Why Alaska Airlines is the Best Frequent Flyer Program for College Students

Sorry for the delay in posts. School slammed hard this semester. Things that move, things that flow, and things that bend are challenging. With that, i hope to provide content once or twice a week until May.

I have never taken a flight on Alaska Airlines, yet I am a low level MVP elite with them. What is a low level elite? It means you flew a lot with an airline or their partners. There are different elite levels, usually a low, middle and high end elite status. With each status, you get different benefits with an airline, and the higher the status gets, the better the benefits. My favorite benefit is a 50% bonus on miles flown, that I paid for. This adds up, and is part of the reason why I like Alaska Airlines.

Introduction

Alaska Airlines is based in Seattle, Washington, and provides extensive travel all over the Western US, including Alaska and Hawaii. They are not associated with an alliance, but still have partners all over the world. Their frequent flier program is called Mileage Plan.

Partners

This is where Alaska Airlines wins in my book. They have partners that go beyond a typical airline alliance, two of those partners are the biggest carriers in the US:

  • American Airlines
  • Aeromexico
  • Delta
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Air France
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Lan
  • Qantas
  • Pen Air
  • Raven

So, these partners are pretty great. Why? They provide competition. Most people look for the cheapest price on a route instead of the airline. American Airlines and Delta both partner with Alaska Airlines, and those are some of the larger airlines in the US, American is the largest airline in the world in fact.

What this means is that you can earn miles on either carrier, with Alaska Airlines. Why does this matter? You can’t do that with any other program. Delta does not partner with American, as they are both in a different alliance.

You can credit miles from both Delta and American Airlines to Alaska Airlines, and use them on, say, Emirates (who is also not part of an alliance).

Do you see what I am saying? When buying plane tickets home for spring break, you have a higher chance of flying an airline that is cheaper and has worthwhile miles. This is good because you don’t have to fret over paying a premium (as much) for the airline that you are trying to earn miles with. This just boosts a bit further when you are looking at tickets to, say, Europe. You can fly British Airways, KLM/Air France, Emirates (JFK-Milan), American or Delta and still earn miles, if they are in the right booking class.

Do you see how this is valuable? Earning miles with Alaska is easier because you can choose from two big airlines within the US, then spend those on other airlines to get abroad.

When you get to the elite level, you start earning bonus miles…which means more rewards, sooner. Alaska Airlines is really generous in this department, as a bottom tier elite (first level) earns 50% bonus miles, where most airlines give you just a 25% bonus. On 10k miles o lying, you are earning 15k miles…

Earning Miles on Alaska Airlines

Earning miles on Alaska is exactly the way I described in this post.  To summarize, you need to:

  1. Verify you are flying on one of their partners.
  2. Check to make sure that you have an appropriate booking class.
  3. Verify that your flight number is included in the flight numbers

This has worked for any airline until now. Delta is going revenue based on the 1st of the the year, which means that they will award miles based off of how much you spend instead of how far you fly. It really hurts people who buy cheap plane tickets, but it is what it is.

Delta will still earn miles on Alaska Airlines, but will be dependent on the booking class more. What I mean is, each booking class will earn a certain number of miles. Alaska will not be evenue based in terms of Delta flights. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. Up until the first of the year, every flight would earn 100% miles, now, only certain flights will earn 100% miles. It is a good thing in the sense that it could have been a lot worse. To show you what I am talking about, let’s look at an example:

jfksea

In the above, you can see that the fare class is V. Looking on the Alaska Airline mileage earning chart, you will see that V class earns 50% of the miles flown, or, 2,421/2=1,210

Delta

According to the Delta website, this flight would earn 645 miles in their program. You are better off crediting the exact same ticket to Alaska Airlines instead of Delta. Better yet, you are better off flying Alaska or American which actually award you based off how much you fly and not how much you spend…an airline is making money off you, so why shouldn’t your award miles based off of flying, which was their initial intention was.

With that, I usually try to fly American, and this year, a flight or two on Alaska Airlines. I am fairly certain that all American fares earn miles on Alaska Airlines so that is a plus. So if Delta is not that great for earning, and you want to fly American more for the big flights, why not just stick with American’s program? It still offers you flexibility. Flexible flying is the key to getting better deals. To that, someone might say “why not just buy the cheapest ticket always, regardless of airline?” If you fly to Europe you will probably earn about 12k miles. If you fly to Europe and see grandma, then take a family vacation somewhere, you might get to the point of earning 20k miles in a year, in which case, you could get a one way to Hawaii or something. Is saving $100 on a ticket more worthwhile than flying on a carrier that will award you the miles to take a trip that can potentially cost you $500-600?  That is a question for you to answer, and if that is the way you want to go, go for it. Personally, I would not pay the extra $100 probably, but instead get creative and maybe have a stopover in a city that I have not really been to yet. That is me.

Another reason why Alaska is better, beyond the flexibility, is the 50% bonus. If you fly 25k paid miles a year, you will become an MVP and that will boost your mileage earnings by 50% on all flights taken after that qualification date. American’s on the other hand, will give you only a 25% bonus. More miles means more trips. All i am saying is think about it instead of spending money on Southwest or Spirit, airlines who don’t really reward you accordingly. Yes, the upfront cost is larger with Alaska, but, if you figure it out correctly, you could be on your way to a trip a year for close to free, easily.

Some people might say Southwest is a great airline for college students. That is true. they give you two free bags. BUT, they don’t really fly internationally aside from the Caribbean and Mexico. When I use miles, i rarely use them for flights within the country, instead, I use them for the big trips that are more expensive usually, like when I came back from Japan. That ticket was going for about $1800 one way. Southwest points can’t buy you a ticket to Japan, so other airlines have an advantage in that sense. I would rather earn my miles within the country, then use them to get out of the country. But that is just my strategy.

Earning Through Shopping Portal

Alaska has a mileage shopping portal, similar to most other airlines. The other day, I bought a $50 gift card to American Airlines through this portal, and earned 850 miles including a 750 mile bonus.  Just another way to earn a bit more. For info on earning miles through portals, check out the beginning of this post. A full post on portals will come soon.

Rewards

Alaska Airlines has a pretty sweet award chart, which is another reason why it makes a great program. You are allowed one stopover on all international awards, even one ways. I will talk about the Alaska Airlines award chart in more detail some day in the future, but I have to say, the 70k miles first class award from the US to Johannesburg via a stopover in Hong Kong is one of the few first/business tickets I would go for…to compare, it is 50k miles in coach. I think I know what I am saving my Alaska Miles for. Better get that one before it disappears!

Another great thing is the off peak AA awards. American discounts their awards for off peak travel times to various places like Japan, South America, Hawaii and Europe. With Alaska Airlines, you can book the same rates as using American miles. That is pretty cool.

Summary

So I tried to convince you with flying partners of Alaska Airlines, mainly Delta and American due to the fact that you are more flexible with your travel plans and can weigh more carriers for a better deal. It may be imperfect, but if I can get a few deals on two carriers instead of any carrier, it will reward you in the future. Miles is not an instant pleasure, but more so a long term plan, and if you stick to your plan, you will get some sweet redemptions in the end.

I briefly showed you that there is some promise in the award program. That is always a good thing when choosing an airline.

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