The Alaska Airlines mileage plan lacks some of the bells and whistles of competing loyalty programs. But if all you want to do is fly—and get solid value for your miles—it’s a great option, even if you don’t live anywhere near Alaska.
What Is the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan?
Mileage Plan is the loyalty program for Alaska Airlines, The fifth largest airline in the U.S. Alaska focuses on the West Coast but connects more than 100 destinations across the country, as well as Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico. With more than a dozen major airline partners, Alaska gives members plenty of opportunities to travel beyond its network.
You earn Alaska points by flying with the airline–a straightforward one mile for each mile you fly, plus more if you’re in first class. You can also rack up miles with partner airlines (though you’ll be forfeiting the points in those loyalty programs), car rental companies, and hotel brands, buying through the Alaska Airlines shopping and travel portals.
Using a co-branded credit card gets you 3 miles per $1 spent on flights (in addition to the miles you get directly from the airline) and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. You can also transfer points from the Marriott Bonvoy and Diners Club programs.
Elite status will give you a leg up on accumulating miles. Alaska Airlines’ program has three tiers, starting at 20,000 qualifying miles.
- MVP gets you a 50% miles bonus, free checked bags, upgrades, priority check-in and discounted lounge access.
- MVP Gold comes with those perks, companion upgrades, free drinks, and a 100% mileage bonus.
- MVP Gold 75K, the highest tier, gives you a 135% mileage bonus, as well as 50,000 miles for qualifying, lounge passes and more.
What Cards Earn Alaska Airlines Miles
How to Use Alaska Airline Miles
Because Alaska doesn’t offer a ton of overall options for using miles, it can seem like a narrow program. But its network of airline partners means that you have abundant choices when it comes to award flights.
- Award flights. Use miles with Alaska and 15 partner airlines.
- Hotel bookings. Book with partners or through Alaska’s portal.
- Upgrades. Move up to first class for 15,000 miles.
- Magazine subscriptions. Get more than 1 cent per mile.
- Share miles. For a fee.
- Donate to charity.
Alaska itself has a relatively small network, focused on the West Coast and Hawaii. But its frequent flyer program punches way above that weight. For starters, Alaska uses an award chart, with tickets starting at just 5,000 miles for a short one-way flight (under 700 miles).
It’s pretty easy to find solid value for your miles. For instance, we saw a flight from Southern California to Alaska that cost $352 or 20,000 miles—a value of 1.7 cents per mile. Other flights clocked in between 1.2 and 1.6 cents per mile, though a handful dipped under 1 cent per mile, poor value.
The value is comparable when you’re using miles to pay for a flight on a partner airline—which, by the way, you can only do through the Alaska Airlines website. Just search for your destination and dates, and the site will pop up available award seats on American, British Airways, Singapore Airlines and other carriers. But miles won’t work on every route with every partner.
Alaska’s is one of the few award programs that allows stopovers on one-way tickets booked with miles, which can be a great perk, especially for international trips.
The airline also offers an unusual Money & Miles option. You can use miles to get a 50% discount on the cash price of a ticket, up to $100 for a one-way ticket and $200 for a round-trip ticket. The discounts cost 10,000 and 20,000, respectively, for a value of up to 1 cent per mile. And you get the same number of frequent flyer miles for your trip as you would have otherwise.
Alaska partners with Rocketmiles to power a hotel-booking portal where you can pay with miles or a combination of miles and cash. You’ll see the same range of choices as on most other online booking sites, but this is not generally a good use of your miles—we’ve seen values as low as 0.3 cents a mile.
Unlike other airlines, Alaska has a simple and transparent upgrade program. You can pay for upgrades to first class from a paid economy ticket, starting at $29 each way for flights that are up to 450 miles long. Or you can pay a flat 15,000 miles. In terms of value that makes the most sense for distances over 2,100 miles, since upgrades cost $199 (a value of 1.3 cents per mile).
You can book your upgrade when buying a ticket, over the phone afterwards, or online when checking in for your flight.
This is a great use of miles for people who love to read. Sign up for a subscription with your miles and easily get 1.6 cents per mile (Allure magazine) and even upwards of 3 cents per mile (Bloomberg Businessweek, which costs $59 a year or 2,000 miles).
Transferring miles to another Alaska Airlines Mileage Plus member costs $10 per 1,000 miles, or a cent a mile, so it’s almost never worth it.
Donate to Charity
You can contribute your miles to various major nonprofits, including the Dream Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, or to Alaska’s programs. There’s no associated tax break.
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is transparent and gives members solid value. Elite status is easy to reach and comes with nice perks, and the airline’s roster of partners means you’ll almost always be able to find a way to use your miles for flights.
United’s MileagePlus program lets members use points to pay for everything from flights to hotel rooms to Broadway tickets. Only a couple of those options are a good value, but the best values remain in redeeming for flights, especially business class, when you can find them.
What Is United MileagePlus?
MileagePlus is the frequent flyer program for United Airlines. United is the world’s third-largest carrier, and is part of Star Alliance, the biggest airline network. United claims to offer the most ways to use points and the most award destinations of any U.S. frequent flyer program.
The most obvious way to earn MileagePlus points is to fly with United and its regional subsidiary, United Express. You’ll get at least 5 points per dollar for that, plus bonus points if you have elite status. But there are lots of other ways to rustel up points as well.
You can fly with partner airlines (from Aegean to Turkish); stay with partner hotel companies (including Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt); and book hotels through the United portal (2 points per $1 spent), Pointshound (2 points per $1) or Rocketmiles (0.8 cents to 2 cents per $1). You can also get MileagePlus points for renting cars from various companies, riding Amtrak, using Quicken Loans or LifeLock and buying through United’s dining, shopping, golf, vacation, gift card, and cruise programs.
The airline’s co-branded credit cards will score you another 2 points per $1 spent with United and less for most other purchases, depending on the card. United also regularly offers ways for cardholders to earn bonus points.
Elite status—called Premier—definitely helps when you’re trying to accumulate United miles. The airline has four Premier tiers, from Silver to 1K; as you climb the status ladder, you get more perks, including free checked bags, upgrades, and up to 11 points per dollar spent on fares.
Credit Cards That Earn MileagePlus Points
- United Explorer Card
- United Quest Card
- United Club Card
- United TravelBank Card
- United Business Card
- United Club Business Card
How to Use MileagePlus Points
There are more than a dozen ways to use United points; most offer poor value, but a few options are solid and a couple—award flights and newspaper and magazine subscriptions—can be outstanding.
- Award flights. Book on United or 28 partner airlines.
- Upgrades. Use miles to buy upgrades on paid tickets.
- Hotel rooms, rental cars, cruises. Pay through the United Hotels portals, at values of 0.5 cents to 1.5 cents per point.
- Merchandise. Shop for hundreds of name-brand products.
- Shopping and dining. Use the MileagePlus X app, get 0.5 cents per dollar.
- Gift cards. Buy e-cards for the equivalent of 0.6 points per mile.
- Experiences. Travel packages, behind-the-scenes tours, and more.
- United Club Membership. A year of lounge access for 85,000 miles.
- TSA Precheck. Cover the application fee with points.
- In-flight Wi-Fi. Internet on United flights for 7,500 points.
- Subscriptions. Magazines and newspapers, many at great redemption rates.
- Transfer and gift miles. A pretty terrible value.
- Donate to charity. Choose from dozens of nonprofits.
There are some big pros and cons to using miles to book United flights—but mostly pros. The main downside is that the airline doesn’t use an award chart, which means that the only way to find out how much a flight will cost in points is to search for it. Even then, prices are constantly fluctuating, so if you come back to the site in a few days, the cost of the flight may have changed.
The biggest upsides are that United is part of the Star Alliance partnership, which means that you can use MileagePlus points to book seats on 28 different airlines. United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for award tickets, even with those partner bookings—which can save you hundreds of dollars, depending on your itinerary.
Finally, and most importantly. you can often find solid value for your miles with United—and sometimes mind-blowing deals.
We’ve had no trouble finding flights that gave us more than 2 cents per mile, including a flight from Houston to New York that cost $329 or 14,500 miles. We also searched for a one-way trip from Chicago to Paris. In cash, it cost $3,207 whether you were flying nonstop or changing planes in Frankfurt. In points, the nonstop flight cost 72,000 miles—a fantastic 4.5 cents per mile—and the layover flight cost just 32,500 miles. That’s about 10 cents a mile, a value that’s practically impossible to beat.
Keep in mind that availability can be spotty. Some routes will have great deals, while others are poor values. United loosely adheres to the notion of an award chart unlike fixed value redemption programs like Southwest or JetBlue. In certain cases, you’ll find award tickets can be much better than paying cash.
You also have to pay fees for award flights; they can be as low as $5.60 per ticket, but can also be many times that.
United lets members use MileagePlus points to pay for seat upgrades on paid tickets. Prices vary depending on your ticket type, route, elite status, and more. On many routes you’ll also be responsible for a co-pay. If an upgrade is available, you can book it when you reserve your ticket or afterwards, and will be wait-listed for the change. If the upgrade doesn’t come through, you will get your points and any money back.
Hotel Rooms, Rental Cars, Cruises
MileagePlus members can use their points to reserve rooms through its travel portals: United Hotels, MileagePlus Car Awards and MileagePlus Cruises. Rates vary widely, from 0.5 cents to 1.5 cents per point. The hotel portal lets customers toggle between cash and points prices, for easy comparison. The rental car and cruise portals don’t; it’s wise to take the extra step of doing a separate search to see what kind of value you’re getting before you commit your points.
You can use your MileagePlus points to purchase items from the United portal–everything from sunglasses to Apple products to Bugaboo strollers. The value is unimpressive, just 0.5 to 0.7 cents per mile.
Shopping and Dining
With the United MileagePlus X app, you can use points to pay for purchases at various businesses, including AMC Theatres, Chipotle, Starbucks and Nordstrom. But you’ll get poor value this way: just 0.5 cents per point.
Through the United site, you can use MileagePlus points to buy electronic gift cards from brands including eBay, Macy’s, Home Depot, and Lululemon. They offer poor value as well—0.6 cents per point.
United has three different ways to use miles on experiences. Through the Exclusives program, you can buy or bid on trips, event tickets, and some very special-access experiences like the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Summer Olympics or meet-and-greets with Broadway stars. Many of them are sold through auctions. There are also a lot of packages that include “priceless” components—not worth an infinite amount of money, but unavailable on the open market, so without a price tag—which also makes calculating values tough. Our advice is to set a maximum price you’d be willing to pay for an experience, translate that into points using a strong value (at least 1.5 points per dollar), and act accordingly.
You can also use points to buy tickets to selected Broadway shows, operas and other performances in New York. Expect to get 0.7 cents to 1 cent per point this way. For instance, we saw $78 tickets for Blue Man Group going for 11,000 points apiece—about 0.7 cents a point. Jersey Boys fans could get almost 1 cent per point for orchestra seats.
If rock concerts and sporting events are more your speed, you can use points to buy seats through MileagePlus Event Awards, a partnership with Tickpick. The selection is enormous, and you’ll get about 0.75 cents per point—not amazing, but better than buying a gift card.
United Club Membership
United has 45 airport lounges around the world that offer free drinks and snacks, high-speed Wi-Fi and other amenities. You can buy annual access for $650 or 85,000 miles—about 0.8 cents per point.
Use your points to cover the $85 application fee, a value of 0.9 cents a mile.
Instead of paying per-flight for internet access, you can purchase a subscription that lets you connect on any Wi-Fi-equipped United or United Express flight. Pricing for North and Central America starts at $49 or 7,500 miles, a value of about 0.7 point per mile.
Like many other loyalty programs, United MileagePlus lets you use points to buy newspaper and magazine subscriptions. This can be an excellent value—a Bloomberg Businessweek subscription costs $75, but in miles it’s 16,000 miles or 5 cents a mile. Allure magazine gives you a value of about 2 cents a mile. And a 39-week print subscription to The Wall Street Journal 3,240. Compared to the retail of $81 a month that’s a value of 2.5 cents per mile.
Transfer to Friends and Family
You can transfer points to other MileagePlus members, with a minimum of 500 points, but it will cost you—$7.50 for every 500 points you want to move, PLUS a $30 transaction fee. That’s super-steep, and almost never worth it.
Donate to Charity
Southwest partners with several charities, including the Guide Dogs of America, Americares Foundation, Clean the World. The minimum donation is 1,000 miles, and there is no associated tax break.
United has one of the better airline loyalty programs, thanks in part to its participation in Star Alliance—you’ll usually be able to book a trip with miles, and often at good value. Most of the other options are fun but not terribly wise. Stil, if you happen to get a big windfall, there are worse ways to use them than to see the Olympics.
The strength of TrueBlue Rewards is in its simplicity. It’s relatively easy to rack up points—especially with the branded credit card—and they can be pooled with friends and family members for free. But there are limited ways to use rewards, and the number of points needed to book a flight is tied to its dollar price, so you won’t find any amazing deals or sweet spots.
What Are TrueBlue Rewards?
TrueBlue Rewards is the loyalty program for low-cost, high amenity airline JetBlue. It’s relatively new because JetBlue only started operating in 1999—but just three years later, Condé Nast Traveler readers named it the best airline in the country.
The main drawback of TrueBlue Rewards is that the points aren’t that many ways to spend them. On the upside, it’s easy to rack them up, there are truly no blackout dates for JetBlue flights, and elite status comes with practical perks like waived change and cancellation fees, free checked bags and complimentary drinks.
The easiest way to earn JetBlue points is by flying with the airline. If you book directly you’ll receive at least 6 points for every dollar you spend; members with Mosaic status earn 3 extra points, for a total of 9 points per dollar—and that’s before using one of the airline’s credit cards. (You reach Mosaic status by flying 30 segments and earning 12,000 base points or by earning 15,000 base points in a calendar year.)
JetBlue’s branded credit cards will get you an additional 6 points for every dollar spent on the airline—or a potential total of 15 points per dollar for those Mosaic members.
Flying with a JetBlue partner, including Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines, Icelandair, JetSuite X, Silver Airways, Singapore Airlines, and South African Airways also gets you points. Rates vary by carrier and booking class. You can eat at TrueBlue Dining restaurants, or shop through the airline’s portal or in-flight on Amazon.
Finally, you can transfer points to TrueBlue from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and various hotel loyalty programs. Many programs transfer at a 1:1 rate, while Amex transfers at 1.25:1. Promotions can substantially boost your transfer rate.
The points pooling program makes it easy (and free) to combine points. It’s an especially handy perk for families.
What Cards Earn TrueBlue Points
How to Use TrueBlue Rewards
TrueBlue doesn’t offer as many ways to redeem your points as many other loyalty programs. Then again, the process is also relatively straightforward and you’ll generally get solid value for points. Redemption rates are tied to prices, so you’re not going to find any spectacular deals.
Here are all the ways you can use TrueBlue points:
- JetBlue flights. You can pay for any available seat with points, typically around 1.4 cents per point.
- JetBlue vacation packages. For bundles that include flights and hotels, you can usually count on 1.3 to 1.5 cents per point in value.
- Upgrades. Mosaic Members can upgrade from economy to premium economy seats at great rates—a value of up to 5 cents per point.
- Book on Hawaiian Airlines. Use TrueBlue points to book flights on Hawaiian, with one-way flights starting at 6,000 points.
- Magazine subscriptions. Choose from over 20 magazines, for 400 to 3,200 points.
- Share with friends and family. Pool your points with other members to get more redemption options. You can also transfer points for a fee.
- Donate to charity. Choose from 18 different nonprofits. Minimum is 500 points.
This is often the best use of TrueBlue points. While the amount of value you’ll get from using points to buy flights varies slightly, it’s tied to the dollar price of the flight. You can generally count on getting 1.4 cents per point and sometimes more when booking Mint business class. In contrast to many other loyalty programs, generally the less expensive the flight, the more value you’ll get from your points.
One of the best parts of this program is that there are no blackout dates. Unlike with many other airlines, which make it difficult or even impossible to find award tickets, you can pay for any available JetBlue seat with points.
If you’re flexible with your travel dates, the Best Fare Finder can help you find cheaper seats, which translates into spending fewer points. It’s worth noting that JetBlue charges a small fee ($5.60) for domestic award tickets, and international fees vary.
JetBlue Vacation Packages
JetBlue vacation packages are bundled deals that include airfare and accommodation. JetBlue currently offers vacation packages in the U.S., Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, and a few locations in South America. You can use cash, TrueBlue points or a combination of points and cash to pay for them—but if you use a points and cash, you won’t receive your 6 bonus TrueBlue points per dollar.
Vacation packages can offer substantially better value than using your points for flights alone. For example, round-trip flights for two from New York to Bermuda plus a five-night stay at the Coco Reef Bermuda recently cost $1,728 through JetBlue Vacations. Priced separately, the trip would cost $2,477, so the package saves $749. If you paid for part of the package with points, it would cost 21,200 points plus $1,351.55. This gives you a value of 1.8 cents per point. Quite good!
If you’re a Mosaic member, you can use points to unlock flight upgrades, though only from regular economy to Even More Space seats. The upgrade cost varies depending on the length of the flight, as does the price in points. A $10 seat upgrade costs 200 points, $25 seat upgrades cost 300 points, $45 seat upgrades cost 500 points, and $90 seat upgrades cost 1,000 points. You’ll get at least 5 cents per point by doing this, so it’s an excellent use of your TrueBlues.
Book Flights on Hawaiian Airlines
Though you can earn TrueBlue points on 11 partner airlines, including Emirates, Aer Lingus and Icelandair, the only other airline you can use the points on is Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian operates in over 30 destinations across 8 countries, expanding your options for award flight destinations. JetBlue now publishes an award chart for Hawaiian Airlines flights, with economy flights ranging from 6,000 (internal Hawaii flights) to 50,000 for international destinations, and business flights ranging from 12,000 to 120,000 points.
This award chart has the potential to be lucrative, but there’s no guarantee that award seats are available. There’s also a hassle factor—you have to call JetBlue to book a Hawaiian Airlines flight using TrueBlue points.
You can redeem your TrueBlue points for subscriptions to more than 20 national magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens, Bloomberg Businessweek, and People. A subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek will cost you $70 for 50 issues, but only 1,600 points, giving you a value of 4.4 cents per point. This is actually a great value—we just wish it applied to flights.
Pooling and Transferring to Friends and Family
JetBlue lets up to seven members group together to share their points free of charge, which is simpler and more transparent than the transfers most other loyalty programs offer. You don’t need to check different account balances or wait for transfers to go through—everything is available at a glance in your TrueBlue account. It’s especially useful for (but not limited to) families, and makes it worthwhile to sign your kids up for TrueBlue membership. Only the Pool Leader can use all the points; make sure it’s someone you trust.
TrueBlue points can also be transferred from member to member outside of your Friends and Family pool for a fee of $12.50/1,000 points.
Instead of redeeming your points for awards, you can make a difference with them by donating them to one or more of the charities JetBlue has partnered with, including the American Red Cross, Wildlife Conservation Society and Make-A-Wish. The minimum donation is 500 points, the maximum is 500,000 and there are no fees—but also no tax breaks.
While it may not offer great deals like some competitors, TrueBlue also provides solid value for its points across all of its redemption options. The program is simple and straightforward, and regular JetBlue customers can easily collect a lot of points.