[Update: The word now is that Alaska Airlines won’t be joining the oneworld alliance until some time in early 2021] The frequent flyer program for Alaska Airlines is possibly going to experience some “enhancements” later this year as it joins the oneworld alliance. Although it’s likely not high on the average Maritimer’s list of favourite loyalty programs, it’s worth a look for those wanting to maintain a grasp on the changing points and miles landscape, and in particular, how to get oneself to Europe cheaply in 2021, assuming leisure travel has resumed by then.
First, a quick mention of the new Aeroplan program taking effect November 8, 2020. For those of us who usually fly out of Halifax (YHZ), there are both positive and negative changes on the way. One welcome change is the prospect of redeeming points to fly non-stop to London Heathrow without the high surcharges, although this may hinge on the return of the 737 MAX.
WestJet is apparently revisiting its loyalty program as indicated by the temporary pause of its Member Exclusive Fares. Hopefully we’ll see them return with substantially the same value.
In addition to those programs, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is an interesting alternative to throw into the mix.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines flies routes in western Canada but if you live out east the miles program is primarily useful for booking partner reward flights. A notable limitation is that reward flights may involve one partner only, in addition to any Alaska Airlines segments on an itinerary.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on the routes to Europe one can access flying out Halifax. These currently include Condor to Frankfurt plus certain onward destinations and American Airlines to multiple European cities via Philadelphia.
Free Stopover on One-Way Flight Rewards
A key benefit of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is the ability to include a free stopover on a one-way reward flight. (A stopover on a one-way will also be available under the new Aeroplan but for an added cost of 5000 points, and unfortunately no stopovers will be permitted in Canada or the United States, even on international itineraries.)
With Alaska joining oneworld, who knows if this perk will remain. If not, hopefully there will be a window of time before any new policies take effect so people can lock in a booking ahead of the change.
You can redeem Alaska miles for flights on the German leisure airline, Condor.
Condor has a seasonal non-stop flight to Frankfurt from Halifax which is set to resume May 22, 2021. There has also been a weekly flight to Munich in the past but there is no sign of that one yet.
Flights range from 25,000 to 40,000 miles one-way in economy; premium economy is 45,000 and business class is 55,000 miles.
If 2021 is similar to previous years, the lowest economy rate of 25,000 miles will start appearing around early spring for late spring to midsummer dates and availability is usually very good. Interestingly, checking availability now, it seems that the date most recently released shows up at 25,000 and then disappears shortly thereafter. Otherwise, only premium economy and business rewards are currently available.
Because Alaska miles may only be redeemed on one partner airline at a time, you’re limited to onward Condor flights if Frankfurt is not your final destination. Condor flies to a number of coastal vacation spots in Europe. Check out all the options on the Condor world map.
Albeit a mixed cabin itinerary, here’s an example of a reward flight to Greece in business class on the transatlantic segment:
Halifax – Kos (round trip)
Connection in Frankfurt
July 1 – 8, 2021
110,000 Alaska miles + $171.11 USD
Note that sometimes Condor availability doesn’t show up at all on the Alaska website. I don’t know why that is but if you’re interested in a potential booking definitely keep checking until it appears. As mentioned, when it does display correctly, availability on Condor has usually been pretty good.
Hopefully Alaska Airlines will retain Condor as a partner after joining oneworld.
American Airlines is a oneworld member so you’ll definitely be able to continue redeeming Alaska miles for AA flights. American flies Halifax to Philadelphia daily on a seasonal schedule. Next year the route is set to start May 6, 2021. Last year there was a Saturday flight to New York LaGuardia as well but it’s not showing up so far.
Alaska offers a nice off-season discount on the number of miles required to fly American to Europe. Between October 15th and May 15th, a one-way flight is only 22,500 miles instead of the usual 30,000.
American Airlines flies to a number of cities in Europe. Check the Flight Connections website or the wikipedia page for Philadelphia’s airport (PHL) for the full selection.
Strangely, you need to search American Airlines flights as multi-city instead of one-way or round trip even if you’re not incorporating a stopover in your trip. If you don’t use this method it will only display business class reward pricing (with usually just the Halifax – Philadelphia segment actually in business).
Flight availability at the lowest economy rate of 12,500 miles one-way between Halifax and Philadelphia is good currently (for 2021 dates) but can be hit or miss so I suggest searching that segment separately with the calendar view before going on to look for your Europe flight reward.
Here’s an example of a trip to Prague during the window of opportunity when a round trip would only be 45,000 Alaska miles. Because the one daily flight from Philadelphia back to Halifax departs in the morning, you’d need to overnight in Philadelphia on the way home. If you want to add a stopover of a few nights to see the sights of eastern Pennsylvania, you could do that as well.
Halifax – Prague (round trip)
Connection in Philadelphia
May 6 – 13, 2021
45,000 miles + $140.11 USD
Using the free stopover on a one-way flight, you could actually fly to Prague with a week in Seattle on the way. Notice that it allows you to transit through the same city twice, something not permitted on an Aeroplan ticket.
Halifax – Prague (one-way with stopover in Seattle)
American Airlines, Alaska Airlines
Connection in Philadelphia
May 11, 18, 2021
22,500 Alaska miles + $84.96 USD
Depending on the airline, it might be cheaper to fly one-way on miles and the other on a cash fare. Last year, we flew Halifax to Gdansk on Aeroplan but home from Warsaw on a very cheap one-way Condor/LOT flight.
Other Alaska Airlines Partners
If you want to fly with one of the various other Alaska partners, you’ll need to book a separate positioning flight to the origin of your reward booking. This could be well worth the bother for the savings and if you add that city to your vacation plan it would further justify the extra expense or points.
Here are a couple of examples using the free stopover on a one-way flight reward to Europe.
Boston – Helsinki (one-way with stopover in San Francisco)
Alaska Airlines, Finnair
June 30, July 7, 2021
30,000 Alaska miles + $23.70 USD
New York – Lisbon (one-way with stopover in Helsinki)
July 17, July 24, 2021
30,000 Alaska miles + $36.40 USD
How does a Canadian earn miles with Alaska Mileage Plan?
When you fly on any of Alaska’s partner airlines you can credit the miles earned to your Alaska Mileage Plan account by adding your AS membership number to those bookings. If you want to see the breakdown on how many miles you’ll get, take a look at the charts for each airline partner on the Alaska Airlines website.
Alaska Mileage Plan Credit Cards
Another method to acquire miles is to sign up for an MBNA Alaska Mileage Plan MasterCard. There are two to choose from: the World Elite and the Platinum Plus. Sign up though a site like Great Canadian Rebates to get a $50 rebate in addition to the welcome bonus.
The cards come with a companion fare benefit but it can only be used on Alaska Airlines flights.
Convert Hotel Points
In general, most loyalty points have their highest value when redeemed in their original form. However, if you’re determined to earn enough Alaska miles for a flight, consider converting your hotel points to Alaska miles in the programs that have this option. With Marriott, you get an extra 5000 miles when you convert 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to 20,000 Alaska miles due to an ongoing 25% bonus offer on such transfers, giving you 25,000 miles total.
Alternatively, you could set your hotel loyalty account to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles from the get go. I’d be cautious with this approach though because it may prevent you from from taking part in certain points earning promotions that come along. But, if you’re confident about collecting Alaska miles, you can do this with many hotel chains.
Rocketmiles, Kaligo, Pointshound
You can also earn Alaska miles if you book a hotel stay through one of the third party sites that offer frequent flyer miles. Just be sure you’re actually getting a competitive nightly rate and watch for any good promotions. Rocketmiles typically has some sort of Black Friday deal along with an ongoing bonus offer for first time users.
If you don’t mind answering boring and tedious surveys, e-Rewards is a good source of Alaska miles with $100 in e-Rewards dollars redeemable for 2000 miles. Note that you’re limited to one redemption every 30 days although I cannot imagine earning e-Rewards fast enough to be able to redeem more often than that. Still, it’s a good reminder not to let your survey dollars pile up since you can’t redeem a large amount all at once.
e-Rewards is an invitation-only survey program although sometimes you can find sign up links online. Be aware that if you join via a link from a different airline’s loyalty program you might not be able to redeem your e-Rewards for Alaska miles.
I did a quick search and saw that the hotel program ALL Accor Live Limitless currently has an active link for joining e-Rewards that is apparently open to residents of Canada. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to redeem for Alaska miles, but because this is a hotel program, it’s more likely than through an airline program. The only surefire way to know an e-Rewards account will allow Alaska redemptions is if you receive an e-Rewards invitation directly from Alaska Mileage Plan.
Change Fees on Partner Reward Bookings
You may have heard about several U.S. airlines dropping their change fees for domestic flights. American and Alaska included flights to/from Canada as well. Alaska Mileage Plan reward tickets flown entirely on Alaska Airlines flights are also free from change fees.
Initially, I thought perhaps change fees were eliminated from all reward tickets and the thought of a relatively risk-free speculative booking was the inspiration for this blog post. But, sadly, the new policy apparently does not apply to partner reward tickets as I realized after reading this exchange on Alaska’s twitter account:
Assuming the Alaska rep relying to the person’s question has accurate info, the change or cancellation fee of $125 USD will remain in place for partner reward flights in 2021 unless the policy is further amended.
It’s nice to have multiple options to use points and miles for flights out of Halifax. I don’t know what the future holds for Alaska Mileage Plan as it joins the oneworld alliance but hopefully there will continue to be good reward opportunities for YHZ travellers. While the Condor and American Airlines routes are seasonal, they provide interesting possibilities. In my view, they reinforce the idea that diversifying your points portfolio is a wise move as long as you know the nuances of the programs and websites so you can effectively use the miles in a way the best suits your travel plans.