Most Maritimers are probably familiar with Aeroplan miles and WestJet dollars but few likely pay much attention to the loyalty program connected to Alaska Airlines. That’s for good reason as it doesn’t fly out of any airports in central or eastern Canada. However, you can still use Alaska miles for flights because they have partner airlines that fly out of Halifax. Here are a few thoughts on why you might want to consider acquiring some Alaska miles.
Who Are The Partner Airlines?
The relevant partners are Condor (seasonal non-stop Halifax to Frankfurt) and American Airlines (seasonal non-stops to New York and Philadelphia). Before the 737 Max 8 issue took Halifax off the Icelandair route map, it would have been an option as well. Perhaps it will return next year.
Another option is Finnair, if you’re willing to get yourself to Boston. However, if you can go to Boston you would also have to look at the low fares to Europe that are pretty common from US airports these days. Ireland’s Aer Lingus is now a redemption partner as well but you must consider the fact that you can fly non-stop Halifax to Dublin on WestJet and that convenience might outweigh any Boston redemption opportunity. You can also use Alaska miles on British Airways flights out of Boston and Montreal but the surcharges are quite high.
How Many Miles Do You Need?
This mileage chart displays the various redemption amounts for partner airlines. One-way flights to Europe on Condor start at 25,000 miles. One-ways to Europe on American Airlines start at 30,000 miles during peak season. From October 15 – May 15 the base redemption level drops to 22,500 one-way. It appears that American Airlines’ service from Halifax now ends Nov. 2 so there is a window of opportunity to use fewer miles.
Where Can You Go?
Here’s the thing about the Alaska program. You cannot fly on more than one partner (in addition to Alaska Airlines itself) on a single redemption. That means if you fly Condor to Europe you are limited to Frankfurt and the few onward intra-Europe routes they fly. Check the wikipedia page for Frankfurt airport to see options. They are mainly summer vacation destinations in Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Italy.
Connecting through Philadelphia allows you to choose from all the American Airlines’ European destinations from that airport. Currently those include a wide variety of cities in central and western Europe.
How’s The Availability?
Points and miles are useless if you can’t find a seat on the plane, so what’s the availability like? I checked today for flights to Europe for 2 people.
Halifax to Frankfurt on Condor currently has great availability at the base redemption level of 25,000 each way from now till the end of their seasonal schedule in October.
American Airlines availability at the 30,000 mile level is non-existent in summer and scarce in the autumn. You definitely need a lot of flexibility with your dates to score a flight with AA. Search the flight segment between Halifax and Philadelphia first and work from there. (There are also flights from Halifax to New York LaGuardia but to fly on to Europe you will need to get over to JFK.) The Finnair availability out of Boston is similarly quite limited.
I’ve noticed that it’s important to search one-way fares as a multi-city trip even if you are not using the free stopover allowed on a one-way reward ticket. Strangely, this tends to reveal better economy availability.
If you can find availability from Halifax to Philadelphia, the timing works pretty well because you arrive at PHL in the afternoon and depart on the red-eye to Europe in the evening. Unfortunately, the daily flight to Halifax from Philadelphia is quite restrictive because it departs PHL in the morning at 10:40 am. That means an overnight layover on your return from Europe before you can head home because the Halifax bound plane has already left. The same issue exists with the AA flights to Halifax from New York LaGuardia as that flight departs for Halifax at noon.
How Do I Get The Miles?
There are a few different ways to acquire Alaska miles. I’ll start with the one that will get you miles the fastest.
The easiest way to get some Alaska miles is to sign-up for either of the two Alaska Mileage Plan credit cards offered in Canada. The MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard is limited to applicants who make $80,000+ per year (or $150,000+ household income). The MBNA Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard is for those making less than that. The former awards 30,000 miles upon spending $1000 in the 90 days after approval. The bonus for the latter is 20,000 miles for the same spending requirement. In addition, the earning rate is 1 mile per dollar spent. You may not hold both cards concurrently. However, if you close one card you may then apply for the other and therefore access both bonus offers.
The annual fee for the World Elite is $99 and the fee for the Platinum Plus is $75. Applying through links on the Great Canadian Rebates website will save you $60.
Flying Alaska Airlines or its partners will earn some miles. Check this chart to see how much each class of ticket earns on the various airlines.
Convert Hotel Points
Converting hotel loyalty points is another way to earn some Alaska miles and it’s definitely a decent option if you are close to a redemption and need a top-up. Otherwise it might be better to save those points for hotel stays.
Rocketmiles is a hotel booking site that offers various point currencies as a bonus for the stay. It’s most useful during a special promotion. But always remember to compare the Rocketmiles rate to the direct rate available through the chain’s website. You don’t want to overpay to get the miles unless it’s very clearly a good deal.
If you’re not signed up for e-Rewards surveys, watch out for an invitation in various loyalty program marketing emails. Once you’re signed up see if Alaska Mileage Plan is one of your redemption options. I have redeemed $100 in e-Rewards for 2000 Alaska miles in the past and they posted within a week or so.
Online Shopping Portal
Like many loyalty programs, Alaska Mileage Plan has an online shopping portal where you earn miles for making purchases by clicking through the links in the website.
If you apply for one of the credit cards it’s not too difficult to get enough miles for a one-way flight. That leaves you the challenge to find an inexpensive one-way fare to get you there or back. I took a look to see what interesting combinations are available as of today that would make for a low cost trip to Europe.
First up is a trip to Rome for 6 nights, flying over on Alaska miles via Philadelphia and back on a paid Condor flight connecting in Frankfurt. Return flights Halifax to Rome in October are currently $900+.
Halifax – Rome (via Philadelphia)
22,500 Alaska miles + $79 USD
Rome – Halifax (via Frankfurt)
Next up is a cheap option if you’d like to explore Germany’s Rhine Valley and the Benelux countries. The flight to Frankfurt is non-stop. The flight home from Brussels connects in Frankfurt.
Halifax – Frankfurt
25,000 Alaska miles + $66 USD
Brussels – Halifax (via Frankfurt)
Free One-Way Stopover
I briefly mentioned above that you can include a free stopover on a one-way ticket booked with Alaska miles. This is unusual and opens up some interesting possibilities. With Condor it’s quite straightforward because Frankfurt is your only stopover option. However, with American Airlines there are a variety of cities to choose from in the United States. I’ll do a separate post on that topic. For now, here is an example using Condor flying to Croatia on miles and back to Halifax on an inexpensive paid fare.
Halifax – Frankfurt
(5 night stopover)
Frankfurt – Dubrovnik
25,000 Alaska miles + $115 USD
Zagreb – Halifax (via Frankfurt)
There are those who believe Alaska miles are best used for business or first class redemptions. If you want to redeem your miles for the highest cash value ticket than that is certainly the way to go. If your goal is just to make a trip happen at a low cost then flying economy is a good option. The key is applying for an Alaska Mastercard to get some miles and spending time on the Alaska Mileage Plan booking site to see what kind of trip you can finagle with them.
As with all loyalty programs, there is no way to know if or when a nasty devaluation will crush our point redemption dreams. Earlier this year Alaska Mileage Plan increased the number of miles required to book a reward flight on Icelandair so that could happen with other partners as well.
Footnote – The Companion Ticket
Both of the Alaska Mastercards include an annual companion fare benefit which allows the cardholder to purchase a second ticket for $99 USD (+$22 tax). The wrinkle is that it can only be used on Alaska Airlines operated flights – no partners allowed. For Maritimers that means a separate flight to Boston (or a drive) to get to the nearest airport serviced by Alaska Airlines. The upside is that the cardholder does not need to be one of the travellers. So, you can let friends or family use the companion fare if they live in a place where this perk is more useful. But you have to pay for the tickets with your Alaska mastercard.