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Alaska Mileage Plan is fast becoming my favourite airline loyalty programme. It offers a fantastic combination of good earning rates, great partners, and superb redemption sweetspots. Today I’m going to explain how you can leverage a few things to book domestic US flights for as little as 1,539 Points/Miles!
The first thing to recall is that Alaska is in the process of merging with Virgin America. As a result of this, from 9th January 2017, you can transfer Virgin America ‘Elevate’ Miles across to your Alaska Mileage Plan account at a rate of 1 Elevate Miles = 1.3 Alaska Mileage Plan Mile.
You can currently transfer SPG Starpoints (and therefore American Express Membership Rewards Points, indirectly, at half the rate) to Virgin America Elevate at the same 1:1 rate as Starpoints transfer to Alaska, meaning that if you are a little patient, you can get 30% more Alaska Miles by transferring Starpoints to Virgin Elevate first and then across to Alaska at the 1.3 rate later.
Of course, if you transfer blocks of 20,000 Starpoints to Virgin Elevate you get 5,000 bonus Miles (therefore 6,500 bonus Alaska Miles after applying the 1.3 transfer rate) too, which makes things even sweeter! Assuming you do transfer 20,000 Starpoints, you would therefore eventually end up with 32,500 Alaska Miles.
There was a bit of mild panic when the SPG-Virgin America transfer link was briefly taken down recently, with some bloggers suspecting that the ‘loophole’ for essentially earning an additional 30% Alaska Miles via Virgin might have been taken away. Fortunately, it was just a minor technical hitch that was soon resolved, but it does serve a useful lesson – if you want to transfer to Alaska via Virgin America to take advantage of the more generous rate, you might as well get on with it as it will end at some point in the near future.
New reduced US redemption rates
While other airline loyalty programmes sometimes seem to be pursuing a policy of relentless devaluation (yes, I’m talking about you BA Executive Club!!!), Alaska Mileage Plan made a genuine improvement to their domestic US redemption rates recently.
Almost all domestic US flights used to require 12,500 Miles, but shorter flights now start at 5,000, 7,500 and 10,000. I say “start at” because Alaska also introduced an element of dynamic pricing here too – when cash tickets are expensive, award tickets might still require 12,500 Miles regardless of how short the flight is.
It’s not usually hard to find flights for 5,000 Miles though, and the worst case scenario is that you have to pay what you would have had to pay previously anyway, so I definitely see this as an improvement!
You have to be flying on Alaska Airlines flights (not flights on partners like American Airlines) to get the lower redemption rates.
Free stopovers on one-ways
Alaska Mileage Plan is unique (to the best of my knowledge) in offering free stopovers (for as long as you like) even on one-way domestic redemptions. This can be incredibly useful and valuable!
To search for awards with a stopover, you need to head over to the Alaska site, select the ‘Multi-city’ search option and make sure the ‘Use Miles’ box is ticked. Then just enter the details for the flights that you want.
The Alaska Mileage Plan website isn’t great to be honest, so make sure you’re searching routes that Alaska definitely flies (map here) and be prepared to experiment a bit. As far as I can tell, the system really doesn’t like backtracking (eg. Los Angeles-San Diego-San Francisco), but most straightforward routes seem to price fine.
Put it all together
Let’s say you fancy seeing a bit of the West Coast – San Francisco, Portland and Seattle all sound pretty good to me!
The total distance is less than 700 Miles and Alaska serve the routes, so it should price as 5,000 Miles and allow a free stopover in Portland on the way – and that is exactly what comes up when you search:
Note that I chose a 7 day stopover, but it can be for as little or as long as you like.
5,000 Miles for 2 flights = 2,500 Alaska Miles per flight.
Unless you already have Alaska Miles though, you’re likely going to transfer them from SPG (or from Amex MR via SPG), which means you should actually transfer them to Virgin Elevate (unless you need to book urgently) to take advantage of the forthcoming 1:1.3 transfer ratio from Virgin Elevate to Alaska.
That means you only need 3,847 Virgin Elevate Miles (or Starpoints) in total to end up with the 5,000 Alaska Miles required for the 2 flights, so just 1,923.5 Mile/Points per flight!
As you can see in the above example, taxes/fees total less than £10 ($12).
If you have enough Starpoints to transfer 20,000 to Virgin Elevate, the deal works out even better! 20,000 Starpoints gets you 25,000 Elevate Miles, which from 9th January you can transfer into 32,500 Alaska Miles. In other words, when transferring 20,000, each Starpoint can ultimately get you 1.625 Alaska Miles.
5,000 Alaska Miles is therefore the equivalent of just 3,077 Starpoints (when you transfer 20,000 via Virgin Elevate). Divide that between the 2 flights, and your cost per flight is 1,538.5 Starpoints + $6 taxes/fees.
If you do not have any Starpoints (or Amex MR Points) remember that you can purchase them at a discounted rate until the end of the year.
This is just one example – there are plenty of other possible routes, including longer distances for more Miles. Check out full Alaska Airlines route map here.
I’ve always focused on the great sweetspots the Alaska Mileage Plan award charts offer for premium long-haul travel before, but domestic USA short-haul can also be amazing value!
At a time when other airline loyalty programmes are constantly focusing on devaluing, Mileage Plan really does stand out as a breath of fresh air!