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If you ran a poll of experienced travel hackers asking about their favourite airline loyalty programme, I am pretty sure that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan would be the winner. I know that Joe has written about it a couple of times because he is a fan. I also can tell from reviewing web traffic to my own blog that most Europeans think “I’m not interested in flying to Anchorage” and ignore the fact that Seattle-based Alaska Airlines partners with British Airways, Emirates, Air France / KLM, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines and a number of other carriers, as well as probably having one of the cheapest reward charts from a major airline. If you work for one of those companies that insist on flying you on the cheapest airline possible, Alaska Mileage Plan is a great way to avoid missing out on valuable miles if you’re stuck on an Air France or Emirates flight you can’t earn Avios for…
But I’m not really here to preach. You either get it or you don’t. I can assure you that I definitely enjoyed every minute of my 15-hour First Class flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (plus connecting flights either end) this past summer. I booked it using 70,000 Alaska miles (bought pre-referendum for less than £1000) and £40 in tax and charges. I made sure to consume more than £100-200 of champagne and caviar…
What I really want to do today is analyse – from a British perspective – the impact of recently-announced changes in the earning rate of Alaska’s partner airlines. You can read about them at this Alaska Airlines website.
New Earning Rates in Business and First Class
Specifically, premium cabins now earn quite a hefty number of additional miles, all of which qualify for elite status purposes. Most importantly, even the cheapest Business Class fares – such as the infamous ex-EU fares we travel hackers love – earn the additional bonus.
But at the same time, Alaska miles are worth substantially more than Avios. You can read Joe’s post, but trust me when I say that Alaska miles are probably worth around 1.5p each, whilst a common valuation for Avios is 1.0p each.
So, let’s look at a random yet typical flight for a BA customer. A cheap Club World flight from London to New York in “I” class would earn you 5,187 Avios (one-way). Crediting that same CW flight to Alaska would now earn you 250% of the base miles, or a total of 8,645 miles. Taking into account the higher value of an Alaska mile, you basically would receive twice the value by crediting your flight to Alaska.
But I’m interested in elite status you might be wondering… OK, let’s look at BA Silver status, requiring 600 Tier Points in a year. If you took two return trips in Club World from Dublin to New York via London, you would earn 4 sets of 40 TPs for the Irish flights and another 4 sets of 140 TPs for the New York flights, making a total of 720 TPs, more than enough for Silver status – although maybe you were cheeky and dropped the last London to Dublin flights 😉 and ended up with 640 TPs…
With Alaska, you would earn 1,250 miles for each Dublin flight in addition to the 8,645 miles for New York. Two return trips would therefore get you 39,580 miles. Not only did you easily pass Alaska’s MVP status (25,000 miles) but you are rapidly closing in on MVP Gold at 50,000 miles.
BA Silver status gets you a 50% tier bonus on a select few airlines (BA, AA, IB) whilst Alaska MVP status gets you a 50% tier bonus on almost all of their partner airlines.
Going for BA Gold? To get 1,500 TPs we’re probably going to need some business travel… To keep it simple let’s stick with 11 Club World flights to New York at 140 TPs each (a total of 1,540 TPs). But if you credit those 11 flights to Alaska, you will earn 95,095 miles, more than enough to pass the 90,000 required for MVP Gold 75K. Obviously if you fly further than the U.S. east coast, you will earn status much quicker with Alaska, whilst BA will still give you those same 140 TPs per Club World flight…
BA Gold status gets you a 100% tier bonus on a few airlines whilst Alaska MVP Gold 75K gets you a 125% tier bonus (you blew past MVP Gold’s 50K requirement a while ago…). Not only that, Alaska hands out 50,000 miles for free, whenever you qualify for MVP Gold 75K! When was the last time BA offered you a valuable gift for reaching Gold?
I know Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan isn’t perfect. The reward chart offers fewer options to Europeans than it does to North Americans. Status with Mileage Plan won’t get you into the lounge before your BA Euro Traveller flight to the Continent. And you’re probably not going to get an op-up on BA without Executive Club status.
But for each Club World flight with BA you’re “earning double”. If you make it to MVP Gold 75K you’ll be given more than enough miles for a free one-way reward in Business Class to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. When you must fly on Emirates, you’re still earning fantastic value. And you can easily just pay for Priority Pass to get into airport lounges.
Are you tempted? I sure am. Perhaps not immediately, but the next time there is another Avios “enhancement” it might be time to move on… In the interim, make sure to have an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account for any Emirates, Air France or other non-Oneworld partner flight that you can’t credit to Avios…