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Last week Alaska launched a Mystery Bonus for purchases of Alaska Mileage Plan miles. The bonuses are specific to individual accounts. You earn between 35% and 50% bonus miles when you buy Alaska miles.
Ben went over the details of the promotion last week, so I won’t rehash whether or not this is a good deal in general. I did, however, want to draw attention to the types of people who should consider buying miles — and those who shouldn’t.
Those who can pay for flights, but would like to save money
Let’s say you’re looking at taking a honeymoon or anniversary trip to the Maldives, for instance. Checking random dates in April, business class fares from New York are at least $4,500 per person:
Flights on Emirates, which has a great business class product on their A380, start at ~$5,000, but you’re looking at ~$6,000 for the one-stop routings through Dubai:
If you wanted to use Alaska miles to the Maldives, you’d pay the following amounts for business class flights on Alaska partners:
- Cathay Pacific // 100,000 miles round-trip
- Emirates // 165,000 miles round-trip
- Korean Air // 120,000 miles round-trip
Worst case, if you’re buying miles with a 40% bonus for a round-trip flight on Emirates business class, you’d be paying ~$3,500. With a 50% bonus for flights on Cathay Pacific, you’d be paying less than ~$2,000.
Either way, that’s a significant savings over retail.
Those who can’t avail themselves of credit card bonuses
While the best way to accumulate miles right now is still through leveraging credit card bonuses, that’s not an option for everyone.
By strategically purchasing miles, you get access to the award charts of the more generous mileage programs. It’s not as lucrative as the miles that can be earned with a credit card, but it can still be better than cash.
You’ll get the best bang for your buck with international premium cabin travel, but there are definitely some domestic economy routes where redeeming purchased miles can be a better value proposition than buying tickets outright.
I’ve used 7,500 Alaska miles to buy tickets for my nieces between their smallish city and the nearest major airport that would otherwise cost upwards of $200, for example. Buying miles during this promo makes that flight ~$150, and a $50 savings per ticket definitely adds up for family travel!
There are tons of similar examples, so I’d suggest looking at your travel goals, determining what you’re prepared to pay, and seeing how some discounted miles could change the equation.
Australians, Australians, Australians
Speaking of Qantas, Australians get one of the worst deals when it comes to frequent flyer programs (New Zealanders aren’t far behind). You also pay more for long-haul airfare in general, and I really do empathize.
Buying Alaska miles can be a phenomenal deal in comparison due to their partnership with Cathay Pacific.
This is one of the rare partnerships where you can redeem for award flights that don’t “touch” North America. Look at the one-way redemption costs for flights on Cathay Pacific:
- Australia/New Zealand to Hong Kong // 30,000 miles in business class
- Australia/New Zealand to continental U.S. via Hong Kong // 60,000 miles in business class
- Australia/New Zealand to India via Hong Kong // 60,000 miles in business class
- Australia/New Zealand to Europe via Hong Kong // 72,500 miles in business class
- Australia/New Zealand to Africa via Hong Kong // 72,500 miles in business class
Let’s say you wanted to go to London from Sydney. You will generally pay at least $1,000 in economy, and upwards of $3,500 for business class (and that’s only if you luck out). A quick glance at fares for next year shows Cathay Pacific business class flights starting at $16,000!
In comparison, the 145,000 Alaska miles required are a phenomenal value. If you were targeted for the 50% bonus, you’d spend ~$2,900 to purchase the needed miles. With a 40% bonus, you’d spend ~$3,045.
Make sure you check availability ahead of time though. School holidays and Chinese New Year tend to have extremely limited award space, but other times of year can have 5+ business class seats per flight. Particularly if you can plan in advance.
Don’t buy miles if you don’t know what you’re doing
If you aren’t sure if this is a good deal for you, if you don’t know what your travel plans are, if you haven’t considered the flexibility required for leveraging award tickets, if you have a history of letting miles expire, if you don’t know what award space looks like for your dates — stop.
This deal might not be for you, at least not right now.
By all means sign up for an account so you’re eligible for the next promotion, but you can sit this one out without feeling guilty.
Of course there’s some calculus involved in accounting for the miles you’re not earning, and you of course want to make sure there’s actually award availability around your dates. But for many people, this can be a fantastic way to splurge on a more comfortable flight while saving quite a bit over the retail cost.
Keep in mind, Alaska mileage purchases are processed by points.com, and don’t count as airfare for your credit card.
If you buy miles you’ll want to first use a card where you’re meeting minimum spend, and then use a card which maximizes your return on everyday, non-bonused spend.
Have you purchased Alaska miles? How did you use them?