From Nought to Business Class in a Day: Alaska Mileage Plan for the Beginner

Jun 30, 2019

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Alaska Airlines’ frequent flyer programme Mileage Plan may seem like a bizarre scheme for a Brit to get involved with, but it provides some incredibly lucrative options for booking award travel. And even though the airline’s namesake is thousands of miles away, Mileage Plan miles may be easier to rack up than you may have thought.

I hadn’t considered this option until very recently. I stumbled across Mileage Plan whilst attempting to book business class flights between Japan and Indonesia. Japan Airlines (JAL) is part of the Oneworld alliance, meaning you can use British Airways Avios to book JAL flights, and flights were indeed available on this route in business class at a price of 62,000 Avios and £72.20 tax.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, JAL is also a partner of Alaska. Because Mileage Plan works on zones, rather than distance like the Avios programme, the Tokyo to Jakarta flight, an Asia-to-Asia ticket was pricing at 25,000 Mileage Plan miles and £35.10 tax for business.

The cash price of this ticket was £1,379.

Notwithstanding the fact that TPG values Alaska miles slighty higher than Avios (1.4p vs 1.1p, respectively), the saving in miles is astounding.

What I also had not realised was that these Alaska miles were in easy reach, even though I had never had an Alaska Mileage Plan account.

Fly JAL part of the way using your AAdvantage miles.
Fly JAL using Alaska Mileage Plan miles.

Partners

Alaska has a wide array of partners to consider. Some being far more useful for a UK miles and points collector:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Japan Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Finnair
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • PenAir
  • Ravn Alaska
  • Condor
  • Fiji Airways

When to Use Alaska Miles

There are a number of sweet spots in the programme, which you should bookmark if you’re looking to redeem your points or miles for a future flight with one of Alaska’s partners. A couple of the best uses include:

Cathay Pacific First Class from Europe to Hong Kong for 70,000 miles

The same flight would cost 123,750 Avios when booking through the BA Executive Club.

British Airways First Class to the US for 70,000 miles

The value is greatest here when flying to the West Coast, which costs 100,000 Avios on peak dates.

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How to Earn Alaska Miles

Earn by Flying

Because British Airways is an Alaska partner, it is possible to earn Alaska miles when you fly British Airways at the following rates:

You may want to consider this if you are not chasing British Airways status (as you will not receive BA Tier Points when crediting your flight to Alaska), or if you already have a solid bank of Avios and want to diversify your points collection.

Earning on the above partner airlines is also possible, but BA will be most relevant for UK flyers.

Buy Miles

This is where the magic really happens. Alaska often runs bonuses on purchasing miles for cash. When the bonus is decent, buying miles becomes a way to extract huge value from the programme. Recent bonuses have been as high as 50%.

In the last round on bonuses, I purchased 40,000 miles and received a 20,000-mile bonus. The 60,000-mile total cost me £940. That’s nearly a one-way first class ticket to Asia with Cathay (70,000 miles), which averages around £5,000.

Beware, however, as Alaska sets a 150,000-mile cap on the amount of miles you can purchase each calendar year.

TPG recommends against buying miles without a specific redemption in mind. Miles generally aren’t a great long-term investment, as a programme can be devalued at any time. Therefore, we recommend only to take advantage of Alaska buy miles promotions if you know where you want to spend those miles.

Starting From Scratch?

To get you on your way to your first redemption, follow these steps.

  1. Join Alaska Mileage Plan for free.
  2. Earn miles buy attaching your Mileage Plan account number to bookings on partner airlines such as British Airways.
  3. Buy miles — but wait for a decent bonus and only do so if you have a specific redemption in mind. We will alert you when these happen, so make sure you are signed up to our newsletter.
  4. Search for award availability on the Alaska website. You don’t need to be logged in to your account, just click the “use miles” checkbox.
  5. Book

Bottom Line

If you have a large hoard of miles such as Avios, you may want to consider using these up before spending your hard-earned cash on a completely different set of miles. However, for many people, there are huge wins to be had by taking advantage of a sweet spot in the Mileage Plan scheme. Combined with the ability to utilise the programme from a standing start and a zero balance means this avenue really is open to all, and one to consider before making your next award booking.

Featured photo by Chad Slattery.

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