Sunday, June 2, 2013

Is Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan a good fit for you?

In an earlier post I covered airline alliances and partnerships that allow you to earn and redeem miles between airlines. I also mentioned that there were a few programs that do not fall into the 3 major alliances, but have partnerships with other major airlines. Alaska Airlines' loyalty program, Mileage Plan, is one of these very unique programs that partners with a handful of airlines, even a few in rival alliances.

Earning Miles
You can of course earn miles by flying on Alaska, but you can also credit flights on any of their partner airlines. Some of their partners include AirFrance, Delta, KLM, and Korean Air from the Skyteam Alliance, as well as American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, LAN, and Qantas from the OneWorld Alliance. For those of you lucky enough to be flying in paid premium cabins (Business/First), you will want to consider crediting your flights to the carrier you are flying on, or a member of its alliance as there are quirky rules about bonus miles awarded based on the class of service you fly in.

Apart from miles flown, there are a number of ways to accumulate miles with Alaska. Many of the major hotel groups offer miles in return for stays (though they often replace the hotel points you would have earned). You can also earn miles through all of the major car rental agencies. For those of you really dedicated to your mileage earning, there are also a number of ways to earn points for dining, shopping, or banking with certain financial institutions. 

Redeeming Miles 
This is where things start to get tricky. Mileage Plan is not the most difficult program to redeem with by far, but figuring out how much an award costs and checking availability can become challenging. You can at least check for cost and availability of flights on Alaska, American, British Airways, and Delta on

Flights within the Continental US (48+Alaska) and Canada
For the most part, these flights will cost 25,000 miles round trip in economy. Alaska, American, and British Airways will allow you to book one way tickets at half the cost, but Delta will require you to either book a round trip, or book one way on Delta and one way on Alaska, American, or British Airways. All of these flights can be searched for and booked via the site, so I will not go too into depth on where you can fly. 

Flights between North America and Hawaii
Not a good deal for west coast based flyers, but not terrible from the East or Canada. 
American Airlines

Flights between North America and Europe
As alaska does not fly outside of North America, these flights will have to be on their partners. You can check out the full chart here, but here are a few of the example costs. I will focus on round trip economy class in this section and dedicate a separate section to aspirational premium awards. 

Air France / KLM
American Airlines 
60,000 (May 16th - Oct. 14) / 40,000 (Oct. 15 - May 15) British Airways

65,000 (+High Fees!)
60,000 (only 90,000 in Business!)

Flights between North America and Asia
This is where you might throw your hands in the air and give up! Each partner airline charges differently and they also divide Asia into different regions. Again focusing on round trip economy tickets.

American Airlines 
Japan - 65,000 (May 1st-Sep 30th) / 50,000 (Oct 1st - Apr 30th)
China - 70,000
Cathay Pacific
Japan/China/Korea - 60,000
Japan/China/Korea - 60,000
Korean Air
Japan/Korea/China/Taiwan - 70,000

Premium Cabin Awards (The best kind!)
These awards will provide you with the absolute best value per mile. I will not cover all of these, or even the most complicated, but a few of the more common possible trips to get you thinking. I am skipping British Airways flights as they will incur up to $1000 in Fuel Surcharges on premium cabin awards.

North America to Europe
Air France/KLM Business Class - 100,000 (Possible Stopover in Paris or Amsterdam)
American Airlines Business Class - 100,000 (125,000 First Class)
Delta Airlines Business Elite - 90,000

North America to Asia
American Airlines Business Class to Japan - 100,000 (125,000 First Class)
American Airlines Business Class to China - 110,000 (135,000 First Class)
Cathay Pacific to South East Asia Business Class - 100,000 (140,000 First Class)
Delta Business Elite to Japan/China - 120,000
Korean Air Business Class to Korea/ Japan / Taiwan / China 105,000 (Possible stopover in Korea)
Korean Air Business Class to South East Asia - 110,000 (Possible stopover in Korea)

North America to Africa / Middle East / India
Air France/KLM Business Class - 120,000 (Possible Stopover in Paris or Amsterdam)
Cathay Pacific Business Class - 125,000 (Possible Stopover in Hong Kong)
Cathay Pacific First Class to South Africa - 140,000 (Amazing Deal! ~$25,000 worth of flights)
Delta Business Elite - 120,000 (Possible stopover in Amsterdam en route to Mumbai)
Emirates Business Class to India / Middle East - 145,000 (180,000 First Class)

North America to Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific
Air France Business Class LAX to Tahiti - 120,000 (Can include Alaska Airlines US Flight)
Air Pacific Business Class LAX to Australia/New Zealand Via Fiji - 110,000 (Can Include Alaska Airlines US Flight)
Cathay Pacific Business Class to Australia / New Zealand Via Hong Kong - 120,000 (160,000 First Class)
Delta Business Elite to Sydney - 105,000
Qantas Business Class - 110,000 (First Class 140,000, Possible Stopover in Australia en route to New Zealand)

Who is this program is best for?
If you fly somewhat frequently within the continental US, but never seem to accrue more than 25,000 miles flown on an individual airline each year, Mileage plan may be a good fit for you. It is also much more effective if you are based on the west coast as this gives you the option of spreading your flights across 3 domestic airlines (Alaska, American, and Delta), while still accumulating miles in only one program. If Hawaii is also a favorite destination, Alaska frequently offers sub $400 round trip from the west coast that earn you nearly 5000 miles per ticket and offer a decent in flight experience (and possible $100 upgrades to First Class each way).

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