Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of the most valuable loyalty programs in my opinion. Yes, it has some funky rules for redeeming miles on its partners as well as a complicated award chart, but in general it has low prices for first and business class on some excellent carriers. One Mile at a Time now reports that Alaska Airlines has placed a new cap on the number of miles you can buy from the airline in a single year if you want to top up your account.
I was lucky to have lived in Seattle for nearly 11 years and earned many hundreds of thousands of miles over that time through flights and credit card bonuses. Very rarely have I purchased miles. But the program is so good that there are also lots of people who just buy miles, even though they don’t have status and may never fly on Alaska Airlines.
They just want the miles to book award travel, and who can blame them? The price to buy miles is often as low as 2.1 cents each. If you consider a first-class award to Asia costs 140,000 miles round-trip, plus under $100 in taxes, that is a very good deal. It would require less than $3,000 to buy the miles for a first class ticket. It would normally cost $10,000 to $15,000 for a similar ticket (even business class is normally over $5,000).
Alaska has long placed a cap on the number of miles you can purchase per transaction, but it never limited the number of transactions or the number of miles you could purchase overall. That created an easy workaround. Some people just bypassed the normal fly-and-earn strategy altogether to purchase whatever miles they needed. Unscrupulous mileage “brokers” would sometimes buy miles and sell discounted flights to others.
Until now. One Mile at a Time reports that Alaska Airlines has placed a cap of 150,000 purchased miles per year for members who do not have elite status. This is enough for, at most, one first or business class ticket anywhere in the world. Possibly more if you want to fly coach or domestic. The change is noted in the updated terms and conditions:
- You may purchase and gift Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles in increments of 1,000 miles to a maximum of 60,000 miles per transaction.
- Your Mileage Plan account may be credited up to a maximum total of 150,000 miles acquired through Points.com in a calendar year, whether purchased by you or gifted to you. MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K Mileage Plan member accounts have no annual limit on the number of miles which may be purchased or gifted through Points.com.
Those with elite status will continue to be able to buy as many miles as they want. Why? Alaska Airlines is still likely to make a profit on these transactions, but a loyalty program is intended to be for people who are actually loyal to the carrier. Selling miles to people without elite status means that award tickets are going to people who aren’t traveling with Alaska and aren’t really loyal. Trying to put a stop to it will, in theory, make award travel easier for frequent flyers like me. At least that’s my thinking.
I don’t feel that strongly one way or the other as I never felt I was directly impacted by these transactions. But one example could be the large and unexpected devaluation of award travel on Emirates, one of Alaska’s partners, several years ago.
Many people used to buy Alaska miles for these Emirates awards, and it may have lead to an ultimatum from Emirates that it raise the cost of award travel to keep the product more exclusive. But that hurt those who purchased miles as well as the customers who had been saving earned miles for years. Putting a limit on how many miles you can buy seems like a better solution. If you want to enjoy all the perks of earning and redeeming Alaska miles, you need to be an actual Alaska Airlines passenger.