Should You Buy Alaska Miles Without a Discount?

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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is our favorite frequent flyer program, and for good reasons. Not only does it partner with several amazing airlines—such as Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Emirates—but it also offers some of the most lucrative points redemptions to their destinations.

Alaska ended its last mileage sale on May 31, 2020. Targeted members who maximized this sale were able to purchase Alaska Miles for 1.72¢ a piece—the cheapest Alaska has ever sold them. Although there is currently no promotion, Mileage Plan members can still buy Alaska miles at the standard rate, which can provide value in certain situations.

Alaska miles are one of the best ways to fly business class on Cathay Pacific.

A Note on Buying Miles

Generally speaking, buying miles without a discount is not a good idea for most people. The reason for this is that with a lot of loyalty programs, you typically won't be able to redeem miles for a higher value than you purchased them. This is particularly true now, while the world sits in anticipation of when we'll be able to travel again, and financial uncertainty affects many of us—Alaska Airlines included.

With that said, there are some cases where it can make sense to buy milesFirst, buying miles can still make sense if you need to top off your balance to complete a specific redemption. Second, you should consider buying miles if the cost is considerably cheaper than paying for the product you want outright.

Other Methods of Earning Alaska Miles

Thanks to several sweet spots in Alaska's award chart, there are plenty of scenarios where buying miles can save you money compared to paying a cash rate. This is especially apparent when considering one-way premium cabin bookings, which are often more expensive per way than round-trips. Be that as it may, there are a few other ways to acquire Alaska miles, so buying them still might not be a good deal for your situation

A cheaper way to rack up Mileage Plan miles would be through a sign-up bonus on an Alaskan co-branded credit card. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card is currently offering a 40,000-mile bonus plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card
Annual Fee$75
Welcome Bonus Get 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Additionally, you could always convert Marriott Bonvoy points to Alaska Mileage Plan miles. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to dozen of airlines at a rate of 3 points to 1 mile. This means that Marriott Bonvoy credit cards also have the ability to earn Alaska miles. If you transfer Bonvoy points in batches of 60,000 points—triggering the 5,000 Alaska mile bonus—your Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card effectively earns 0.83 Alaska miles per dollar on non-Marriott purchases.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Annual Fee$95
Welcome Bonus Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
  • Earn 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
  • 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year. Path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year.
  • 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.
  • 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

Alaska Buy Miles History

Alaska usually hosts at least one buy miles promotion every year. Selling miles is a great way for loyalty programs to generate funds quickly; with airline profits suffering as much as they have been, we're likely to see another buy miles promotion fairly soon. Unless you need miles immediately, it would probably make more sense to wait for the next one before buying.

Here's a table of some of the previous Alaska buy miles promotions we've seen.

Promotion EndedMax BonusMin Cents Per MileTargeted
2020-05-3060%1.72Yes
2020-02-1640%2.15No
2019-02-2240%2.11No
2018-12-2150%1.97Yes
2018-10-0450%1.97Yes
2018-07-13
40%2.11Yes
2018-07-0350%1.97Yes
2017-10-3150%1.97Yes
2017-07-0150%1.97Yes
2017-04-0640%2.11No
2016-09-2950%1.97Yes
2016-06-1350%1.97Yes
2016-03-3140%2.11No

Sample Redemptions

Even without a promotion going on, it could still make sense to buy Alaska miles instead of paying a cash rate, especially when you're planning to fly in a premium cabin.

One of our favorite ways to redeem Alaska miles is by flying on Cathay Pacific. Let's look at a one-way itinerary between Los Angeles (LAX) and Hong Kong (HKG) to see if buying miles can save you money compared to paying cash.

  • 30,000 miles in economy
  • 35,000 miles in premium economy
  • 50,000 miles in business class
  • 70,000 miles in first class

Without a promotion, here are the costs to buy enough miles for these redemptions:

  • $825 in economy
  • $962.50 in premium economy
  • $1,375 in business class
  • $1,925 in first class

Cathay sells economy tickets to LA to Hong Kong for $587 per person most days, so buying miles wouldn't make sense. However, premium economy typically costs $1,218 (from $1,384 round-trip), business class usually costs $3,953 (from $4,800 round-trip), and first class regularly sells for over $9,700 one-way (from $16,400 round-trip).

So if you were thinking of paying cash for a ticket like this and can find award availability, you could save a lot of money by buying the Alaska miles necessary instead.

Maximize Your Purchase

Unfortunately, Alaska miles purchases are processed by Points.com, meaning that the purchase won't code as travel for any credit cards that bonus travel spending. With that in mind, your best options are to use the purchase to qualify for a minimum-spend requirement or use a credit card optimized for everyday spending.

Bottom Line

For the majority of people, buying miles without a bonus should be a last resort. But if you happen to need just a few more miles to book that perfect redemption, it's nice to have the option.

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Comments

  • I agree. I think that the airlines will run more saver awards in the near future to entice people to fly again. Fares would also be cheaper until people start to feel comfortable flying again so buying the miles might not be the cheapest option.

    • They’re in quite a predicament. Yes, they’ll want to entice people to fly again… somehow. But, most predictions I’ve seen is that airfare will have to be more expensive, for many reasons. They’re desperate for money. They need to spend meaningful $s on new safety precautions. And, they’ll probably be forced to limit seating in a significant way due to social distancing requirements.

      • Agreed. I think it may turn into the economics of business class. Airlines definitely use statistics and have algorithms to set business class prices knowing how many they want to sell to turn the profit they want.

        It may be the same case here. A higher fare may turn some away and cause some empty seats but if 80% of the plane is booked at a higher rate, it’s worth losing a couple seats of revenue for that.

        Like many have said, the air travel industry may have just been changed forever and will take a long time to return to normal, if that happens.

  • As you said, “it’s probably not a good idea to purchase miles speculatively.” I’m going to take that advice to the bank 😀

  • 60% is only slightly higher than their previous promotions. Looking for 100%+ before I buy any miles.

  • I never flew this airline before but everything I read is great.. this is another example

    • I’ll have a choice for Hawaiian or Alaska business soon and I think I’m going to go with Hawaiian but I am intrigued to see what Alaska has to offer. I’ve heard good things.

  • I know why they’re doing this but this is a catch-22. They need cash to help stay afloat but I’d never buy miles speculatively as the risk of devaluation or worse, bankruptcy, is higher than ever. Ok that’s not really a catch-22 but you see my point.

  • No deal on any airline’s miles no matter how good could tempt me to buy at the moment. The risk for an airline failing in the current environment is too high for comfort. For the airlines that survive a devaluation of their mileage program is an easy target to reduce liabilities on the balance sheet to help them recover.

  • 60% sounds awesome, but yet again flying when COVID is still around…

    • Not to get political, but I think 10 years from now we’ll all see that this was blown way out of proportion. Studies are already showing that large percentages of random people have the antibodies meaning they had the virus and didn’t even know it.

  • I wonder how the system decides who gets how much bonus.

  • Im going to take your advise and not buy as I dont have any where I want to travel to right now.

  • Finally a bonus higher than 50%.
    I’m taking my chances and buying some miles this time…hopefully the COVID19 situation will improve a lot in the coming months.

  • Time to stock up on some miles during this brief period of no flying due to covid. It’s only a matter of time before things pickup again.

  • I will hold off on this as too pricey. We have no travel plans for the foreseeable future. My feeling is better deals will be coming our way when the airlines start to attempt to ramp up their operations.

  • worthwhile if you just needed a little to top off towards a flight you were looking to book anyways

  • This should be the standard advice for everyone. Absolutely no, you shouldn’t, unless topping off. Heck, I’d pretty much say the same thing about discounts, unless you already have travel in mind.

  • dharmesh says:

    im gonna have to get the visa alaska credit card. it will soon be a good time to go alaska and use miles

  • Pity I was NOT targeted for 60% bonus. But anyway would hold off buying anything in this uncertain time.
    Who knows when AS will start changing award charts. Most likely when the join OW officially.

  • Definitely worthwhile if you need to reach a certain number of points.

  • IMO buying miles without any kind of discount makes no sense, unless one really needs to top off an account by fewer than 10,000 miles.

  • i would not buy anything at this time unless 200% bonus is offered.

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