Category Archives: Alaska

Free First Class 2014: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Basics

This is the eighteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program.

Why Collect Alaska Airlines Miles?

Alaska Airlines miles are great for booking Emirates First Class and Cathay Pacific First Class. These are two ultra-luxury cabins, and Emirates First Class is not part of any airline alliance. Check out my trip report!

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Emirates First Class Suite

Collecting Alaska Airlines miles is easy. Both the personal and business cards from Bank of America are churnable, meaning you can get the same bonus over and over.

Alaska Airlines partners with 14 airlines from SkyTeam, oneworld, and outside the three alliances.

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  • What airlines can you fly with Alaska Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Alaska Airlines awards?
  • What are the special features of the Mileage Plan program?
  • How can you book an Alaska Airlines award?

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Only 50,000 Miles for a Trip to Hawaii, Fiji, and Australia

Many people on the west coast can take a trip to Honolulu, Fiji, and Australia or New Zealand with stops in each place for only 50,000 miles one way.

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If you live in a city with a direct Alaska Airlines or American Airlines flight to Hawaii, this price is available to you. For folks in other cities, the trip is available for 5,000 to 10,000 miles more.

The trip combines one Avios award with one Alaska Airlines award on Fiji Airways. There is a sweet spot on the Avios award chart between the west coast and Hawaii, and there is a sweet spot on the Alaska chart between Hawaii and Australia/New Zealand on Fiji Airways.

  • How can you search for award space for this trip?
  • How can you book this trip?
  • How long can you spend in each destination?
  • What are your options in Australia and New Zealand?
  • How can people who don’t live on the west coast book nearly as good of a trip?

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Three Emirates First Class Showers for 100k Alaska Airlines Miles

You can take up to three showers in the First Class Shower Spa onboard Emirates A380s on a single award that costs only 100,00 Alaska Airlines miles. Emirates Airlines First Class is the standard for luxury as the only airline with two showers onboard in which the 16 First Class passengers can freshen up.

In January 2013, I flew Emirates First Class from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia–one of three tag flights between New Zealand and Australia.

I enjoyed the chauffeur service, lounge, onboard bar and meal service, suite, and the shower.

I have wanted to get back into Emirates First Class on a longer flight since then, so I started collecting Alaska Airlines miles, which are the means by which Americans can take a 7-mile-high shower.

Since opening three Alaska Airlines personal cards and two business cards, I have 140,000 Alaska Airlines miles.

Alaska charges only 90,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to the Middle East or India and only 100,000 miles one way to Africa, East Asia, or Europe. It’s quite simple to book over 24 hours worth of Emirates First Class flights on a single one way award, and I’ve even found a routing that gets you three Emirates A380 First Class flights on a single award.

  • How can you get Alaska Airlines miles?
  • Where can you search Emirates award space?
  • How can you maximize an Emirates First Class award with Alaska miles?
  • What routing features three Emirates A380 flights?
  • What are the stopover rules for Alaska awards?

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Great Award Space to Kona, Hawaii

Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii from the United States mainland is easy with miles. There are a ton of direct flights on several airlines, most of which have fantastic award space. Several of the flights can even be booked for as little as 12,500 miles each way.

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I’ve been on the Kona side of Hawaii Island this week with my family, and it has been fantastic.

The snorkeling on this coast is the best I’ve ever experienced. I’ve seen more turtles than I can count, and just last night 1,000-pound manta rays swam within a few feet of me on a beautiful night snorkel.

Plus the weather here is like the rest of Hawaii, but better. Every day has been in the eighties with a nice breeze, and the Kohala Coast (the northern part of the west coast of the Big Island) almost never sees rain in contrast to some parts of the state.

There won’t be any trip reports from this trip because we aren’t staying at a hotel–rented a house for the week–and because my flights are 27 minutes each way. But, better than a trip report, I want to share how you can get here with miles.

  • What cities have direct flights to Kona?
  • What miles are best to get to Kona?
  • What is the award space picture to Kona?

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Get the 30k Alaska Airlines Card Not the 40k Alaska Airlines Card

Two excellent offers are floating around right now for the Alaska Airlines credit card from Bank of America:

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It might surprise you to learn that the bonus of 30,000 miles is far better than the bonus of 40,000 miles.

Why? Why do I love Alaska miles?

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Best Program to Redeem Miles for Emirates First Class

Update: See the comments for reports that fuel surcharges are being collected by JAL on Emirates flights.

Yesterday I panned the Emirates frequent flyer program for its exorbitant miles prices and fuel surcharges to enjoy Emirates Business and First Class.

But flying Emirates First Class on an A380 is awesome–there’s an onboard shower and bar–so I want to give everyone the cheapest ways to use miles to put a truly luxury experience within reach.

Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite

Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite

There are two programs that offer Emirates First Class and Business Class redemptions at reasonable rates:

  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Each program offers a better rate in certain situations, but both offer sweet spots that get you into Emirates First Class and Business Class at reasonable miles prices with no fuel surcharges. And you can quickly get the miles needed in each program even if you don’t currently have an account with either airline and never plan to fly to Japan or Alaska.

What are the redemption prices for Emirates First and Business Class with Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles? When do you use one program, and when do you use the other. How can you get Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles?

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Alaska Airlines 5,000 Mile Bonus for Board Room Membership

According to this post on Milepoint, Alaska Airlines is offering 5,000 bonus miles for all travelers who sign up for Board Room memberships by December 31st. Alaska brands its club lounges as Board Rooms (in the same way that Delta calls its lounges Sky Clubs). A complete list of locations can be found here.

Standard one year memberships are $450 (this price includes the initiation fee) and are reduced for Alaska MVP and Gold members.

Board Room members actually have access to all domestic Delta Sky Clubs when traveling same day on an Alaska or Delta ticket. Even with that perk, this isn’t a good deal. Alaska only has five Board Room locations, and the best way to get access to Alaska and Delta lounges is still with the American Express Platinum card. That card has been discussed several times on MileValue, including here and here. It also ranks highly on our Best Card Offers by Absolute Value.

With the American Express Platinum card, you have access to Delta and American lounges when traveling same day on those carriers. You also have access to US Airways lounges anytime. The card even comes with Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to the Alaska Board Rooms. You get all of this access for a $450 annual credit card fee, the same price as signing up for an Alaska Board Room membership only.

Note that with the Priority Pass Select membership, you must pay $27 per guest. At American, Delta, and US Airways lounges, up to two guests are admitted for free.

Using Alaska Miles to Book Awards on Emirates

The ultimate aspirational award may just be First Class on an Emirates A380 with its onboard shower.

Alaska Airlines has announced a partnership with Emirates, and has promised for most of this year that the award chart for awards booked with Alaska miles on Emirates planes would be coming in late 2012.

We are quite late in 2012, and the award chart has not been released, but the website has been updated to reflect a delay.

This is a bummer, but I’ll keep monitoring the situation. If you want to stock up on Alaska miles in advance of the announcement, grab the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America or bulk up your SPG account balance.

Master Thread of Which Airline Gift Cards American Express Reimburses

The American Express Platinum Card is one of the best credit cards for frequent travelers. The card comes with Delta, American, US Airways, and Priority Pass Select lounge access. (American/US lounge access ends 3/22/14.) Coupled with no foreign transaction fees and $100 towards Global Entry, this is a great all around travel card.

Many people balk at this card due to the $450 annual fee. However one of the biggest incentives to get the card is you can get $400 worth of of airline fees reimbursed by American Express in your first year of being a cardholder.

That’s because the $200 annual airline fee reimbursement is a calendar-year benefit.

This fee reimbursement should apply to baggage fees, change fees, award ticketing fees, and other fees. It should not apply to purchased tickets or purchased gift cards. But American Express does code many gift card purchases as fees that it then reimburses.

For instance, I got my AMEX Platinum in November 2011. I immediately designated American Airlines as my 2011 airline for fee reimbursement and purchased three $67 gift certificates from aa.com. I received a $200 statement credit within a few days.

In January 2012, I changed my airline to United for 2012 fee reimbursement. I bought a $200 gift certificate from united.com, and again I received a $200 credit within days.

Those $400 in gift cards almost completely “eliminated” the $450 annual fee.

I just got the AMEX Platinum.  How do I choose my designated airline for the year?

After signing up for the card, you should immediately register your card with American Express through this link. You will then be asked to select your chosen airline for the calendar year. For reference, the page looks like this.

After I make my airline selection for the year, can I switch if I change my mind?

No. You must choose carefully. Your selection can’t be changed until January of the following year. Once you make your choice, you are locked in for that calendar year.

That means you should pick an airline where you will run up $200 in fees in a year or one whose gift cards AMEX reimburses.

I just made an eligible purchase with my card, what will a reimbursement from AMEX look like on my billing statement?

Most are reporting that the fee reversal posts as “AMEX Airline Fee Reimbursement.” It should post within two-three weeks of making the eligible purchase.

What is the best use of this airline fee reimbursement?

Everyone’s situation is different, but using the $200 credit for gift certificates is very handy. If you know you have travel plans on that airline, then you are essentially reducing the annual fee of the card by $200. Like I mentioned above, this is a calendar year benefit, so you can get $400 off the first year’s $450 annual fee!

Which airlines allow you to purchase gift certificates and which will American Express refund properly?

I’ve collected the wisdom of the various FlyerTalk threads on gift-card reimbursement.

AirTran Airways

As of December 5, 2011, AirTran no longer sells gift certificates. This is not a viable option. Keep in mind, though, that AirTran is merging with Southwest Airlines. Check out the Southwest Airline section below for details.

Alaska Airlines

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, there are some very recent conflicting reports about being reimbursed for Alaska gift cards. Until very recently, purchasing Alaska gift cards in $50 or $100 increments was no issue. AMEX Platinum reimbursements posted within several days. However, two recent posters note that the charge posts to their account as “ALASKA AIR GIFT CERTSEATTLE WA.” They have not received credit for these purchases most likely due to this new coding. It looks like buying Alaska gift cards and getting reimbursed is dead. If you still want to try your luck, click this link to purchase e-gift certificates for Alaska.

American Airlines

FlyerTalkers are still noting success in purchasing low denominations of e-gift certificates. AMEX appears to be reimbursing $50, $75, and $100 increments without any issues. American Airlines sells both physical cards and e-gift certificates through the same landing page here. To expedite your order, I highly suggest purchasing an e-certificate on the right side of the page.

Delta Airlines

As hard as it is to believe, Delta Airlines does not sell gift certificates (physical or e-certificates) on its website. They must be purchased at airport ticket counters in the United States. To make matters worse, Delta gift certificates are not available for purchase in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island. The FlyerTalk thread does note success with incidental charges like stand by fees, change fees, and Economy Comfort seat purchases, and checked bags.

Note that some FlyerTalkers are also reporting that inexpensive tickets (<$150) are being reimbursed by AMEX.

Frontier

There are no data points on FlyerTalk nor MilePoint about any reimbursements. I would choose another airline to use the $200 credit.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines does sell e-gift certificates here, but there are no reports on the small FlyerTalk thread about anyone using their AMEX Platinum to buy them. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence to make a conclusion either way, but I might try to talk my dad into being the guinea pig since he is a frequent inter-island flyer.

JetBlue Airlines

There have been no successful reimbursements reported in the short FlyerTalk thread about JetBlue gift certificate purchases. This does not appear to be a viable option.

Spirit Airlines

There are no datapoints on FlyerTalk nor MilePoint about any reimbursements. I would choose another airline to use the $200 credit.

Southwest Airlines

Recent posts in this FlyerTalk thread indicate that this door might be closing. Reports from 2011 and early 2012 show that getting reimbursement for $50 or $100 gift certificates was no issue. However, it appears now that the reimbursements are not automatically posting. I would proceed with caution if choosing Southwest. If a gift certificate purchase does not post, there are not a lot of other uses for the credit. Southwest does not charge for checked bags or change fees, and doesn’t have any airport lounges. To purchase physical or e-gift certificates, click this link.

United Airlines

This thread on FlyerTalk notes that many are having success with gift card purchases and quick reimbursements. $50 and $100 increments appear to have the highest success rate, while a one time $200 purchase has been hit or miss in being covered by American Express. ($200 worked for me!) To play it safe, I would purchase four $50 certificates or two $100 ones to not draw attention to the transactions. To purchase, simply go to this link and click on the Purchase button. Note that I had some trouble with a flight I purchased using my United gift certificates bought with my AMEX Platinum. For more details, read my post, American Express/United Gift Card Trouble.

US Airways

Though the thread is scarce with recent anecdotes, it appears that purchasing US Airways gift certificates will work. Some have reported success with one $200 purchase while others have been buying two $100 certificates. Be warned, though, as US Airways does not have e-gift certificates. The physical cards must be mailed, and any order you place will incur a $15 shipping fee. If you purchase two $100 certificates, the total will come out to $215, and AMEX should reimburse up to $200. To purchase gift certificates line, follow this link.

Recap

The American Express Platinum card appears to have a high $450 annual fee. However, you can greatly reduce the fee by using your $200 airline credit each calendar year on gift certificates.

This thread has summarized which airlines’ gift certificates American Express is reimbursing.

West Coast to Hawaii for under $300 Roundtrip All In

Delta is selling Alaska Airlines direct flights from San Diego to Maui roundtrip for $297. And American, United, and Delta are all getting in on the sub-$370 party from Los Angeles to Hawaii roundtrip.

There have recently been a ton of great deals to Hawaii. I’m not sure the cause of the sales–tourism to Hawaii is way up this year–but I’ve taken advantage and been trying to get everyone else to take advantage. A reader–Tom–passed along the following link to an advertised American Airlines sale.

The west coast deals stand out as fantastic:

Just double the listed price for the roundtrip total. For instance San Diego to Honolulu for $318 roundtrip all in. American’s sale page lists the terms and conditions.

Basically you have to book by 10/21, fly Mondays through Thursdays by 12/25, book at least seven days prior to departure, and stay three to sixty nights.

This is all great, but when you see a deal like this, your first thought should be, who’s matching?

Airlines copy each other’s fares constantly. If AA is charging these prices, it’s a good bet that Delta, United, and US Airways are charging the same amount. And if you prefer to rack up miles in one of those programs, you’ll have to check. In a situation like this, I find the ITA Matrix to be the most useful tool to check for the available dates and airlines.

First go to matrix.itasoftware.com. Google, ITA’s owner, seems to want to hide the Matrix, so go directly to its URL. Type in the your home airport and preferred Hawaiian airport:

Lihue, Kauai (LIH)

Honolulu, Oahu (HNL)

Kahului, Maui (OGG)

Kona, Big Island (KOA)

Hilo, Big Island (ITO).

I prefer to search certain length trips one month at a time for the lowest fares, so use that section of the form by selecting “See calendar of lowest fares.” I’ve asked it to search 7-10 night itineraries leaving between 10/21 and 11/21.

Clicking Search brings up the calendar below. The price on a date is the cheapest price for a 7-10 night itinerary starting that day going from San Diego to Kahului.

$297, $308, and $318 roundtrips are widely available! The same is true from November 22 – December 21:

If you click on a date, you’ll get your outbound options. The price next to them is their price assuming you choose the cheapest possible return. It looks like Delta is selling the cheapest fares, and that the flights are on Alaska metal.

After selecting the cheapest outbound and return, we see the total price is $296.40. Delta is selling nonstop flights operated by Alaska.

There is one more step. ITA is not a ticket seller. To buy this ticket, go to the website of the marketing carrier–Delta. On Delta.com, type in the airports and dates, and you should easily be able to reconstruct the itinerary:

What I learned from playing around on ITA Matrix is that the American fares are sometimes the cheapest, though sometimes not. In many markets all the carriers are at the same price point, while in others, there is a clear cheapest.

Here are a few examples:

LAX-Honolulu for $367 widely available on United, American, and Delta

Las Vegas-Honolulu for $427 on US Airways

San Francisco to Kona, Lihue, or Kahului for $429 or Honolulu for $389

Reno to Honolulu for $398 (Friday to Sunday available)

I’m sure there are tons of other great fares–just check the ITA Matrix the same way I outlined above.

Isn’t 25k Avios a better deal?

On my list of The Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii, I mentioned that any west-coast city with direct flights on American or Alaska to Hawaii costs only 25k Avios roundtrip. I think these cash fares are a better deal than 25k Avios.

To figure out whether to purchase a ticket or book an award, I recommend using the MileValue Mile Value Calculator.

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To use the calculator, put in the data for your putative award–for instance, from San Diego to Maui with Avios. Working through the four spaces, the value of the award is $297 since that’s the cost of the cash ticket. In Value, always put the lesser of the cash ticket price and your subjective value.

The Taxes and Fees ($) on the Avios award would be $36. Avios awards to Hawaii have $11 in taxes, and Alaska flights are not bookable on ba.com. Calling in will incur a $25 phone fee.

Miles Used on the award are 25,000. Miles Foregone are how many you would earn on a paid ticket. The Great Circle Mapper says a roundtrip is 5,082 miles.

Plugging those numbers in the calculator, we find out that using 25k Avios to fly San Diego to Maui would mean getting 0.87 cents value per Avios. That’s atrocious value. I value Avios at 1.7 cents each.

If the calculator says the value you’d get from award is lower than your value for the type of mile you’d use, book with cash. See Just Book with Cash.

All of the examples of cheap flights I gave would be better purchased with cash than as awards if your value for miles is anywhere close to mine.

Are these fares mileage run worthy?

No, they are all 6+ CPM. They are not mileage run worthy, but they are Hawaiian vacation worthy.

In the Delta-marketed, Alaska-operated example from San Diego, which miles would I earn?

You could choose to credit to Delta or Alaska. If you can’t decide, see Choosing Where to Credit Miles Earned from Flying.

Recap

West coast to Hawaii fares are heavily discounted–some are even below $300 roundtrip. Use the ITA Matrix to search for great deals from your home airport.

Compare the cash deals to award tickets by using the Mile Value Calculator. If the awards would give too low of a cents-per-mile bang for your buck, then just book with cash.

I expect most west coast cities to Hawaii to be better deals with cash than miles currently. That doesn’t mean that miles can’t be used well to Hawaii. East coast and regional airports to Hawaii often give a good cents per mile on redemptions.