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If you’re anything like me you’re probably a little numb to the various miles and points sales that airlines and hotels like to promote because they’re publishing them with an ever-increasing frequency. We’re seeing a lot of miles & points sales at the moment and because there has been little innovation in this space the promotions tend to feel a little boring. Well, Alaska Mileage Plan just made things a little more interesting.
Alaska Mileage Plan’s Latest Sale
Through 26 August 2020, Alaska Mileage Plan is offering bonuses of up to 50% on the sale of its currency, and anyone who triggers the 50% bonus will unlock the ability to buy more miles with a 60% bonus in October of this year.
- Transactions must be completed between 6:00 AM PST July 23, 2020 and 11:59 PM PST August 26, 2020 to be eligible for bonus miles.
- Offer applicable to U.S. and Canadian members only.
- Minimum purchase of 30,000 miles required to be eligible for the Exclusive VIP Offer Up to 60% Bonus that will occur October 5 – October 31, 2020.
- Miles are purchased from Points.com Inc. for a cost of $27.50 per 1,000 miles, plus GST/HST for Canadian residents.
- You may purchase and gift Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles in increments of 1,000 miles up to 60,000 miles, and in increments of 5,000 miles up to a maximum of 100,000 miles per transaction.
- MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K Mileage Plan member (Elite Member) accounts have no annual limit on the number of miles which may be purchased or gifted through Points.com. If you are not an Elite Member, your account may only be credited up to a maximum total of 150,000 miles acquired through Points.com in a calendar year, whether purchased by you or gifted to you.
- Unless you are an Elite Member, the annual Buy and Gift purchase limit of 150,000 miles will apply to the October 2020 VIP Sale; if you have already purchased or been gifted up to the 150,000 mile annual limit, you may not be eligible to purchase/ receive miles during the October 2020 VIP Sale, or the amount of miles which you are able to purchase or receive during the October 2020 VIP Sale may be limited.
- Offer is subject to change and all terms and conditions of the Mileage Plan Program apply.
Full terms and conditions can be found on the sale page.
A Key Thing To Note
If you don’t have Alaska Mileage Plan elite status you cannot buy (or be gifted) more than 150,000 miles in a calendar year and this number includes bonus miles. By purchasing 30,000 miles in this sale, you’ll be using up 45,000 of that 150,000 annual allowance so, assuming you haven’t already bought Alaska Miles this year, the most miles you’ll be able to buy in the 60% bonus sale is 105,000. I’ll show what the math looks like for this in the next paragraph.
If you have Alaska Mileage Plan elite status this isn’t a consideration for you as you don’t have an annual mileage cap.
This is what the promotion looks like:
- Buy 1,000 – 2,000 miles & get a 0% bonus
- Buy 3,000 – 29,000 miles & get a 40% bonus
- Buy 30,000 – 100,000 miles & get a 50% bonus
The Cost Of Miles In This Sale
Because Alaska doesn’t vary the cost/mile within each of its pricing bands, Mileage Plan members will be paying the lowest cost per mile available in this sale whether they buy 30,000 or 100,000 miles.
In the example above, $825 for 45,000 miles is approximately 1.83 cents/mile.
If you have elite status, you need only spend $825 in this sale to guarantee yourself the opportunity to buy as many miles as you want to with a 60% bonus in October. Assuming Alaska doesn’t change its prices between now and October, miles purchased with a 60% bonus will cost ~1.72 cents/mile.
Elites planning to buy a lot of miles in the October 60% sale probably don’t have to worry about doing any further math as the large number of miles purchased at 1.72 cents will mostly negate the higher cost of miles purchased in this sale. Elites only planning to buy a limited number of miles in the October sale and all non-elites will have to be a bit more careful.
The Cost Of Miles If Only Buying Limited A Limited Quantity in October
Non-elites will only be able to buy a maximum of 65,000 miles + 39,000 bonus miles (a 60% bonus) in the October sale if they purchase 45,000 miles in this sale (so they’ll be buying miles at two distinct price points. To understand if these sales are any good, a little more math is required to see what the overall cost per mile will look like.
- This sale = 45,000 miles at a cost of $825
- October sale = 104,000 miles at an assumed cost of ~$1,789 (1.72 cents/mile)
- Total paid = $2,614 for 149,000 miles
- The overall cost per mile = ~1.75 cents
Regardless of whether you have elite status or not, the worst rate at which you should find yourself buying miles across the two sales is 1.75 cents/mile…and that’s pretty good. It’s not quite as good as the 1.72 cents per mile the last 60% sale offered but it’s close enough to make the difference immaterial.
Let’s Get This Out Of The Way
To repeat what I always say: If you have no immediate use for Alaska Miles you shouldn’t be taking part in this sale. It’s a bad idea to stockpile miles at the best of times so a full-blown travel crisis isn’t a great time to be stocking up on miles you don’t plan to use short-term.
Also, following the news that Alsaka is joining oneworld (now something we expect to happen by the end of this year) and getting very friendly with American Airlines, it’s widely believed that the Mileage Plan program and its award charts are ripe for a devaluation. That devaluation may not be imminent but it’s probably not all that far off either so caution is required…especially as the promised 60% bonus isn’t available until much later this year.
However, at 1.75 – 1.83 cents per mile, there’s still a lot of value to be had if you can find awards that you can book right now (for travel well into the future) so this can be a fantastic opportunity to book a truly amazing trip.
Where Can Alaska Miles Take You?
One of the biggest positives of the Alaska Mileage Plan program is that the airline doesn’t impose a limit on how many miles you can purchase in a single promotion or in a calendar year if you hold status. Technically status holders can keep buying miles until they run out of money.
So, where can Mileage Plan members use all the miles they can buy?
Here are a few examples of Alaska’s airline partners:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Emirates (only for flights to/from the US)
- Fiji Airways
- Korean Air
You can access the Mileage Plan award charts via this link if you want to check the prices of the awards you’re interested in but, to save you some time, here are a few examples of premium cabin roundtrip awards that you can book with Alaska miles:
Business Class Awards
- Cathay Pacific: USA to Asia = 100,000 miles
- Cathay Pacific: Europe to Asia = 85,000 miles
- Korean Air: USA to Asia = 105,000 – 120,000 miles (depends on the country in Asia)
- LAN: USA to South America = 90,000 miles
- Qantas: USA to Australia = 110,000 miles
First Class Awards
- Cathay Pacific: USA to Asia = 140,000 miles
- Cathay Pacific: Europe to Asia = 120,000 miles
- JAL: USA to Asia from 140,000 miles
- Qantas: USA to Australia = 140,000 miles
Note: Taxes and surcharges will need to be factored in but, in most cases, they’re not significant.
Importantly, Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on award tickets and that’s part of what makes these redemptions very attractive indeed.
As usual, I’ll point out that even though I included American Airlines on the list of Alaska Mileage Plan partners and although technically, it can be a very good option on routes like Europe to Hawaii (115,000 miles for roundtrip Business Class) this isn’t a partnership you should rely on – American Airlines premium cabin award availability is a real issue. American Airlines Business Class saver awards are so scarce nowadays that I can’t justify including them in the examples above. I suspect that most people will struggle to find any saver award availability unless they’re very flexible with dates and also very lucky.
Still, all of the redemptions I’ve listed above are pretty good and, even if we assume a cost/mile as high as 1.83 cents, some of them are nothing short of fantastic.
Is It Worth Buying Alaska Miles In This Promotion?
As I always say, it comes down to the math.
Here’s how much some of the awards I mentioned above would cost (excluding taxes & fees) if you were to buy all the miles you need at 1.83 cents each:
Business Class Award Costs (Roundtrip)
- Cathay Pacific: USA – Asia = $1,830
- Cathay Pacific: Europe – Asia = $1,556
- Korean Air: USA – Asia = $1,922 – $2,196
- LATAM: USA – South America = $1,647
- Qantas: USA – Australia = $2,013
Remember: These costs will be even lower if you get a chance to use miles purchased at (net) 1.75 cents each across the two sales.
The Cathay Pacific fares are fantastic (especially the USA – Asia award) but be aware that Alaska doesn’t always have access to all the award seats that you may see when searching on sites like BA.com – it’s always worth calling up to check availability before buying miles for an award you’ve found online.
First Class Award Costs (Roundtrip)
- Cathay Pacific: USA to Asia = $2,562
- Cathay Pacific: Europe to Asia = $2,196
- JAL: USA to Asia from $2,562
- Qantas: USA to Australia = $2,562
Once again the pick of the crop are the Cathay Pacific awards (because they should be the easiest to find) but if you can find availability on Qantas to/from Australia that would be a very special experience.
How I’m Approaching This
With Alaska now expected to join the oneworld alliance before the end of the year, we may be closer to a Mileage Plan devaluation than we have been for a while so I’m not factoring in the possibility of being able to buy miles with a 60% bonus in October into my calculations. I have no idea what the Mileage Plan program will look like in October or what value I’ll be able to get out of miles towards the end of this year. I’m simply looking at what I can buy miles for right now (~1.83 cents/mile) and working out how best to use those miles in the near future.
Alaska Airlines sells its miles through Points.com so there’s no scope to earn a travel/flight/airline bonus by using a credit card that offers bonus points for shopping in one of those categories (e.g. the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) so what this means is that this is a good opportunity to use a credit card on which you’re working towards a welcome bonus (like the new 100,000 point offer on the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card).
If you’re someone who prefers to earn cash back over miles and points, the Citi Double Cash credit card (2% cash back) is the card I’d probably suggest you use.
It’s good to see Alaska Mileage Plan getting a little innovative with its sale – if nothing else it makes it a little more interesting and forces one to think a little! Whether you decide to buy just 30,000 miles in this sale with a plan to load up in October or if you decide to ignore the October sale and load up now (or ignore all the sales completely) will depend on your risk profile.
The key to doing well out of this sale is this: Do your research, find awards that work for you and only then buy the points you need – it’s hard to get burned when you buy miles and use them within days of the purchase.