Short Alaska Miles? How To Top Off Account

Over the weekend I attended Frequent Traveler University, and along with Gary hosted two “Advanced Q&A” sessions. We took questions both “live” and from a list of questions people had submitted beforehand. We didn’t get through all of them, so I figured I’d answer a few of the ones submitted beforehand here.

We did get some ridiculous question (ie “what is the most complex sexual position you’ve used on a plane?” and “On a 747, which lav is best if I want to bring a friend??), though for the most part the questions were great. By the way, if anyone has insight and wants to write a guest post answering either of the above, please email me.

So lets get started with the first question:

I want to book an Alaska award, but I’m short 3,000 miles. What options do I have?

Presumably if you’re short a few thousand miles for booking an award you’ll want to top off your account soon, so what are your options?

Purchase or share miles

Through Alaska Mileage Plan you can outright purchase miles for 2.75 cents each plus a 7.5% federal excise tax. That’s not a great deal, but then again if 3,000 miles is what stands between you and and an Emirates first class award, what’s $100, really?

Sometimes Alaska offers bonuses on the purchase of miles, though they’re often tiered and wouldn’t represent huge savings for purchasing only a few thousand miles.

Alternatively if you have some spare miles in another account, you can transfer miles at a cost of $10 per 1,000 miles plus a $25 processing fee.

Transfer points from Starwood Preferred Guest

Alaska is 1:1 transfer partners with Starwood Preferred Guest, and for every 20,000 points you transfer you get a 5,000 point bonus. The transfers aren’t the fastest, but usually take less than two weeks.

Use Fly & Buy Miles program

Alaska has a Fly & Buy Miles program, whereby you can choose to purchase 2,500, 5,000, or 10,000 miles when you purchase a revenue ticket. The miles post instantly, which is awesome.


In the past you could easily purchase a ticket and take advantage of the Fly & Buy Miles program, and then cancel the ticket within 24 hours to get a refund while still keeping the mileage purchased.

However, a few weeks ago Alaska updated the terms of the Fly & Buy Miles program, to add the following:

Fly & Buy Miles purchased with a ticket that is later refunded will be subject to additional fees at the standard rate of 2.75 cents per mile plus applicable taxes.

So if you’re in a bind and really need the miles I’d certainly consider buying an Alaska ticket that you actually will end up flying ASAP, though booking and refunding a ticket now comes with some real risks.

Apply for an Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Card

Alaska doesn’t generally offer huge sign-up bonuses on their credit cards. For example, currently they’re offering a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus upon approval.

There are two things that make the card awesome, though:

  • It’s relatively easy to get approved for the card
  • Since you earn the sign-up bonus upon account approval, the miles post really fast — in my experience they post before you even receive the card, usually within a few days of being approved

Bottom line

My first choice would of course be applying for an Alaska Visa Card, if you don’t have one already. Those are easy and quick miles. Alternatively, if you’d prefer not to or if you’re in a rush, I would try to book a revenue ticket you actually think you’ll be able to take, and use the “Fly & Buy Miles” option. As a last resort I would outright purchase the miles.

 Did I miss any creative ways to quickly top off an Alaska Mileage Plan account?


  1. You do not have to have Multiple mileage accounts to get multiple Alaska Air cards. As a matter of fact, on my Alaska flight last month, the FAs were pushing the Visa application, explicitly saying that you can get another one of the cards, and get the 25K bonus, even if you already have one.

    If the company’s agent is selling it as an advantage, this is not a legality or a deceptive issue. This is you agreeing with them, and buying what they are selling.

  2. @JD: sorry to disappoint you JD, that’s not the case. My capacity at work is related to the discussion and I’ve seen it happen a number of times before.

  3. Just by saying “my capacity at work is related to the discussion” does not make my statement off topic. You have seen correlation. A happens and B happens. This is correlation, this does not mean A causes B. Unless the marketing director of an airline specifically told you that a program changed because bloggers posted whatever, you do not have a case.

    Anyway, please keep visiting and posting comments to support our favorite blogger here.

  4. Dio you put a lot of spending on the cards? Do you tend to get immediate approval or need to call?

  5. @JD: my apologies but I cannot see where I actually wrote that your reply was off topic. Can you specifically clarify where you see “off topic”?
    Perhaps I should’ve been less vague about ‘my capacity’: the marketing department of an airline – with more specificity: frequent flyer program issues and strategic planning.
    Lastly, FF member abuses of less than ideally thought out promotions are indeed a real issue related to recent changes and those changes down line as well.

  6. Another way would be to sign up for Rocketmiles and book a hotel stays. They have a promotion for 3000 bonus Alaska miles for new members.

  7. Haha CT and JD are overweight middle management guys arguing on a blog… Ever see the commercial that starts with “not another day, not another day, I can’t take my life”….

  8. Everybody play nice on the way to the Alaska shopping portal to buy AMEX gift cards and rack in the miles……… isn’t a smile better than a frown?

  9. @ CT — Sorry to disappoint, I only have one Alaska account, and they’re all applied for with the same mileage number and social.

  10. Buy $1K Amex GC on Alaska portal w/ 3X miles per $1.00 = 3K miles. Liquidate GC w/ Amazon payments. Way to go getting five Alaska cards. Take the points and fly.

  11. @CT – If I had a business and ran promotions that could easily be taken advantage of (if that’s the case) I’d say I’m doing business poorly. With all the lawyers and IT people the banks and programs have they could easily cover this. I assume they’re not so stupid they don’t know this is happening. They are either poor business people or really don’t care (not waiving initial AF, etc.). I think they’re still making out fine overall.

  12. It’s a numbers game and the guys running the promotions are bonused up based on new accounts and the dups are such a small percentage it is immaterial to the bigger picture……….the guys running the promotions are actually happy to see the dups… is the upper management that will will eventually reel them in aka AMEX or if the Federal Reserve moves to force the banks to strengthen their balance sheets………we’ll be sipping champagne and reading about it in the Journal plotting the next move……….everybody be kool honey bunny…………..

  13. @Lucky: with that Alaska credit card, is there a spending $ amount to be done to get the bonus points? Can not find it anywhere. Usually with other cards it’s 1000 $ in 3 months. Would be nice if no spending required here 🙂

  14. Lucky, has a credit card company ever asked why you want two or more of the same card? what do you say? not judging, just wondering if there is a legit. answer i would feel comfortable with.

  15. @Charlie Just Say: I have multiple girlfriends and this is how I keep track of the spending on each one………

  16. I only have one Alaska Visa but if they allow you to have multiple cards while getting bonuses, what’s the big deal? Everyone’s even using same FF account numbers — it’d be elementary for BofA to stop this but they don’t.

    Most likely because bonuses are actually pretty small compared to 75-100K ones on other cards. Even with 100K bonus you see companies willing to pay them out multiple times currently.

  17. Hey Lucky, 3 questions this time. Love your site and appreciate your patience as I begin to navigate FF awards.

    1. Is Alaska the only airline that allows stopovers on one-way flights? I do most of my travel as one-way since I’m not sure when I return to my origin and don’t want to pay a change fee.

    2. Do you anticipate that Alaska will see a devaluation like AA/US Airways?

    3. What are the chances of being approved for the credit card with a $30K income and a credit score over 700 but with several inquiries this year?

  18. @ Donald —

    1) They’re one of the only lucrative programs that allows that, yes.

    2) At some point yes, but I don’t think it will be major, and I think it may be a while before it happens.

    3) I’d say you have a good shot, but no way to know for sure unfortunately.

  19. With respect to your note that Fly & Buy miles “will be subject to additional fees at the standard rate of 2.75 cents per mile plus applicable taxes” in regards to a cancellation, do you have any idea how they’d go about levying that additional fee? I did this recently (in early May) and then canceled the ticket 12 days later, and there was no talk of any penalty or additional fee on the purchased miles.

  20. @ TravelScott — It might just be an empty threat. In the past they’ve “frozen” some award tickets booked using miles purchased through this method, and then the difference has to be paid by phone before departure. But if doing this in moderation I doubt they’d do that.

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