Skip to content

Alaska Mileage Plan is making major changes — book these awards before March 1

Feb. 23, 2022
8 min read
Alaska Airlines A320
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. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

I know I’m not alone when I say that Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan was once my favorite airline loyalty program.

I've gone out of my way to chase Alaska status and rack up hundreds of thousands of miles. But it's been all downhill for the program the last couple of months.

Alaska's entrance into Oneworld was supposed to be a positive change. There would be more ways to earn and redeem miles and new elite benefits. And while that is the case, it also resulted in a string of devaluations, from slashing earning rates and dropping a valuable non-alliance partner to expanding dynamic award pricing and charging sky-high rates for its newest redemption partners.

Personally, I think Alaska is putting the puzzle pieces together for a widespread devaluation, and time is running out to get outsize value from your miles.

Alaska's next big round of award chart changes is set for March 1, so let's take a look at what awards you should be booking right now.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Alaska's upcoming award chart changes

(Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

There are two major changes that are about to take place: one for American award flights and one for premium cabin Alaska flights. Here's some background on these changes and how they can affect your stash of Alaska miles.

American Airlines redemption changes

Several changes will take effect on March 1. The biggest is that American Airlines awards are going dynamic.

This March, Alaska will remove its published caps for American Airlines award flights in the U.S. and Canada. American awards will have starting prices and then "vary depending on demand.” Up until now, American flights booked with miles had fixed rates. In the contiguous U.S., Alaska and Canada, these one-way rates have been 12,500 miles for the main cabin and 25,000 miles for business class.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

This change isn’t unprecedented for the airline. Alaska also introduced dynamic pricing for certain awards booked on Aer Lingus, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways, which can make redemptions expensive unless you're lucky enough to find awards priced at the partner minimums.

In the case of Qatar, Alaska offers access to additional award space not available through other partner airlines, and only then charges higher rates. When there's saver availability, Alaska charges its "starting" rates. It's currently unclear if the upcoming shift to dynamic pricing will mean that Alaska members get access to additional award space on American flights.

Needless to say, if you want to play it safe, book any upcoming American award flights now and cancel later if necessary.

Alaska Airlines dynamic pricing on Qatar Airways flights. (Screenshot from alaskaair.com)

Alaska Airlines first-class award changes

The next change pertains to first-class awards on Alaska's own flights. While Alaska is keeping award chart pricing bands, it's raising the maximum number of miles by more than 35% in some cases.

The maximum number of miles required for Alaska Airlines first-class awards on flights covering distances between 1,401 and 2,100 miles will go up from 60,000 miles to 70,000 miles, a 17% jump. On “leap” flights that are longer than 2,100 miles, the mileage ceiling will likewise leap from the current 70,000 miles up to an eye-popping 95,000 miles, a whopping 36% increase.

The new 95,000-mile price ceiling will also apply to flights to Central America and Hawaii. Thankfully, there's no increase to the minimum number of miles required or to main cabin awards.

New award chart for flights within the continental U.S., Alaska and Canada. (Screenshot from alaskaair.com)

While still a tough pill to swallow, fewer people should be affected by this change. In practice, you should only encounter these peak rates during busier travel periods or when booking one of the last available seats on a flight.

Again, when there’s saver-level availability, you should be able to book awards at the lowest award rate. But there is no guarantee.

Related: Your complete guide to earning and redeeming with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Possible impending devaluation

My biggest fear is that the worst is yet to come.

Alaska has been gradually making redemptions available on more Oneworld partners, and they've all had poor redemption values compared to the original partners.

Take rates from North America to Europe, for example. These awards cost 35,000 miles in economy and 75,000 miles in business on Iberia and 60,000 miles and 120,000 miles, respectively, on Royal Air Maroc and Royal Jordanian. Compare that to about 22,500 to 32,500 miles in economy on American Airlines or British Airways and about 60,000 miles in business class. That's a huge difference, especially for business class.

For some more context, consider that you can sometimes book $10,000-plus Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines first-class flights between North America and Asia for just 70,000 miles. Meanwhile, a short, intra-Asia business-class award on Alaska's newest redemption partner, Malaysia Airlines, will cost you almost the same amount — 65,000 miles.

Cathay Pacific first class. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

It seems inevitable that Alaska will want to closer align redemption rates. Offering first-class awards to Asia for basically the same price as an intra-Asia business-class award and less than a business-class award to Europe won’t make sense in the long run once borders reopen. Alaska is likely just waiting for demand to recover before it adjusts these rates.

Moreover, shying away from fixed award charts will allow Alaska to increase redemption rates without notice. This is especially troubling considering Alaska promised TPG when it joined the Oneworld frequent flyer alliance that it would “strive to give at least 90 days’ notice if changes are coming to any current partner awards.”

Related: Best sweet spots with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska's take

An Alaska Airlines spokesperson responded to my concerns by explaining, "We consistently work to balance offering great value for our members in the areas that are most valuable and meaningful while maintaining economics that work for our business."

Does that mean more changes are coming? It's a possibility. But the airline doesn't see them as devaluations.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

In Alaska's eyes, the higher redemption rates are offset by higher earning rates — you'll always earn at least 1 mile per mile flown on Alaska flights. "We think you can agree that our Mileage Plan program is very generous with our distance-based earn, which makes it much easier to accumulate miles for travel than revenue-based programs," the spokesperson told us. "That has to be taken into account when looking at the value a program provides compared to looking at redemption prices alone."

According to the spokesperson, based on the airline's average fares and domestic trip length, a general member would need to spend about $4,200 on flights to accumulate 40,000 Alaska miles. "Accumulating that same number of miles in a revenue-based program would require $8,000 in flight purchases."

On the flip side, the airline doesn't partner with any of the major credit card transferable points programs, making miles a bit harder to earn in that sense.

Related: The hardest miles to earn and why you want them anyway

The spokesperson also cited Alaska's free stopover policy. "Our newest awards continue offering a very strong value for your mile even without taking into account the investment in upfront earn and all the other areas where we invest heavily in generosity," they told us.

Still, this doesn't explain the price discrepancies between new and old partners.

Bottom line

When things are too good to be true in the points and miles world, don’t expect them to last forever. Unfortunately, it seems that the glory days of Alaska Mileage Plan may soon be behind us.

For a long time now, Alaska held the title for the most valuable airline miles based on TPG valuations, clocking in at 1.8 cents apiece. And of course, it's often possible to get even more value when redeeming for high-end airfare. However, based on where the award charts are headed, it seems likely that Alaska will soon devalue many of its original sweet spots.

In the meantime, if you're sitting on a large stash of Alaska miles, it might be worth speculatively booking future awards before any more changes take effect.

Personally, I'm considering switching up my earning strategy and crediting future Oneworld flights to another program going forward.

Featured image by GC 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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more