000 N/A 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 20,000 22,500 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Asia Region 1 25,000 32,500 32,500 35,000 50,000 60,000 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 N/A 32,500 35,000 35,000 55,000 70,000 67,500 110,000
South Pacific N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 62,500 80,000 72,500 110,000

And here’s a comparison of AA’s old versus new partner redemptions to/from the US:

Travel from US to: Off-Peak Coach (Old) Off-Peak Coach (New) Coach (Old) Coach (New) Business (Old) Business (New) First (Old) First (New)
Contiguous 48 US states N/A N/A 12,500 12,500 25,000 25,000 32,500 50,000
Canada & Alaska N/A N/A 12,500 15,000 25,000 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii N/A N/A 22,500 22,500 37,500 40,000 47,500 65,000
Caribbean N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
Mexico N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
Central America N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
South America Region 1 N/A N/A 17,500 20,000 30,000 30,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 N/A N/A 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 20,000 22,500 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Middle East / India N/A N/A 45,000 40,000 67,500 70,000 90,000 115,000
Africa N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 75,000 75,000 100,000 120,000
Asia Region 1 25,000 N/A 32,500 35,000 50,000 60,000 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 N/A N/A 35,000 37,500 55,000 70,000 67,500 110,000
South Pacific N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 62,500 80,000 72,500 110,000

I won’t get into the analysis of these changes here since those previous posts covered them in detail, and we have a separate post covering sweet spots in the new charts, though I will have a brief section below on redemptions.

Instead, let’s discuss the option of crediting your travel on American Airlines to its partner, Alaska, for next year.

Earning with Alaska Versus American

As I mentioned, you’ll now earn American AAdvantage miles (not elite-qualifying miles) on American Airlines flights at the following rates:

  • 5 miles/US dollar — AAdvantage member
  • 7 miles/US dollar — Gold
  • 8 miles/US dollar — Platinum
  • 11 miles/US dollar — Executive Platinum

If you credit your miles to Alaska, however, you’ll earn miles at the following rates:

Economy-class cabin: Earn actual flight miles* flown in B, G, H, K, L, M, N, O, Q, R, S, V, W, X or Y classes of service.

Business-class cabin: Earn actual flight miles* flown in C, D, I or J classes of service, plus 25% bonus miles.

First-class cabin: Earn actual flight miles* flown in A, F or P classes of service, plus 50% bonus miles.

*Per Alaska’s website, “Earn 500 minimum miles on flights less than 500 miles. Actual miles flown = 1 mile per flight mile flown. O class of service accrues for flights taken on or after February 1, 2015. Miles may not be earned for tickets flown in E, T, U or Z classes of service. Some deeply discounted, and industry fares are ineligible to earn miles.”

Alaska elites enjoy perks on American Airlines as well.
Alaska elites enjoy perks on American Airlines as well.

Elite-Status Considerations

One thing you might be concerned about as a primarily American Airlines flyer is your elite-status benefits. If you switch your earning, you’ll be going for Alaska’s MVP status instead of American’s AAdvantage status.

Luckily, the two reciprocate many elite-status benefits. You can find out the full details on this page, but here’s what you need to know.

  • You achieve MVP status by flying 25,000 miles or 30 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • You achieve MVP Gold status by flying 50,000 miles or 60 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • You achieve MVP Gold 75K status by flying 90,000 miles or 90 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).

All MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members get:

  • Priority AAccess check-in and boarding
  • Express security lines at select airports
  • Complimentary preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats for MVP Gold and 75K members
  • Complimentary preferred and 50% discount on Main Cabin Extra for MVP members
  • Checked baggage fee waiver for MVP members, and for two bags for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members
  • MVP members earn 50% bonus miles, MVP Golds earn 100% bonus miles and MVP Gold 75Ks earn 125% bonus miles.

So if you’re a high-level flyer, you’re giving up some benefits, including those ultra-valuable systemwide upgrades, but if you’re in the low- to mid-tier range, you’re probably not going to notice an appreciable difference in benefits.

Here’s how the earning for each would compare in a couple scenarios on American Airlines flights.

Cheap Short-Haul

Here’s a quick round-trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) in January (I know the changes go into effect later in 2016, but round-trips then are pricing out in the $400 and are likely to come down into a range comparable to this ticket.)

The airfare will be $126, so you would earn the following miles with AAdvantage depending on your level.

  • AAdvantage member: 630 miles, 674 EQMs
  • Gold: 882 miles, 1,000 EQMs
  • Platinum: 1,008 miles, 1,000 EQMs
  • Executive Platinum: 1,386 miles, 1,000 EQMs

With Alaska, you’d earn 1,000 miles and EQMs round-trip, so if you’re Gold or below, you’re better off crediting this flight to Alaska (before taking Alaska’s lower redemption rates into account). When the mileage starts getting longer, though, the question of crediting becomes a little more interesting.

Transcontinental Economy

Here’s a sample round-trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) in September:

As you can see, economy would cost you $420 round-trip. That equates to the following earning.

  • AAdvantage: 2,100 miles and 4,950 EQMs
  • Gold: 2,940 miles and 4,950 EQMs
  • Platinum: 3,360 miles and 4,950 EQMs
  • Executive Platinum: 4,620 miles and 4,950 EQMs

By contrast, with Alaska, you’d earn the following miles.

  • Regular member: 4,950 miles and EQMs
  • MVP: 7,425 miles and 4,950 EQMs
  • MVP Gold: 9,900 miles and 4,950 EQMs
  • MVP Gold 75K: 11,378 miles and 4,950 EQMs

So even base-level Alaska members earn more than Executive Platinums with American on this flight in terms of award miles.

Transcontinental Business and First Class

In the same example, round-trip business class goes for as low as $1,547 the same days, and first class is $2,552. Here’s how much you’d earn with American for business/first.

  • AAdvantage: 7,735 miles/12,760 miles and 9,900 EQMs
  • Gold: 10,829 miles/17,864 miles and 9,900 EQMs
  • Platinum: 12,376 miles/20,416 miles and 9,900 EQMs
  • Executive Platinum: 17,017 miles/28,072 miles and 9,900 EQMs

With Alaska, your earning would look like this.

  • Regular: 6,188 miles/7,425 miles and 6,188/7,425 EQMs
  • MVP: 9,282 miles/11,138 miles and 6,188/7,425 EQMs
  • MVP Gold: 12,375 miles/14,850 miles and 6,188/7,425 EQMs
  • MVP Gold 75K: 13,922 miles/16,707 miles and 6,188/7,425 EQMs

So here the question becomes a little more complicated. On premium fares where the mileage is just about a mid-haul but the dollar amounts are high, you really have to parse out your elite level, class-of-service bonuses and more to figure out where you’ll be earning more miles, but the earning formula for American is more geared toward high spenders shelling out for premium classes on flights like these.

Long-Haul International Economy

Let’s take another extreme example. Here’s a sample round-trip itinerary on one of American’s longest flights, from Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) in September/October. Keep in mind that there are some cheaper Cathay tickets available, but I wanted to look at earning just on American’s own flights.

An economy ticket would cost you $1,564. Here’s how many miles AAdvantage members would earn.

  • AAdvantage: 7,820 miles and 16,246 EQMs
  • Gold: 10,948 miles and 16,246 EQMs
  • Platinum: 12,512 miles and 16,246 EQMs
  • Executive Platinum: 17,204 miles and 16,246 EQMs

Here’s how many miles Alaska Mileage Plan members would earn.

  • Member: 16,246 miles and EQMs
  • MVP: 24,369 miles and 16,246 EQMs
  • MVP Gold: 32,492 miles and 16,246 EQMs
  • MVP Gold 75K: 36,554 miles and 16,246 EQMs

So those Mileage Plan members are blowing AAdvantage members out of the water in terms of award miles, but they’re even on EQMs.

Long-Haul International Business Class

For the same flights, airfare would be $5,620 for business class (and this books in D class, which counts as discounted), or $6,120 for first class (in P class, which counts as discounted as well).

Based on that, here’s how much AAdvantage members would earn.

  • AAdvantage: 28,100/30,600 miles and 32,492 EQMs
  • Gold: 39,340/42,840 miles and 32,492 EQMs
  • Platinum: 44,960/48,960 miles and 32,492 EQMs
  • Executive Platinum: 61,820/67,320 miles and 32,492 EQMs

By contrast, here’s how much you’d earn with Alaska.

  • Member: 20,308/24,369 miles and 20,3028/24,369 EQMs
  • MVP: 30,462/36,554 miles and 20,3028/24,369 EQMs
  • MVP Gold: 40,616/48,738 miles and 20,3028/24,369 EQMs
  • MVP Gold 75K: 45,692/54,831 miles and 20,3028/24,369 EQMs

Though still respectable, at the higher levels, you’re earning about 25-50% fewer miles with Alaska’s traditional scheme.

The Takeaway on Earning

If you’re like most travelers with no elite status or up to the middle tiers who buy the best airfare you can find, you’re probably going to be better off crediting your flights – and especially the longer ones – to Alaska. However, if you have mid- to top-tier elite status and you’re purchasing those premium fares, your earnings can shoot through the roof with American’s new revenue-based system. You just need to see how much you’re spending and where you’re flying to figure out where you should be crediting those flights.

The airlines share a number of partners, including British Airways.
The airlines share a number of partners, including British Airways.

Other Airline Partners

Here are the partners of each airline for earning and redeeming miles, with those that are unique to each bolded.

American Partners

Oneworld

  • Air Berlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7
  • SriLankan Airlines
  • TAM

Non-Oneworld

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska
  • Cape Air
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Hawaiian Airlines (but not from Mainland US)
  • Jet Airways
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • WestJet

Alaska’s partners include:

  • American Airlines
  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • LAN
  • PenAir
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska

So if you credit your miles to Alaska, you’re gaining a few SkyTeam and non-alliance partners like Delta, Air France and Emirates, and losing several Oneworld opportunities like Qatar and Japan Airlines. Just something to be aware of.

I’d also quickly like to point out just a couple routes where Alaska’s award chart is a superior value for flights originating from the US.

Among the partners they don't have in common? Emirates - you'll have to use Alaska miles if you want to fly them.
Among the partners they don’t have in common? Emirates — you’ll have to use Alaska miles if you want to fly this airline.

Europe on American and British Airways

Alaska will charge you 50,000 miles each way in business and 62,500 in first on American, or 60,000 each way in business on BA and 70,000 for first.

American will be charging 57,500 miles each way in business and 85,000 in first class to fly its own flights or BA’s to Europe.

So you’re better off using American miles for business class but Alaska miles for first.

South Pacific including Australia and New Zealand in Business/First.

Alaska will charge you 55,000 miles each way in business or 70,000 in first class to fly partner Qantas to Australia.

American will charge you 80,000 miles each way in business class or 110,000 in first class to fly its own flights or partner Qantas.

Note that though American is upping economy redemptions to 40,000 miles each way, it still beats Alaska’s rate of 42,500 miles.

Southeast Asia including Hong Kong on American or Cathay Pacific All Classes

Alaska will charge you 30,000/50,000/70,000 for economy/business/first each way on Cathay from the US to Asia.

American will charge you 37,500/70,000/110,000 miles each way for economy/business/first.

You'll need to redeem even more miles to fly Cathay Pacific first class.
Cathay first-class awards are going to be a lot cheaper using Alaska miles after March.

Middle East in First

Alaska partners with Emirates and will charge you 72,500 miles each way for business or 90,000 miles for first.

By contrast, American partners with both Qatar and Etihad, and will charge you 70,000 miles for business or 115,000 miles for first class each way on either. So you have more options and business class is a better value, but that first-class redemption is a lot higher.

Those are just a few examples, but look through the award charts at where you’re likely to want to use your miles to fly and figure out which program is likely to have a better value once these changes go into effect in March.

Have the American Airlines changes got you reconsidering your loyalty strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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