Major adjustments are coming to Alaska Mileage Plan award redemptions in early 2024, as just about everything is changing. Let me just say upfront that Alaska isn’t pulling a Delta SkyMiles here, in terms of trying to destroy the value of its program. While the current sweet spots are largely being eliminated, the program will become much more widely useful. I actually think changes along these lines were long overdue.
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Alaska Mileage Plan overhauling award redemptions
Alaska Mileage Plan is introducing new award pricing as of March 2024 (this is based on when you book your ticket, and not based on when you travel), which is intended to be significantly more transparent than the current pricing system. Not only that, but Mileage Plan will be rolling out award redemptions on partner airlines globally, and is even working toward allowing multiple partners to be booked on a single award. Let’s go over all of the changes.
New zone & distance-based award charts
As of March 2024, Alaska Mileage Plan will have three simple award charts that will be a combination of zone and distance based. The airline claims that with this new distance-based structure, 60% of partner nonstop routes in economy start at a lower price point, while 64% of partner nonstop routes in business class start at a lower price point.
There will be the Americas award chart, which will cover any travel from the United States to anywhere in the Americas, including North America and South America.
Then there’s the Asia-Pacific award chart, which includes travel from the United States to Asia-Pacific, within Asia-Pacific, and between Asia-Pacific and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Then there’s the Europe, Middle East, and Africa award chart, which includes travel from the United States to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and travel within Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
The most significant thing to understand here is that the “starting at” prices are actually what you’re going to pay if there’s saver level award availability. All partners will have the same award pricing assuming there’s saver award availability. That’s a big improvement over the current situation, where different partners have different pricing.
There are a few other important things to understand:
- Award pricing is based on the cumulative distance of one-way travel
- As you can see above, there’s a hierarchy of award charts, so the Americas chart only applies if you’re traveling within the Americas, while the Asia-Pacific chart applies if traveling from the United States to Asia, and the Europe, the Middle East, and Africa chart applies if traveling from the United States to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
- Award routing rules will remain the same as they currently are, though of course the more distance you travel, the more you’ll pay
Award redemptions are being opened up globally
Under the current Mileage Plan system, you can only redeem Mileage Plan miles for travel within and between select regions. That will be changing as of March 2024, as Mileage Plan will be opening up redemptions on partners globally. This is an exciting and long overdue change, as there will no longer be geographic restrictions on redemptions.
More redemption options on more partners
Not only is Alaska Mileage Plan opening up redemptions globally, but the program is also rolling out more kinds of awards:
- Mileage Plan is introducing premium economy redemptions on American Airlines and Japan Airlines
- Mileage Plan is rolling out more non-saver award options on partners than before
- This is very specific, but for travel in Icelandair Saga Class (business class), pricing will start to be based on premium economy rather than business class, given the type of product that Icelandair offers
Multi-airline awards coming in late 2024
Currently Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t let you mix partners on a single one-way award ticket. You can fly Alaska Airlines to a gateway, and then a partner airline for the rest of your journey. As of later in 2024, Mileage Plan intends to allow members to mix two partners on a single one-way award ticket, which is an exciting development.
For those wondering why it has taken so long, it’s my understanding that this has been a technology limitation up until now, though the airline is working on resolving that.
Partner award sales will become a regular thing
Starting in 2024, Mileage Plan intends to offer regular global partner award sales. The intent is that there will be quarterly, limited-time promotions featuring special pricing of up to 50% off, on specific partners or routes, or to specific destinations. That sounds great, though let’s see what the execution is like.
Stopovers are here to stay
With these Mileage Plan changes, Alaska isn’t making any changes to its stopover policy, which will continue to be extremely generous. As before, you’ll be able to make a stopover on most redemptions at partner hubs, so nothing is changing there.
My take on these Alaska Mileage Plan changes
Here’s the thing — if it were still 2016, I’d say that these Mileage Plan changes are a massive devaluation. For those of us who are savvy with redeeming miles, the Mileage Plan program has historically been so useful because of a few sweet spot awards, particularly for transpacific travel. For example, being able to redeem 70,000 Mileage Plan miles for a Cathay Pacific one-way first class award to Asia or beyond was an incredible value.
But times have also changed, and that’s not Alaska’s fault, frankly. The sweet spot awards that we used to love Mileage Plan for are basically theoretical at this point, as there’s no availability. When the last time we saw a transpacific Cathay Pacific first class award bookable through Mileage Plan? I don’t remember the last time I saw one…
The way I view it, with these changes, Mileage Plan redemptions are switching from being theoretically aspirational, to being much more practical. With that in mind, a few thoughts about these changes:
- I’m thrilled to see Mileage Plan finally introduce redemptions globally, rather than only in select regions
- It’s great that Alaska is bringing back a transparent and simple award chart, where we’ll know exactly how much we’ll pay for saver awards
- The new redemption rates are extremely lucrative for shorter distance travel, and this chart is useful given Alaska’s unique airline partners beyond oneworld, ranging from Condor, to Icelandair, to Singapore Airlines
- I’m also happy that Alaska is planning on introducing multi-partner awards in the coming year
- These changes definitely devalue some sweet spots considerably, but I’d say they do a good job of distributing value across redemptions more equally; that’s useful right now, given that the sweet spots were largely theoretical
- Call me naive, but I think these changes are actually intended to make the program more broadly useful, rather than intended as a devaluation; there are a few loyalty programs run by avgeeks who are genuine with their intentions, and Alaska Mileage Plan is one of those programs
Crunching numbers on Alaska Mileage Plan award changes
Let’s use some real life examples of how award pricing is changing. First, here are a few situations where the increase in award pricing is awful:
- A Qantas first class award from Los Angeles to Sydney would go from costing 70,000 miles to costing 130,000 miles
- A Qantas business class award from Los Angeles to Sydney would go from costing 50,000 miles to costing 85,000 miles
- A Cathay Pacific first class award from Los Angeles to Hong Kong would go from costing 70,000 miles to costing 130,000 miles
- A Cathay Pacific business class award from Los Angeles to Hong Kong would go from costing 50,000 miles to costing 85,000 miles
Of course as mentioned above, the issue is that there’s almost never any availability with these redemptions, so that’s largely a moot point.
There’s also so much more broad usefulness with the new program, though. Let me just give examples of a few redemptions that stand out to me:
- The new program offers huge value for short haul awards within the Americas, as you’ll be able to redeem 4,500 miles for an itinerary of up to 700 miles, and 7,500 miles for an itinerary of up to 1,400 miles
- An Icelandair business class award from the United States to Europe via Iceland (with a stopover) will cost just 35,000 miles (due to this pricing being updated to premium economy)
- Flying from the Northeast of the United States to Ireland or England will cost 45,000 miles in business class, or 67,500 miles in first class
- A Qatar Airways business class award from Doha to Mumbai is decreasing in price from 40,000 miles to 15,000 miles
- A Japan Airlines business class award from Tokyo to Shanghai is decreasing in price from 35,000 miles to 15,000 miles
- A Malaysia Airlines business class award from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok is decreasing in price from 65,000 miles to 15,000 miles
Major changes are coming to Alaska Mileage Plan as of March 2024. We’re seeing the introduction of three new zone and distance based award charts, which will determine award pricing.
Obviously these changes are a mixed bag. The sweet spot redemptions that previously existed with the program are largely being devalued. However, those sweet spots were largely theoretical, given the lack of availability we’ve seen on carriers like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qantas.
Instead, Mileage Plan is switching to a program that’s much more practical, with particularly good value for short haul redemptions across the globe. Mileage Plan is finally going to allow redemptions without geographic restrictions, and later in 2024 we’ll even see multi-carrier redemptions introduced.
What do you make of these Alaska Mileage Plan changes?