One of the concerns I have when an airline loyalty currency devalues is that I might lose the ability to fly with certain partners. That opportunity is not truly lost as I simply need more miles to accomplish the goal, but the new hurdle might be so high that the accomplishment is not as frequent or is simply never a reasonable redemption.
When United Airlines devalued its miles two years ago, many people turned to Aeroplan, KrisFlyer, and LifeMiles. LifeMiles frequently sells its miles at a huge discount, Aeroplan is a transfer partner with Membership Rewards, and KrisFlyer is a transfer partner with both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards. Though switching to another program is not a perfect substitute, these carriers’ award charts still have some sweet spots.
Such opportunities are more difficult to spot with American Airlines. British Airways beat them to devaluation earlier this year and, in any case, was never really a contender for first and business class awards once it moved to the distance-based Avios program years earlier.
However, I think Alaska Airlines may be a good replacement candidate because — although it is not a oneworld Alliance member — it has several of the same oneworld partners as American Airlines.
In this post I’ve compared the award cost for each oneworld partner when booked with Alaska Mileage Plan miles and the award cost booked with American AAdvantage miles. The Mileage Plan award chart is very specific, with different prices for different partners (even if they serve the same regions), so I’ve organized my comparison the same way. For simplicity, I’ve only included awards to/from North America, providing the one-way price. Alaska does have some awards that are located wholly outside the U.S., such as on Cathay Pacific between Hong Kong and Europe, but they are uncommon and not discussed here.
You’ll find that in many cases American will charge more miles than Alaska once the new AAdvantage award chart goes into effect on March 22. However, there are also some cases where American will be cheaper.
If you want to fly to Asia, then you’ll wan to take a close look at using Alaska miles because Mileage Plan doesn’t charge higher prices for travel to Southeast Asia like many other programs. Africa, India, and the Middle East are also good deals but may require a longer travel time because you go through Hong Kong rather than via Europe.
|Asia 1 *||Economy||30,000||55,000||83%|
|Middle East &|
* American Airlines does not permit travel to Asia 1 via Asia 2 on a single award, which is necessary if flying on Cathay Pacific. I’ve provided the combined cost of two awards if using AA miles.
Just finding award space to Australia and the South Pacific can be challenging. Which program you use isn’t normally the top priority, but — as with Cathay Pacific — you’ll pay a lot less with Alaska in premium cabins and a little less with American in economy class.
With American AAdvantage, you will still spend fewer miles if you fly British Airways’ economy class on award tickets, and it is a bit of a wash on business class. Both carriers collect a fuel surcharge so you don’t save much from a financial perspective.
|Middle East &|
LAN doesn’t offer a first class cabin, so I’ve omitted American’s award prices for first class travel to South and Central America from this section. Alaska has a single award price, which ends up making it very expensive for travel to the relatively nearby Central America. For business class travel to South America, however, Alaska comes out ahead.
|South America 1||Economy||30,000||30,000||0%|
|South America 2||Economy||30,000||30,000||0%|
Of course, you can also can book travel on American Airlines using your Alaska Airlines miles. Mileage Plan compares most strongly when flying in first class, which you probably don’t want to do on a U.S. airline because the service is typically poor compared to international partners. (I’d rather save my miles and fly Cathay’s business class than American’s first class, for example.)
If you only look at economy and business class, then American and Alaska are roughly the same, with the advantage going to American on shorter awards.
|South America 1||Economy||17,500||20,000||14%|
|South America 2||Economy||20,000||30,000||50%|
|Japan & Korea||Economy||32,500||35,000||8%|
On average you’ll pay 2% less when you redeem American AAdvantage miles for economy class awards vs. booking the same travel through Alaska Airlines. However, the new award chart that goes into effect after March 22 will cost 14% more for business class and 42% more for first class when you redeem through American.
Keep in mind that Alaska doesn’t partner with all of American’s partners. Etihad, JAL, and several others will still need to be booked through American.
Booking awards on Alaska has both advantages and drawbacks. The negative that affects most people is you can’t mix partners. All travel must be on either Alaska or one other specified partner. Those based on the West Coast or who find award space from their home city usually don’t find this to be a problem, but Alaska’s East Coast network is still growing and can create challenges.
On the other hand, Alaska has a couple advantages to American. You can book stopovers, even on one-way awards, which is something you can’t do on any American award. You also don’t need to worry about American’s silly rule that the over-water carrier publishes a standard revenue fare between the origin and destination city. Why should it matter if Cathay Pacific publishes a fare to Santa Rosa if I plan to board it’s flight in Los Angeles?
As I happen to live in an Alaska hub, where the one negative of Alaska’s rule on connecting flights is significantly mitigated, the advantages of Mileage Plan matter much more to me than the drawback. Still, others may be willing to pay for a separate positioning flight if it means saving a hundred thousand miles on an award trip for two people. And if you need to buy more, Alaska is currently running a great sale through December 23 with prices as low as 1.97 cents per mile.