Alaska Airlines’ loyalty scheme, Mileage Plan, is a popular program with frequent flyers globally. There are many nuances and sweet spots to earning and collecting miles, and it is relatively easy to earn high status levels. For more information on Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, take a look at our detailed guide to the program and our article on the best ways to earn miles.
In this article, we’re going to cover the fun stuff – the best way to spend Mileage Plan miles. Mileage Plan is well regarded for having some of the best value award ticket redemptions around. But there are also plenty of other options to use them up too.
1. Award tickets with Alaska Airlines
Redeeming miles for airline tickets is the obvious, and often best value, use of miles in most airline schemes, and Alaska Airlines is no exception.
Miles can be used for tickets with Alaska Airlines in both economy and premium cabins. Flights with Alaska Airlines within Alaska and the contiguous USA are priced based on the total distance flown. Rates are variable within a band, and change depending on timing and availability of flights. This revised rate scheme was introduced in mid 2018.
The shortest flights of under 500 miles start at just 5,000 miles in economy and 15,000 in first class. And the longest of over 2,100 miles start at 12,500 miles in economy and 30,000 in first.
There is also the option for all flight to use more miles to get an award with much greater availability options, and fully refundable and changeable terms (without fees). For the shortest flights for example this would be 30,000 in economy and 40,000 in first – a significant increase but worth comparing when the cash ticket prices are very high.
Unlike many other airlines, Alaska Airlines claims that you will always be able to use mileage for a flight that is not fully booked already. But for busy flights only the highest mileage options are likely to be available.
The airline has a good online search tool which will quickly show all flight and mileage pricing options.
2. Award tickets with partner airlines
Alaska Airlines is not part of one of the major global alliances (Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam) and instead has separate partnerships with a number of airlines globally. Flights with these airlines earn miles in Mileage Plan, and they can all be used to issue rewards.
Partners include Aer Lingus, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, LATAM Airlines, PenAir, Qantas, Ravn Alaska and Singapore Airlines.
There are several things to note when looking at partner airline redemption:
- Miles can be redeemed on routes with Alaska Airlines and one additional partner, or just with one partner airline. Unfortunately it is not possible to issue an award ticket using more than one partner airlines.
- Rates are based on origin and destination, with connections permitted as necessary. This is a notable advantage over some other programs which price each flight sector individually.
- In general, awards can be one way or return. There are some exceptions, such as Korean Airlines where all awards are priced as a return trip.
Rates differ for each airline, and full charts are best viewed on the Mileage Plan website.
For example a business class flight from anywhere in the United States to locations in Asia would be 60,000 or 70,000 with American Airlines, 50,000 with Cathay Pacific or 105,000 to 120,000 with Korean Airlines.
Booking is simple for partner awards. All partners are bookable online, except for Cathay Pacific and LATAM (you need to call the airline for these).
Fees and Changes for all award tickets (Alaska Airlines and partners)
Full details of fees and charges are best checked when making a reservation as they change often. There are a few things to be aware of though:
- There is an each-way fee of $12.50 for partner redemptions.
- A fixed fee of $15 for a booking made via the call center (when it could be booked online for free)
- Taxes apply to each booking and vary by airline and route. In general these are better value than some other programs. There are some exceptions – such as British Airways where very high surcharges are added for long haul flights (this often makes economy class redemptions poor value but may still work for premium cabins).
- Changes or cancellations are free for 24 hours after booking. Beyond that a fee of $125 applies for changes or mileage refund. This does not apply to fully flexible award bookings with Alaska Airlines.
3. Add a stopover to an award ticket for even better value
This is such a valuable benefit it is worth highlighting on its own!
It is possible to include a stopover when redeeming tickets on most partner airlines . Most airline mileage schemes do not allow this, and all travel must be completed with either next available connection, or certainly no more than a 24 hour layover. With Mileage Plan, you can stop off once (generally at the airline hub city as partners cannot be combined) for as long as you like (well, subject to ticket validity length of 1 year!) on each one way ticket.
This is a great benefit. For example, you can make a planned trip “2 in 1″ by adding a stopover en route. Or you can even add a second flight for ” free” at a later date.
For example, a stopover in Hong Kong could be added to a flight from anywhere in USA to Bangkok or Singapore, with Cathay Pacific, or a stop in Dubai when flying Emirates from US to India or Asia. Planning ahead, you could add a future flight in your home area for no extra mileage. For example when returning from Europe to New York with American Airlines, a flight could be added to the West Coast several months later.
4. Make use of some of the partner redemption “sweet spots”
Most loyalty programs have certain areas that are better value, and Alaska Airlines certainly does. Keep these in mind as, although they might not be immediately relevant, they are worth considering for best value use of miles in the future.
Here are a few ideas of the flights generally considered great value with Mileage Plan redemptions:
- Short flights within Alaska and Canada. With the distance based chart used for Alaska Airlines flight, the shortest flights start at 5,000 miles. These can often be expensive tickets to purchase for cash. If there is availability for an award when needed, this is great value use of miles.
- Cathay Pacific flights in premium cabins. Flights from USA to Hong Kong and onto another Asian destination with Cathay Pacific are very good value (especially when compared to similar routing with other airline programs). For example, flights to many Asian destinations are 50,000 miles one way in Business Class. Also, routes via Hong Kong to Africa are priced at just 62,500 miles.
- Note that the difference between Business Class and First Class on many routes with Cathay Pacific is very low and well worth considering if there is availability. For example, and award from USA to Africa is 70,000 miles in First Class.
- Flights from North to South America. Awards to the northern countries in South America (including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) with American Airlines are priced at 20,000 miles in economy and 30,000 in business class.
Flights with LATAM are excellent value as well, and these would allow internal connecting flights (such as Lima to Machu Picchu or Santiago to Punta Arenas) to be added.
- Routes within Asia with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines. These are priced at 12,500 miles or 15,000 in economy and 22,500 or 25,000 miles in Business. This is great value, especially for longer routes connecting in the hub cities. Cash fares with these airlines in Asia can be very high.
5. Cabin upgrades – on Alaska Airlines
Miles can be used to upgrade class of service of tickets on Alaska Airlines. This is unfortunately not offered with any partner airlines.
Pricing is fixed at 15,000 miles for a one way ticket between any Alaska Airlines destinations. Depending on available fares, this can represent good value. Note that only economy tickets booked in the higher booking classes (Y, S, B, M or H) can be upgraded this way.
Miles upgrades have priority over other upgrades and are therefore a good choice for those that want it guaranteed. They can be confirmed as soon as a booking is made, unlike cash upgrade offers and elite member complimentary upgrades which are processed closer to departure, depending on remaining availability.
6. Discounts on Alaska Airlines cash tickets
Alaska Airlines operate a scheme called “Money and Miles” where miles can be used as part payment for cash tickets. This is available on any Alaska Airlines flight, in any cabin and priced at the following rates:
– 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
Clearly this is best used where the maximum discount is possible for the ticket price, but even then this is generally not as good use of miles as redeeming outright for an award ticket.
Note that as these are essentially discounts of an advertised fare, the change and cancellation conditions of the original fare will apply even when miles are used.
7. Use miles for hotel bookings
One of the best “non-flying” options for spending Mileage Plan miles is to redeem for hotel stays. This is operated in partnership with Rocketmiles. Miles can be used as payment for any of the hotels which they have available, over 400,000 properties globally. Preferential lower mileage rates are offered for Alaska Airlines credit card holders, and part payment can be made with cash.
Offers vary often and the “value” is usually lower than you can find for flight redemptions, but this is still a good option if you have miles to use. Note that booking can be made for friends and family as well – not just for the mileage account holder.
Rocketmiles offer a wide variety of hotels, including both chain hotels and independent properties. Be aware however that when booking chain hotels this way, any hotel membership tier benefits are not usually offered.
This can be a good way to extend mileage validity. Mileage Plan miles expire after 24 months if there is no account activity, and any hotel booking this way would extend validity.
8. Take out a magazine subscription
Mileage Plan offers the ability to use miles to buy magazine subscriptions in the United States. This is offered through MagsforMiles and is accessed on their specific website.
Offers and pricing change frequently and are best checked on the website. Rates for a subscription range from 100 to 3,900 miles, and titles include National Geographic traveler, GQ, Wall Street Journal, Health and Fortune magazine.
9. Gift miles to a friend
Miles can be transferred / gifted from one account to another. This could be as a gift for a relative or friend for example, or perhaps to combine miles in one account to make a redemption.
There is a charge for making a transfer of $10 per 1,000 miles. It may therefore be better value to redeem miles for an award or hotel for a friend rather than transfer them in this way.
10. Donate miles to charity
As well as gifting to friends and family, Mileage Plan miles can be gifted to charity. Mileage Plan offers a range of charities, including Make a Wish Foundation, Hero Miles and the Nature Conservancy. These can be checked in full on the Mileage Plan website.
There is no charge to make such a donation, just a free feeling of doing good!
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a popular and valuable scheme in many respects. The high value and flexible redemptions on offer are one of the main reasons we rank it so highly.
For regular West Coast and Alaska travelers there are advantages in always being able to use miles for any flight. And for high cost ,short distance peak flights especially these can be great value.
Best value is achieved though with international partners. Redemption rates for many long haul routes are some of the best in the market, and business / first class cabins are often available for only a small amount more. Add to this the flexibility of including a stopover and you can see why this program is so popular with frequent flyers. Let’s hope it long continues to offer the same value!