Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a very popular program among frequent flyers. It operates differently from the schemes of the other major US airlines, and that brings certain advantages.
In particular, mileage earning remains based on distance rather than dollars spent (where other US airlines have moved to a revenue-based model). Additionally, Alaska Airlines is not part of any airline alliance. Instead, it has created its own partner network and associated benefits for the Mileage Plan program.
The devil is in the detail of course, and whether this different way of operating benefits you depends on your flying patterns, frequency, and needs. This article will explain how the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program works, how to best collect and redeem miles and how to make the most out of it.
West coast USA – but with a global reach
Alaska Airline’s main hub is in Seattle and is typically associated with flights in and out of Alaska and along the West coast. Whilst this is, of course, a major focus of the airline. don’t let that put you off their mileage scheme! There are plenty of ways to earn miles with other airlines and partners. And likewise, take advantage of some great value flight redemptions – whether to Alaska or internationally.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Elite Status
As with most other major airlines, Alaska Airlines offers elite status for frequent flyers.
There are three levels of status – MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75k – earned based on mileage flown per calendar year, or total segments flown. Mileage can be from Alaska Airlines flights or partners but note the slightly higher requirements if using partner flights. Miles from credit cards or other earning sources do not count for elite status qualification. Status is awarded as soon as sufficient mileage is credited. It is valid for the remainder of the year and up to the end of the following year.
Benefits offered increase at each level. These include:
- 50% earning mileage bonus on Alaska Airlines and certain partner airlines (currently British Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair and Qantas)
- 2 free checked bags with Alaska Airlines
- Access to priority check-in desks
- Complimentary premium and first-class upgrades with Alaska Airlines (subject to availability close to departure and not available when booking lowest price economy tickets)
- Free seat booking (including extra leg room/exit row seats). With Alaska Airlines and certain partners.
- Discount on Alaska Lounge membership (but no free lounge access)
- Priority reservations and customer service
MVP Gold members, receive the following in addition:
- 100% earning mileage bonus on Alaska Airlines and qualifying partner airlines
- Access to priority security screening lanes
- Complimentary same-day flight changes, and same day standby (not available on lowest economy fares)
- Complimentary beverages when flying in economy with Alaska Airlines
- Unlimited first class upgrades for member and one guest with Alaska Airlines (not available on lowest economy fares)
- Four one-way upgrade certificates for a guest
- Lounge access for member and at least one guest when flying with qualifying partners (currently British Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair and Qantas). This is limited to certain airports – for full details see the MVP website.
MVP Gold 75K members, receive the following in addition:
- 125% earning mileage bonus on Alaska Airlines and qualifying partner airlines
- Gift of 50,000 MVP miles upon qualification
- Four Alaska lounge day passes
- Complimentary inflight entertainment on Alaska Airlines
For full details of benefits, terms and exclusion see the MVP website.
Status match offer
Alaska Airlines offers a very generous status match program. They will match most major US and Canadian Airlines statuses into MVP, MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75k as appropriate (for US and Canadian residents only). Qualifying members then enjoy Alaska Airlines status benefits straight away. Such an offer is not that common these days with other airlines!
Details and applications are on the Alaska MVP website.
Pros and Cons of Elite Status
Compared to other airlines, the status program and benefits with Alaska Airlines have a few specific advantages and disadvantages to be aware of:
- Status is easier to obtain than with many other airlines (especially the other main US airlines). Status qualifying miles are earned based on distance flown and not on the amount spent on tickets. This is particularly advantageous for those who often purchase lower priced economy tickets.
- Alaska Airlines offers “elite leave” for new parents. Members can extend elite status for one year during pregnancy or parental leave.
- Alaska Airlines is not part of one of the major airline alliances (Oneworld, Skyteam or Star Alliance). There are therefore no guaranteed benefits across any set of member airlines. A popular benefit of mid and upper tier membership of most alliance airlines is some level of guaranteed lounge access, increased luggage allowance and preferential treatment when flying with any alliance member. Alaska Airlines has some alternatives in place with some partner airlines, but not the same level of benefits as offered by alliances.
- Lounge access offerings, in general, are poor. Only limited partners offer international access. And Alaska only offers top-level members 4 passes per year.
Earning miles with Alaska Airlines
A vital part of any mileage program is the ability to earn some miles! And with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan there are plenty of ways to do this.
Flying with Alaska Airlines
Miles are earned of course on flights with Alaska Airlines. These are awarded at a generous rate of 1 mile per mile flown, with additional bonuses for premium cabins.
This is especially generous for long haul, low priced economy tickets. Earnings are 100% of miles flown – whereas many other airline programs will award much less these days.
Flying with partner airlines
Despite not being in an official global airline alliance, Alaska Airlines has a comprehensive network of global airline partners. Miles with partner airlines are still awarded based on distance flown, with a percentage related to the booking class. Full details and earning tables can be found on the Mileage Plan website.
Partner airlines include Aer Lingus, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, LATAM Airlines, PenAir, Qantas, Ravn Alaska and Singapore Airlines.
Another great benefit of the program are the bonuses awarded for travel in premium cabins. These are often much higher than those offered by airlines in their own mileage programs. For example flights with British Airways in business class earn up to 350% of miles flown!
There is a noticeable weakness however with domestic travel in the United States. Whilst American Airlines is a partner airline, miles cannot be earned on domestic flights. Miles can only be earned with American Airlines on international flights and on domestic flights with an Alaska Airlines flight number.
Earning miles with credit cards
There are two credit cards offering miles with Alaska Airlines – a great way to boost earning from everyday spending!
The first of these is the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. This awards 3 miles per dollar on spend with Alaska Airlines, and 1 mile per dollar on all other spending. This also offers an attractive $99 (plus taxes) companion fare each year.
The second card is The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Card. This awards hotel points at the rate of 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG hotels, and 2 points per dollar for all spend elsewhere. These Marriott points can be converted to Mileage Plan miles at a 3:1 ratio.
Non-flying earning – shopping, eating, hotels, cars and more!
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is very strong when it comes to other mileage earning opportunities.
Miles can be earned with many retailers through the Alaska Mileage Shopping Portal. This has regularly changing offers for earning mileage with online spending at over 850 stores. In a similar fashion, the Alaska Mileage Dining Program offers miles based on amount spent at over 10,000 participating restaurants across the US.
Alaska Airlines also has partnerships in place with many of the main hotel chains (including IHG, Marriott, Best Western and Choice Hotels) and car rental companies (including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National and Thrifty) to earn miles. For hotels, earnings are usually based on total spend, or a fixed rate for each stay. Car hire usually earns 50 miles per rental day. There are often additional bonuses to look out for as well.
There are also opportunities to earn through cruises partners, online surveys and other changing offers.
And miles can always be purchased. This is not a great deal, but useful if a top-up is needed for a specific award. Prices vary depending on the amount bought and the tax applied. As a guide 60,000 Mileage Plan miles were priced at $1,773 in January 2019.
For a more complete look at different ways to earn miles, see our separate guide to the top 15 ways to earn Mileage Plan miles.
Be careful with Mileage Plan miles as they will expire if there is no activity in the account over a 24 month period. This can be as simple as earning or spending at least 1 miles, and this will extend mileage validity for another 2 years.
Using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles
Redeeming miles with Alaska Airlines and its partners is another strong point of the program. It offers some very good value flight redemptions (when compared with other programs) as well as a range of non-flying spending options.
As with most frequent flyer schemes, the best value use of miles is usually to redeem for flights.
Awards can include Alaska Airlines, one of its partner airlines, or a combination of Alaska and one partner. Unfortunately, one itinerary cannot include multiple partner airlines.
Flights with Alaska Airlines within Alaska and the contiguous US are priced based on total distance flown. Economy class rates start from 5,000 miles for short flight (under 700) miles, up to 12,500 (for flights over 2,100 miles). There is also a useful option to use more miles to book awards with greater availability.
For all partner airlines and international itineraries, pricing is based on global zones traveled between, rather than distance or per segment pricing as used by some programs. Pricing is complicated as it differs for airlines. There is also a small $12.50 fee for issuing a partner award. Full details are best viewed on the charts on the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan site.
For example, a business class flight from anywhere in the United States to locations in Asia is 60,000 or 70,000 with American Airlines, 50,000 with Cathay Pacific or 105,000 to 120,000 with Korean Airlines.
Add a free stopover to an award
The ability to add a free stopover on an award ticket is one of the strong advantages of the Mileage Plan program. Very few airlines offer such a benefit these days, and it can greatly increase the value of awards if used well. For example, a flight from the United States to Thailand with Cathay Pacific can add a stopover in Hong Kong for no extra mileage. Likewise, a ticket from San Francisco to Rome can add a stop in London.
Upgrades on Alaska Airlines
Cabin upgrades are another good value use of miles. These are only available with Alaska Airlines – unfortunately, they are not offered on any partner airlines. Pricing is fixed at 15,000 miles for a one-way ticket, and upgrades are available only from certain booking classes (Y, S, B, M, or H classes of service). Note that unlike paid upgrades (which Alaska Airlines offers on all flights) these are confirmed as soon as a booking is made, not just 24 hours before the flight.
“Money and Miles” flights discounts
Miles can be used to give discounts off the purchase price of economy and first class Alaska Airlines tickets. This is generally not as good value as using miles for a full redemption but is still a useful benefit. The discount is:
- 10,000 miles will get a 50% discount, up to $100, on a one way or return ticket
- 20,000 miles will get a 50% discount, up to $200, on a one way or return ticket
Other redemption options
There are also some good “non-flying” options for spending Mileage Plan miles. This includes redeeming miles for magazine subscriptions, and booking hotels worldwide through partner Rocketmiles. And if you really can’t find a way to use miles, they can also be transferred to another member or donated to charity!
To see full options for redeeming miles, take a look at our guide to the best ways to redeem Alaska Airlines miles.
In summary, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a solid, and very popular, frequent flyer program, it is our favorite US-based program. Certainly, there are strong advantages for regular Alaska or US-based travelers. Mileage earning rates are high and it is comparatively easy to achieve status. Once achieved, status brings strong benefits and upgrades when flying with Alaska Airlines, although the lack of free lounge access is disappointing.
International benefits – some good value, but also limitations
Those that don’t use Alaska Airlines so often will still find great opportunities with the excellent mileage earning rates from partner airlines and other sources. International redemptions are some of the best value around as well, especially with the ability to add a stopover.
The lack of alliance membership, however, could be restrictive for some people. This brings restrictions such as no global lounge access or preferential treatment with partners, as well as limited options to issue award tickets on multiple airlines.
As always, the real value of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan depends on individual travel patterns and preferences. For some, there could be strong benefits from using this as their main mileage program. Whilst for others it may work better alongside another membership in a major alliance based airline.