Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Editor’s note: We've updated this post with current information.
If your main experience in the points and miles world comes from a U.S. legacy carrier, adjusting to Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan program has a bit of a learning curve. With some incredible award sweet spots, miles that are almost always more valuable on partner airlines than on Alaska itself and a unique stopover program, the Alaska Mileage Plan program has its fair share of quirks.
Still, Alaska's Mileage Plan can be extremely helpful as you plan your next award trip. Today we’ll discuss some ways to maximize your redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Earning Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles
Since Alaska Mileage Plan does not participate in the major transferrable point currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, there are three primary ways to grow your Mileage Plan balance without traveling.
First, you could sign up for a new Alaska Airlines credit card. The Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card currently offers 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) after you make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account. TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each, making the 70,000-mile bonus worth an impressive $1,260.
Second, you can transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. For now, you'll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. But this bonus may be short-lived, as Marriott recently cut its 5,000-mile bonus for several other airlines.
You could apply for a new Marriott credit card to earn more Marriott points. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card currently has a welcome bonus of 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership.
Third, you could take advantage of one of Alaska’s frequent sales on purchased miles. While we don't recommend buying miles speculatively, buying Alaska miles can represent a solid value if you’ve already found the award space you want.
Pick your partner carefully
Most frequent flyer programs utilize a zone-based or distance-based award chart, where the cost to travel between two cities is generally the same no matter which partner airline you fly. With Alaska, the opposite is true. Picking your partner is critical; selecting one partner over another could save you a significant number of miles.
Let’s consider a simple example of a one-way economy-class award from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in the Phillipines. An easy search on the Alaska website shows availability for two carriers: Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines.
The pricing makes it clear that Japan Airlines is a better redemption value than Singapore Airlines.
Price discrepancies can be even more significant on other routes, particularly in premium cabins. For flights from the U.S. to Australia, a one-way first-class award can be had for as few as 70,000 miles if you fly with Qantas, 80,000 miles with Cathay Pacific and 110,000 with American Airlines.
Don’t expect to book all partner flights
Even though Alaska is a member of Oneworld, you can use your Mileage Plan miles with an array of carriers across all three major alliances (you can see a full list here).
However, those agreements don’t always include unilateral award access to every flight operated by those partner airlines. Instead, Alaska’s award chart is restricted to designated routes and regions. Even if a partner flies between two cities, you won't be able to book that itinerary with Mileage Plan miles if Alaska’s website doesn't show an award chart.
For example, let’s say you want to travel from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Seoul's Incheon International Airport (ICN). It’d be easy to assume that you could redeem Alaska miles to fly on Korean Air. However, when you search Europe to Asia, you'll notice that Korean Air is not listed as an option.
If you're traveling from Europe to Asia and want to use Mileage Plan miles, you're limited to Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
Utilize one-way redemptions
Before the pandemic, a big downside to one-way redemptions was that customers had to pay two $125 redeposit fees if they had to cancel their trip. Now, however, Alaska waives redeposit fees for all Mileage Plan members.
Since Alaska doesn’t let you combine partners on a single award ticket, there’s an easy way around this that lets you experience two different airlines: Book two one-way awards instead of a single round-trip. You still get a free stopover when booking one-way awards (more on that in a minute). And since you’re allowed to book one-way awards on nearly all of Alaska’s partners, there’s no incentive to book a round-trip award.
Note that flights on Korean Air are the only exception here. Korean flights are expensive to begin with when using Alaska miles (so probably not your best redemption option), but you’re only allowed to book round-trip awards. If you try to book a one-way, it will price the same as a round trip. This naturally defeats the point of booking a one-way award, so you’ll want to avoid Korean Air if you’re trying to combine one-way awards.
Don’t miss a free stopover
Alaska’s award chart can be great for reaching more distant locales like India, Australia and Southeast Asia without breaking the bank. You might find that a free stopover on the way will let you arrive at your destination better rested and let you see a second city for no added cost.
A prime example of this would be flying from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) on Cathay Pacific. This trip would set you back 50,000 miles each way in business class or 70,000 in first class. You could fly from JFK to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), stop for a few days, and continue to Bangkok, all for the same number of miles.
On the return, you could route back through Hong Kong (with or without another stopover). Or you could leverage the benefits of booking one-way tickets to visit a different stopover city. For example, you could opt to return in Japan Airlines business class or first class. This would require at least 60,000 miles for business class or at least 70,000 miles for first class, but you could enjoy time in Tokyo on the way home.
With a liberal stopover policy, we recommend considering Mileage Plan stopovers when you plan your travel. Even if you only spend a day or two exploring your stopover city, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to see a destination and break up a long journey without spending additional miles.
Use the multi-city search feature to book a stopover on Alaska's website. If you're traveling on a partner airline, your stopover must generally be at the partner’s hub (e.g., Helsinki for Finnair).
The Alaska Mileage Plan program is a favorite at TPG, but you need to do some planning to take full advantage of it.
We recommend familiarizing yourself with the different partner award prices, routing rules and free stopover opportunities. As is the case when searching for award space, flexibility is the key to scoring high-value Alaska Mileage Plan redemptions.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.
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