Alaska Airlines and its sister airline Horizon Air have been a standout in a world dominated by Airline Alliances. Alaska Airlines has ‘gone it alone’ (or with its one sibling) and built up a formidable network of airline partners. This network of domestic and international partners has given Alaska the international connections and access to international routes that typical domestic carriers lack. Other airlines with a primarily domestic network or a small international footprint, have to join an Alliance to get this kind of presence. US Airways is a prime example. Kingfisher of India is doing the same by joining the OneWorld Alliance.

Alaska has an extremely strong presence all along the North American West coast, spanning destinations from Alaska (of course), thru Canada, the Western United States and Mexico. It also has a very decent presence in the US Mid-West and East Coast. Outside of North America, they have no international destinations of their own.

Alaska’s airlines program is called Mileage Plan. It is unique from most other US based airlines’ mileage program. They have not only built a list of Partner Airlines that cross traditional alliance boundaries but they also allow the earning of status miles (called MVP qualifying miles) on several of these partners, both domestic and international. Very few other airlines allow the earning of status miles on non-alliance partner airlines. Alaska also has a very good, broad list of Car Rental, Hotel and other typical partners.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.jpg

Status Miles and Airline Partners:

Mileage Plan almost positions itself as an independent mileage plan that has 15 Airline Partners it allows you to earn miles on. In fact, it lists Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air as two of the 15 partners. This approach seems to reinforce its image as a non-aligned independent airlines miles program that treats all or at least most of its partners equally. In its approach, what you get in terms or earning or rewards when flying Alaska should be no different that what you get when flying say Delta.

It’s list of airline partners is impressive. They include major players like Delta, Air France/KLM, American Airline, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Qantas. Players from both SkyTeam and OneWorld. No Star Alliance, mind you. This Switzerland that neutral, I guess… They also have regional players like Era of Alaska, Canada’s Kenmore Air and Hawaii’s Air Pacific. Now, its Airlines Partners do fall under two broad categories, those that earn MVP qualifying (status) miles and those do not. Please check their website for a complete list of which airlines do or do not.

Alaska awards MVP (equivalent to Silver status) at 20,000 status miles exclusively on Alaska or 25,000 miles spread between Alaska and its status miles earning partners. MVP Gold status is at 40,000 and 50,000 miles respectively.

Elite Status Benefits:

The benefits for Elites are really not much – unlimited First Class upgrades for MVP Golds on most fares, for you and your companion and 4 guest upgrade coupons. Unlimited upgrades for MVPs is only on Y (full) fares. They are promising complimentary upgrades for Elites on Delta soon. Don’t know for what fares yet. The only other benefit is bonus mileage accrual – 50% at MVP and 100% at MVP Gold.

On other partner airlines, there is really no benefit other than bonus mileage accrual on some of the partners.

Earn and Burn rates:

Mileage Plan has decent Earn rates. On its own (Alaska and Horizon) flights it is a 500 mile minimum, a 100% miles earned for all economy tickets and a 50% bonus for first class tickets. For other partner airlines, it varies. Some airlines, like British Airways give only 25% miles for certain fares and a 25% bonus for Business class 50% bonus for First Class. Others like KLM actually has fares that accrue no miles at all. Delta and American seem to have the same earn rates as Alaska itself.

Alaska allows award travel on all its partner airlines using Mileage Plan miles. Burn rates on partners seem to be pretty much in line with burn rates the airlines have with their Alliance Partners. On Alaska itself they are great. They start at Super saver awards at 7,500 miles one way, to flex awards at 17,500 miles one way. The existence of one way awards itself makes award redemptions on Alaska pretty attractive. Redemptions on the two domestic partners – Delta and American are available at 25,000 for domestic round-trip tickets.

All in all, I would rate the earn and burn rates as not bad.

Credit Card:

Alaska has a fairly typical Credit Card offered by Bank of America. There is 25,000 miles and a $99 discount companion coupon new account offer. But it does have an annual fee. Nothing about the card is worth writing home about.

Conclusion:

In a nutshell, Alaska’s Mileage Plan program is great for someone who is unable to align themselves exclusively to the SkyTeam or OneWorld alliance. With partners in both, especially with the ability to earn Status Miles with partners, it makes a great ‘bridge’ option. You can spread your travels across multiple airlines, across both alliances and still do well. For Elites, there are not much benefits, except when flying Alaska or Horizon.

Alaska Airlines is not the only airline with such a neutral, non-alliance approach. Virgin Atlantic, Jet Airways and pretty much all the Middle-Eastern airlines like Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, etc. fall into this category. They have all stayed away from alliances and built a network of ‘best-suited’ partners. I am sure I will write about some of them in the near future.

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Posted by unroadwarrior | 21 Comments

21 Responses to “Alaska Airlines: The Switzerland of Frequent Flier Programs”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BoardingArea, Unroadwarrior. Unroadwarrior said: Today's post on my blog – Alaska Airlines: The Switzerland of Frequent Flier Programs: http://bit.ly/cdHZ4m #airline http://fb.me/tWOz7srl […]

  2. Golfingboy says:

    Nice article, but I would like to correct one statement:

    “Unlimited upgrades for MVPs is only on Y (full) fares.”

    This is not particularly true, MVPs have unlimited complimentary upgrades as long as there is “U” space available at the 48 hours window… When an MVP purchases full “Y” ares and there is “U” available then they will get upgraded at booking. Same goes for MVP Golds on H fares.

    Also, it is worth adding that Alaska just added a new tier [MVPG75K] which is “technically” the equivalent of Platinum [I think it is more of between Platinum on some carriers and Executive Platinum/Premier Executive 1K since you have to earn either 75K exclusively on Alaska or 90K on partners].

  3. unroadwarrior says:

    Golfingboy, thanks for sharing and the clarification on upgrades. MVP75K will be a great addition to Alaska’s elite tiers.

  4. Josh says:

    I’d challenge the statement that nothing on the Alaska credit card is worth writing home about. For me, the 1000 bonus miles for every flight booked on their website with the card is a huge plus, especially since there is no difference between their rates for one-ways vs. round trips. I pick up an additional 50,000 or so miles a year due to that bonus. I haven’t seen that offered by any other card.

  5. gordon werner says:

    Kenmore Air is based in Kenmore, WA (suburb of Seattle)

  6. unroadwarrior says:

    Wow! 1000 miles per booking is a great bonus. Is it for all bookings made on their site or only for Alaska/Horizon operated flights?

  7. Josh says:

    “Every ticket purchase made at alaskaair.com with an Alaska Airlines Bank of America Credit Card.” That’s in addition to the 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska tickets. While I know of cards with more enticing sign-up offers, I don’t know of any airline cards that are better if you live in one of their cities.

    Some details here: http://www.alaskaair.com/as/mileageplan/Bonus-Miles.asp

  8. Golfingboy says:

    Yeah, I love the 1000 miles booking bonuses… This does not only apply to the cardholder, but if you are booking for yourself and someone who has an AS MP account, that person will get the 1000 bonus as well…

    e.g. My sister and I both have an account with AS:

    I book a roundtrip to SEA for both of us with my AS Visa, I will get 1,000 booking bonus on top of 3x miles per $ spent and my sister will be credited the 1000 booking bonus too. Nice perk.

    So if you like maximizing your miles, book 2 one ways instead of a roundtrip, so that way you will get 2000 miles instead of 1,000 :D

  9. Aaron says:

    Don’t forget that there is no milage earning cap to the Alaska Visa. I think this is “worth writing home about”. You are not capped at earning 50,000 miles a year like others. My visa has earned me 80,000 miles in the 5 months I’ve had it.

  10. unroadwarrior says:

    That is a good point. For the United Visa I have, there is no cap too, but that is a benefit only for Elites. For a regular flyer (General Member) on United, there is a cap on miles.

  11. […] Alaska Airlines – the Switzerland of Airline Alliances […]

  12. […] Alaska Airlines, The Switzerland of Airlnes GA_googleFillSlot("ba_unroadwarrior_post_single"); […]

  13. […] Alaska Airlines – the Switzerland of Frequent Flier Programs […]

  14. Mark A says:

    I would also like to add that the credit card gives a $99 companion fare every year, not just for sign up. While it used to be $50, it’s still a great value. The companion fare are both upgradable (for Gold + guest) and can be used for purchased first class fares. Bought two F tickets to the Hawaii (second one was $99) and both of us earned our full mileage, full MVP Gold bonus and full first class bonus as if both were paid first class. That’s 250% miles on a $99 ticket.

    Also, the 75K level gets you a 50K mile bonus (ie free trip to Europe) and complimentary MVP status for the person of your choice. Try that with any other carrier in the US.

  15. […] not recognize Alaska's Elite status. More details on Alaska and it FFP are here in my blog post: http://boardingarea.com/unroad…lier-programs/ __________________ My blog on Airline Miles and Frequent Flier tips: UnRoadWarrior.com is now a […]

  16. […] Alaska Airline: the Switzerland of Airline Miles […]

  17. […] are also cards like Alaska Airlines Visa are worth having since they offer a $99 companion pass. But I am excluding them from this […]

  18. […] respect to the valuation, I must say I find Aeroplan and Alaska miles the most valuable (more than 1.5 cents per mile). Aeroplan has perhaps the most lenient of […]

  19. […] tip is to avoid airlines that do not participate in an alliance – Southwest, Emirates, Alaska Airlines, […]

  20. T.R.W. says:

    I have 40K Alaskan Airlines, 30K Delta, and 75K American Airline miles. Is it possible to combine these miles for a single international flight? For example, 40K Alaskan + 30K Delta for a 70K international Star Alliance flight? Thanks!

  21. unroadwarrior says:

    TRW, unfortunately no. YOu cannot combine miles across these airlines. More importantly, neither of these are a part of star alliance.

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