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We often write about why you should get TSA PreCheck — the benefits of expedited security at 100-plus airports around the country are hard to deny, after all. If you haven’t yet joined the program, offers like this most recent one from Alaska Airlines may pique your interest. Currently, the carrier will let you redeem 10,000 miles for a five-year membership in the program, and it will be running this offer through April 30.
While the opportunity to save $85 on the application fee may sound enticing, there are several reasons why you should look elsewhere when it comes to signing up for PreCheck. Read on to find out why this deal is not as sweet as it seems, along with other, much better ways to put your Mileage Plan miles to work.
1. You Can Get PreCheck for Free with Global Entry
Unless you never travel out of the country — and aren’t planning to for the next five years — paying $85 for PreCheck instead of $100 for Global Entry is a mistake. This is because TSA PreCheck membership is included in the application fee for Global Entry, the program which entitles you to fast-track immigration access when you return from abroad.
As with TSA PreCheck, Global Entry membership is good for five years. Depending on your travel habits, paying $100 for an expedited experience on both the outbound and inbound legs of a journey is likely a much better deal than shelling out $85 for access to a dedicated TSA security line.
2. You Can Get PreCheck for Free with Select Credit Cards
Even better than paying $100 for both Global Entry and PreCheck membership, you can use a fee credit to cover the Global Entry fee with a variety of credit cards. Products that offer this perk include the Citi Prestige Card, The Platinum Card from American Express, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. And if you were thinking of using 10,000 Alaska miles to cover the PreCheck application fee for someone else, note that you can use the fee credits on these cards to cover a friend or family member’s application fee as well.
3. It’s a Bad Use of Miles
In his most recent valuations, TPG pegs Alaska miles at 2 cents apiece — higher than all other airline currencies. Based on this valuation, 10,000 Alaska miles are worth $200, which far outweighs the PreCheck application fee of $85 (and the $100 Global Entry fee).
Even if you want to minimize out-of-pocket costs, there are much better ways to use your Alaska miles, thanks to the carrier’s strong selection of global partners.
If you’re looking to pad your Mileage Plan account in order to reach an Alaska redemption, note that you can sign up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and receive 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days. You also get a Coach Companion Fare from $121 each year, and you’ll earn 3 miles per dollar on qualifying Alaska Airlines Purchases. The card comes with a $75 annual fee, but perks like the companion fare and the mileage bonus sans spending requirement make it worth considering.
Below, a few examples of how to put your miles to good use:
One-Way Intra-State Coach Awards and Other Cheap Redemptions
If you’re looking for an apples-to-apples comparison of what else 10,000 Alaska miles can get you, there are a few options. While they’re not exactly glamorous, a free or discounted flight is still likely more valuable than a waived $85 application fee.
First up are one-way intra-state economy awards on Alaska Airlines. For travel within one individual state — including Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — you can book a one-way flight for as little as 7,500 miles. One-way domestic flights on regional partner PenAir also start at 7,500 miles, while for slightly more (12,500 miles) you can book a one-way economy itinerary within the US on American.
You could also book a Money & Miles award on Alaska; redeeming 10,000 miles gets you a 50% discount on a flight, reducing the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Note that the discount is capped at $100, but if you maximize this, you’re still getting a better value than you would be redeeming 10,000 miles for the $85 PreCheck fee.
Cathay Pacific First Class
Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific is renowned for its premium-cabin products, and since it’s an Alaska partner you can use your miles to book a first-class flight on a variety of routes. Redemption rates start at 35,000 miles one-way for a first-class flight from New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR) and go up to 70,000 miles for a one-way itinerary between North America and Asia. Just note that you’ll need to call in to book these awards, as you can’t reserve them through the Alaska website.
Emirates First Class
Sure, 10,000 points on their own won’t book you a premium-cabin ticket, but they can go toward a first-class flight on Emirates. A one-way award from North America to the Middle East costs 90,000 miles, and that itinerary gives you plenty of time to enjoy the service on aircraft like the A380, which TPG flew from Dubai to New York a few years ago.
You should absolutely consider applying for PreCheck, but as this post has hopefully shown, covering the application fee is not a wise use of your valuable Alaska Miles. Spring for Global Entry and pay $100 for membership in PreCheck and the expedited immigration service — or better yet, use a credit card fee waiver — but save your Mileage Plan stash for one of the many great award flight options.
What’s your favorite use of Alaska Miles?
Know before you go.
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