Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most valuable airline miles out there. The Mileage Plan award program has some very unique and useful features but also some restrictions that can make their miles more difficult to use than other programs.
Here’s why I love Alaska Airlines miles even though they can be tough to use (and some considerations to make them less tough to use).
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1. Stopovers Are Allowed on One-Ways
This is my absolute favorite part about Alaska Airlines miles. Most programs require a roundtrip booking in order to add a stopover into your itinerary and some award programs don’t allow stopovers at all. Alaska allows stopovers on oneways. In other words, when you make a round trip booking, you can have a stopover in each direction!
2. Free Changes for Non-Elites
As someone who doesn’t chase elite status, I occasionally find myself caught paying a change fee for a flight, but not with Alaska Airlines. Alaska doesn’t charge change or cancellation fees as long as your flight is 60 days or more away. Within 60 days non-elites will be stuck with a $125 change fee, which is no worse than other airlines’ fees.
3. Interesting Collection of Partners
Since Alaska Airlines isn’t part of an alliance they have developed their own partnerships. When you use Alaska miles, you can redeem for travels on any of their partners – but only one partner at a time. Alaska Airlines partners with the following airlines: AeroMexico, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Condor, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, Icelandair, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, LATAM Airlines, PenAir, Qantas, and Ravn Alaska. Just think of all of the possibilities!
In addition to being able to redeem your Alaska Airlines miles for flights on all of these partners, you can earn miles when you fly paid fares with these partners. If you fly a couple of times a year and don’t feel like you can earn enough miles with any one airline to make another redemption, Alaska Airlines might be a good option to help you pool your miles.
And now for a look at how these positives also have a tough-to-work-with side:
The partners that you have to work with is both one of the positives and negatives of Alaska Airlines’ program. The positive is that one kind of airline mile (Alaska’s) can help you travel on many different partners across all of the major alliances. The negative being that you can’t combine partners; travel is limited to flights on one partner plus Alaska Airlines operated flights. On a round trip you can fly one partner for the outbound and a different partner for the return.
This one partner rule has many implications. If you live in a non-major city for international flights like Denver or Detroit, accessing partner flights can be a challenge. Chicago is reasonably close to Detroit and has great international flight options including access to Alaska partners Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Emirates, none of which fly to Detroit. Since flights on only one partner are allowed, it would not be possible to fly American Airlines from Detroit to Chicago and Emirates from Chicago to Dubai on the same award. Both of these flights would need to be booked separately if you were to book all of the flights with Alaska Airlines miles.
That leaves the flyer with a few other options:
- Book separate awards or a paid flight to get to your international departure city
- Find a different way to your international departure city (drive, take the bus, take the train, etc.)
- Fly Alaska to your international departure city on the same award
Getting from Detroit to Chicago is pretty reasonable in terms of purchasing a separate ticket as a general rule. It’s also not a bad four hour drive, bus, or train ride. I’ve personally booked bus tickets for as little as $5.50 for the one-way trip. Similar options are available in other regions.There have been other times when I have gone more out of my way to fly a ticket booked with Alaska miles. I booked a ticket out of Washington Dulles to South America on Alaska’s partner LATAM. I was traveling during a holiday weekend so flights were very expensive, but I was able to get an inexpensive one-way car rental and made the 12-hour drive with a friend to pick up the flight.
The third option to fly Alaska to your international departure city likely makes a lot of sense if you like on or near the west coast, where Alaska Airlines in based. If you live in Detroit, however, things are a little more tricky. Now, it is possible to fly from Detroit to Seattle to Chicago to catch that Emirates flight to Dubai (providing that there is award availability) but those flights are going to take much longer than driving would, in this case. Even taking a flight from Detroit to Seattle and back to Washington Dulles would take nearly as long, if not longer than flying.
While Alaska Airlines miles can lead to some amazing redemptions, if you don’t live in a major international hub you or an Alaska Airlines hub you might need to be a little bit creative in how you make your redemptions. If you are willing to do this, you’ll be rewarded with a strong set of airline partners, the ability to make stopovers on one-way awards, and no-fee changes and cancellations even if you aren’t an elite member. All-in-all, I think the benefits of Alaska Airlines miles greatly outweigh the negatives.