5 Things to Know About Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Dec 8, 2017

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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is different than most other US carriers’ programs, with unique features like having airline partners across multiple alliances and separate award charts for each partner. These differences happen to make the program extremely valuable. As Mileage Plan continues to add earning and redemption partners, as well as devalue some partnerships, it’s important to stay up to date with all the developments. Knowing the latest news as well as the program’s intricacies will allow you to get maximum value out of your miles. Today, let’s look at five things you need to know about Mileage Plan

1. Stopovers Are Allowed on One-Way Award Tickets

There are only two loyalty programs I’m aware of that allow stopovers on one-way awards: Alaska Mileage Plan and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. This is an incredibly generous benefit that gives you the ability to see two destinations for the price of one. As a quick example, here’s what you can do:

Traveling from the contiguous US and Alaska to Asia costs 35,000 miles one-way in economy on partner Japan Airlines. That means a typical Chicago to Tokyo economy flight would cost 35,000 miles:

If you add a stopover to spend 4 days in Tokyo, you can then fly to Seoul for no additional miles and $23.20:

Here are a few things to keep in mind when booking one-way awards with a stopover:

  1. One-way awards cost the same amount of miles as round-trip tickets on Korean Air — ergo, don’t book one-way awards with Korean.
  2. You cannot combine multiple partners on a one-way Alaska ticket, but you can combine an Alaska-operated flight with one partner.
  3. You can only complete the free stopovers in a partner airline’s hub city.

Here are some examples of the best stopovers using Alaska partners:

A. Dallas – Sydney (stopover) – Perth for 55,000 miles in Qantas business class
B. New York – Hong Kong (stopover) – Manila for 50,000 miles in Cathay Pacific business class
C. Los Angeles – Dubai (stopover) – Delhi for 82,500 miles in Emirates business class

If you think a bit more outside the box, you can use the stopover of a one-way ticket to put you back in your home airport, and then get a free one-way for another trip months in the future. If I live in New York and I’m taking a European vacation, I can spend 20,000 miles to book an American flight from Frankfurt to New York, stop over, and 6 months later have a free one-way flight to the destination of my next trip — say, Las Vegas.

If you’re booking a round-trip Mileage Plan ticket, you can have a stopover on both the outbound and inbound direction, and you can use different partners for both the inbound and outbound directions, making for the possibility of fantastic award tickets with two stopovers and a destination.

2. Watch Out for Mixed-Cabin Itineraries

Despite the multiple warnings Alaska now has on the website when booking award tickets, many travelers continue to unknowingly booking mixed-cabin award tickets. If you book a multi-segment award ticket and at least one of the segments is in a premium class, the entire itinerary will price at the higher-cabin mileage rate and appear in the premium cabin column of the search results. Here’s an example of Newark to Beijing showing first-class space:

You’ll notice a recliner seat icon next to the $19 in taxes and fees, denoting this is a mixed-cabin itinerary with the actual following classes of service:

In this case, you’re paying a 20,000-mile premium to have first class only on the 1.5-hour flight from Newark to Chicago. When doing your initial searches for award space and then again when completing the booking, Alaska makes it clear which classes of service you’re booking, so please pay attention.

3. Utilize the Wide Array of Mileage Plan Partners

Essentially anywhere you want to fly, Alaska has a partner or its own service that has you covered. Make sure you become familiar with all the Mileage Plan partners, their award charts based on the route you want to fly and stopover potentials in the carrier’s hub.

You probably know you can use Alaska miles on American and Emirates, but how much do you know about Condor, Hainan Airlines and Fiji Airways? Here are a couple tips to know when utilizing Mileage Plan partner airlines:

  1. Cathay Pacific and LAN (LATAM) award space and tickets cannot be found or booked on Alaskaair.com. Call 1-800-252-7522 to find space and book tickets. Typically anything you see as available to Oneworld partners on BA.com or Qantas.com can be booked with Alaska miles, but not always. Also be wary of phantom space with Cathay Pacific; I always recommend searching segment by segment to find award space.
  2. Just because a partner airline flies a route doesn’t mean you can book with Alaska miles. Only the flights listed between designated regions as outlined in the interactive award chart tool on Alaskaair.com can be booked with miles. As an example, Qantas flies from Australia to the Middle East, but you cannot book that flight with Alaska miles.
  3. There are blackout dates for travel on Korean Air and between certain zones. Make sure you read the fine print at the bottom of the award charts for all terms and conditions — including lap child travel restrictions and rules.

4. Book Award Flights on Lesser-Known Routes to Hawaii

Hawaii continues to be, and in my opinion always will be, the most popular destination for Americans to use their miles. The majority of people search for award space from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Honolulu. Availability is always tight on these routes, so instead I recommend searching Alaska’s lesser-known routes to the Hawaiian islands — you may be surprised at the availability you find.

If you want to escape the cold of January for Hawaii, here’s the low-level availability on the nonstop from San Jose to Honolulu. A seat is available almost every single day of the month:

Here is Oakland to Kona in April (spring break!), also with almost every day available:

A summer trip from Portland to Maui for two adults in July is available for all but nine days:

If you want to get to Hawaii for 35,000 miles round-trip, even during peak travel times, look to Alaska’s often-forgotten Hawaii routes.

5. Five Ways to Get Alaska Miles

Because Alaska isn’t a transfer partner of American Express, Chase or Citi, I often hear complaints that it’s too hard to earn miles. While it’s definitely not as easy as earning United or Delta miles, I’d argue there are still enough avenues that allow you to quickly build your stockpile. Here are five ways to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles:

  1. Transfer Starwood Starpoints to your Alaska account. Remember that you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points you transfer.
  2. Buy Alaska miles during the program’s routine sales. We often see bonuses up to 50%, dropping the cost of miles to 1.97 cents apiece. I don’t recommend buying miles outright for a redemption, but if you’re just a few shy for an award it can make sense.
  3. You can credit paid partner flights to your Alaska account and see what I’d argue to be larger returns than you’ll get crediting to other programs. Each partner has its own earn chart based on the fare class you’re flying, so be sure you know what percentage of flown miles you’re going to earn. Paid business and first-class Emirates flights earn up to 350% of the miles flown — big-time value compared to crediting the flights to the Skywards program.
  4. Use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card from Bank of America for your everyday spend. The card currently offers a 30,000-mile bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. I also routinely get targeted bonus miles for extra spend throughout the year with my card.
  5. Use the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping portal to double-dip on your normal purchases and receive bonus miles for spend promotions throughout the year. There are typically holiday promotions on the portal, awarding a few thousand miles for hitting a certain spend threshold. There’s also now in-store shopping, where you link your credit card to the portal and earn a bonus any time you shop at a participating merchant, just as if you went through an online portal.

Bottom Line

If you become familiar with the above tips, you’ll quickly realize the potential value of Mileage Plan and should strongly consider crediting paid partner flights to your Alaska account. Once you have enough miles for an award ticket, always look to utilize a stopover on a partner carrier. With the continued devaluations of the three legacy carrier loyalty programs, I continue to focus more and more on the wonderful Alaska Mileage Plan program.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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