With their current offer, you can earn up to 60% bonus miles on your purchase. This promotion is on until May 22, 2021 as Alaska drums up hype in the wake of recently joining the Oneworld alliance, so be sure to capitalize by then if you’re interested.
Buy Alaska Miles with a 60% Bonus
Normally, Alaska Airlines sells miles for 2.75 (USD) cents per mile, plus 7.5% tax, for a total of 2.96 (USD) cents per mile. Luckily, Alaska frequently offers discounts on purchasing miles.
The current offer visible on my account is for up to 60% bonus on purchased miles, structured like so:
- 60% bonus when you buy 40,000–100,000 miles
- 40% bonus when you buy 3,000–39,000 miles
Generally, Alaska’s mileage sales are targeted, with each member eligible for a different bonus. Alaska’s idea of “lucky you” might not be so lucky after all, as some members are only seeing a 40% bonus for any amount of points purchased.
In any event, be sure to log in with your Mileage Plan account to see the exact breakdown of your bonus.
With a 60% bonus, you could buy 160,000 miles for $2,956 including tax, at a cost of 1.85 US cents per mile. Meanwhile, with a smaller 40% bonus, you could buy 140,000 miles for the same price, which works out to 2.11 US cents per mile.
At our current valuation of 1.8 US cents per mile, these prices are highly competitive if you have a specific use in mind.
Historically, Alaska tends to offer bonuses in the 35% to 60% range, although I’ve seen rare offers as high as 70%. If you’re targeted for the higher rate and looking to buy Alaska miles, I’d say this bonus is as good a time as any, and even the lower rate warrants some consideration as well.
How many miles can you buy?
Unless you have elite status with Alaska, each Mileage Plan member is limited to receiving 150,000 miles per calendar year from mileage purchases, whether buying for yourself or being gifted from someone else.
The terms of the mileage purchase limits are a bit unclear, but if you maxed out this 60% promotion, you’d receive 160,000 miles. Therefore, I’m inclined to assume that the limit only applies to base miles.
Which credit card should you use to buy Alaska miles?
Mileage Plan sells miles through Points.com. As you aren’t buying directly from Alaska Airlines, you won’t earn any bonus points for using an Alaska Airlines credit card.
The purchase won’t code as travel for the category accelerator either. Instead, you could consider any card with a high base earn rate, or one where you’re working towards meeting the minimum spend requirement.
The purchase will be charged in USD. To avoid extra costs, you should use a US credit card.
If you use a card with a Canadian billing address, you’ll be charged GST/HST on top of the Tax Recovery Fee, so even if you have a Canadian card with no foreign transaction fees, I’d recommend using it only as a last resort.
Who Should Buy Alaska Miles?
Buying miles can be a good way to top up your account if you’re keen to make a redemption soon.
Booking an Expensive Aspirational Flight
I should note that there’s some uncertainty around the future value of Alaska Mileage Plan. Since Alaska has joined Oneworld on March 31, we’re still awaiting the award charts for redemptions on their new partners’ routes.
However, Gary Leff from View from the Wing quotes Ray Lane, Alaska’s external relations communications manager, that “there are no planned changes to current Oneworld partner award pricing for March 31,” and indeed we haven’t seen any unexpected adjustments yet. Lane also said that any changes will be announced with at least 90 days’ notice.
With that in mind, Alaska’s award chart has some spectacular rates on exquisite first-class cabins.
Compared to the exorbitant cash prices, award tickets can be had for absolutely wild value. 70,000 Alaska miles at 1.8 (USD) cents per mile is worth US$1,260. Compare this to a cash price of US$20,938 for Cathay first class, and you’re looking at the dictionary definition of outsized rewards!
Viewed another way, this redemption would be worth 29.9 (USD) cents per mile, over 15 times the baseline value of a mile – and that’s before considering the option of adding a stopover for no additional cost.
At these rates, it would make sense to buy miles if you have a specific high-value redemption planned. Buying at around 2 cents per mile sounds steep, but not when you’re confident that the value will outstrip the cost many times over.
Even if you’re starting from scratch and need to buy all of the miles required for this ticket, with a 60% promotion the cost of the miles would be US$1,300 including tax, not far off from their baseline value.
Of course, this only makes sense if you can find award space. JAL First Class awards after April 1, 2021 are currently missing from Alaska’s search engine, while Cathay Pacific First Class awards for later in 2021 do appear to be available between North America and Asia, but need to be booked over the phone.
I’d recommend ensuring that you’ve lined up your seats before pulling the trigger on a points purchase.
Quick Top-Up for an Upcoming Redemption
If you’ve identified a good opportunity to redeem your Alaska miles at a value you like, but your account is just shy of the amount you need, you may find it palatable to pay above baseline value to make up the difference.
As long as you’re redeeming above the 1.85 (USD) cents per mile cost of buying with this promotion, you’ll come out ahead.
Even if you redeem for less, it may still be worth it. After all, your miles are useless if you don’t have enough to make the bookings you desire. If the bulk of your miles were acquired at a very low cost, you can still get good value on the average cost of your miles, even with a slight premium for the instant gratification of a modest mileage purchase.
However, generally speaking, if I’m a little short in one points program for a low-end redemption, I’d first look to make the booking with other programs that may offer a better deal, or even cash. I’m happy to keep collecting until I have enough to redeem at a value I like better.
Other Ways to Earn Alaska Miles
Before rushing to buy miles at a promotional rate, I’d look to other sources at lower costs, if you don’t need the miles immediately to make a booking.
Canadian Credit Cards by MBNA
Primarily, Alaska Miles can be earned from the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard, with a welcome bonus of 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first three months. The card’s lower-income variant, the MBNA Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard, offers 20,000 miles with the same spending requirement, and you can’t hold both cards at once.
For an annual fee of $99, the World Elite card represents buying 31,000 Alaska miles at 0.32 (CAD) cents per mile, or about 0.25 US cents per mile. Certainly this is cheaper than buying miles outright, although a much slower path to accumulating a big balance.
US Credit Cards by Bank of America
If you have a social security number, you could also apply for Bank of America’s co-branded cards. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature and Alaska Airlines Visa Business both offer 40,000 miles upon spending US$2,000 in the first three months.
Both cards have frequent credits equivalent to a first-year fee rebate and occasional elevated points offers. Otherwise, at an annual fee of $75, the cost of acquiring points is 0.18 US cents per mile.
Marriott Bonvoy points can be transferred to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus when transferred in chunks of 60,000 Bonvoy points.
At our present valuation of 0.7 US cents per point, 60,000 Bonvoy points are worth US$420. When transferred to Alaska Mileage Plan, this is equivalent to buying 25,000 miles at 1.68 US cents per mile.
This is still lower than the baseline Alaska redemption value of 1.8 US cents per mile, and cheaper than the promotional cost to buy miles outright. Depending on your Bonvoy balance and hotel redemption goals, you’ll have to weigh whether this is a better choice than paying cash for Alaska miles.
Mileage Plan Shopping
You may also turn to the Mileage Plan Shopping portal for bonuses on online purchases at many popular worldwide retailers ranging from technology to sportswear companies. High bonuses can often be found around big shopping days like Black Friday or Boxing Day. In my experience, miles usually arrive within two weeks, although many stores have restrictions for purchases outside of the US.
Alaska Mileage Plan’s 60% bonus promotion on miles purchases is a great opportunity to push your balance over the hump for a dream trip. Make sure you buy before May 22, 2021 to take advantage of this offer.
Thankfully, Alaska has confirmed that their award chart will continue to offer their current unique sweet spots for now, and that they will provide at least 90 days’ notice of any changes to their redemption charts.
That said, if you don’t have a specific redemption in mind given the current uncertainty around travel and any changes to Alaska’s award chart as they settle into Oneworld, you may prefer to go the slow route and focus on credit card bonuses and transfers, and look forward to the next points sale in case a purchase makes sense in the future.