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Alaska Makes Some Positive Changes to Its Mileage Plan Program

Dec. 19, 2016
5 min read
Alaska Makes Some Positive Changes to Its Mileage Plan Program
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We're so accustomed to seeing airlines devalue their frequent flyer programsAlaska Airlines included — that it's a relief that Alaska's making its own a little sweeter. Starting today, Alaska Airline Mileage Plan members will have access to reduced mileage redemptions, they may earn more miles when flying with select partners and elite members are eligible for complimentary upgrades on award travel. Finally, as we told you about last week when the deal closed, Mileage Plan members can now earn miles on Virgin America flights.

Award Chart Changes

One of the biggest changes announced to the Mileage Plan program today has to do with its award chart. As you can see in the chart below, flights of less than 700 miles (both intrastate and nationwide) will now be 5,000 miles one-way, a drop from the previous amounts of 7,500 and 12,500 for intrastate and nationwide travel, respectively. As you'll note in the chart, Alaska isn't raising the rates for any awards; instead it's making those that are the shortest in length even cheaper. The longest trips will remain the same — 12,500 miles.

Based on TPG's most recent valuations, these new 5,000-mile awards require miles worth just $90. The longer flights (those priced at 12,500 miles one-way) are valued to be about $225. Of course, on all of these awards, you'll have to pay taxes and fees, which start from $5.60 each way.

Note that this award chart varies from that of newly acquired Virgin America. Virgin prices its awards based on the paid fare, just as Southwest Rapid Rewards does. It's not yet clear how the award structure with Virgin will be integrated in the Mileage Plan program once the airlines operate as one.

Earning With Partners

In addition to making some favorable changes to its award chart, Alaska also announced today that it's increased the amount you'll earn when flying with its global partners. As a reminder, Alaska has partnerships with British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, LATAM Airlines and Qantas, among others.

When you fly with select Alaska partners, you'll now be eligible to earn up to 80% more when traveling in first or business class with any of the partners mentioned above. Economy-class flyers can also earn more with some Icelandair, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines and LATAM Airlines fares.

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These increased earning rates are in addition to the perks Alaska flyers are used to getting when flying with one of its partners. For example, Mileage Plan elite members get perks such as priority check-in and boarding, complimentary preferred seating, free checked bags and more with select partners. You can visit Alaska's partner website to learn more about what you'll get with each.

Alaska Airlines and Delta are ending their partnership as of April 30, 2017. Image courtesy of PG/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images.

Unfortunately, we also learned with this news that as of April 30, 2017, Alaska and Delta will no longer be partners. What does this mean for you? Well, if you've already booked a flight on Delta Air Lines, you'll still be able to fly and earn Alaska miles no matter when the flight is. However, if you're thinking of booking travel with Delta now, you'll need to fly before April 30, 2017 in order to earn Alaska miles on the trip. In addition, you can continue to redeem your miles for award travel with Delta as long as the bookings take place before April 30, 2017. As of that date, the two carriers will end their codeshare altogether.

Bottom Line

For the most part, these changes seem to be good news for both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America flyers. With the exception of the discontinued partnership with Delta, Alaska has continued to show what makes its Mileage Plan program unique. Whereas other frequent flyer programs are devaluing their products, Alaska has not only maintained its distance-based award chart, but it's also reduced the number of miles needed for a majority of its routes.

Of course, there's still news to be seen regarding the future of the Mileage Plan program and the Elevate program once the two are integrated as one. As a reminder, if you're looking to boost your Alaska balance soon, you should consider signing up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, which comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Virgin America's cards could also be worth a look.

Featured image by Corbis via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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