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.