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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has long been one of my favorite airline loyalty programs. Between excellent elite status benefits, high earning rates for miles flown, and the high value received when you redeem miles; the program has a ton of potential.
In this guide, we'll cover every aspect of the program: the best ways to earn miles, how to achieve elite status, and all the best Alaska Mileage Plan redemption opportunities.
- Overview of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- How to Earn Alaska Airlines Miles
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Co-Brand Visa Cards
- Other Credit Cards That Earn Alaska Miles
- Earning Miles By Flying Alaska and Partners
- Hotel and Car Rental Partners
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping Portal
- Earn Miles Through Alaska Airlines Dining
- Buying Alaska Airlines Miles
- Can you Transfer Mileage Plan Miles to Other People?
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Rules
- Redeeming Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
- How to Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Elite Status
- Pros/Cons of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Overview of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines — the newest member of the Oneworld alliance — is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, with additional hubs in Anchorage, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The carrier is a predominantly West Coast airline with extensive route coverage in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii. Its international network coverage includes western Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
Compared to other major U.S. airlines, Alaska falls short of a nationwide network. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines all have significantly more capacity and network coverage than Alaska's typical 115 destinations and approximately 1,200 daily flights—which have been reduced due to COVID-19.
The good news is that recent changes have substantially increased Alaska's network and loyalty program opportunities. Alaska joined Oneworld on March 31, 2021, which deepened its relationship with American Airlines and gave the carrier a more prominent national and global reach. Beyond the Oneworld airlines, Alaska has several other exciting partners, providing Alaska with a truly worldwide network and codeshare opportunities. Non-alliance partners include Aer Lingus, Hainan, Condor, Singapore, LATAM, and El Al.
Alaska also recently added a new top-tier elite status level: MVP Gold 100K. This new elite status tier will take effect in 2022.
How to Earn Alaska Airlines Miles
The traditional way to earn Mileage Plan miles is by flying an Alaska Airlines or partner revenue ticket. Flying Alaska Airlines or crediting partner flights to Mileage Plan is an excellent way to earn miles. However, there are several other ways to increase your Mileage Plan balance. These include the Alaska Airlines co-brand credit cards, transferring hotel points to Mileage Plan, earning through shopping portals, and straight-up purchasing miles.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Co-Brand Visa Cards
Alaska Airlines has both personal and business co-brand Visa cards issued by Bank of America. Both cards sport similar welcome offers, plus you also receive an Alaska Airlines companion fare certificate, which is good for a companion on any Alaska Airlines flight. You'll pay just $99 plus taxes and fees (starting at $22) for a companion booked on the same reservation as the cardholder. The cards also offer perks such as a free checked bag when flying on Alaska Airlines, no foreign transaction fees, and 3x miles per $1 spent on Alaska Airlines flights.
Bank of America has a 2/3/4 rule for card applications, so keep this in mind if you have recently opened other Bank of America cards. Also, credit card application approvals with Bank of America have become more difficult, especially if you do not have a Bank of America deposit account.
Other Credit Cards That Earn Alaska Miles
Unlike many airline programs, Alaska does not partner with any transferable bank rewards program. Points currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards do not convert to Alaska Airlines miles.
However, you can convert Marriott Bonvoy points to Alaska Airlines miles at a ratio of 3:1. It's best to transfer in batches of 60,000 Bonvoy points, as you receive a bonus of 5,000 airline miles for a total of 25,000 Alaska miles. Several Marriott Bonvoy credit cards earn points you can convert to Alaska miles. These include the four Marriott Bonvoy cards currently issued by Chase and American Express.
- Limited Time Offer! Earn 60,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Pay no annual fee with the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card from Chase®!
- Earn up to 14X total points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Card.
- 2X points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
- 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. Restrictions apply.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy® points and get Free Night Stays faster.
- 3X points for every $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
- 2X points on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains)
- 1X point on all other purchases
- Limited Time Offer! Earn 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
- Earn 1 Elite Night Credit towards Elite Status for every $5,000 you spend.
- 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
- Earn up to 17X total points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card.
- 2X points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year, and path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each calendar year.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases
- Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy® bonus points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 3 months.
- Each Card renewal year, get up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
- A Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member will earn 50% more points on eligible purchases at participating hotels for each U.S. dollar or the currency equivalent that is incurred and paid for by the member.
- Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program. 3 points at Worldwide Restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
- Marriott Brilliant Free Night Award: Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- Each calendar year after spending $60,000 on eligible purchases, Card Members are eligible to select an Earned Choice Award benefit. Benefit options include: Five (5) Suite Night Awards, 85K Free Night Award, and mattress and box spring $750 discount from Marriott Bonvoy Boutiques.
- $100 Luxury Property Credit: Enjoy your stay. Receive up to a $100 property credit for qualifying charges at The Ritz-Carlton® or St. Regis® when you book direct using a special rate for a two-night minimum stay using your Card.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®: Receive either a statement credit every 4 years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or a statement credit every 4.5 years after you apply for a five-year membership through any Authorized Enrollment Provider for TSA PreCheck® (up to $85) when you pay the application fee with an eligible Card. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Each calendar year you can receive 25 Elite Night Credits toward the next level of Marriott Bonvoy Elite status. Limitations apply per Marriott Bonvoy member account. Benefit is not exclusive to Cards offered by American Express. Terms apply.
- Enroll in Priority Pass Select, which offers unlimited access to over 1,200 lounges in over 130 countries, regardless of which carrier or class you are flying. This allows you to relax before or between flights. You can enjoy snacks, drinks, and internet access in a quiet, comfortable location.
- Enjoy unlimited airport lounge visits when you enroll in Priority Pass™ Select membership.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
- Cell phone protection: You can be reimbursed for your costs to repair or replace your damaged or Stolen cell phone up to $800, subject to a $50 deductible, for 2 approved claims per 12-month period when your prior month's wireless bill was paid utilizing an Eligible Card Account. Terms and conditions apply. Coverage is provided by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
- $650 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 6X points on purchases at Marriott Properties
- 3X points at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery
- 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines
- 2X points on all other eligible purchases
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
- 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
- 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
- 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
- Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
- Terms apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program
- 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping
- 2x points on all other eligible purchases
The Marriott co-brand cards all earn Marriott Bonvoy points, plus they offer an array of perks and benefits with Marriott hotels. The earning rate on Marriott cards is less than ideal if your goal is to accrue Alaska Airlines miles. However, the welcome offers can provide a significant boost to your Mileage Plan account.
At publishing, the average time to transfer Marriott points to Alaska Airlines miles is two days. You can see the most up-to-date transfer times by checking the AwardWallet Mile Transfer Times web app. Again, ensure you transfer in batches of 60,000 Bonvoy points to receive 25,000 Alaska miles after the 5,000-mile bonus.
Earning Miles By Flying Alaska and Partners
Alaska Airlines is one of the few remaining programs that still awards redeemable miles based on miles flown. For example, flying from Los Angeles to Seattle will earn you 954 miles—the flight distance between LAX and SEA. Alaska awards a minimum of 500 miles per segment, so even short flights still receive at least 500 miles. All fare classes with Alaska Airlines — including Saver fares — earn at least 100% flown miles.
Flying one of Alaska's partners is another excellent way to earn miles. Typically, partner flights receive anywhere from 25% to 200% or more of flown miles as redeemable award miles. The accrual rate depends on the partner airline, the fare class, and the flight number.
In some cases, partner flights will not earn Alaska miles. Potential pitfalls include restrictions on the eligible flight number and crediting codeshare flights (which might be sold by a partner but are operated by another airline). Pay careful attention to these details. I've mistakenly credited a partner codeshare flight to Alaska Mileage Plan and earned nothing. Here are the details for crediting LATAM flights to Alaska Airlines, as an example.
Premium cabin tickets typically enjoy a significant boost to the number of miles earned. Fares such as full-fare British Airways first class earn 500% of flown miles as redeemable miles. Premium cabin tickets often earn bonus elite miles, as well.
Alaska Airlines elites enjoy a bonus of between 50% and 150% on the number of redeemable miles earned, depending on the status tier. For some flights, this bonus can really add up. For example, a $200 round-trip between the West Coast and New York or Boston could earn an MVP Gold 100K elite over 12,000 miles.
Hotel and Car Rental Partners
You can also earn Alaska miles by renting a car with one of several Alaska Airlines rental car partners. The typical earning rate is 50 miles per day. Some companies offer 500 miles for a rental of 5 days or more. These aren't the best earning rates, but it is an option if you have no desire to accrue car rental points or free rental credit. You can search and book rental cars directly through the Alaska Airlines site.
Crediting hotel stays with Alaska Airlines hotel partners is another way to earn additional miles. Offers can be per night or per stay. This is a great option when staying with a chain you don't plan to accrue points. However, I would not credit stays from chains I frequent—such as IHG and Marriott—as the return for earning hotel points is typically much higher.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping Portal
The Alaska Airlines shopping portal (direct link) allows you to earn bonus miles for online shopping with many retailers. This portal includes major brands like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Kohl's, and Best Buy. There are plenty of smaller retailers included, as well. The earning rate varies by retailer but is typically in the range of 0.5 to 5 miles per $1.
You can sometimes enjoy earning bonuses offered by the shopping portal. These may include temporarily elevated earning (e.g., 4 miles/$ instead of 2 miles/$) and spending threshold bonuses (e.g., spend $150 to earn 500 bonus miles). Not all products offered at all retailers are eligible to receive miles, so read the terms and conditions for each retailer carefully.
Earn Miles Through Alaska Airlines Dining
You can also earn Alaska miles through the Mileage Plan Dining Program. You'll typically get 3 Alaska miles per $1 spent on dining. If you link a co-brand Alaska card, you'll earn an additional mile per $1 spent at participating restaurants. If you dine 11 times within a calendar year, you'll earn VIP status, which increases your earning rate to 5 Alaska miles per dollar through the end of the year.
In my experience, dining programs can be somewhat hit or miss, depending on the area in which you live. However, most larger cities and urban areas have a good number of participating restaurants.
Buying Alaska Airlines Miles
For many people interested in flying premium cabins with Alaska Airlines partners, buying Mileage Plan miles is a great strategy. You can purchase up to 100,000 Alaska miles per transaction, with an annual cap of 150,000 purchased miles. Alaska Airlines elites are not subject to the cap and can buy as many miles as they like.
The typical cost to purchase Alaska miles is $27.50 per 1,000 miles. You'll also pay a tax recovery fee of 7.5% on top of the total price. We don't typically recommend buying miles — unless you're looking to fly premium business- or first-class with Alaska partners. Typically, you can get these flights cheaper by purchasing miles versus paying for a revenue ticket.
Alaska regularly runs promotions for purchasing miles. We've seen bonuses of up to 50% for buying Alaska miles, but 40% is more common. We recommend waiting until Alaska offers a promotional bonus before purchasing miles — unless you only need a couple of thousand miles to top off your account for an award. Bonus miles do not count toward the 150,000-mile annual cap.
Can you Transfer Mileage Plan Miles to Other People?
Alaska Airlines allows you to transfer miles between members. The cost of moving miles is $10 per 1,000 miles. However, you're not gaining any value by sharing miles, as Alaska allows you to book an award for anyone with your miles. The only time it makes sense to transfer miles to another person is to combine miles for a particular award.
Even then, buying miles is usually a better strategy. For example, imagine you're 7,000 miles short for an award. To transfer those miles from another Alaska account, you would pay $95 ($70 transfer plus a $25 Points.com handling fee). If you can take advantage of a buy-miles bonus, you might be able to purchase the miles you need for a similar cost—without the need to debit them from another Alaska account.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Rules
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program is free for anyone to join. You need to sign up at AlaskaAir.com. The entire process for adults can be completed quickly online.
If you're trying to register a child, you will need to call 1-800-ALASKAAIR (1-800-252-7522). I set up Mileage Plan accounts for each of my three kids, and it was a reasonably straightforward process to have the accounts created over the phone. The agent will provide the Mileage Plan numbers for minors, and you can then use those to set up online access at AlaskaAir.com.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles expire after 24 months of inactivity. You can keep your account active by either earning or redeeming at least 1 mile before the end of the 24 months.
For flights credited to Mileage Plan, the traveler can only credit miles to their own account. You cannot take a flight as a family and credit all family members' miles to a single Mileage Plan account. Each person needs to create a Mileage Plan account and attach their own Mileage Plan number to their ticket.
To be able to use your miles for an award, you must have enough in your account. Alaska Airlines does not offer the option to lock in an award and earn or transfer the missing miles later.
Redeeming Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
Alaska Airlines miles are arguably the most valuable of any U.S. airline program. With a unique array of alliance and non-alliance partners and some excellent award chart sweet spots, Alaska miles hold a ton of potential. We'll walk through the approximate value of Alaska miles, its global partners, how to search and book awards, and the best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption award chart sweet spots.
Value of Alaska Miles
While points and miles valuations can be subjective, several criteria go into determining value. These include the cost of different types of awards–from economy to premium cabins–the abundance of award space, and the price at which Alaska itself is willing to sell miles. Alaska's typical price is 2.75 cents per mile. However, you can occasionally purchase miles for around 2 cents.
I try to redeem Alaska miles for at least 2 cents each, which is the baseline value I assign them. I've been able to get far more value booking premium cabin awards. I try to include a stopover for domestic economy awards to ensure I'm getting the best value out of my miles. Data from AwardWallet users shows recent redemption values from 1.29 cents for domestic economy flights up to 5.67 cents for long-haul flights in premium cabins.
In general, Alaska domestic economy awards and partner economy awards offer some of the worst value. The best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption choices are typically premium cabin partner awards. We'll highlight a few sweet spots at the end of the post that offer incredible value!
Alaska Airlines Partners and Award Charts
Alaska Airlines joined the Oneworld alliance on March 31, 2021. Most of Alaska's current list of partners were already members of Oneworld. But, joining Oneworld opened up more international opportunities for members to earn and redeem miles.
However, there's still concern that joining Oneworld will dilute Alaska's unique list of cross-alliance partnerships and redemption opportunities. Members of the AwardWallet community also expressed concern that Alaska will devalue elite benefits and slowly bring the Mileage Plan program into line with Oneworld's only other North American partner: American Airlines AAdvantage. So far, Alaska has launched a new elite status tier but has yet to change its award charts.
Thankfully, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has said that it will “strive to give at least 90 days' notice if changes are coming to any current partner awards.” We'll see how the partnership continues to roll out and update the post with new information as it's released.
Alaska Airlines' 23 current partner airlines are:
- Aer Lingus
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- El Al Israel Airlines
Emirates— partnership ended July 31, 2021
- Fiji Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Iberia — added March 31, 2021
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- LATAM Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines — added March 31, 2021
PenAir— partnership ended August 15, 2020
- Qatar Airways — added as earning partner on December 15, 2020, added as redemption partner on July 29, 2021
- Ravn Alaska — re-added as a partner on August 12, 2021
- Royal Air Maroc — added March 31, 2021
- Royal Jordanian — added March 31, 2021
S7 Airlines— added March 31, 2021, suspended in March 2022
- Singapore Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines — added March 31, 2021
These 23 partners offer Alaska an extensive global network, including airlines on most continents. The only major hole in its network was Africa, but joining Oneworld includes partnering with Royal Air Maroc. Plus, Qatar and British Airways give Alaska some coverage of the African continent.
You can continue to earn and redeem miles on Alaska's 17 legacy partners. Alaska is in the process of adding award redemptions for its newest Oneworld partners. Qatar was the first to be added, with additional award redemptions expected by early 2022. Check out the Mileage Plan Airline Partners page for more details on crediting partner flights to Alaska.
To determine how many miles you need for an award, you'll need to use the Alaska Airlines award chart search. Alaska Airlines has a unique set of rules for pricing awards. For Alaska flights, the award chart considers both distance and region for award tickets. Award flights on Alaska Airlines start at just 5,000 miles one way, which can be an excellent deal for short-haul tickets. Awards price out at various levels, depending on the route length with a minimum and an upper limit. Here is the chart for Alaska award tickets within the U.S.
For partner airlines, most awards have fixed prices that are based on the origin and destination region. However, some also take into account peak and off-peak seasons. As an example, awards to Europe on American Airlines on off-peak dates (October 15 – May 15) are just 22,500 miles one way, versus 30,000 miles during the summer.
You will need to search each region individually using the award chart search, as Alaska has different rates for each partner. Not all partners offer awards between particular regions. For example, you cannot fly from Europe to Asia with British Airways. Nor can you fly from the U.S. to Europe with Qatar. Many Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan awards require starting or ending in North America, though there are some exceptions.
How to Search for Alaska Mileage Plan Awards
The easiest and best way to search for awards with Alaska Airlines and its partners is at AlaskaAir.com. The vast majority of partner awards show up in the online search tool. You can search for one-way, round-trip, or multi-city awards. The best part is that you don't need to be logged in to perform an award search.
The Alaska award search engine is relatively good at constructing reasonable awards, with some caveats. First, Alaska tends to offer unique routing options on its own flights at times, trying to build an award from available Alaska award space. If you search Orange County, California (SNA – John Wayne Airport) to Sydney, for example, you might be presented with an option connecting via Seattle and Los Angeles. Alaska is sending you nearly 1,000 miles the wrong way, just to send you back again, before you embark on your overseas flight.
The second issue—which is my biggest gripe about Alaska award searches—is the results include mixed-cabin awards. There is no way to filter the mixed-cabin options Alaska provides. You have no idea whether the business class award from Seattle to Melbourne includes an economy segment between Seattle and Los Angeles or if your long-haul segment is in economy with the domestic flight in first class. There is a big difference between these options. I would be willing to suffer through the former at Alaska's price for Qantas business–but absolutely not for the latter.
Mixed-cabin awards are those that are displaying the light-and-dark-blue recliner icon. Unfortunately, you have to check every single award to see which segments are in which cabin. I would love it if Alaska launched a feature that would let you filter out all mixed-cabin awards, as most are “false positives” with a short segment in first class and the long-haul segment in economy.
Two partners do not show up in the Alaska website award search: Cathay Pacific and LATAM. You must call Alaska on 1-800-ALASKAAIR (1-800-252-7522) to have a representative search for space and book over the phone. You can use other tools to search for award space with both LATAM and Cathay Pacific (I suggest American Airlines for Cathay and delta.com for LATAM), but you will ultimately need to call to book.
Note that award space that Alaska agents see may be different than the award space you find through another search engine. Additionally, multiple Alaska Airlines phone representatives have stated that only certain LATAM awards can be booked with Alaska miles, which interestingly includes LATAM Brazil in the “can't book” category.
Alaska shows award space up to 330 days beyond the current date. All program members have the same award availability. There is no increase in inventory for elite members or co-brand cardholders, as you might experience with a program such as United MileagePlus.
Booking Fees and Other Rules
Alaska charges both change and cancellation fees on award tickets. Alaska used to offer free cancellation if you canceled 61+ days before your flight date, but now you have the 24-hour window to cancel for free after booking. After this point, you'll have to pay to change or cancel your ticket and redeposit the miles. Alaska's award fees are as follows:
- Change/cancellation fee: $0, except on Saver fares (Alaska's version of basic economy)
- Partner award fee: $25 ($12.50 per direction)
- Call center booking fee: $15
The partner award fee applies to all award tickets booked on one of Alaska's global partners. There is no way around this, and the fee is nonrefundable. The call center booking fee only applies if you book over the phone. For partners that you must book over the phone, you can sometimes have the agent waive the phone booking fee since ticketing is not possible online. Alaska MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elites do not pay call center booking fees or change/cancellation fees.
You must cancel your ticket before travel. If you miss your flight, the ticket will be canceled, and your miles will be forfeited.
Alaska is one of the few programs to offer fully refundable award tickets. These tickets do not require a change or cancellation fee like a standard award, but you pay a massive premium in miles for this privilege. If you don't know your exact travel plans, this is still a way for you to lock in an award. To switch to refundable awards, there is a toggle button just below the date view. There are few times when this premium will make sense, though, as you typically pay anywhere from 2-4x the miles.
Alaska Airlines does not charge any additional fees for awards on its own metal, aside from the TSA fee and any other departure fees for Alaska's international destinations. However, some partner awards may come with fuel surcharges and other fees.
Awards on both Hainan Airlines and British Airways have notoriously high taxes and fees ($150+). Some are more reasonable, such as Cathay Pacific (~$70), with others having no fees, aside from airport and government taxes. In some cases, Alaska is an ideal option for booking awards, as its fees are lower than those charged by other programs.
Routing Rules for Award Tickets
Alaska's routing rules are one of my favorite features of its award program. Why? In one word: stopovers. Alaska has one of the best, if not the very best, stopover policies for award tickets. All my best Alaska Mileage Plan redemption awards that I've made through the years have included a stopover.
Alaska allows one stopover on a one-way award. This means you can have two stopovers on a round-trip award. Stopovers must be in airline hubs or “focus cities”, depending on the partner airline and ticket routing. There are some exceptions to this rule that require investigation, but, in general, Alaska holds to this requirement. This means that you can stopover in Seattle on your way from Los Angeles to Anchorage. The search engine disallows things like Los Angeles to New York – JFK for a stopover before continuing to Anchorage.
For all practical purposes, stopovers for tickets on partner airlines must be in the partner's hub city. Most of Alaska's partners have a single hub, although there may be exceptions to this rule. To book an award with a stopover, you need to use the multi-city search. You need to key in each section of the itinerary, making sure your connection point is in the same city.
In some cases, searching for two one-way awards with a stopover individually will return better results (or simply work) than searching a round-trip award with two stopovers.
Another rule to keep in mind is that Alaska only allows one partner airline per award ticket. You cannot fly an award that includes segments on multiple partners. For example, you may not fly Los Angeles to London on American Airlines with a connecting segment on British Airways, although this would be ideal to avoid high fees on B.A.
Best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Redemption Sweet Spots
I'm not going to list every Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption that provides top value, but I would like to highlight what I think are the best. In general, Alaska has specific partners with great premium cabin award rates. The top one—in my opinion—is Cathay Pacific, which has a high number of regions you can route to or through at incredible prices. You can also find massive value with Qantas and Japan Airlines.
Here are some of the best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption options for international travel. The prices listed are one way:
- Cathay Pacific first class from the U.S. to Asia for 60,000 Alaska miles
- Cathay Pacific business class from the U.S. to Asia for 50,000 Alaska miles
- Qantas first class from the U.S. to Australia for 70,000 Alaska miles
- Qantas business class from the U.S. to Australia for 55,000 Alaska miles
- Cathay Pacific first class from the U.S. to the Middle East or Africa for 70,000 Alaska miles (include a free stopover in Hong Kong!)
- Cathay Pacific business class from the U.S. to Australia for 60,000 Alaska miles
- British Airways first class from the U.S. to India for 80,000 Alaska miles
- Japan Airlines first class from the U.S. to East Asia for 70,000 Alaska miles
- Fiji Airways business class from the U.S. to Australia (with a stopover in Fiji!) for 55,000 Alaska miles
- Cathay Pacific business class between Asia and Australia/New Zealand for 30,000 Alaska miles
These are just a few of the best uses of Alaska miles. Most of these are very competitive with the pricing you can find with other programs. In some cases, Alaska offers the best deal of all, such as the rate for Cathay Pacific first class awards to both Asia and Africa.
One Interesting Development to Note
I had always thought that Singapore Airlines did not release award space on its long-haul flights in premium cabins. While I have not found first-class space through Alaska Airlines, I have seen some long-haul business class space. This ticket from Los Angeles to Singapore jumped out at me.
The price is not the best, as you can fly Cathay Pacific business class for half that number of miles, but it is interesting to know that Alaska is an option for booking these awards.
Other Ways to Redeem Alaska Miles
While I will always say that using miles for award flights is 100% the best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption choice, Alaska does provide other options for redeeming miles. You can use your miles to book hotels and to redeem for magazines.
You also can redeem miles for first-class upgrades on paid fares. These cost 15,000 miles per one-way ticket, and they must be applied to a paid fare. This is typically not a good deal, but it may be a decent option on longer routes. Alaska offers paid upgrades on the day of departure starting at $23 for first class and $5 for premium class, subject to availability. The prices are sometimes reasonable, considering the flight lengths. Alaska used to publish set paid upgrade rates based on flight length, but this appears to have been discontinued. Previously, you could upgrade to first class on a transcontinental flight, such as San Francisco to Newark, for just $199 one-way.
How to Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Elite Status
Alaska Airlines offers a rich elite program with top perks and benefits. Earning Alaska elite status is also easier than earning status in other programs, as there is no spend requirement like you have with Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines. Plus, qualification typically requires fewer miles. The status perks and ease of qualification make Alaska an ideal program for those based on the U.S. West Coast.
Alaska Airlines Elite Status Qualification
With the recently-revealed MVP Gold 100K elite level (going into effect in 2022), Alaska now has four elite status tiers. These have the following qualification requirements:
MVP — 2 qualifying flights on Alaska Airlines, plus either:
- 20,000 – Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
- 30 – Segments flown on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
MVP Gold — 4 (6 starting in 2022) qualifying flights on Alaska Airlines, plus either:
- 40,000 – Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
- 60 – Segments flown on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
MVP Gold 75K — 6 (12 starting in 2022) qualifying flights on Alaska Airlines, plus either:
- 75,000 – Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
- 90 – Segments flown on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
MVP Gold 100K — 24 qualifying flights on Alaska Airlines, plus either:
- 100,000 – Eligible miles earned on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
- 140 – Segments flown on Alaska Airlines and elite-qualifying partners
You can qualify for Alaska Airlines elite status by either total miles or by total segments flown on Alaska Airlines and partners. As of 2021, Alaska requires a minimum number of segments flown on its own flights (including regional flights on Horizon and SkyWest) to qualify for elite status.
Alaska credits 100% flown miles (or more) as elite qualifying miles for all fare classes (except for award tickets) on its own flights. For partner airline elite mileage accrual, you'll need to check out the page for each partner, as the rate varies by fare class and carrier. You can expect as low as 25% flown miles for the lowest economy classes and 100%+ for premium cabins.
Both base miles and class of service bonus miles count toward elite qualification on Alaska Airlines and partner airlines. The “additional bonus” miles for premium cabin flights with some partners are only redeemable miles.
Benefits of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Elite Status
Alaska Airlines' elite status provides its frequent fliers with a vast array of perks. From free checked bags to complimentary upgrades and bonus redeemable miles, earning Alaska Airlines elite status can be well worth it. One of the newest and most lucrative benefits is the ability to earn American Airlines international upgrade certificates!
Here is what you can expect to enjoy as an Alaska Airlines MVP:
- Priority check-in and boarding
- Express security line at select airports
- Two free checked bags for you and companions on the same reservation
- Free checked bag on American Airlines
- Discounted Alaska Lounge membership
- 50% bonus redeemable miles
- Access to preferred seating
- First Class upgrades, when available
- Premium Class upgrades, when available
- Dedicated phone lines for reservations and customer service.
- Elite leave for new parents
- Oneworld Ruby status
As an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, you'll enjoy all the above benefits, plus the following:
- Complimentary same-day standby when a confirmed flight change isn't available
- Complimentary same-day flight changes
- 100% bonus redeemable miles
- Unlimited First Class upgrades (upon availability) for yourself and a companion on the same reservation
- Unlimited Premium Class upgrades (upon availability) for yourself and a companion on the same reservation
- A complimentary premium beverage in the Main Cabin
- Four First Class guest upgrades per year (not applicable to award tickets)
- Waivers for Mileage Plan service charges and ticket change fees
- Access to Hainan and Icelandair lounges
- Oneworld Sapphire status
As an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K, you'll enjoy all the above benefits, plus the following:
- 125% bonus redeemable miles
- An additional free checked bag (total of three) for you and companions on the same reservation
- 50,000 bonus miles when you attain MVP Gold 75K (not awarded if status is matched)
- Complimentary domestic upgrades on American Airlines, when available
- Four complimentary Alaska Lounge day passes
- Complimentary in-flight entertainment player – available on coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights
- Opportunity to nominate someone for MVP status
- One American Airlines international upgrade certificate, good for one-way travel
- Oneworld Emerald status
As an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 100K, you'll enjoy all the above benefits, plus the following:
- 150% bonus redeemable miles
- An additional American Airlines international upgrade certificate (total of two), good for one-way travel
- Highest upgrade waitlist priority
- A complimentary snack in the Main Cabin
The new Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 100K tier goes into effect at the end of January 2022. Additional MVP Gold 100K perks will be introduced in 2022 for the 2023 program year.
Best Perks of Alaska Status
The best perks of Alaska Airlines elite status are the ability to receive complimentary upgrades, additional redeemable miles (especially if you often fly coast-to-coast), free checked bags, and waiver of service fees. These are pretty standard compared with other programs, but Alaska offers richer bonus mileage earning at upper-status tiers.
One of the newer perks includes the ability to earn one-way international upgrade certificates for travel on American Airlines. These are awarded early in the year following qualification. For example, anyone who qualifies for MVP Gold 75K during 2021 for the 2022 status year will receive a single one-way upgrade certificate in early 2022. These certificates can upgrade you into long-haul business class and can be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in value. Alaska elite members now also enjoy corresponding Oneworld priority status. This provides benefits such as access to pre-reserved seating, priority boarding and baggage handling, and access to business or first class lounges (depending on your tier).
Standard Alaska Lounge membership costs $450. The price for Alaska elites, no matter your tier, is $350, which is a significant discount. Alaska is also launching a Lounge+ membership that offers access to 90+ partner lounges, in addition to the 8 Alaska Lounge locations. Standard pricing for this is set at $600, with elites able to purchase this for $500.
Alaska Airlines Lifetime Status
Alaska does offer a lifetime status program. And there are 2 tiers, with straightforward qualification:
- Fly 1,000,000 miles with Alaska Airlines, and you'll be awarded Alaska MVP Gold status for life.
- Fly 2,000,000 miles with Alaska Airlines, and you'll be awarded Alaska MVP Gold 75K status for life
It's important to note that partner airline flights and award flights do not count toward this total.
Compared to other Million Miler programs, Alaska's is pretty lucrative. Obviously, though, it takes a lot of flying, as you're restricted to Alaska's route network — which doesn't include any long-haul flights. A frequent flyer who achieves Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K each year will take 12-14 years to attain Million Miler.
Alaska Airlines Status Match
If you're interested in making the switch to Alaska Airlines, you can ease the pain of qualification by requesting a status match. Alaska Airlines has a dedicated elite status match page, where you can provide info on your current status level with another program. You must be a resident of either the U.S. or Canada, and you can status match from the following airline programs:
- Air Canada
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
If your request is approved, you will receive the corresponding status for three months. Within those three months, you can retain status for the rest of the period (either end of the year, or end of the following year). The requirements depend on the status to which you are matched:
- MVP – 5,000 qualifying miles within 90 days
- MVP Gold – 10,000 qualifying miles within 90 days
- MVP Gold 75K – 20,000 qualifying miles within 90 days
Flights toward this challenge portion of the Alaska status match must be solely on Alaska Airlines, either operated directly by Alaska or by regional partners/subsidiaries Horizon and SkyWest. Partner flights will not count toward the challenge portion of the status match.
If you receive a status match between January and June and meet the challenge requirements, you will keep your status through the end of the year. If you receive a status match between July and December and meet the challenge requirements, you will keep your status through the end of the following year. The latter is far more lucrative, given the length of time you can keep the status. Status matches can take up to 4 weeks for verification and approval.
Alaska Elite Status Requirements Compared to Other Programs
Earning Alaska Airlines elite status is substantially easier than earning status with other U.S. airlines. The big difference is that every other elite program has a spend requirement. Alaska Airlines does not.
As an example, consider someone based in Los Angeles who flies across the country routinely. If they visit New York City just 9 times during the year, they will earn ~44,000 Alaska Airlines elite miles. This is enough to land you at MVP Gold status.
Someone flying Delta or United, on the other hand, won't even land Gold. Assuming each fare is $400 or less per round-trip, the traveler might not even earn Silver in either of these programs. Considering the bonus miles and other elite perks, I would choose Alaska Airlines over other options if this was the bulk of my travel.
Author's madcap idea: you can technically achieve Alaska MVP Gold 75K status for just under $3,000. Assuming you're based on either San Francisco or Boston, Alaska often sells Saver round-trips between these cities for only $197. Flying 14 of these will earn you MVP Gold 75K, plus you'll earn enough redeemable miles (~168,000 miles) for a round-trip to Australia in either Cathay Pacific First or Qantas First Class! It looks like the mileage run isn't dead yet!
Pros/Cons of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
The best features of Alaska Airlines are the high value of Mileage Plan miles when redeemed for many partner awards, easier elite status qualification, and the unique network of global partners. The award sweet spots for partner premium cabins and attractive short-haul pricing for domestic U.S. awards are other upsides to using the program. This is not to mention my favorite feature: the ability to add in a stopover on one-way award tickets.
Most other programs do not offer stopovers on one-way award tickets. This is a unique feature of Mileage Plan, and one worth using to maximize the value of your Alaska miles. The best Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan redemption I've ever made included a multi-day stopover in Hong Kong.
If you live in an Alaska hub, you can even turn a single award into two by planning a stopover in your home city at the end of your first trip, with the following segment marking the beginning of your second trip. Stopovers are fantastic, as they let you visit two destinations for the same price. Of the other primary U.S. loyalty programs, only United offers the potential for booking a stopover using the Excursionist perk.
Negative: East Coast Gaps
While Alaska's elite program is competitive, they are not an ideal airline choice if you are not based on the West Coast and/or if you frequently travel to destinations not served by Alaska. For much of the eastern United States, it is a less-than-ideal choice as a primary airline. The limited route network is a huge hurdle. The only potential play is if you tend to travel with American Airlines. Alaska's partnership with American Airlines offers some nice reciprocal elite benefits, but you can be awarded as few as 25% flown miles as elite-qualifying miles, making qualification much more difficult than qualifying for status with American Airlines.
Negative: Lack of Bank Transfer Partners
Another downside I will mention is the lack of ability to transfer bank points to Alaska Airlines miles. This is both a blessing and a curse. Without bank transfer partners, the “market” can't be flooded with miles. You must earn miles primarily through flying and credit card spend/bonuses with Alaska's co-brand credit cards. The only viable transfer partner is Marriott Bonvoy. But, without a bank transfer partner, it can be hard to accrue enough points for the most valuable redemptions.
Even after joining the Oneworld alliance, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is–and will remain–one of my favorite frequent flyer programs. The high value of Alaska miles, the ability to book a unique set of partners, and the potential they offer with stopovers on one-way award bookings keep me focused on earning as many Alaska miles as possible.
My favorite redemption is when I used 50,000 Alaska miles to fly Cathay Pacific business class home from Hong Kong with two of my kids. This remains one of the best Alaska Mileage Plan redemption options across the board.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (Rates & Fees), and Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card (Rates & Fees)
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