There’s one frequent flyer program that most Canadians aren’t aware of, and yet from which many could stand to benefit. I’m talking, of course, about Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
With easy ways to earn points and truly outstanding redemption opportunities – some of the best around – Mileage Plan is a program every Canadian traveller should have on their radar.
Alaska Airlines is one of the few American airlines that issues a Canadian credit card, which is intriguing since they fly to fewer Canadian airports than any of United, American, or Delta.
The MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite MasterCard offers 30,000 Mileage Plan miles upon spending $1,000 in the first three months. The annual fee is $99, but this is partially offset by signing up for the card through Great Canadian Rebates, which gives you $50 back. Therefore, the net cost is $49, and for 30,000 miles that’s unbeatable value.
Meanwhile, the MBNA Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus MasterCard offers 20,000 Mileage Plan miles upon spending $1,000 in the first three months. The annual fee of $75 is offset by a $50 credit through GCR as well, making the net cost $25.
You used to be able to get multiple MBNA Alaska cards at once, though that’s no longer possible. You can, however, cancel your card and reapply to attain the signup bonus again, and this can help you rack up lots of Alaska miles.
Another way to earn miles is through Marriott Bonvoy: Mileage Plan is one of the airline transfer partners, which means that 60,000 Bonvoy points can be transferred into 25,000 miles.
Lastly, you can of course earn miles by flying on Alaska Airlines or their partner airlines. Despite their name, the airline’s primary hub is in Seattle, from which they fly to Vancouver and Calgary. Click here to see the earnings charts.
Here’s where things get fun: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is just such a unique program when it comes to redeeming points.
Because its partnerships with other airlines are based on individual partner agreements, rather than being a part of an alliance (like Star Alliance or OneWorld), Mileage Plan offers a lot more versatility than your average frequent flyer program.
However, the downside of this is twofold: awards with different partner airlines are priced differently, and you can’t mix and match partners on the same award ticket.
That means that if you wanted to redeem Alaska miles for travel on Cathay Pacific, you can’t include segments on American Airlines on the same ticket. You can only mix partner flights with segments on Alaska Airlines itself.
The other killer perk of Mileage Plan is that stopovers on one-way awards are allowed, which supercharges the versatility of the program by a huge margin.
Since there’s no universal award chart, bookmark this page to see the mileage requirements for your intended trip, sorted by geographic regions and airline.
With the basics out of the way, let’s run through some of the best sweet spots in Alaska’s partner award charts.
Naturally, the best value will be derived from the highest echelons of award travel: premium cabin flights on outstanding airlines. The prime examples of these are Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Emirates.
Read more: 9 Sweet Redemptions with Alaska Mileage Plan
A one-way trip from North America to Asia on Cathay Pacific goes for 50,000 miles in Business Class and 70,000 miles in First Class. This includes a free stopover in Hong Kong.
The funny thing is that a one-way trip from the US to Africa is also 70,000 miles in First Class. While Cathay Pacific no longer operates First Class on the Hong Kong–Johannesburg segment, an extra 12-hour flight in business class for no additional mileage cost is one hell of a deal.
On Japan Airlines (JAL), a one-way trip from North America to Asia also begins at only 70,000 miles in First Class. The regions are defined as follows:
Asia: Japan, South Korea
Southeast Asia: China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, India
From a Canadian perspective, it’s unfortunate that most of Cathay and JAL’s North American routes are to the United States.
If you live in Canadian cities served by Alaska Airlines, such as Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, or Victoria, you can combine your long-haul flight with segments on Alaska Airlines to the US gateway airport of your choice. Otherwise, you’ll have to book positioning flights separately in order to experience premium class travel on Cathay Pacific or JAL.
Intra-Asia travel on these airlines is also tremendously valuable, at just 22,500 miles and 25,000 miles respectively for business class, one-way. The term “one-way” is also very loosely defined. For example, Singapore–Tokyo–Jakarta is considered a “one-way” redemption; however, unfortunately, Mileage Plan cut intra-Asia stopovers as of October 2019, so you can no longer use this trick to book a “pseudo-round-trip”.
Prior to March 2016, redeeming awards on Emirates First Class was also an amazing use of Mileage Plan miles. Unfortunately, that was brutally devalued overnight without any warning, and the mileage requirements now are pretty steep. Still, it’s a way to experience the famously ritzy “shower in the sky” product if you have enough miles.
There’s a few other partner airlines worth mentioning. Korean Air can be redeemed via Mileage Plan, but only in business class, not First Class, and with blackout dates specified.
Fiji Airlines is an intriguing partner: they fly to some islands in the Pacific Ocean that can’t otherwise be reached on miles, and you can also have a free stopover in Fiji to round out your trip. This can also be an interesting way to get to Australia or New Zealand.
Lastly, Hainan Airlines is a nifty partner to have and can open up many routes to Asia, especially in light of their new business class product on their 787s.
Read more: Creative Stopovers with Alaska Mileage Plan
In economy class, sweet spots are everywhere as well. Flying American Airlines to South America starts at just 20,000 miles one-way! For travel to “South America 2” which includes Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela, the price is 30,000 miles one-way, which is still incredible value.
Lastly, the award charts for Alaska Airlines’s own flights is distance-based, which can offer incredible value. For example, flights from Vancouver or Calgary to Seattle are just 5,000 miles one-way, which is perfect for cheap weekend trips. I really wish there were similarly cheap award prices for those of us on the east coast!
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan allows you to earn elite status within the program, which comes with quite a few perks and benefits. The qualification requirements are as below, based on the amount of flying you do with Alaska and its partners:
These status levels may be challenging if you don’t do much flying on revenue tickets, although some of Alaska’s partner earning rates can be quite favourable. For example, you can often come very close to qualifying for MVP Gold based on a single business class ticket on British Airways and/or Finnair.
The other way to qualify for Alaska elite status is via a status match. If you have any level of elite status with another major North American frequent flyer program, you can take part in Alaska’s ongoing status match promotion to get bumped up to the equivalent MVP level.
The fees associated with redeeming Alaska miles for travel tend to be quite reasonable. You’ll always be charged a partner booking fee of US$12.50 per person per direction when booking on one of Alaska’s partner airlines. This fee is never waived, even for members with elite status.
If you need to book an award that can’t be booked online, there’s also a telephone reservation fee of US$15. You might be able to convince the agent to waive the fee if the itinerary is impossible to book online in the first place (Cathay Pacific and LATAM awards don’t show up on the Alaska search engine). The fee is also waived for MVP Gold and 75K members.
Lastly, once you’ve made an award reservation, any changes or cancellations will incur a change fee of US$125 per ticket. MVP Gold and 75K members are exempt from this fee.
Sometime around 2016, MBNA firmed up their rules to disallow people from holding multiple MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCards simultaneously. However, you can still “churn” this card (i.e., close it after a while and reapply later) to earn the signup bonus multiple times.
The companion voucher from the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard allows a second passenger to travel on the same itinerary for a US$99 base fare when booking a wholly Alaska Airlines-operated itinerary. You’ll want to deploy it on otherwise expensive fares in order to maximize its value.
Miles are sent from MBNA to Alaska Airlines once a week, usually on the Sunday after your statement posts to your account.
Flights with all of Alaska’s partner airlines can be booked online, with the exception of Cathay Pacific and LATAM. Complex routings that can’t be booked through the multi-city search engine will need to be booked over the phone.
Note that you can only fly with one of Alaska’s partner airlines on a single award, although you can include as many Alaska Airlines-operated segments as you’d like.
You cannot pool miles between different Alaska Mileage Plan accounts unless you pay the 1¢/mile fee for transferring miles, which typically isn’t a good deal.
You also cannot send the miles from different people’s MBNA Alaska credit cards to the same Alaska Mileage Plan account.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is just so easy to get excited about. With a co-branded Canadian credit card offering easy earning opportunities, endless award pricing sweet spots, and the ability to add a stopover on a one-way journey, the program should absolutely be considered world-class.
While it’s a little more favourable for Canadians living in the West than the East, any Canadian traveller making use of both Alaska Mileage Plan and Aeroplan will have the world at their fingertips.