Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan review: My favorite frequent flyer program with comically low prices
When trying to decide which airline miles to collect, many people start with the airline that offers the best routes from their home airport.
I’ve never been to Alaska (or its hubs in Seattle or Portland), yet Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is hands down my favorite frequent flyer program out there. Alaska Airlines isn’t a member of one of the three major airline alliances (Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam), but it’s built a valuable loyalty program through individual partnerships with a number of airlines. I fly between the U.S. and Asia roughly five times per year, and Alaska Airlines miles help me make that trip in first class more often than not.
While Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles can be pretty hard to earn, both of the Alaska credit cards are currently offering all-time high welcome bonuses:
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Earn 40,000 bonus miles, a $100 statement credit and a companion fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22), which you’ll earn after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card: Earn 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
I’ll share the different ways you can earn Alaska Airlines miles and some of the incredibly high-value redemption options you should be targeting. Here’s our Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan review.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Review
Alaska Airlines has a deceiving name. It’s headquartered in Seattle. And it’s not nearly as niche of an airline as it sounds.
Alaska Airlines has tons of valuable airline partners that can take you all over the world. I’ll show you the nuts and bolts of this airline loyalty program.
How to wse Alaska Airlines miles
International partner awards
Normally when we talk about how to redeem an airline’s miles, the logical place to start is for flights operated by that airline. Again, Alaska Airlines miles have broad appeal to people who don’t live/work/travel through any of Alaska’s west coast hubs, so we’ll start by taking a look at the partner award charts first. Here are all of the airlines Alaska currently partners with:
- Aer Lingus
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- El Al
- Fiji Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- LATAM Airlines
- Ravn Alaska
- Singapore Airlines
One very important thing to note is that Alaska has different award charts for each airline partner, and many of these charts limit the routes you can actually fly.
Let’s start with my absolute favorite, flights between the U.S. and Asia on Cathay Pacific. You can fly in first class for only 70,000 miles each way, or for 50,000 miles in business class. Even 30,000 miles each way in coach is not half bad, and you’ll see that Cathay Pacific is one of the few airlines that makes it easy to redeem for premium economy awards.
This has to be the single best use of Alaska Airlines miles, as most other programs would charge you twice as much for a one-way first-class flight to Asia.
Another great option is flying on Japan Airlines, though you’ll pay a little more in business class. While Alaska treats all of Asia as one region for redemptions on Cathay Pacific, you can see that Southeast Asia is slightly more expensive when flying with Japan Airlines.
One advantage of flying Japan Airlines is that you can book these flights directly on the Alaska Airlines website, while with Cathay Pacific you’ll have to search for award space elsewhere (try British Airways or Qantas) and call to book.
Another way that Alaska really outshines the competition is by allowing free stopovers on one-way award tickets. You’re not allowed to have multiple partners on a single award flight, but you can use a domestic Alaska Airlines flight to position yourself for an international partner flight. Your stopover can either be in the U.S. as part of the Alaska connection or at the hub city of the partner you’re flying. This means if you’re flying with Cathay Pacific, you get a free stopover in Hong Kong (or in Tokyo if you’re flying with Japan Airlines).
For partners which can be booked directly on the Alaska Airlines website (which is all of them except Cathay Pacific and LATAM), you can even book the stopover yourself by searching for a multi-city award. (I would still recommend first searching segment-by-segment to find the award space you need before going on to the multi-city search.)
With that all out of the way, let’s take a look at a few other good uses of Alaska Airlines miles for partner airlines. Flights to Europe aren’t outrageously expensive, but they start to feel that way when you think about how many ways there are to use Alaska Airlines miles.
Pro Tip: American Airlines is probably the best partner to use for Europe, with rates as low as 22,500 miles each way in coach during off-peak dates.
You might also want to use the free stopover in Hong Kong to break up a journey from the U.S. to Australia, one of the hardest destinations to get to with points and miles! Cathay Pacific’s extensive route network and the ability to add stopover will give you more flexibility to find award space.
Alaska also partners with Qantas for trips to Australia, although the odds of you finding a saver level premium award seat on one of Qantas’ nonstop flights from the U.S. is so low that it’s probably not worth your time to bother searching.
What not to do: Alaska Airlines used to be one of the best options for booking Emirates first-class awards thanks to low rates and no fuel surcharges, but a no-notice middle-of-the-night devaluation changed all of that. While Alaska still does partner with Emirates, it’ll cost you 150,000 miles for a first-class award from the U.S. to the Middle East, or confusingly, 180,000 miles for a shorter trip to Europe on one of Emirates’ fifth freedom routes.
Is Emirates really good enough to be worth the equivalent of two Cathay Pacific first-class awards? It absolutely is, especially if you can book it without paying any fuel surcharges, but it’s going to take you a while to rack up enough miles to make that dream a reality.
If you’re looking to stay within the U.S., you can redeem your Alaska Airlines miles for flights on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines. Alaska prices its awards based on distance, whether you want to take a hop, skip or a jump:
Flights on American Airlines are much simpler, as you’ll pay 12,500 miles each way in economy and 25,000 in business class. You can also use your Alaska Airlines miles to fly to Hawaii, starting at just 15,000 miles each way for flights on Alaska Airlines and 22,500 miles each way for flights on American Airlines.
Alaska Airlines elite status
Alaska Airlines currently has three different tiers of elite status. Unlike the major U.S. airlines, you’re not required to spend a certain amount of money to qualify for elite status. The tiers are:
- MVP (20,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska or 25,000 on Alaska + partners or 30 segments)
- MVP Gold (40,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska or 50,000 on Alaska + partners or 60 segments)
- MVP Gold 75K (75,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska or 90,000 on Alaska + partners or 90 segments)
Quick jargon explanation: Elite qualifying miles means the amount of miles you’ve actually flown on Alaska Airlines. If you fly 2,000 miles, you’ll receive 2,000 elite qualifying miles. Plus, if you have elite status, you could get up to a 75% bonus on those miles!
A segment means a flight from one airport to another. For example, if you fly from Los Angeles to Seattle to Portland, you’ve flown two segments.
The good news is that all elite members, even the lowest tier MVP elites, are eligible for upgrades to Premium Class and first class. MVP elites will receive a 50% bonus on the miles they earn, while MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75Ks receive a 100% and a 125% bonus respectively. MVP Golds also receive four guest upgrade certificates.
How to earn Alaska Airlines miles
You can earn Alaska Airlines miles in a number of different ways, though you’ll want to get creative since you don’t have as many transfer options as you do for the other major U.S. airlines.
There are two Alaska Airlines credit cards: One personal version and one business version. Both cards are currently offering all-time high welcome bonuses of 40,000 miles after meeting minimum spending requirements, which is almost enough for a one-way business-class ticket to Asia on Cathay Pacific.
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card – Earn 40,000 bonus miles, a $100 statement credit and a companion fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22), which you’ll earn after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card – Earn 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
The annual fee is $75 on both cards, and each comes with an Alaska Airlines companion fare when you open the card, as well as every year when you renew your card.
For as little as $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22), you can take a travel buddy with you when you pay for a round-trip or one-way coach fare on Alaska Airlines. You can go anywhere Alaska Airlines flies! That’s bound to save you hundreds every year.
Buying miles generally represents a pretty poor value compared to earning them from credit card bonuses and spending, but Alaska Airlines is a huge exception to this. Alaska Airlines frequently offers bonuses on purchased miles of up to 50%.
With a discount like this, you could buy 70,000 miles for just under $1,400 and use those miles to book a $20,000 Cathay Pacific first-class ticket from the U.S. to Hong Kong. That said, I wouldn’t buy these miles speculatively (especially since Alaska Airlines runs this sale pretty regularly). Use this option only if you have an idea in mind and have already found available award seats.
Fly Alaska Airlines or credit partner flights to Alaska Airlines
With all the talk of credit card bonuses, people sometimes forget that it is still, in fact, possible to earn miles by actually flying yourself. You’ll earn Alaska Airlines miles for flights on Alaska Airlines, and you can also credit paid flights from partners like American Airlines or British Airways to Alaska Airlines.
They’ve got some very generous bonus opportunities for their elite members, which can make this a compelling option (especially if you’re traveling on paid business-class fares). You’ll earn Alaska Airlines miles at the following rates, in addition to any bonus miles from your elite status:
Transfer From Marriott
Alaska Airlines doesn’t partner with any of the major transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, but it is possible to transfer points from Marriott. While I generally prefer to use my Marriott points for hotel stays, Alaska is one of the few exceptions.
Marriott points transfer at a 3:1 ratio. Plus, you’ll receive a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. This means to get the 70,000 miles needed for a Cathay Pacific first-class award, you’d need to transfer 180,000 Marriott points, which isn’t a bad deal at all. Transfers can take four days or more to post, though, so be aware that the available seats you found could be snatched up by the time your miles deposit.
Use the Alaska Airlines shopping portal
Alaska Airlines miles are hard to earn, so I often find myself using the Alaska Airlines shopping portal, even if it isn’t offering the highest rate for a given store. With the low price of partner award flights, a few hundred extra miles here and there really start to add up.
Visiting Alaska is high on my bucket list, but I’m happy to keep racking up Alaska Airlines miles even while living outside the U.S. Between multiple heavy-hitter partner airlines, generous free stopovers on one-way award tickets, and almost comically low award rates, Alaska Airlines miles have become my go-to way to travel between the U.S. and Asia.
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