Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

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A bit of an oddball, Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan takes third place because it's flexible, innovative, and well-connected. Elite status holders receive benefits on American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and non-elites enjoy discounted in-state award tickets and a "Money & Miles" redemption option.

Our Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan review finds this to be a relatively straightforward and generous miles-based frequent flyer program. Members earn a mile for each mile flown, and these miles can be redeemed for free flights. In spite of its name, Alaska Airlines is far from being the epitome of a small, stand-alone regional airline. With its 14 partners, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways, Air France, Qantas, and Emirates, Alaska offers frequent flyer program members a way to earn and redeem miles for travel to and from hundreds of domestic and international locations.

Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan stands out in our comparative review of 10 frequent flyer programs because of its low-cost redemption options. For flights operated by Alaska Airlines that begin and end within one state (e.g., Alaska or California), the cost of a one-way ticket starts at a very low 7,500 miles. Trips between states cost the more common 12,500 miles each way, with flights to/from Hawaii requiring a minimum of 20,000 miles each way. Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan also includes a "Money & Miles" option that discounts fares by 50 percent up to $100 when redeeming 10,000 miles or a maximum $200 when trading in 20,000 miles. The 1-cent-per-mile redemption rate isn't the best out there, but the extra flexibility afforded by the two award types -- a free ticket or a discounted price in exchange for miles -- is always welcome.

As with many frequent flyer programs, Alaska's Mileage Plan also lets members earn miles by lodging with partner hotels, renting a car from a partner agency, dining at participating restaurants, and more. Members can increase their point counts by using the co-branded Visa Signature credit card, as well, and by making purchases through the carrier's online shopping portal. Mileage Plan members can buy miles, although the price is quite high -- $27.50 plus tax for 1,000 miles -- and may be worthwhile only if you need a few miles to trade in for a costly flight. The airline occasionally runs special promotions with extra earning opportunities. Miles expire after 24 months if the account has been dormant.

There are three elite status tiers for frequent flyers: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K. Each requires flying a set number of miles (20,000, 40,000, or 75,000, respectively) or segments (30, 60, or 90, respectively) on Alaska within a calendar year. Travelers can earn status by flying with partner airlines, but the minimum mileage jumps to 25,000, 50,000, and 90,000, respectively. Holding elite status gives flyers a boost of 50 percent or 100 percent when earning redeemable miles, in addition to free checked bags, preferred seating, priority check-in and boarding, and complimentary upgrades. The MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K levels also come with a complimentary premium beverage, upgrades for flying companions, and four one-way upgrade certificates annually that can be handed out to friends and family.

One of the best benefits of elite status on Alaska Airlines is the perks that are honored by some partner airlines. For example, elite status at any level means a complimentary checked bag on American and Delta flights. MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K elites get a second free checked bag, priority check-in and boarding, and discounted or free seating with these carriers.

Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan has lots to offer. The earning opportunities match those of the legacy carriers and the reduced-rate redemption for in-state flights and the discounted fare option make Mileage Plan miles quite an asset. Partnerships with other route systems and the valuable perks of elite status add more flavor to the mix.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in credit, debt, and practical money-saving tips. He loves stacking savings opportunities to get amazing deals, traveling for free using credit card rewards, and teaching others how to do the same. Connect with Louis by visiting louisdenicola.com.

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