How to Get the Most Out of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines has one of the best frequent-flier programs — here's how to use it.

Alaska Airlines aircraft up in the air after taking off from Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, Silicon Valley
Photo: Andrei Stanescu/Getty Images

If you don’t live on the West Coast, you might forget about Alaska Airlines. It’s only the fifth-largest airline in the U.S., and it carries just a fifth of the passengers that the biggest domestic airline, American Airlines, does.

However, Alaska Airlines’ frequent-flier program, Mileage Plan, is one of the best in the world thanks to fantastic earning rates, an award chart with great redemption values, and top-shelf international partners like Cathay Pacific and Emirates.

Here’s what you need to know about the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan in order to make the most of it.

The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Mileage Plan is the loyalty program for Alaska Airlines. Other airlines (including American and United) have transitioned to revenue-based mileage programs where travelers can earn and redeem miles based on the cash value of tickets. The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan remains one of the only remaining holdouts where fliers can still earn miles based on the distances they fly and redeem them based on region. Mileage Plan offers some pretty great bonus opportunities to boot. Let’s get into the details.

How to Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

The two best ways to earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles are by flying and using a co-branded rewards credit card.

Mileage Plan works like many frequent-flier programs used to: travelers earn award miles (the ones that you can redeem for free tickets) based on the distance of a flight and the class of the ticket they purchase. On Alaska Airlines’ own flights, you earn 100 percent of the distance flown on most economy tickets, 125-150 percent for higher-priced economy tickets, and 175 percent on first-class fares.

The earning rates on Alaska’s 18 partner airlines vary depending on the carrier and the fare class. For example, on Singapore Airlines flights, you can earn between 50-350 percent of miles flown (depending on your ticket), while on Icelandair, it’s just 25-250 percent. Double-check your potential mileage haul before crediting flights to Alaska rather than another partner.

Alaska Airlines miles expire 24 months after your last account activity, which includes earning or redeeming as little as a single mile. Because of that, keeping your miles alive is not too difficult.

Aside from flying, the single best way to rack up Alaska Airlines miles quickly is to get the airline’s co-branded credit card, the Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card from Bank of America.

Its sign-up bonus is usually around 40,000 miles after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. If you hit that spending threshold, you’ll also earn “Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare,” which is basically a buddy ticket. Just buy one economy airfare on the airline and you can get a second ticket for $99 plus taxes. Every year you renew the card and pay its $75 annual fee, you’ll get another companion ticket. The card also earns three miles for every dollar spent on Alaska Airlines purchases, and one mile per dollar on everything else. Cardholders get a free checked bag on Alaska flights for themselves and up to six others on the same reservation.

By using your card for everyday purchases, you can easily rack up enough miles for award tickets. Plus, the miles you earn with it will count toward keeping your account active so the rest of your miles won’t expire.

How to Redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

This is probably the greatest strength of Alaska’s mileage program. Other airlines including American, Delta, and United are in the process of getting rid of their award charts and raising mileage prices to astronomical levels, especially for those coveted international first- and business-class seats. Alaska, on the other hand, has charts with fixed mileage prices for each of its airline partners so you know exactly how many miles you’ll need if an award seat is available. You can find them all here.

Simply choose the region you’re departing from on the pull-down menu and then select your destination from the other pull-down, and you will see the award charts for each of the partners on which you can use your miles.

There are a couple of rules to keep in mind. First, you cannot fly every partner everywhere. For instance, you cannot fly Emirates between North America and Australia, or Japan Airlines between Europe and Asia. This will become clearer when you do searches and see which airlines come up in the results. Also, awards can only include Alaska Airlines flights and up to one other partner. So, for example, you could not fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo on Japan Airlines and then on to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific all on the same award. Again, this will be clear when you actually do searches.

Now for the good part. While we’ve seen other airlines raise award prices to hundreds of thousands of miles in each direction between continents, many Alaska Airlines awards are fantastically priced. For instance, flying between the U.S. and Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific only requires 50,000 miles each way in business class and 70,000 miles in first class. American Airlines AAdvantage would charge you 70,000 miles for business class and 110,000 miles for first class. Plus, Alaska's Mileage Plan even allows free stopovers on some tickets, which means you can fly to one city, stop there for several days, then continue on to your final destination, essentially getting two trips in one.

Alaska is also the main U.S. partner of Emirates, which opens up a ton of award possibilities if you’re willing to fly via Dubai, and it seems to have access to plenty of Singapore Airlines awards, which makes it a nice alternative to using miles from Singapore’s Star Alliance partner, United.

Certain partner awards, including those on LATAM and Cathay Pacific, are not bookable online, so you might have to call customer service for those.

In addition to award tickets, Alaska miles can be redeemed for hotel stays via RocketMiles, magazine subscriptions, or charity.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Partners

It is not part of an airline alliance, but the airline recently announced plans to join Oneworld, so expect this information to change. In the meantime, though, Alaska Airlines has a lot of unique partnerships by which members can earn and redeem their miles. First, the program’s airline partners:

  • Aer Lingus
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Condor
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • PenAir
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska
  • Singapore Airlines

Before booking anything, you can look on the partner page of the specific carrier you are thinking of flying to check its earning rates.

Mileage Plan members can earn miles in other ways, too. The program has several car-rental partnerships where travelers can accrue bonus miles per rental or per day, plus take advantage of discounts. You can make partner hotel bookings with companies like Marriott and IHG. The airline also has an online shopping portal. This is basically an online mall that you can log into with your mileage number and then earn bonus miles per dollar spent at partner retailers like Nike and Petco. You can also register your account and a credit card through the Dining Rewards Network to earn between three and five miles per dollar at thousands of participating restaurants.

Elite Status Tiers and Benefits

Like other carriers, Alaska Airlines rewards its most frequent fliers with elite status and perks like upgrades, free checked bags, and dedicated customer service lines. There are three tiers that you can achieve by flying a certain number of miles during the calendar year. Status is valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it and through the following one until the tiers reset each February 1.

To reach the first level, MVP, you need to fly either 20,000 miles on Alaska Airlines, 25,000 miles on Alaska and partners, or 30 segments. At this level, you earn 50 percent bonus miles on flights, are eligible for upgrades to Premium Class and first class that clear starting at 48 hours before your flight, get two free checked bags, and enjoy access to preferred seating assignments.

You hit MVP Gold by flying 40,000 miles on Alaska alone, 50,000 on Alaska and partners, or 60 segments. In addition to the perks above, at this level, you have a better shot at upgrades (with your companions) starting 72 hours out, receive a 100 percent mileage bonus to ramp up your earning, and receive free premium beverages when flying economy. Members at this level are also eligible for complimentary same-day flight changes and waived ticket change fees.

The third and final tier is MVP Gold 75K. It’s a mouthful. To get here, you need to fly either 75,000 miles on Alaska or 90,000 miles on Alaska and its partners, or take 90 flight segments. You get a welcome bonus of 50,000 miles (remember, that’s enough for one-way business class to Asia) plus 125 percent extra bonus miles on flights you take. You are also eligible for upgrades starting 120 hours before departure and get four Alaska Lounge day passes, among other benefits, like nominating a friend or family member for MVP status.

One of the coolest features of Alaska’s MVP program is that it offers “Elite Leave” for new parents. So if you earn elite status and have a child, you can put your elite status on hold for a year and then reactivate it when you’re ready.

Pros and Cons of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Though smaller than some of its competitors, Alaska Airlines still fields one of the best frequent-flier programs around. Mileage Plan is simpler to understand and use than other mileage schemes thanks to an easy distance-based formula. The airline partners with some fantastic carriers like Emirates, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines, which opens up travel opportunities around the globe. Its award pricing is also very reasonable compared to that of other programs.

On the downside, it can be harder to actually redeem your Alaska miles given some of the restrictions on award tickets and the fact that not all partners are bookable online. There are also limited options when it comes to earning miles, and they offer just a single personal credit card to help rack miles up on everyday purchases.

Still, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Program is a fantastic option for West Coast fliers or those based in the U.S. who travel with the airline’s partners and can credit that activity toward elite status and all the bonus earning and upgrade opportunities it entails.

How to Sign Up

Signing up for the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is quick and simple. Just head to the registration page, enter your personal details and email address, and you’ll be ready to start earning.

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