A Beginner’s Guide to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (2017.5 Update: Added Finnair (AY) As A New Partner)

2017.05.22 Update: Alaska Air added Finnair (AY) as a new partner (official announcement)! You can already earn AS miles on Finnair, but redeeming miles on Finnair is not yet available. Award travel on Finnair is coming this fall.

Introduction

Alaska Airlines is a US-based airline based in Seattle serving over a hundred destinations in North America. Most of my domestic travel is in the East Coast so I don’t get to fly them that often, but when I do I enjoy flying with them. I especially like their mileage program, so I credit all my partner flights to Alaska and frequently take advantage of their mileage sales.

This post will cover the highlights of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and some basic information to get you familiar with the program.

Here are a few main reasons why I like the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan:

  • They allow stopovers on one-way itineraries. It’s simple and generous.
  • They don’t pass on fuel surcharges (except for British Airways and Hainan Airlines).
  • Their miles are versatile for travel in all cabins and regions.

Let’s take a closer look at how to earn, burn, and navigate their site.

1. How to earn

A. Flying and having status

In addition to earning miles by flying Alaska Airlines, you can earn miles by flying with one of their 19 partner airlines.

Mileage Plan offers 3 tiers of elite status: MVP, MPV Gold, and MPV Gold 75K. When flying on Alaska or on one of their partner airlines, you can earn bonus Alaska miles by having status. In addition to base miles flown, you can earn an extra 50%, 100%, and 125% miles respectively.

I think elite status with Alaska deserves a brief discussion because they give you certain perks when flying on partner airlines. These perks are most meaningful on partner airlines like American Airlines where you can receive priority boarding, free checked luggage, or even seat upgrades. With AA’s recent stinginess when it comes to award availability, I especially like that I can earn something other than AAdvantage miles.

Note: As of April 20th, 2017, Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines are no longer airline partners.

Partner Benefits on American Airlines

To be fair, if you’re able to fly and spend enough to achieve top tier status on AA, the perks you receive and the Systemwide Upgrades you can earn may be more valuable to you. But if you’re a middling flyer like me and fed up with AA’s appalling award availability, Alaska may open the door to more exciting award opportunities.

Elite status entitles you to benefits on several other airlines too. You can explore them further here.

B. Credit Cards

One of the easiest ways to earn Alaska miles is through credit cards. These are your main options:

Bank of America

Both the personal and business products from Bank of America offer 30,000 Alaska miles after $1,000 spend in the first 90 days. Both carry a $75 annual fee which is not waived for the first year. Purchases on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America earn 3 miles per dollar spent, while all other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar spent.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

Alaska Airlines is a transfer partner in the Starwood Preferred Guest program. SPG points transfer to Alaska at a 1:1 ratio, but for every 20,000 SPG points that you transfer, you will receive 5,000 bonus points to the receiving program. So if you were to transfer 20,000 SPG points to Alaska, you’d receive 25,000 Alaska miles.

As long as you transfer in 20,000 point increments, you can effectively treat every SPG point as 1.25 Alaska miles.

The personal and business SPG cards typically offer 25,000 points after $5,000 spend in the first 3 months. These offers periodically go up to 35,000 so you might consider waiting for that. Annual fees are waived for the first year and $95 thereafter.

Which card should I choose?

In an ideal world, all of them! But if you had to choose just one, there are some things to consider.

If you’re a heavy spender, the SPG card may be the wiser decision since the transfer bonus can really add a boost to your earnings.

SPG also gives you the ability to transfer points to other airlines. Don’t get me wrong, Alaska Airlines is a solid transfer partner, but I’m just barely scratching the surface here. SPG has a sweet rewards program that can nicely round out your points portfolio. Read more about SPG and all the clever things you can do with their program here.

If you’re not a heavy spender, the Bank of America cards may be the better choice since the sign-up bonus requirements are less demanding. And unlike SPG, Bank of America allows you to receive the sign-up bonus multiple times even if you’ve previously had the card and received the bonus. There are mechanisms in place to prevent you from abusing this opportunity, but it’s not uncommon to receive multiple bonuses on the Alaska Airlines card.

C. Dining Program

Link your credit card and earn Alaska miles by dining at participating restaurants. I don’t go out of my way to dine at these restaurants. I just link my credit card and forget about it. Every once in a while I unknowingly dine at a participating restaurant and earn extra points! This way I don’t let points and miles influence my daily decisions too much.

Note: Other airlines also operate dining programs. You can sign up for all of them, you just have to use a unique credit card for each one.

D. Shopping Portals

The Mileage Plan shopping portal lets you earn Alaska miles by clicking through their portal before shopping at your favorite merchants.

2. How to book award flights

Alaska Airlines does not belong to any alliance, but it has a lot of partners:

  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Aero Mexico
  • Air France & KLM
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Japan Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Lan Air
  • Iceland Air
  • Qantas Airways
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Pen Air
  • Ravn Alaska

At the top of the Alaska Airlines site, select “Mileage Plan” then “Book Award”.

After that it’s straightforward. Conduct your search!

Alaska Airlines Award Search Engine

Every available flight will show its own individual mileage cost followed underneath by taxes and fees.

Layout of your flight’s mileage cost and associated fees. Alaska Airlines thankfully does not pass on fuel surcharges (with the exception of British Airways and Hainan Airlines).

3. General Program Tips

Some general rules and tips to know about this program:

  • You can’t mix airlines
  • Award charts will vary for each partner airline
  • Stopovers on one-ways
  • Be careful of Korean Air: they will allow you to book one-ways, but charge you for round-trip
  • Call to book Cathay Pacific and LAN

You can’t mix partner airlines

You can’t fly multiple partner airlines to your destination. This isn’t a difficult rule to learn because the website will enforce it for you.

This can be an inconvenience at times because you might find award space to your destination by piecing together available segments on multiple airlines. Unfortunately this isn’t allowed by the program.

You can, however, have Alaska Airlines in the itinerary with a partner airline.

Variable award chart

Alaska has a unique award chart for each partner airline. Their website has an interactive chart for determining the cost of travel between regions. You can check it out here.

I like this type of pricing because you can shop around for the airline that will best suit your needs for the trip.

For example, if you’re flying to Korea/Japan, AA would be the cheapest option since they offer off-peak pricing at 25K miles per one-way. If you want to enjoy premium services, you can try JAL, which is well-known for their high-quality food and services.

American Airlines: US-Asia

During peak travel times, Cathay Pacific would offer the cheapest option at 30K miles. And if you want comfort, Cathay Pacific would take the cake for being the cheapest business/first class option at 50K/70K. Not bad at all.

Cathay Pacific: US-Asia

And if you really enjoy showers, Emirates first class is also an option at 180K miles. But you have route via DXB, for instance, JFK-DXB-PEK.

Emirates: US-Asia

Stopovers on one-ways

One of the nicest perks of the Mileage Plan program is the ability to book stopovers on one-way itineraries.

This feature is limited to a certain extent because you can’t mix partner airlines. So more often than not, your stopover city will be the hub city of the partner airline you’re booking on (e.g. if flying on Cathay Pacific, your stopover will likely be in Hong Kong).

To book a stopover, select Multi-City before searching and enter your segments and dates accordingly.

Here’s a sample itinerary for New York to Hong Kong with a stopover in Dubai.

Maximize the value you get from your miles by adding a stopover

Airlines that don’t like one-way itineraries

You can book one-way itineraries on Korean Air but you’ll be charged the full round-trip cost to do so. I discourage you from doing this because it is a waste of your miles. Book them only for round-trip itineraries whenever possible.

70K for JFK-ICN one-way

70K miles for JFK-ICN round-trip

Hidden Airlines

All partner airlines can be booked on the Alaska website with the exception of Cathay Pacific and LAN. You will have to call to redeem miles on these airlines. It could be a bit cumbersome, but may be well worth the effort.

To book on these airlines you can call Alaska Airlines reservations at 1-800-252-7522.

4. Miscellaneous Info

  • You can change or cancel itineraries for no penalty up to 60 days before departure; may not apply if you have status. (Check here)
  • Miles expire 24 months after your most recent activity.
  • Change and Cancellation Fees: General members with no elite status will be allowed to change/cancel their itinerary up to 60 days before travel. It will cost $125 to change within 60 days of travel. (These fees are waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members)

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