Alaska MileagePlan: The Last Good Loyalty Program? (Alaska Vs. American by the Numbers)

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I’ve been interested in Alaska’s MileagePlan program for a while now. But I’ve never actually banked any flights to them.

As I get ready to base out in Dallas, I, like everyone else, am waiting for all of American’s little shoes to drop. And what it might mean.

For all the speculation, we haven’t actually heard anything from American yet.

It’ll be a shame the program might change as I move to their backyard.

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There can only be one

I even thought, wow, I can really kick off earning miles toward Executive Platinum status with my biz class flight to Barcy in January. That’ll be a nice boost toward status right at the beginning of the year.

But now I’m looking at MileagePlan all over again.

The numbers

I don’t have any airline status right now. So no matter what, I’ll be starting from zero.

Switching might only appeal to you if American significantly cuts the program.

But here are the raw numbers:

Earning Alaska MVP Gold 75K

Earning status on Alaska.

90K for partners

90K for partners

First, I’m only looking at qualifying on flights with partner airlines. I’ll have access to more American flights, but also more opportunity to credit them to Alaska!

Alaska has an interesting list of elite-qualifying partners, including American and Delta

Alaska has an interesting list of elite-qualifying partners, including American and Delta

For reference:

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Alaska’s elite bonus levels

Miles 1 – 25,000: 25,000 miles earned as General Member, 100% of miles flown
Miles 25,001 – 50,000: 37,500 miles earned with MVP status, 150% with bonus included
Miles 50,001 – 90,000: 80,000 miles earned with Gold status, 200% with bonus included
Mile 90,000: 50,000 miles, MVP Gold 75K bonus miles and MVP Gold 75K status!

Total: 192,500 Alaska Airlines miles for 90,000 miles flown on partners (25K + 37.5K + 80K + 50K)
Love love love this perk

Love love love this perk

My biggest wish is for Alaska to expand its reciprocal upgrades as a benefit when flying on American, like what Delta has. It seems plausible given that Alaska and Delta and slowing down their partnership. Now, if only they’d transfer it all to American.

Earning American Executive Platinum

Earning status on American.

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More flying and less miles earned in the process on the road to Exec Plat

And again for reference:

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American’s elite bonus levels

Miles 1 – 25,000: 25,000 miles earned as General Member, 100% of miles flown
Miles 25,001 – 50,000: 31,250 miles earned with Gold status, 125% bonus included
Miles 50,001 – 100,000: 100,000 miles earned with Platinum status, 200% bonus included
Mile 100,000: Executive Platinum status, no bonus miles for qualifying

Total: 156,250 American Airlines miles for 100,000 miles flown (25K + 31.25K + 100K)

The conundrum & other considerations

The wild card is the 25,000-mile bonus I’ll get on the Barcy flights thanks to American’s promotion that runs through the end of January 2016 on business class flights to Europe.

So for 10,000 more miles flown, I’ll end up with 181,250 American Airlines miles, and that includes the 25K bonus miles.

For 10,000 more miles in the air, I’ll still earn ~11,000 fewer miles than if I credit everything to Alaska.

But, I’ll get more upgrades on American, assuming I’ll be flying them more. And with American, I’ll also earn 8 (or 4, guess we’ll see) Systemwide Upgrades, which are incredibly valuable.

I’ll also enjoy upgrades on Alaska sooner, after just 50,000 flown miles, but realistically, I won’t be taking too many Alaska flights.

So it comes down to practical application and most importantly for me, milage redemption.

That's a sound list of partners

That’s a sound list of partners

Here are the American Airlines partners I find useful (bolded partners not available with Alaska miles):

  • Airberlin
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • JAL
  • LAN
  • Qantas

You can swap JAL for Korean Air (and can still fly Cathay Pacific to Japan). You can swap Etihad for Emirates (is it controversial for me to say that?).

The biggest loss is Airberlin and Air Tahiti Nui. I consider the latter a niche redemption, and the former can be replaced with flights on American booked with Alaska miles.

Also, Alaska has a decent partner award chart. And if American goes revenue-based, it’ll be both harder to earn and (maybe) redeem American miles.

And, I just got Citi Prestige after swapping out AMEX for Citi, and any American flights I booked with Citi ThankYou points, I can credit to either airline.

So, lots of good stuff to think about. I’m honestly leaning toward Alaska at this point, though. The sheer number of miles earned with less flying is appealing, especially if you’re starting “from scratch” like me.

Bottom line

Realistically, we’ll have most of 2016 with the current AAdvantage program. But definitely not beyond that (IMO). Guess we’ll have to wait for American to weigh in.

Alaska could always change things, too.

But for ease of earning more miles with fewer miles flown, Alaska wins.

I might credit my Barcy flights to American just to earn the 25K bonus miles, then focus on Alaska for the rest of 2016. Especially if American changes its program drastically in the next few months.

As far as who will change first, American or Alaska, it’s definitely going to be American. So for 2016, I’m thinking Alaska is the way to go. Unless, of course, you value American Airlines miles (and its partner airlines), systemwide upgrades, and their cute “sticker” system for upgrades prior to earning elite status.

Will AAdvantage changes sway you toward another program? Is Alaska MileagePlan a viable replacement for AAdvantage, pending any drastic moves by American? 

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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  1. Please note that Alaska cut rdm and eqm for delta flights (where delta did not got mqm). If and when aa goes to revenue rdm, they still offer minimum 100 percent flight miles for eqm. On the other hand, if and when Alaska cuts low booking buckets to 50 percent earnings, this impacts both rdm and eqm earning.

  2. The AA devaluation I’ve heard thus far really concerns elite benefits and earning so it doesn’t really bother me (i.e. I fly mainly Delta and United.) What will really affect me, though, is the award redemption costs. I’m curious to see how much of a devaluation they’re willing to gamble.

  3. I think Alaska gives you more earning power. For example, say you need a flight to XYZ, and Delta really is the only choice. Crediting to just Alaska, enables you to have a one-off situation, that still earns some base miles. Whereas, crediting to AA, would leave you stranded miles. I am really considering doing what you are considering.

    • REALLY curious as to what AA is going to do next year. That’ll be the make-or-break for me.

      Even still, Alaska runs a really nice program, so it might be worth it anyway.

  4. AA extended their longhaul premium bonus into 2016 until the rdm earnings change in the 2nd half.. so your premium cabin trip will earn another 12k rdm believe.. Also, 2x eqm on the new rules meaning around 25k eqm.

        • Hey trojan, that doesn’t matter with this promotion. According to the T&Cs:

          “AAdvantage bonus mile offer is valid only on American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, OpenSkies or US Airways marketed nonstop flights for round-trip travel between the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe, September 22, 2015, through January 31, 2016.”

          BA is included in the list, and it says BA can market the ticket. Plus the flights are non-stop and round-trip between the US and Europe, and before 1/31/16, so it seems I’ve met all the conditions – unless you know something else that would disqualify the flights?

          https://www.aa.com/viewPromotionDetails.do?fN=ajb-europe.xml&_locale=en_US

  5. You’ve not factored in status challenges in the equation. AA does offer a challenge and your earnings would get an enormous boost from there.

    • That’s very true. That would change the numbers dramatically. I didn’t include those because of the cash component involved. And, you have to accrue the miles or points within a certain timeframe instead of having a whole year.

      Also, to earn top-tier status, you still have to meet the full requirements (100,000 points or miles) anyway. But yes, having status sooner would net you more RDMs if you pay for a status challenge and earn the status within the required time. So that could be a great option for some folks if they have a lot of travel in a short period.

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