The first thing I’ll say is, “Don’t buy it.” Airlines will sell you lots of stuff for your miles, and in general it’s a bad deal. You probably have $85 in your pocket if you’re a frequent traveler and a better use for those miles. But I’ll explain what you should do instead and why Alaska’s offer could still make sense.
Your Miles Are More Valuable for Free Travel
Frequent flyer miles that are used for award travel have significantly greater potential value if you redeem them for otherwise high-priced tickets. Consider redeeming 140,000 miles for a first class round-trip award to Hong Kong. That’s easily a $10,000 ticket.
You would never pay $10,000 for a flight? Okay, consider redeeming 25,000 miles for a $350 domestic award. That’s much less of a return but also more realistic. Your miles are worth about 1.4 cents each. If you were to exchange 10,000 miles for an $85 PreCheck fee, that would be only 0.85 cents each.
In any case, you can see that there is potential to use your miles for a wide variety of free travel. I think you would be hard pressed to find an award that doesn’t offer better return than complimentary TSA PreCheck. Alaska’s cheapest award starts at 10,000 miles (excluding a few intra-state routes), and most flights cost more than $85.
If You Don’t Want Free Travel, then Free PreCheck Makes Sense
But this deal could make sense if you’re a frequent traveler who doesn’t want to fly any more than necessary. You have thousands of miles and nothing to use them for. You also are passing through the airport on a regular basis. Why you don’t have PreCheck already is a mystery but beside the point. Your miles clearly have less utility, and this would be a good way to put them to work and cut the time you waste in the security line.
There are still other ways to use your miles. One-way upgrades cost 15,000 miles. Alaska lets you redeem them for free newspaper and magazine subscriptions. But that’s about it. You may already get upgraded, and there’s only so much you can read.
Unlike many airlines, Alaska doesn’t have a giant shopping catalog that will let you redeem 200,000 miles for a $1,000 computer — and that’s a good thing, because that deal is even worse than redeeming for PreCheck.
So, given that you have limited options to use your Alaska miles for things other than free flights, and if we assume you don’t want to travel more, I think TSA PreCheck is a good redemption. It also makes your existing travel more pleasant.
How to Redeem Miles for PreCheck
Straight from the press release:
- Email TSAredemption@alaskaair.com by April 30, 2016 with your name and Mileage Plan number.
- Within 72 hours, Alaska will deduct 10,000 miles from your account and send you an email with your authorization code.
- Apply for TSA Precheck and schedule your screening appointment. Customers applying are responsible for ensuring they are Precheck-eligible.
Be sure to take along your printed email and proof of citizenship status. The authorization code in the email will cover the application fee at your TSA Precheck screening appointment.
You can learn more about TSA PreCheck by reading the Alaska Airlines blog.
Should Alaska Offer Global Entry Instead of PreCheck?
I would like to see an option to redeem your miles for Global Entry. This is a more expensive program at $100 but includes a fast track through immigration in addition to PreCheck. But I can think of a couple reasons why Alaska didn’t do this.
- It costs more.
- There are residency requirements that may exclude some customers.
- Even if you’re a citizen, most don’t have passports.
- The application process for PreCheck is easier.
- Alaska doesn’t have a large number of international routes, so it doesn’t match their customer demographic.
These are all reasons to give them a pass. Most of the people who want Global Entry or PreCheck already have it. The challenge now is enrolling the vast majority of less frequent travelers. That might justify opening more PreCheck lanes and reduce security wait times. Even if Alaska isn’t directly responsible for security, unhappy customers might reflect poorly on travel as a whole. The airline has an interest in making every step of the journey a positive experience.
So this play is as much about strategy and politics as it is about rewarding customer loyalty.
Should Alaska Offer Free PreCheck to Elite Members?
The short answer is “no.” Alaska already has a fairly generous loyalty program for people who only fly less than 100,000 miles a year. What would they have to take away to offer more benefits?
United used to offer free Global Entry to its top elites but recently stopped, perhaps for some of the reasons I just mentioned. Perhaps they saw a plateau and didn’t think it worth continuing the benefit. They added a few new benefits around the same time, such as free drinks and snacks in coach.
Delta still offers free Global Entry to its Platinum and Diamond Medallion members, but it comes as a Medallion choice benefit, which means giving up four regional upgrades. Would you be willing to give up your MVP Gold upgrades to get free Global Entry from Alaska Airlines? No thanks. I value my Alaska upgrades much more than $25 each.
So overall I’m glad to see Alaska is the first airline to offer this new perk, and I think it’s a reasonable approach. I’d like to see them at least provide the option of Global Entry instead of PreCheck, but as someone who likes to use his miles for free flights and already has Global Entry it’s clear that I am not the target audience. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.