Alaska Mileage Plan Makes Earning & Redeeming Miles Easier With Latest Changes

Earlier I wrote about Alaska and Delta cutting ties as of May 1, 2017, which will leave a lot of people very unhappy. On one hand I’m surprised to see them cut their relationship, since presumably this will cost Alaska a lot in revenue. At the same time, it seemed to be inevitable, given the number of routes on which Delta and the “new Alaska” overlap, which doesn’t make the partnership all that mutually beneficial anymore.

However, those are only some of the Mileage Plan changes that have been announced today. There’s some other stuff happening, and it’s mostly great news. Specifically:

You can now earn Alaska miles on Virgin America

As of today it’s possible to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles (both elite qualifying and redeemable) for travel on Virgin America. What makes this especially interesting is that Alaska has a distance based frequent flyer program, while Virgin America’s program is revenue based. However, as you’d expect, Alaska Mileage Plan will award miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent.

virgin-america-first-class

Here’s the Mileage Plan accrual chart for Virgin America, which closely matches what Alaska awards for their own flights:

alaska-virgin

Alaska awards now start at 5,000 miles one-way

Previously Alaska’s cheapest award tickets started at 7,500 miles one-way, though Alaska has now lowered that to just 5,000 miles one-way. Flights under 700 miles one-way will cost just 5,000 miles.

alaska-award-costs

That’s an incredible deal, as it means flights from San Francisco to Seattle, and Portland to San Francisco, will cost just 5,000 miles one-way. Given how expensive last minute tickets can be, that represents a very good value.

Alaska awards can now be upgraded

This change was actually announced back in November, and has been the policy since December 5. However, it’s worth a reminder, in my opinion, especially in the context of the above. Economy award tickets on Alaska are now eligible for upgrades to first class, just as any other Alaska ticket would be.

Redeeming just 5,000 miles for a ticket from Seattle to San Francisco and also getting upgraded is pretty tough to beat.

Earn more miles for travel on partner airlines

One of the things that makes Alaska Mileage Plan so great is that they have a unique variety of airline partners, and you can qualify for status exclusively through travel on partner airlines. Given how valuable Alaska miles are, this is a great program to credit miles from many airlines to. That’s especially true if you credit a lot of miles to them. For example, MVP Gold 75K members earn a 125% mileage bonus, and also receive 50,000 bonus miles when they qualify for status.

alaska-partners-1 alaska-partners-2

While the mileage earning rates were great, Alaska has just improved mileage earning rates even further for travel on many airlines. However, the increased bonuses only apply towards redeemable miles, and not elite qualifying miles.

For example, Mileage Plan will award 250% redeemable miles for travel in discounted British Airways business class:

alaska-ba

Mileage Plan will award 225% miles for travel in discounted Cathay Pacific business class:

alaska-cx

Mileage Plan will award 225% miles for travel in discounted Emirates business class:

alaska-ek

These are incredible earnings rates. Given that British Airways often has super cheap business class fares between the U.S. and Europe, you’ll be able to earn status in no time when you’re earning 250% elite qualifying miles on those fares (and that doesn’t even account for the bonus redeemable miles you’ll earn as an elite member).

These earnings rates almost seem unsustainably good. For example, earlier in the year I flew from San Francisco to London to Rome and back, which covered a distance of 12,500 miles. The ticket cost ~$1,150 roundtrip in business class. Under the new system that ticket would earn 31,250 elite qualifying miles, and if you were an MVP Gold 75K (for example) you’d earn an additional ~16,000 redeemable miles. That’s almost 50,000 miles for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe!

British-Airways-Business-Class

Bottom line

While Alaska losing Delta as a partner is bad news, there are some really fantastic changes here. It’s great to be able to earn Alaska miles on Virgin America, the new discounted award rates are great, and it’ll be easier than ever before to earn Alaska status with the new mileage earning rates for travel in premium cabins on select partner airlines. Well done, Alaska!

What do you make of these Mileage Plan changes?

Comments

  1. The special bonuses are *not* elite-qualifying. See https://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/how-to-earn-miles/airline-partners/british-airways.aspx: “Base miles earned and class of service bonuses on British Airways count toward Mileage Plan elite status.” This is confirmed via FlyerTalk.

    Also, did you see that VX miles will convert to AS at a rate of 1.3:1? They’ll announce the start date on 1/9. https://www.virginamerica.com/cms/elevate-frequent-flyer/partners/airline-partners/alaska-airlines

  2. Please let’s remember that the changes are not all positive, Alaska still awards very few miles on cheap economy fares. In fact I consider the changes to be a clear devaluation. LAN for example used to be one of the few airlines that earned full mileage regardless of fare. Alaska just devalued earnings there to 50 percent for the lowest fares. I think Aeromexico also awards 50 percent miles flown for an additional fare class, instead of 100 percent. I just looked at the points guy, and your blog both of which I follow regularly, no mention of these devaluations. Earning more in business class is great, but it really sucks not to be rewarded for economy that travel. I regularly fly in business a few times a year, but also try to choose alaska partners to earn miles. On almost every route LAN, is already more expensive than Avianca or Copa, a devaluation of earned miles their, seems really unfair given that they are usually already the most expensive option. Sadly Alaska is following the trend of rewarding business and first and punishing economy, very sad for the vast majority of fliers in my opinion.

  3. Yes, when trying to book via their website, I am still seeing the old award rates for flights up and down the west coast.

  4. Will the award flights less than 500 miles pricing at 5,000 per way also include partner airlines… or just flights on Alaska metal?

  5. While this is all well and good, I was looking forward to trying to earn Alaska status for use mainly on Delta flights out of NYC. Alaska status in an of itself is no longer really unique anymore unless you live in Seattle. With the Delta relationship gone, NYC and other East Coast fliers now have to make a choice between Delta and American. American has been giving away status recently in promotions, but over the long run Delta is going to win given its stronger route network and on-board product.

  6. Am I reading that right? Is that 350% distance flown for paid EY F — without Alaska Elite status?

    If I am, I can’t WAIT for my flight out of MPM.

  7. Not sure I would call J, C, D truly discounted business fares on BA. Most cheap discounted fares are sold in I class on BA (like most carriers)…

  8. @Lorenzo Haggiag (& @Lucky, if you’re interested):

    I was disheartened by your finding, but I think I have some good news: it seems that the earning rates for economy weren’t slashed, but previously ineligible lower fare classes became eligible for earning at lower rates (for certain carriers) instead. This is borne out in the press release (https://newsroom.alaskaair.com/2016-12-19-Alaska-Airlines-announces-new-enhancements-to-Mileage-Plan) under bold bullet “More Miles,” as well as a comparison between earnings charts cached before today vs. current charts:

    LATAM: X/U/A fare buckets were added earning 50% (compared to previous arrangement where only Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N, Q, O, G earned 100%), https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:CJGRBkqSnH4J:https://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/how-to-earn-miles/airline-partners/lan.aspx+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

  9. @ Ben — Wow, this is truly mind-blowing. Reminds me of the good old days of bmi Diamond Club. 😉 Earlier this year, we flew on BA paid First (A class) ATL-LHR-DUB-LHR-ATL for about $2,500. Now, that ticket would earn 575% (as an MVPG 75k), or more than 50,000 miles, worth almost $1,000 of Alaska miles! AMAZING.

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