Comparing Alaska promotional redemptions to year-round Avios redemptions


Alaska Airlines has announced a promotion, whereby one-way economy awards between select city pairs on Alaska metal cost between 5,000 and 12,500 Mileage Plan miles, a 60% discount on some routes.

Of course, to qualify seats have to be available at the lowest level of award availability, and that means they're also bookable using British Airways' distance-based Avios award chart.

So I thought it would be fun to compare the standard cost in Avios and the promotional cost in Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.

Why it matters

Alaska Airlines miles are very valuable when redeemed for partner awards (100,000 miles and trivial taxes and fees for Emirates A380 First Class to Asia, for example) and for last-seat availability, for example to Hawaii during the Christmas holiday season or when you just need to be somewhere and are miles-rich but cash-poor (I know the feeling!).

At the same time, they're relatively difficult to earn except through transfers from Starwood Preferred Guest, clicking through their online shopping portal, or crediting revenue flights on Delta, American, or Alaska to the Mileage Plan program.

That's why under most circumstances it would be preferable to redeem easily-acquired British Airways Avios for Alaska Airlines award flights, rather than Alaska's own, more valuable, Mileage Plan miles.

Sample analysis

Here are the city pairs between which Alaska Airlines is charging 5,000 Mileage Plan miles one-way from August 30 to October 31, 2014 (note that all these fares work both ways):

  • Boise-Las Vegas
  • Boise-Salt Lake City
  • Los Angeles-Salt Lake City
  • Oakland-Seattle
  • Oakland-Portland
  • Portland-San Jose
  • Portland-San Francisco
  • Salt Lake City-San Francisco
  • Salt Lake City-San Jose
  • Salt Lake City-San Diego
  • San Francisco-Portland
  • San Francisco-Seattle
  • San Jose-Portland
  • San Jose-Seattle

Of these city pairs, can you guess how many are more than 650 miles, the cutoff for British Airways 4,500 Avios one-way awards?

If you said 3, you'd be exactly right: the 3 Bay Area airports (SFO, OAK, and SJC) clock in at just under 700 miles to Seattle, putting those flights in the 7,500 Avios price band.

The next set of city pairs cost 7,500 Mileage Plan miles during the promotional period:

  • Bellingham-San Francisco
  • Bellingham-Oakland
  • Boise-San Jose
  • Boise-San Francisco
  • Boise-Oakland
  • Oakland-Vancouver
  • San Francisco-Spokane
  • San Francisco-Vancouver
  • San Jose-Vancouver

What do you think? How do these discounts compare to a 7,500 Avios redemption, available year-round?

If you said they weren't any kind of discount at all, you'd only be 66% correct. That's because flights between Boise and the 3 Bay Area airports in fact cost just 4,500 Avios, clocking in at between 511 and 523 miles!

You get the picture.


I'll spare you the rest of the promotional city pairs (at the 10,000 and 12,500 Mileage Plan mile levels) and end with two thoughts.

First: there's nothing wrong with promotions like this. For folks who (rightly!) credit their revenue Delta and American Airlines tickets to Alaska's Mileage Plan, the ability to redeem those miles for short flights around the Western United States at a steep discount is a terrific opportunity, and I'm sure this promotion will be incredibly popular. The least valuable mile is the one you don't redeem, and if this promotion gets folks to redeem their miles for trips they want to take, it'll be an unqualified success.

Second: while this example involves small stakes – just a few thousand miles here or there – a rough background knowledge of airline partnerships like this will keep you from making shockingly expensive mistakes. The classic example is the couple who allegedly redeemed 2 million Starpoints for SPG Flights revenue First Class tickets to Australia on American Airlines — when they could have transferred just a few hundred thousand points to American and redeemed them for an AAnytime award!