Yesterday I helped PointsHound review Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan and Frontier Airlines’ Early Rewards on their blog, Pointista, to announce their addition as PointsHound earning partners. Since both carriers’ hometowns are competing in the Super Bowl, they’ve also extended the original bonus points promotion through Sunday! You can earn double points when you book a stay of three nights or more.
I live in Seattle and wanted to take the opportunity to expand a little more on the value of flying with Alaska Airlines. The carrier has a large presence throughout the West Coast, but it also provides nonstop service to several East Coast destinations, travels to every Hawaiian island, and partners with a diverse array of other airlines.
Coincidentally, I was seated next to an Alaska Airlines employee at the local Travel Massive event earlier this week. And though I let my MVP Gold status lapse last year for a variety of reasons, I told him I’ve recommended Mileage Plan to people as far away as Florida. Customers who don’t think they fly enough on a single carrier to obtain elite status can credit travel with Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and others to Mileage Plan and then use that status for upgrades, priority boarding, and free checked baggage depending on the carrier.
In other words, someone can earn and benefit from status on Alaska Airlines even if they never set foot on an Alaska Airlines plane.
One of the unique benefits of Mileage Plan is a generous cancellation policy. Any member, even those without elite status, may cancel a ticket more than 60 days before departure and retain the full value for use on a future trip. MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members may cancel tickets even after the 60-day deadline. (While Southwest Airlines has a similar policy, it lacks the premium amenities and extensive list of partners that make Alaska more comparable to Delta, United, and American.)
Mileage Plan offers its customers three elite membership tiers: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K. Qualification criteria for each tier are lowered if customers fly only on Alaska Airlines, or you can credit travel on Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and several international carriers.
MVP — Earn 20,000 miles on Alaska Airlines. If including partner airlines, fly 25,000 miles or 30 segments.
MVP Gold — Earn 40,000 miles on Alaska Airlines. If including partner airlines, fly 50,000 miles or 60 segments.
MVP Gold 75K — Earn 75,000 miles on Alaska Airlines. If including partner airlines, fly 90,000 miles or 90 segments.
MVP members receive a 50% bonus on award miles earned when flying on Alaska Airlines and its elite qualifying partners, but both MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K tiers earn a 100% bonus. Elite qualifying partners, whose flights contribute to elite status in Mileage Plan, include leading carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air France, and Emirates.
All customers may also buy extra miles at a special discounted rate when you book your ticket. This helps you reach your goals sooner to book that next award. And when you’re not flying, Mileage Plan offers the usual online shopping portal and Alaska Airlines Visa credit card, which includes an annual discounted companion fare. The card isn’t terribly special as far as earning miles, but the companion fare is useful. The debit card is being phased out.
Mileage Plan Rewards
When redeeming miles for travel on Alaska Airlines, customers can book round-trip or one-way awards in three tiers, including Super Saver, Saver, and Refundable. This flexibility helps ensure customers can always find award space to reach their destination — at least in principle. I find that in practice it at least works better than Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles, which also has a three-tier award chart.
The diversity of Mileage Plan partners makes it easy to redeem your miles for valuable awards whatever your destination, though it can be complicated since each partner has its own award chart and rules even if some partners serve the same markets. Mileage Plan is also one of the few programs to partner with Emirates, a quickly growing premium carrier in the Middle East with connections throughout the world.
Mileage Plan has reasonable prices for both Super Saver awards and its mid-level Saver awards, offers flights to/from Alaska at the same rate as the lower 48 states, and recently announced a pretty harmless devaluation. If you have the miles, it can be one of the best options for booking some awards.
Other Ways to Book Awards
You can also book awards on Alaska Airlines using miles or points accrued with other partners including American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, and British Airways’ Avios. One of the best values is Avios, which is a distance-based program that can save you miles on shorter, non-stop flights. Chase offers a British Airways credit card for American residents that is pretty good, and you can transfer additional points from Ultimate Rewards.
Guess what? Because it’s a semi-regional carrier, nearly all of Alaska’s flights are non-stop and relatively short. You can travel from Seattle to three San Francisco-area airports for just 15,000 Avios points round-trip. Other destinations may be as low as 9,000 points round-trip. And every Hawaiian Island can be reached for only 25,000 points round-trip. These are typically lower than other carriers’ award prices, and the British Airways credit card also awards more points for every dollar. But, award costs climb quickly if you need to make a connection.
Whenever possible I save my Alaska miles for travel on other partners (like Emirates) and use Avios when I need to book on Alaska. When I do use my Alaska miles, I find Alaska Airlines doesn’t have the best award availability calendar, so I’ll usually start any search on American Airlines — AA.com — to get my bearings. But I think Alaska does a better job of finding the extra connecting flights sometimes necessary to get to my destination.
As a smaller carrier with shorter routes, it’s a little more difficult to obtain elite status and there is often less competition on some routes. Of course, I’m speaking in generalities here. Some routes may be very competitive. But I’ve been able to get complimentary upgrades for me and a companion to Hawaii and Las Vegas even during holiday periods. MVP Gold 75K members get an additional 4 guest upgrades they can use for themselves or others, similar to the systemwide upgrades on other carriers.
There’s even a kind of trick when you book an award ticket with Avios points. For whatever reason, award tickets remain eligible for an upgrade if you also have elite status with Mileage Plan. It takes some effort sometimes to get your BA Executive Club number replaced with your Mileage Plan number (for whatever reason the names on my accounts don’t match) but I’ve been successful at scoring an upgrade more than once. And the upgraded ticket earns more miles!
National Reach, Small-Town Customer Service
People sometimes ignore us here in the Pacific Northwest. The only entertainment is the constant feud between Portland and Seattle, and it took a wedding before I could get any of my friends to visit. But that makes us a tight-knit group. It may not sound like much, but my suggestion is being alone up here helps explain the carrier’s excellent customer service — it’s like flying a neighborhood airline.
Since Alaska Airlines got their start operating sometimes dangerous routes to remote airports, Mileage Plan provides a free and unique program, Club 49, for Alaska state residents that includes two checked bags, two one-way fare discounts of 30%, and exclusive email offers.
On board, Alaska stocks several spirits produced by local Seattle distillery Sun Liquor, which I think are a superior (and interesting) alternative to standard well drinks. And did you know that Alaska Airlines has an entire fleet of specially painted aircraft that go far beyond historical replicas? My favorite is the Salmon-Thirty-Salmon, delivering fresh fish from Alaska!