5 things to know about Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is different than most other U.S. carriers’ programs, with unique features like having airline partners across multiple alliances and separate award charts for each partner. These differences happen to make the program extremely valuable, yet there are big changes coming to Mileage Plan in the next few months. Knowing the latest news as well as the program’s intricacies will allow you to get maximum value out of your miles. Today, let’s look at five things you need to know about Mileage Plan.
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How to earn Alaska Airlines miles
Alaska Airlines doesn’t partner with any of the four major transferable points currencies (Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One), making Mileage Plan miles some of the hardest to earn. They’re also some of the most valuable, consistently ranking near the top of TPG’s monthly valuation series, so thankfully there are a few good options you can rely on:
- Sign up for an Alaska Airlines credit card. Bank of America issues both a personal and business card, and the personal Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card is currently offering an all-time-high welcome bonus of 40,000 miles and a $100 statement credit after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
- Transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy. Marriott partners with well over 40 airlines, including a few niche options like Alaska. You can transfer points from Marriott to Alaska at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.
- Buy Alaska miles during the program’s routine sales. We often see bonuses up to 50%, dropping the cost of miles to below 2 cents apiece. I don’t recommend buying miles speculatively for a redemption, but if you’ve already found the award space you’re looking for this can be a good deal.
- You can credit paid partner flights to your Alaska account and potentially see larger returns than you’ll get crediting to other programs. Each partner has its own earn chart based on the fare class you’re flying, so be sure you know what percentage of flown miles you’re going to earn. Paid business and first-class Emirates flights earn up to 350% of the miles flown — big-time value compared to crediting the flights to the Skywards program.
1. Alaska Airlines is joining the Oneworld alliance
Alaska Airlines built its success without being a member of one of the three major airline alliances, and despite only flying a network of domestic routes, it was able to partner with luxurious international airlines from every corner of the globe including Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Emirates.
Alaska used to have a close partnership with American Airlines, but a while back the airlines announced they’d be scaling back the partnership. In February 2020 the two airlines did an about face and announced that not only would the partnership not be ending, but they’d actually be expanding it in preparation for Alaska to join the Oneworld alliance.
We don’t yet know what this will mean in terms of mileage earning and redemption, and unfortunately I think Mileage Plan in its current form is a bit too generous (more on that in a bit) and I expect some changes. Still, some of Alaska’s most valuable partners — Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and British Airways — are Oneworld members, so even if the rates changes redemptions should still be possible.
For a long time it was taken as gospel in the aviation industry that you needed to be a member of an alliance to grow and succeed. That mindset is slowly changing, with airlines now favoring direct partnerships and even equity investments over traditional alliance membership, but Alaska was one of the few airlines that had always been able to succeed on its own. The fact that it’s choosing to join Oneworld now doesn’t take away from what it was able to accomplish independently.
2. Stopovers are allowed on one-way award tickets
Stopovers on award tickets are becoming increasingly rare in the world of travel rewards, and Alaska is one of the only airlines to offer them free of charge even on one-way awards. This is an incredibly generous benefit that gives you the ability to see two destinations for the price of one, with very few restrictions. The main things to keep in mind are that you can’t combine partners on an award ticket (though you can use a domestic Alaska flight to position for an international partner award), and your stopover must be at the hub of your partner (i.e. Hong Kong if flying Cathay Pacific).
The good news is you can book most stopovers online yourself by simply searching for a multi-city award ticket. The only exception are flights operated by Cathay Pacific and LATAM, since those awards don’t show up on the Alaska website. You’d need to find award space first and then call Alaska to book.
There are a lot of ways to get creative with this perk, but here are a few of my favorite uses of the free stopover:
- Stopover in Hong Kong (HKG) before utilizing Cathay Pacific’s extensive route network to connect on to South East Asia (Singapore, Bangkok, Bali, etc.).
- Stopover in Sydney (SYD) before a domestic Qantas connection to somewhere else in Australia (Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc.)
- Stopover in Dubai before connecting on Emirates to somewhere in India, Africa or the Middle East
3. Watch out for mixed-cabin itineraries
Despite the multiple warnings Alaska now has on the website when booking award tickets, many travelers continue to unknowingly booking mixed-cabin award tickets. If you book a multi-segment award ticket and at least one of the segments is in a premium class, the entire itinerary will price at the higher-cabin mileage rate and appear in the premium cabin column of the search results. Here’s an example of New York to Taipei showing business-class space:
You’ll notice a blue recliner seat icon next to the $48 in taxes and fees, denoting this is a mixed-cabin itinerary with the actual following classes of service:
In this case, you’re paying a 25,000-mile premium to fly domestic first class only on the JFK to Seattle leg, after which you’ll spend the long flight from Seattle to Tokyo and then on to Taipei in coach. When doing your initial searches for award space and then again when completing the booking, Alaska makes it clear which classes of service you’re booking, so please pay attention.
4. Utilize Alaska Mileage Plan partners
Essentially anywhere you want to fly, Alaska has a partner or its own service that has you covered. Make sure you become familiar with all the Mileage Plan partners, their award charts based on the route you want to fly and stopover potentials in the carrier’s hub.
You probably know you can use Alaska miles on American Airlines and Emirates, but how much do you know about Condor, Hainan Airlines and Fiji Airways? Here are a couple tips to know when utilizing Mileage Plan partner airlines:
- Cathay Pacific and LAN (LATAM) award space and tickets cannot be found or booked on Alaskaair.com. Call 1-800-252-7522 to find space and book tickets. Typically anything you see as available to Oneworld partners on AA.com, BA.com or Qantas.com can be booked with Alaska miles, but not always. Also be wary of phantom space with Cathay Pacific; I always recommend searching segment by segment to find award space.
- Just because a partner airline flies a route doesn’t mean you can book with Alaska miles. Only the flights listed between designated regions as outlined in the interactive award chart tool on Alaskaair.com can be booked with miles. As an example, Qantas flies from Australia to the Middle East, but you cannot book that flight with Alaska miles.
- There are blackout dates for travel on Korean Air and between certain zones. Make sure you read the fine print at the bottom of the award charts for all terms and conditions — including lap child travel restrictions and rules.
5. Book award flights on lesser-known routes to Hawaii
Hawaii continues to be, and in my opinion always will be, the most popular destination for Americans to use their miles. The majority of people search for award space from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Honolulu. Availability is always tight on these routes, so instead I recommend searching Alaska’s lesser-known routes to the Hawaiian islands — you may be surprised at the availability you find.
Alaska flies from a number of West Coast cities to nearly every Hawaiian destination, including San Jose (SJC), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX) and more. Not only do you have many more routing options to choose from, but award space is generally much easier to come by. Just note that Mileage Plan is actually not the cheapest way to book these awards, and you’d be better off booking with Alaska’s soon-to-be Oneworld partner British Airways. BA charges just 13,000 Avios each way in economy for flights from the west coast to Hawaii, which is one of the best sweet spots you’ll find in North America.
If you become familiar with the above tips, you’ll quickly realize the potential value of Mileage Plan and should strongly consider crediting paid partner flights to your Alaska account. Once you have enough miles for an award ticket, always look to utilize a stopover on a partner carrier.
With the continued devaluations of other U.S. airline loyalty programs and its upcoming membership in Oneworld, the Alaska Mileage Plan program is even more appealing.
Richard Kerr contributed to this post.
Featured photo by Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock.