About six months ago I wrote a post entitled “What’s a mile or point worth?” The post generated quite a bit of interest, and ultimately some completely agreed with my analysis, some moderately disagreed with me, and some thought I was out of my mind.
Anyway, I suggest going back and reading that post, as I’m not going to regurgitate it all here. I would, however, like to point out a few changes in the value of mileage currencies over the past six months, or perhaps some programs that I feel differently about now compared to then. While I won’t attach a new upwards or downwards “cent per mile/point” value, I do think several mileage currencies have appreciated or depreciated substantially.
The first program I feel differently about is Alaska’s Mileage Plan. This is the one currency where there haven’t been any actual changes, but I just feel differently about the program now than six months ago. Theoretically, Alaska Airlines miles are very valuable. They have dozens of top notch partners, but the lack of availability on certain routes along with their rules make the miles worth substantially less than they could be.
First, Alaska Airlines doesn’t allow you to mix partners on an award ticket. You can fly Alaska Airlines to a gateway, but all of your travel has to be on a single partner airline. The really, really strong point in the Alaska Airlines program is their partnership with Cathay Pacific. Cathay Pacific has excellent award availability, even in first class, and it’s only 140,000 miles to Asia roundtrip in first class, and you’re even allowed a stopover. The value is even better on awards to India, Africa, and Australia, since you can route via Hong Kong for all of those. There are also some decent options on LAN, the top airline in South America. But that’s where the fun stops.
Alaska partners with Qantas. Good luck finding a first or business class award with them. And unfortunately the worst region to try and get an award to is Europe, amazingly enough. Even though they partner with airlines like Air France, American, British Airways, and Delta, it’s almost impossible to piece together an award nowadays. Air France award availability isn’t great, and that problem is only made worse by Alaska not having very good award availability anymore domestically. So while you can theoretically take Alaska to gateways like Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, etc., in order to catch an Air France flight, good luck finding the domestic award availability on Alaska. Starting next summer Air France is flying the A380 to Washington, which means there’s tons of award space on them in business class, though unfortunately there’s no practical way to get there on Alaska from Seattle — you can fly their nonstop into Reagan, but due to the timing of the flight an overnight and airport transfer is required, not to mention availability is almost impossible to come by.
Good luck finding a saver award in first or business class nowadays on American or Delta at the “saver” level, which is what Alaska Airlines requires to be available. It’s not that it’s impossible, but it’s just not happening over summer (while it’s a walk in the park through Star Alliance).
Alaska also imposes fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways, but again, getting to the actual airline gateways is a challenge in and of itself, if there’s no space on Alaska.
So my point is, Alaska Airlines miles can be worth a lot, especially if you’re redeeming for flights on Cathay Pacific, where it’s an absolute bargain. But aside from that, unfortunately, Alaska miles might just be less useful than Delta SkyPesos (yes, that’s a bold statement, and maybe a bit of a stretch). The value of their miles would go up exponentially if they just allowed partner airlines to be mixed on a single award. So I think I overvalued Alaska miles in my original analysis.
Now, let’s talk a bit about some of the programs where we’ve seen actual changes in the value of miles. United miles are much more valuable than what I previously valued them at. They haven’t engaged in Starnet blocking for quite a while now (whereby they block partner award space), and they allow one way awards, which is a huge benefit, especially since it didn’t come at the expense of a stopover on a roundtrip award ticket. So I’d argue that United miles are actually worth more than Continental and US Airways miles now.
Speaking of US Airways, their miles are definitely worth less than six months ago. They have started engaging in Starnet blocking, whereby they block partner award space. As of now it’s still fairly easy to find an agent willing to do a”manual sell” (whereby you can get the space that is being blocked), though who knows for how much longer that will be the case.
And the last program that’s worth mentioning in this post is American Express’ Membership Rewards. I suppose the value of those points will be decreasing marginally next October, as Continental will be ending their partnership with American Express. Now, in most cases you’re better off transferring your Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan or ANA, though there are some cases where Continental was the way to go (like the Middle East, Africa, and awards on Emirates).