Alaska Airlines is cutting award prices for many routes and increasing earning for premium cabin travel on many partners. The news comes as the company announced details about its loyalty integration with Virgin America and cuts to its partnership with Delta Air Lines.
The new Alaska Mileage Plan award chart offers up a lower starting point for short-haul awards and three new tiers for award pricing depending on route length. Intrastate routes under 700 miles previously were discounted to 7,500 points from the traditional 12,500 rate for one way domestic awards. The new award chart cuts the starting price on those trips to 5,000 points and drops the intrastate requirement; all short awards now get the new pricing. It also add a new 7,500 point award for trips 701-1,400 miles and a 10,000 point award for trips 1,401-2,100 miles. Trips over 2,100 miles will continue to start at 12,500 one way.
Key to this change is that it is the starting point for awards, not necessarily what MileagePlan members should expect to pay on any given day. Searching on Spokane-Seattle, for example, yields awards priced at 5,000, 7,500 and 12,500 point levels, plus the refundable option at 17,500. On Portland-Seattle – also theoretically a 5,000 point award – rates appear to be mostly 10,000 or 20,000 points for a one-way trip. This variable pricing is both good and bad news. Alaska Airlines has not gone so far as to implement a completely variable priced award structure.
It still has award charts, but there are also many price levels which the charts do not show. In other words, there’s only mostly an award chart.
Reciprocity & Transfers
Earning across the merger partners presents some interesting opportunities. Elevate remains a revenue-based program while MileagePlan remains distance based. This means travelers will need to consider price versus distance in choosing where to credit flights during the overlap period as the programs merge. A Virgin America flight crediting to the MileagePlan program will earn at least 100%, with class of service bonus credits for B fares and higher. A $75 one-way flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco will earn 500 points in MileagePlan or about 275 points if credited to Elevate. Even with the 1.3 multiplier Elevate members will get when converting their points to MileagePlan that’s an easy choice. For longer flights the threshold to consider is approximately 15 cents per mile (excluding taxes). Anything cheaper than that and it will be better to credit to Alaska Airlines; anything more expensive (and still not into the class of service bonuses) should credit to Elevate.
For Alaska Airlines flights crediting to Elevate the numbers are distance based but without a 500 mile minimum or even the 100% base rate. Cheap fares will credit at 50% scaling up to 175% for first class tickets. That same first class fare will also earn 175% credited to the Mileage Plan program, but without the 1.3x multiplier for moving it back over on January 9, 2017 when such transfers become viable. With the way the two earn charts are set up flights on Alaska Airlines with a Q fare or higher should credit to Elevate; cheaper fares should credit to MileagePlan. The above ignores elite bonus credits which change the earning rates back in favor of the program where a travelers has elite status.
One open question right now is whether it will be possible to convert from MileagePlan back to elevate at the same 1.3:1 ratio. There are some nice sweet spots on the Elevate award chart that would make that a nice option but, from what has been shared by the company so far, that seems an option somewhere between unclear and unlikely. UPDATE: Confirmed as not allowed.
Bigger Bonuses in Premium Cabins
Premium cabin partner travel just became more lucrative when crediting to the MileagePlan program. Alaska Airlines will now give more points for business and first class flights on Qantas, Emirate, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and more. The company is advertising “up to 80%” more miles” but also includes an example on Qantas where the earning 133% higher. Mostly good news even if bad math in the marketing copy.
On the balance this is all good news for members in the two programs.
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