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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 Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, 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.
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 1||7 Nights + 50,000 Miles||7 Nights + 70,000 Miles||7 Nights + 100,000 Miles||7 Nights + 120,000 Miles|
|Ritz Tier 1-3||350,000||370,000||400,000||420,000|
|Ritz Tier 4-5||470,000||490,000||520,000||540,000|
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:
- Airfare purchases: 5x points with The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases: 5x points with the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
- Office supply store purchases: 5x points with the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (there are lots of non-office related things you can buy at office supply stores)
- Special rotating quarterly category purchases: 5x points with the Chase Freedom® Card (for example, this quarter the card is offering 5x points at restaurants, on up to $1,500 of spend)
- US supermarket purchases: 4.5x points with The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express (though you only earn 4.5x points if you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle)
- Non-airfare travel purchases: 3x points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
- Dining purchases: 3x points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
- US gas station purchases: 3x points with The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express (though you only earn 3x points if you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle)
- Everyday, non-bonused spend: 2x points on The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express, 1.5x points with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (in conjunction with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, these points can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points), and 1.5x points with The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express as a backup (as I try to complete at least 30 transactions per billing cycle)
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.
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.