Alaska Airlines’ best buy-miles promotion: Should you even consider it now?
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available.
Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel deals because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking trips for travel until the late spring or early summer — and even then be mindful of cancellation policies.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan periodically puts its miles on sale, allowing you to top up or stock up for amazing redemptions, including Japan Airlines first class or Cathay Pacific first. From now through June 28, 2020, you can buy Alaska miles with up to a 60% bonus. This is the lowest price we’ve ever seen for Alaska miles in recent history, with past promotions typically offering a 20% to 40% bonus.
But before you jump at the chance to buy Alaska miles, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind. The first is that now may not be the best time to travel — the world is in the middle of the global coronavirus outbreak, and while things have been slowly getting better, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to travel again soon.
Here at TPG, we only recommend buying miles for a specific redemption. As a result, it’s only a good idea to purchase miles with this promotion if you’re planning a trip for late 2020 or early 2021 and have already found bookable award space. Just remember that there’s no guarantee it will actually be safe to travel by that time.
Further, Alaska Airlines has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. The airline recently announced massive route cuts and that its CEO is forgoing pay for the foreseeable future. This shows us that the airline’s finances aren’t looking so great, and while I’m optimistic that the airline will survive this crisis, there’s no way to guarantee a positive outcome.
Long story short: You should only take advantage of deals like this if you understand the risks. You may be forced to cancel flights you booked using miles from a promotion if the coronavirus outbreak isn’t contained by the time you’re set to fly. At the extreme, if an airline goes bankrupt, there’s a chance that the miles could be rendered worthless.
Buying Alaska Miles with up to a 60% bonus
With the heavy stuff out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the promotion. The number of bonus miles you’ll get depends on your targeted offer and how many miles you purchase.
We polled the TPG staff and found that the promotion is tiered based on the number of miles you purchase. Our targeted offers maxed out at either a 50% or 60% bonus. Any of these could represent a great deal if you have a specific redemption in mind (more on that soon), with the 60% targeted bonus being the lowest price we’ve ever seen for Alaska miles. You can check your targeted bonus on Alaska’s buy-miles website.
These bonuses are even better when you consider the fact that the U.S. government stopped charging excise taxes on airline mileage purchases through the end of the year. This can save you hundreds of dollars when purchasing lots of airline miles.
Depending on your targeted bonus, you may have the chance to buy miles for as little as 1.72 cents per mile. Based on our internal poll, it appears that the higher 60% bonus was largely targeted to members with low Alaska mileage balances. If you receive this offer, here’s a look at the structure:
|Buy or Gift||Bonus|
|5,000 — 39,000 miles||40% bonus|
|40,000 — 100,000 miles||60% bonus|
On the other hand, some TPG staff members were targeted for a smaller 50% bonus. This includes TPG’s Andrew Kunesh and Nick Ewen — both of whom currently have high mileage balances with Alaska. While not as lucrative, this bonus means you can buy miles at 1.83 cents apiece — which is still a solid deal if you need to buy miles.
Here’s how the 50% bonus is structured:
|Buy or Gift||Bonus|
|5,000 — 29,000 miles||40% bonus|
|30,000 — 100,000 miles||50% bonus|
TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents apiece, so either bonus can be a great deal — especially if you have plans to use them for premium-class flights. You can do this by redeeming Alaska miles for first- and business-class travel on one of Alaska’s many international airline partners like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Fiji Airways — in some cases, you’ll get more than 5 cents per mile in value with these redemptions.
How many Alaska miles can I purchase?
Alaska Mileage Plan hasn’t historically had a cap on the number of Alaska miles you can buy per year. However, there’s now a new cap of 150,000 purchased or gifted miles per calendar year for Alaska non-elites. MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K Mileage Plan member accounts will continue to have no annual limit on the number of miles purchased or gifted.
How should I redeem my Alaska miles?
As discussed, Alaska Airlines partners with a ton of awesome international airlines. You can earn and redeem miles with each of these airlines, and you can even add a free stopover on most one-way and round-trip itineraries. Here are a few of my favorite ways to redeem Alaska miles for future travel — with all prices based on being targeted for the 60% bonus.
Just bear in mind that the below options are based on travel far into the future. Most airline route networks have been adjusted significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fly to Fiji for an incredible $946 in business class
With its pristine beaches, Fiji is a bucket-list destination for many travelers. You can use just 55,000 Alaska miles to fly to Fiji in Fiji Airways business class, making it one of the best redemption values for Alaska miles. Plus, you can use Alaska’s free stopover to continue on to New Zealand or another South Pacific destination for no additional miles.
Cost: $946 at the maximized 1.72 cents per mile rate
U.S. to South America in LATAM business class for $774
LATAM is the largest airline in South America, with hubs in Buenos Aires (EZE), Lima (LIM) and other major cities. Many of the airline’s long-haul routes are operated by new planes like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 and feature sleek new business-class products like what’s pictured above. You can book a one-way trip to South America in LATAM business class for just 45,000 Alaska miles.
Cost: $774 at the maximized 1.72 cents per mile rate
Head to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class for $1,204
Cathay Pacific flies from a number of different U.S. gateways to its hub in Hong Kong (HKG). You can use your Alaska miles to fly in Cathay Pacific’s swanky first-class product to HKG and beyond for just 70,000 Alaska miles one-way with minimal taxes and fees attached. Considering these tickets often cost more than $5,000 one-way, purchasing miles is an excellent deal for this award.
Cost: $1,204 at the maximized 1.72 cents per mile rate
Use one of these credit cards to pay for Alaska miles
If you decide to take advantage of this promotion, your purchase will be processed by Points.com — not Alaska. This means that you won’t earn bonus rewards for using a card with airline spending as a bonus category.
To earn the most points for your purchase, pay with a credit card that offers a solid return on non-bonus spend, such as:
- The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express: 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 in purchases each year; then 1x point (meaning a 4% return based on TPG valuations) Terms apply.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: 1.5% cash back that can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card for a 3% return based on TPG valuations
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: 2x miles on all purchases, worth 2% cash back or 2.8 cents toward transfer partners based on TPG valuations; not provided by the issuer)
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: 3% cash back in the category you choose (on the first $2,500 in combined choice category purchases each quarter, then earn 1%), before bonuses for having assets with Bank of America and affiliates. That means you may be able to get up to 5.25% cash back on online purchases such as buying miles.
The information for the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
With the current state of the travel industry, there’s no doubt that now is an uncertain time to buy Alaska miles. The airline has been hit hard by the coronavirus-fueled travel downturn, and there’s no guaranteeing that the virus will be contained by the end of the year. So while this 60% bonus may seem like a great deal on paper, there’s no guaranteeing when (or if) you’ll be able to use these miles.
Regardless, though, I’m optimistic that the travel industry will recover from this setback soon and that Alaska Airlines will rebound with it. If you’re in the same boat (plane?) as me and are comfortable with the risks, this mileage promotion can be a great way to fuel your future travels — especially if you’re targeted for the 60% bonus and have an immediate plan to use your newly-minted Alaska miles.
Victoria Walker and JT Genter contributed to this post.
Featured photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy.
Updated on 6/22/20
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page about Alaska Airlines’ “buy miles” promotions, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for the latest offer. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older deals below.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.