What’s The Best Credit Card For Earning Alaska Miles?

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Update: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express has a limited time offer through 11/1/2017. Learn more about best available offers here.

Reader John asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:

Which credit cards can you transfer points at a good ratio to Alaska Mileage Plan and therefore would be good for someone loyal to Alaska?

It’s a good question, and I figured this was worth addressing in a post for a couple of reasons:

  • Partly because there’s a creative way to maximize the Alaska miles you earn through credit card spend
  • More importantly, just because you’re loyal to an airline doesn’t mean you should collect those miles through credit card spend

Yes, Alaska miles are valuable

I understand why John likes Alaska Mileage Plan miles, and I do as well. Here are just a few of the great things about Mileage Plan miles:

  • You’re allowed a free stopover, even on one-way awards
  • Mileage Plan has generous change & cancellation policies (up until 60 days before departure you can change and redeposit your award for free, and within that timeframe the cost is $125 per person)
  • Mileage Plan has very loose routing rules; you can route from the US to India via Hong Kong, US to Europe via the Middle East, etc.
  • Alaska has some unique airline partners, like Fiji AirwaysHainan AirlinesIcelandair, etc.


Redeem Alaska miles for Fiji Airways business class

Alaska’s credit card is lame for spend

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card has a decent sign-up bonus and offers an annual $121+ companion certificate, which I consider to be a nice perk. So I think the card can be worth holding onto for the perks. However, the card offers a very weak actual return on spend.

You earn three miles per dollar spent on Alaska, and one mile per dollar spent on everything else. There are no other bonus categories, which is lame.

There are better options than earning a single mile per dollar spent.


The companion certificate is useful for travel on Alaska

Why earning Starpoints is a better option

At a minimum, you should be using either the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, which offers a return that’s 25% better.

The card offers one Starpoint per dollar spent. Starpoints can be converted into Alaska miles at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. In other words, when transferring in the right increments you’re earning 1.25 Alaska miles per dollar spent. That’s not an amazing return, but it’s absolutely better than earning one Alaska mile per dollar spent.

More importantly, you also have more flexibility. You only need to transfer the miles to Alaska when you’re ready to redeem, so your points are more valuable in the event that Alaska decides to devalue, since you can transfer those points elsewhere based on your needs. Starwood has lots of other great transfer partners. Heck, you can even transfer the points to Japan Airlines, which would get you cheap redemptions in Emirates first class, which Alaska devalued a while back.


Starpoints give you more options for redeeming miles in Emirates first class

Doing even better than that with Marriott packages

Say you still want to earn Alaska miles. You could earn Starpoints with the SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex. You can transfer them directly, though there’s another option. Starpoints convert into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio, and Marriott points can be redeemed for Hotel + Air Packages, at the following costs:

Hotel + Air Package 17 Nights + 50,000 Miles7 Nights + 70,000 Miles7 Nights + 100,000 Miles7 Nights + 120,000 Miles
Category 1-5200,000220,000250,000270,000
Category 6230,000250,000280,000300,000
Category 7260,000280,000310,000330,000
Category 8290,000310,000340,000360,000
Category 9320,000340,000370,000390,000
Ritz Tier 1-3350,000370,000400,000420,000
Ritz Tier 4-5470,000490,000520,000540,000

Put another way, $90,000 of spend on Alaska’s co-branded credit card would earn you 90,000 Alaska miles. Meanwhile $90,000 of spend on the SPG Amex could be converted into 270,000 Marriott Rewards points, and could be redeemed for 120,000 Alaska miles plus seven free nights at a Category 1-5 Marriott property. That’s a heck of a deal.

Just because you’re loyal to an airline doesn’t mean you should use their credit card

A lot of people take the approach of saying “I’m loyal to X airline, and therefore I should be earning X miles with my credit card.” While I understand how that might seem like a logical strategy, more often than not it isn’t the best option.

For example, all of the above options to earn Alaska miles get you 1-1.33 Alaska miles per dollar spent. That’s decent, but with the great credit card bonus categories out there, you’re really missing out in terms of how many points you can earn.

For example, I’ve written a post about the credit cards I use for each of the major bonus categories, and as I explained, I’m often earning up to 5x points per dollar spent by using the following cards:

Now I’m not saying you should use exactly the same cards as me, but I do think you’re leaving a lot of value on the table by being so focused on earning Alaska miles, rather than taking advantage of these great bonus categories.

Bottom line

Even if you’re loyal to Alaska, I don’t necessarily recommend using their co-branded credit card, given its weak rewards structure. If you’re committed to earning Alaska miles, at least use the SPG Personal Amex or SPG Business Amex, so you can earn up to 1.33 Alaska miles per dollar spent.

But more importantly, consider diversifying your points and instead using cards that really help you maximize your return on spend.

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Comments

  1. isnt this quarter’s Chase Freedom 5x bonus on restaurants and entertainment? I thought grocery stores were last quarter?

  2. May want to break out “cell phone” separate from the “Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases” category. Ink Preferred offers 3x but comes with secondary phone insurance. In fact, one of my employees had a theft a month ago and the insurance claim was just approved for $550 (post $100 deductible). Crunch the numbers on that 2x opportunity cost vs. ink cash and you will agree this is super low cost cell insurance.

  3. Lucky , I believe Alaska finally allows emirates premium class booking, I was able book my self iah to male via dxb which previously couldn’t during their mess. reports from FT also confirmed

  4. Any particular reason you felt the need to mention several other credits with links that have absolutely nothing to do with Alaska airlines or their program in this article?

  5. @ Bill — Yes, as I explained in the post. Because I was trying to show how earning Alaska miles might not be the best option…

  6. I am conflicted about the Alaska Visa card. The 30K points offer sounds good enough I guess but the companion voucher seems to be only for coach class tickets. I would have taken it if it was also valid for first class.

  7. I agree – it sure would be nice if Alaska returned the First Class Companion Fare. They took this away a number of years ago as it was becoming too popular I suspect.

  8. Good ideas. Don’t forget 12.5k British Air Avios for a oneway ticket west coast to Hawaii on Alaska metal. You can transfer Amex MR and Chase UR to Avios

  9. Surely the Alaska CC is good for at least the first year when you get the bonus?

    And after that use the other cards you cited?

  10. I have the Alaska Airlines (Bank of America) Visa Signature card, and as Lucky said above:

    “The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card has a decent sign-up bonus and offers an annual $121+ companion certificate, which I consider to be a nice perk. So I think the card can be WORTH HOLDING ONTO for the perks. HOWEVER, the card offers a very WEAK ACTUAL RETURN ON SPEND.” (emphasis added)

    I grabbed the card to make sure I got the sign-up bonus, ***just in case*** Alaska somehow cancelled all of Virgin America’s cards and turned them into AS cards without a bonus. I love the yearly $122 companion fare, and the savings on that more than covers the $75 AF (for me at least). Plus, as with many other airline co-branded cards, I get one free checked bag on AS and VX flights, and up to six other passengers on the same reservation. (I get additional benefits though my elite status on VX, though who knows how that will shake out in the future.) And while the Companion Fare is indeed for Coach, you CAN stack upgrade certificates on top of the Companion Fare to fly First Class.

    That said, I think Lucky is correct that this isn’t the best option for everyday spend. The only co-branded airline cc I use now is Virgin America’s, and that’s only because Elevate points still convert on a 1:1.3 basis into AS miles — ergo, I’m earning 1.3x on spend. Still not great by any stretch of the imagination, but every once in a while I feel like taking advantage of that “bonus.” Once that “bonus” goes away, that card will be retired to the desk drawer along with the AS card, which I basically use for one r/t flight a year (3x on spend), just to maintain some activity on the account. Otherwise, airline spend goes on a different card(s).

  11. Ok Lucky what if your goal is racking up Hilton Points? What’s the best way to do that?

    Great article BTW and a great look at credit card spend.

  12. Also the BOA Alaska Visa Signature application is complete bs! Their bait and switch method seems like something totally against prevailing policies of competitors but they continue to do it..I applied for the Alaska Visa Signature and they automatically approved me for the seriously crappy Alaska Platinum select card with an absolutely shameful introductory bonus..BOA needs to get its act together..no more BOA support from me!

  13. Um, no way Ben manages “30 transactions per billing cycle for 4.5x” at Grocery Stores on Amex with all his time spent on Planes and at hotels.

  14. Alaska’s Mileage program only requires 70,000 miles for a one-way ticket from the US to Asia (Southeast Asia included) via Cathay metal. Compare that to American’s 110,000 miles for the same ticket. Recently got 40% bonus miles on a purchase during a recent campaign. CC may not be so hot but the mileage program is pretty good IMO.

  15. Until the end of 2017 you can also use the VX Visa Signature card for 1 VX point which transfers as 1.3 AS miles. I agree better ways to earn with air travel (AMEX Plat), other travel (Chase Reserve) and so on. If your goal is to earn AS miles and you have the VX Visa Signature, it’s not the worse option.

  16. @Elsamp123 —> I don’t disagree with you re: not supporting BofA, as I haven’t had a thing to do with them (until this credit card) since 1978, but that said, I was *immediately* approved for the Visa Signature card — no bait-and-switch whatsoever. (FWIW)

  17. @Brenton —> I’ve never understood why people think that because “Blogger X” (in this case, Lucky) “gets paid off said links,” that automatically means the comments, suggestions, advice, etc. in the article is automatically suspect.

    Yes, ***everyone*** (i.e.: the blogger) gets paid if you (i.e.: the reader) CLICKS on “said links.” Don’t want Lucky to get paid? Don’t click on them! It’s that simple. When was the last time you clicked on one? (Personally, I can’t remember when the last time I clicked on one of Lucky’s links; don’t know if I ever did, in fact. Haven’t applied for a credit card since prior to the CSR being introduced, and even prior to that, I rarely clicked on a link but went straight to the card issuer’s website directly by typing (e.g.) “Chase” into the search engine.

    That said, Lucky mentions 12 credit cards, including the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card. They are (in order of appearance):
    — SPG Amex (Personal)
    — SPG Amex (Business)
    — Amex Platinum
    — Chase Ink Business Cash credit card
    — Chase Freedom
    — Amex Everyday Preferred
    — Chase Sapphire Reserve
    — Amex Blue Business Plus
    — Chase Freedom Unlimited
    — Chase Sapphire Preferred
    — Chase Ink Business Preferred

    FWIW, I have only two of the above. Have no intention of acquiring any of the others, except — perhaps — the CSR, which came out *after* I was already over the 5/24 rule. Ergo, I have no intention on clicking any of the above links.

    Rather than finding the comments above suspicious or of questionable worth, I found Lucky’s advice in this specific post to be spot on, and quite valuable. It echoed some of the things I already do, and added some more ideas for me to think about.

  18. @Jason Brandt Lewis

    Ok, agree to disagree. And while I don’t think the overall advice is suspect, I also don’t see a lot of transparency on advising if there’s a better offer available than the affiliate link, nor do I see many bloggers highlighting the merits of cards they don’t get paid on.

  19. @Brenton —> Upon what do we disagree? My main point was, at its simplest, the advice given is still valuable (i.e.: *not* suspect). You agreed with that.

  20. You seem to think people do it automatically rather than based on evidence. I think half the article has nothing at all to do with the headline, and wouldn’t have been included if not for income potential.

  21. (Sorry. Was this written to me, or Lucky? “Do it automatically” . . . do what automatically? I’m confused.)

  22. @Jason Brandt Lewis

    You said “I’ve never understood why people think…”

    That implies all people, or that they do it without reason.

    That’s what we disagree on.

  23. I’d argue the Chase Sapphire Preferred + Freedom + Freedom unlimited trifecta is even better than SPG for earning flights on Alaska. While you can’t transfer Chase points to Alaska, you can book Alaska flights through the portal at .0125 which is comparable to the rate of redeeming the same number of Alaska miles.

    Lots of people only use their debit cards and are missing out on all of the points. They may want to get deeper into gaming points/miles at some point, but just the Alaska card is a great way to go. It’s widely accepted almost everywhere since it’s a Visa, there’s no non-US transaction fees, it has the bags perk and the companion fare, so the $75 is justifiable.

  24. @Brenton —> I think that *some* (better?) people are so cynical — and I admit to being pretty cynical myself — that they approach virtually (better?) everything with such a degree of skepticism that they are prone to discard the entire message, rather than take the time to “separate [and save] the wheat from the chaff.”

    As for transparency,

    1) “In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Please check out our advertiser policy for further details about the partners we work with. Thanks for your support!” (OMAAT, aka “Lucky”.)

    2) “I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).” (VFTW, aka Gary Leff.)

    3) “This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.” (TPG, aka Brian Kelly.)

    4) (Do I need to go on?)

    In terms of whether or not “there’s a better offer available than the affiliate link,” for *me* personally, I think that’s pretty much covered by the “Advertiser Policy” that each blogger has. That is, I am not stupid. Nor do I think that Lucky (or Gary or Brian or Dan or . . . or . . . or . . . ) thinks I am. I *know* that by clicking on that link, the cash register rings in their office. As I said above, I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on any of the links. Why? Because I wonder, if I go straight to the source myself, whether I might find an even better sign-up offer precisely because Chase/Citi/Amex, whatever *doesn’t* have to pay out to a blogger.

    Additionally, I can recall reading many times, from a variety of bloggers, that (for example) the 100,00 point bonus for the CSR is gone, but you may still get it by applying in person. (No link there!)

    Finally, as for your comment that, “…nor do I see many bloggers highlighting the merits of cards they don’t get paid on,” I would simply respond that, for a very, very long time had any links to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, yet it certainly seemed as if every blogger was touting it like crazy!

    Just my 2¢, and worth far less I’m sure. Keep the change . . .

  25. I guess the follow up question would be, what’s the most efficient way to earn Marriot points.

  26. I thought VA Visa card would be the great one to earn AS miles due to VX-AS miles transfer.

  27. @Ozzie —> As i said above, “The only co-branded airline cc I use now is Virgin America’s, and that’s only because Elevate points still convert on a 1:1.3 basis into AS miles — ergo, I’m earning 1.3x on spend.”

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