Follow up to my “What’s a mile or point worth?” post

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).


  1. I absolutely agree on the upgrade to United’s value per mile. I’ve benefited on both fronts you mention… availability recently matched what I found using the ANA tool, and I’ve burned three one-way awards.

  2. If you are PM or DM with Delta low level BIZ seats to EURO are simple. They take work but are simple. As a PM flyer I can change an award ticket as many times as I want. Thus, find any leg from anywhere across the Atlantic. Then work on the trip back let. Then add legs as you can to get to where you want to leave from. I takes me about 4-6 calls per trip but I have done 10 trips now all at the 100k level BIZ seats to EURO!

  3. What are your views on the recent changes at BA with 100% miles now offered on all cheapo-Y tickets and AA/BA now being able to redeem/earn miles transatlantic?

    And also the changes to LHs redemption levels with increases in J and F?

  4. Mixing and matching partners on Alaska was one of my great hopes for 2010 and it didn’t happen.

    I’d still love to see it of course. Love those routing rules on Cathay. And gotta disagree about transatlantic availability — BA availability is across the board outstanding. If you’re willing to pay the fuel surcharges then you can almost always get to Europe and so many ways to do it…

    Alaska will get you to LAX, SFO, YVR, PHX, DFW, IAH, ORD and availability is excellent.

    Availability on Alaska to DCA, BOS, EWR and Florida is tougher but leave out of the midwest or other cities on the West Coast and it’s pretty easy to put together.

  5. Just thought I’d let you know that CO is discontinuing it’s partnership with Emirates on 3/27/2011. So no more awards after that date.

  6. I would agree with you Gary on the transatlantic availability with BA. I find it generally to be excellent with a magnitude of routes and availability in both Business and First class.

    Being based in the UK I’m use to the fuel surcharge (which most major EU airlines charge) and personally I don’t have an issue with it. It exists, they aren’t going to change it, so it’s either a case of accept it or move on.

  7. The claim that UA is not Starnet blocking anymore isn’t entirely true, even as a 1K I can’t get agents to do manual sells on LH/LX flights where I can see from the Expert Flyer and ANA tool that seats are available. The agents keep telling me to go on a UA routing.

  8. so if you live in seattle and end up flying alaska airlines a lot because SEA is a big hub for them, would it make more sense to credit your alaska miles to another airline’s mileage plan (AA and Delta are both Alaska partners…)

  9. Just cashed in 10k Alaska miles for a LKE-YWH roundtrip on M5.

    For those that don’t know, that’s Seattle Lake Union Harbor to Victoria Inner Harbor on Kenmore Air. Get to fly a float plane, roundtrip, to another country, for only 10k miles. The best deal out there IMO.

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