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Alaska Airlines Rewards: High-Value Miles

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Alaska Airlines: High-Value Miles

Travelers love Alaska Airlines, and not just because of the complimentary in-flight Starbucks — it’s also because its miles are some of the most valuable around. Here’s what you need to know before you sign up for the loyalty program.

Alaska Airlines Miles: The basics

NerdWallet values Alaska Airlines miles at 1.3 cents each, making it one of the highest-value airline rewards we’ve reviewed. Because Alaska does awards pricing based on which region you’re flying to, it’s also possible to redeem strategically — say, for expensive, long-haul flights — to get the most out of your miles. You can earn miles for signing up for the Alaska Airlines membership program, which is free. From there, you can qualify for elite status based on how frequently you fly.

Mileage Plan — free to join

  • Earn one mile per mile flown on Alaska. Partner carriers may award miles based on cost of ticket. You can also earn 25% to 75% in bonus miles, depending on which class of service and cabin you reserve.

MVP — 20,000 miles flown on Alaska or 25,000 miles flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines or 30 segments (arrivals and departures) flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines.

  • Earn Mileage Plan miles, along with a 50% bonus.

MVP Gold — 40,000 miles flown on Alaska or 50,000 miles flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines or 60 segments flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines.

  • Earn Mileage Plan miles, along with a 100% bonus.

MVP Gold 75K — 75,000 miles flown on Alaska or 90,000 miles flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines or 90 segments flown on Alaska and elite qualifying partner airlines.

  • Earn Mileage Plan miles, along with a 125% bonus.
  • If you log 1,000,000 miles on Alaska, you get lifetime MVP Gold status.

How to get more Alaska Airlines Miles

With Alaska Airlines, you can earn miles by booking flights. You can also get up to 5,000 bonus miles just by printing out your bag tags at home. Here’s a list of other ways you can earn rewards.

Alaska also sells miles, but at an expensive 2.75 cents each, they’re usually not worth the cost.

How to redeem Alaska Airlines Miles

Good redemption options

Because the rewards price of a flight depends on the region you’re flying in, you get the most for your money by using rewards on otherwise expensive trips. Say you’re getting a first-class round trip in the continental U.S. or Canada — that’s 50,000 miles, no matter how you cut it. If the ticket costs $1,000 or more in cash, that would be an excellent opportunity to spend your miles instead, because you’d get 2 cents per mile or more and save money. If it costs, say, $500, you’d probably be better off paying another way. Among the flights surveyed, international flights also got slightly better values than domestic ones.

Aside from award flights, you can also cash in your miles for magazine subscriptions for a surprisingly competitive value, too — in some cases, as much as about 4.5 cents per mile.

Bad redemption options

As a general rule of thumb, if a flight costs less that $250, no matter what region you’re in, you’re better off paying for it with cash or credit, not rewards. It’s unlikely that you’d get more than a 1 cent per mile in value from a transaction like this. To avoid wasting points, divide the dollar cost of the flight by the mile cost. If it’s less than 0.01 – that is, 1 cent – it’s probably a better idea to save your rewards for a different trip.

While the Money and Miles payment option, which lets you pay partially with miles, partially with money, promises convenience, it also offers relatively poor value. For flights in the continental U.S. and Canada, for instance, you can get a $100 discount for 10,000 miles, or a $200 discount for 20,000, effectively getting you a maximum of 1 cent per mile. The flexibility is nice, but you can do better.

Fine print

  • Your miles will expire if an account is left inactive for the first nine months after opening, or for more than 24 calendar months. If this happens, you can reclaim your rewards for a $75 fee.

›› MORE: Reviews of major rewards programs

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

For our calculations, we sampled 10 popular airline routes — five domestic and five international — for both economy and business/first class flights. These are the routes we used:

  • LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Miami International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
  • O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to LaGuardia Airport in New York City
  • Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City
  • Miami International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to London Heathrow Airport
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport to Paris Orly Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport to Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, serving the Seoul area
  • Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, to London Heathrow Airport
  • Miami International Airport to Toronto Pearson International Airport

For domestic flights, the miles value ranged from 0.6 to 1.8 cents. For international flights, the miles value ranged from 0.2 to 2.6 cents each. The average value of a mile was 1.3 cents.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cents per mile

For magazines, we divided the point cost of the magazine subscription by the dollar cost listed on Amazon.

Current as of 9/8/15.

Claire Davidson is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.


 

Image via iStock.