Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Update on Crediting American Airlines Flights to Alaska in 2016

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

After American Airlines announced changes to the AAdvantage program last year, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen covered the basics of crediting American Airlines flights to Alaska Airlines instead. But with Alaska instituting new mileage-earning rates for American flights in August, it’s time for an update. Here are the factors you need to consider.

It was no surprise that the American Airlines AAdvantage program was going revenue-based in 2016. The airline announced it late last year, though the exact date that flyers would begin earning AAdvantage award miles based on airfare instead of mileage flown was yet to be determined.

View of the Main Cabin Extra section and back towards standard economy seats.
Flying American Airlines in the coming months? You might want to start thinking about where to credit your miles.

Well, not too long ago, we all got the exact date of the switchover: August 1, 2016. Along with earnings evolution, American also detailed several other overhauls to the program, including the introduction of a whole new elite tier called Platinum Pro, and changes to upgrades.

That had some flyers considering American’s non-alliance partner, Alaska, as an alternative thanks to its traditional distance-based earning formula and an award chart that continues to be more favorable than American’s in many ways. Unfortunately, a few weeks after American’s announcement, Alaska came out with news of its own: It would be slashing mileage-earning rates on American flights, much as it had with Delta flights after the SkyMiles program went revenue-based. Suddenly, the frequent flyer strategy has gotten a lot more complicated.

I won’t get into a redemption comparison since the rates are still consistent with my previous comparison post on the topic. Just note that Alaska added Japan Airlines (JAL) as a partner at the end of June, so that adds another great option for both earning and (eventually) redeeming your miles. For more on redeeming Alaska miles, check out this post on 6 Alaska Awards That Still Make Sense to Book.

AAdvantage miles are no longer a good option for Cathay Pacific first-class awards to Asia.
It makes a lot more sense to use Alaska miles for certain awards like Cathay Pacific first class now.

Instead, today, let’s look at the new mileage-earning rates with Alaska for American-operated flights, and where you might want to credit your travel.

EARNING

How you earn miles with American versus Alaska will now be a rather complex affair. Flyers will earn AAdvantage award miles based on airfare and elite-qualifying miles based on class of service and distance flown. If they credit American flights to Alaska, they’ll earn Mileage Plan award and elite-qualifying miles based on distance flown and fare class. Here’s how it breaks down with each airline.

American

American is switching over to a revenue-based earning scheme on August 1, 2016.

Award miles: Here are the earning rates based on airfare and elite status.

  • 5 miles per dollar — AAdvantage member
  • 7 miles per dollar — Gold
  • 8 miles per dollar — Platinum
  • 9 miles per dollar — Platinum Pro (new level launching 2017)
  • 11 miles per dollar — Executive Platinum

Elite status: In 2016, American also simplified its formula for earning elite status. Instead of elite-qualifying miles, points and segments, the airline streamlined the process so that flyers earn between 1-3 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) per mile flown based on the fare class they purchase according to the following rates on American-marketed flights:

American AAdvantage elite earning eqm

However, in June, American also announced it would begin implementing revenue requirements for each status tier, and there is no word yet on whether these will be waived for co-branded cardholders who meet a certain spending threshold like Delta and United allow.

Here are how many miles, segments and dollars it will take to achieve each tier:

  • Gold: 25,000 miles OR 30 segments AND $3,000
  • Platinum: 50,000 miles OR 60 segments AND $6,000
  • Platinum Pro: 75,000 miles OR 90 segments AND $9,000
  • Executive Platinum: 100,000 miles OR 120 segments AND $12,000
American is adding a new tier called Platinum Pro in 2017.
American is adding a new tier called Platinum Pro in 2017.

For more details on AAdvantage elite status and the benefits of each tier, check out this post.

Alaska

Alaska still lets you earn award and elite-qualifying miles based on distance flown, but for American flights, it will also begin to take ticket fare classes into consideration.

Award miles: Here are the Alaska earning rates for American flights and Alaska-operated but American-marketed (i.e., you buy an Alaska flight through American) flights that go into effect August 1:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 5.26.13 PM

  • Full-fare first and business F, J: 200%
  • Discount first and business A, P, D, I, R: 150%
  • Full-fare and higher economy Y, H, K, L, M, W: 100%
  • Discount economy V, G: 75%
  • Discount economy N, S: 50%
  • Discount economy Q, O: 25%

While you’re actually doing better with full-fare and even discount first- and business-class tickets, if you’re like the vast majority of flyers who purchase discount economy tickets, your earning drops from 100% down to 25% in some cases.

Alaska elites receive many benefits when flying American as well.
Alaska elites receive many benefits when flying American as well.

Elite status: While it did not address it in its original announcement, Alaska has since updated its American Airlines partner page to state that elite-qualifying mileage will be earned at the same rates as award mileage.

Meanwhile, the two airlines will continue to reciprocate many elite status benefits. Here are how many miles you need to earn to qualify for each of Alaska’s elite tiers:

  • MVP: Fly 25,000 miles or 30 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • MVP Gold: Fly 50,000 miles or 60 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • MVP Gold 75K: Fly 90,000 miles or 90 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).

What’s important to note here are the award mileage bonuses elites earn. MVPs get 50% bonus miles, MVP Golds get 100% bonus miles and MVP Gold 75K members earn 125% bonus miles. So that will impact your bottom line as well.

EARNING COMPARISONS

To give you some context and help you figure out your travel for the final part of the year, and going forward, let’s take a look at a few sample flights to see how many award and elite-qualifying miles you would earn with either airline.

Short-haul Economy

Here’s a sample itinerary from Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) to Austin (AUS) on American.

AA DFW AUS

The airfare is $108 plus taxes and books into the O fare class. Here’s how many American AAdvantage miles you would earn:

  • AAdvantage member: 540 award miles, 380 elite-qualifying miles
  • Gold: 756 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum: 864 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum Pro: 972 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum: 1,188 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles

With Alaska, you’d earn the following miles since the airline has retained its 500-mile-minimum policy (at least for now):

  • Member: 1,000 award and elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP: 1,000 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold: 1,000 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold 75K: 1,000 award miles, 1,000 elite-qualifying miles

Though the flight is short, because its 500-mile-minimum policy is still in effect for American flights, Alaska is the program to go with here except at the very top tier.

Transcontinental Economy

Now let’s look at one of American’s bread-and-butter routes, Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK).

AA LAX JFK bus

Airfare is $400 plus taxes and fees and books into the N fare class. Here’s how many American AAdvantage miles you would earn:

  • AAdvantage member: 2,000 award miles, 4,950 elite-qualifying miles
  • Gold: 2,800 award miles, 4,950 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum: 3,200 award miles, 4,950 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum Pro: 3,600 award miles, 4,950 elite-qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum: 4,400 award miles, 4,950 elite-qualifying miles

With Alaska, you’d earn the following miles.

  • Member: 2,475 award and elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP: 3,713 award miles, 2,475 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold: 4,950 award miles, 2,475 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold 75K: 6,188 award miles, 2,475 elite-qualifying miles

This is an interesting scenario. While your elite-qualifying miles are slashed in half because of the new Alaska earning rules, if you have any elite status, you’re way ahead with Alaska in terms of award miles thanks to those elite earnings bonuses.

Transcontinental Business Class

Let’s take a look at the same itinerary, but in business class.

AA LAX JFK bus

The airfare comes out to $1,087 plus taxes and fees, and books into the I fare class. Here’s how many American AAdvantage miles you would earn:

  • AAdvantage member: 5,435 award miles, 9,900 elite-qualifying miles
  • Gold: 7,609 award miles, 9,900 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum: 8,696 award miles, 9,900 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum Pro: 9,783 award miles, 9,900 elite-qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum: 11,957 award miles, 9,900 elite-qualifying miles

With Alaska, you’d earn the following miles:

  • Member: 7,425 award and elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP: 11,138 award miles, 7,245 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold: 14,850 award miles, 7,245 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold 75K: 16,707 award miles, 7,245 elite-qualifying miles

This is another really interesting example. You’re earning a lot more elite-qualifying miles with AAdvantage, but because of the premium class of service and the distance of the flight, your award mileage earning is higher with Alaska at every tier. Especially with those 100% and 125% elite bonuses at the higher tiers.

Long-Haul International Economy

Let’s take a look at a route where airfares are low, but the distance is long to see how the new mileage-earning rates fall out. One of American’s new flagship routes is Los Angeles-Sydney.

AA LAX SYD econ

On this itinerary, the airfare comes out to $961 plus taxes and fees, and books into the Q fare class on the outbound and O on the return. Here’s how many American AAdvantage miles you would earn.

  • AAdvantage member: 4,805 award miles, 14,976 elite-qualifying miles
  • Gold: 6,727 award miles, 14,976 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum: 7,688 award miles, 14,976 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum Pro: 8,649 award miles, 14,976 elite-qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum: 10,571 award miles, 14,976 elite-qualifying miles

On the other hand, here’s how many Alaska miles you’d earn:

  • Member: 3,744 award and elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP: 5,616 award miles, 3,744 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold: 7,488 award miles, 3,744 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold 75K: 8,424 award miles, 3,744 elite-qualifying miles

So in this case, American wins out. The discount airfare codes hobble Alaska earning, and since its elite-mileage earning is tied to the base award-mileage earning, you are really suffering on the elite status side of things as well.

Long-Haul International Business

Let’s take a look at the same exact itinerary but in business class.

AA LAX SYD bus

For this, you’re looking at airfare that’s $5,502 plus taxes and fees, and books into the I fare class on both legs.

Here’s how many American AAdvantage miles you would earn:

  • AAdvantage member: 27,510 award miles, 29,952 elite-qualifying miles
  • Gold: 38,514 award miles, 29,952 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum: 44,016 award miles, 29,952 elite-qualifying miles
  • Platinum Pro: 49,518 award miles, 29,952 elite-qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum: 60,522 award miles, 29,952 elite-qualifying miles

And here is how many Alaska miles you’d earn:

  • Member: 22,464 award and elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP: 33,696 award miles, 22,464 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold: 44,928 award miles, 22,464 elite-qualifying miles
  • MVP Gold 75K: 50,544 award miles, 22,464 elite-qualifying miles

Again, we have a bit of a mixed bag. Thanks to the premium class of service and the long distance, American’s new elite-mileage earning formula edges out Alaska’s by about 7,000 miles total. On the award-mileage earning side, Alaska also lags a bit on the bottom rungs, but its mid- and top tiers out-earn AAdvantage slightly.

Bottom Line

Thanks to the recent changes to both the American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan programs, it’s going to be harder than ever to plan your frequent-flyer strategy. Now, you will not only have to pay attention to the distances you fly, but also to the amount of money you spend (on airfare, not including taxes and fees!) and even the fare classes of the tickets you purchase to figure out which program will be best to credit which itinerary.

In general, you’ll do better with AAdvantage on expensive tickets and those in premium cabins, both short- and long-haul. But you might still want to credit some inexpensive longer-haul flights to Alaska.

That said, if you’re willing to pull out the calculator and look into a few details, you can easily figure out which program will award you more award and elite-qualifying miles on specific itineraries, and plot your strategy from there.

Are you considering switching your mileage earning from AAdvantage to Alaska? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Apply Now
  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.1
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 14.24% - 22.24%* (Variable) $95, waived for first 12 months* 3.00% Excellent/Good