Airlines

Is Alaska’s Mileageplan the new Lifemiles?

I’ve received several requests to write about Alaska Airline’s MileagePlan in light of several great mile selling promos they’ve had. To be frank, I knew very little about MileagePlan despite having seen it frequently feature on Boardingarea and FT, assuming that it would have little relevance to someone based in Singapore.

But I spent some time reading up about the program and I’m glad I did, because I believe it offers a good alternative to Lifemiles for booking cheap first and business class tickets.

mileageplan2

First, the cost- till 31 March 2016, Alaska MileagePlan is offering a 40% bonus on the purchase of miles. This bonus is tiered as follows

  • Buy 10,000-19,000 miles, get a 20% bonus
  • Buy 20,000-39,000 miles, get a 30% bonus
  • Buy 40,000-60,000 miles, get a 40% bonus

The maximum number of miles you can buy in a single transaction is 60,000 (before bonuses), but you can make as many transactions as you like in a year (unlike Lifemiles, which limits you to buying 150,000 miles (including bonus miles) per annum).

So if I buy 60,000 miles, I get a 24,000 miles bonus for a total cost of US$1,773.75 for 84,000 miles, or 2.1 cents per mile. This is not the biggest promotion they’ve ever offered (I’ve read about targeted promotions of 50%, making the cost per mile 1.97 cents) but it’s still good value.

Your account must have been open for 14 days before you buy miles, so unfortunately I can’t take advantage of the promotion this time, but here’s why you might want to open an account and wait for the next sale.  Let’s analyse a few possibilities that MileagePlan opens up…

Cathay Pacific First/Business Class Tickets

This is the partner chart that Alaska has for Cathay Pacific award tickets. There are some really sweet deals herecathaypacific

Suppose you want to head from Singapore to San Francisco/ New York. Here’s how this will price out under Lifemiles and MileagePlan (all prices in USD)

One-wayLifemiles* (Various)MileagePlan (Cathay)
Business78,000*1.375=1,07350,000 * 2.11=1,055
First99,000*1.375=1,36170,000* 2.11=1,477

*The cost of your Lifemiles varies depending on when you bought them because different promos exist. I’m pricing mine at 1.375 cents per mile, based on a purchase I made on 28th November 2015.

As you can see, MileagePlan offers comparable value to Lifemiles for these routes. What’s more, MileagePlan doesn’t charge fuel surcharges either, just like Lifemiles.

In my opinion, Cathay’s business class is nowhere as nice as SQ’s. But it’s still a real solid full flat seat. I’d say it’s on par with Eva, another airline that I really like.

New-Cathay-Business

Or maybe you just want the experience of using Cathay Pacific’s new First Class lounge in Hong Kong.

cathay1

canbana

Here’s how a Singapore to Hong Kong ticket will price out on Lifemiles vs MileagePlan (all in USD)

One-wayLifemiles* (Various)MileagePlan (Cathay)
Business36,000*1.375=49522,500*2.11=475
First50,000*1.375=68827,500*2.11=580

The price of first class is 15% cheaper than Lifemiles. This creates an opportunity for you to try Suites and TPR on SIN-HKG (on SQ) and the Pier on HKG-SIN (on CX). Not a bad trip if you’ve got the miles!

Again, I don’t think Cathay’s first class seat is as good as SQ’s, but it’s still a chance to try a new, extremely good product

CX FCL 02

Cathay Pacific tickets are the exception to the rule in that they can’t be booked online, you  need to call up the award centre to see if they’re available. You can, however, check Cathay award space via British Airway’s Avios FFP (create a dummy account and do a search, it’s fairly intuitive).

Emirates First Class

EDIT (1/4/16): Alaska has raised the cost of miles required to purchase a one-way first class ticket on Emirates by 80%, without notice. Safe to say that this deal is 80% less attractive now. 

I have never been naked at 30,000ft. This is an unacceptable state of affairs that must change immediately

emirates

My best chance of ever getting to shower in mid-air comes from getting an Emirates A380 first class ticket. Mileageplan has some answers here

emirates

When I do a search, I can find the following possibilities for Singapore to JFK

emiratesfirst

One-wayLifemiles* (Various)MileagePlan (Emirates)
Business78,000*1.375=1,07275,000*2.11=1,582*
First99,000*1.375=1,361100,000*2.11=2,110

*Note: don’t bother with Emirates Business class. I know people think of Emirates as luxurious and fancy, but if you’re not on their A380s you don’t even get full flat business.

emirates3

Which is ridiculous for this day and age. And although Emirates is replacing their angled flat business seats shortly, they’re replacing them with 2-3-2 configured full flat seats. 2-3-2 is unacceptable in international business class in this day and age. 

It’s clearly more expensive to pick MileagePlan in this case, but remember that you’re paying a premium to experience the Emirates A380 first class product (and their epic ground experience in Dubai- the lounge there is simply massive).

A flight attendant stands next to first class seats aboard an Emirates Airlines A380 on August 1, 2008. Emirates becomes the first commercial Airbus A380 jet to land in the United States at JFK International Airport in New York. The A380 is the world's largest airliner with 49 percent more floor space and 35 percent more seating than the previous largest aircraft. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

In light of Emirate’s higher mileage requirements and inferior business class product, it is a better idea to route by Cathay if you are looking to head to the USA from Singapore.

Other Reasons to like MileagePlan

  • MileagePlan allows for stopovers on one-way awards, unlike Lifemiles, which doesn’t allow stopovers at all.
  • You can cancel MileagePlan awards online, unlike Lifemiles which requires you to make a very frustrating phone call to their call centre (budget 40 mins for the whole process)
  • There is no limit to the number of miles you can buy each year with MileagePlan

But do note

  • MileagePlan was still created with residents of the USA in mind- therefore there are some routings that are not easy to do from Singapore  (eg SIN-LHR is not possible, but HKG-LHR is possible. You’ll have to position yourself in HKG first)
  • The cancellation policy of MileagePlan awards is stricter than Lifemiles. Lifemiles charges you a $50 fee to cancel, regardless of how far in advance. MileagePlan has no fees for cancelling up to 60 days before departure, after which it costs $125 per person
  • Your account needs to be open for at least 14 days before you can buy miles. This means, like Lifemiles, you should open an account today just so you have the option in the future

I think the biggest value that MileagePlan has for Singapore based residents is the prospect of buying discounted First/Business class tickets on Cathay to North America, or for those who have showering in the air on their bucketlist.

I’ve already opened a MileagePlan account, and if the sale happens again I’m definitely jumping on it.

cover photo by insapphowetrust

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24 Comments on "Is Alaska’s Mileageplan the new Lifemiles?"

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Would you buy miles speculatively? That’s the big question for me..

Compared to Lifemiles, one challenge of using Mileage Plan to book Cathay Pacific is that the booking has to be done over the phone. I opened an account in Feb and is still sitting on the idea whether to put my money in Mileage Plan or Lifemiles

Haha same here June.. I am eligible to buy in this window but have been procrastinating.. Window is closing fast..

I think from past trends, they have 4 sales a year, with 2 at 40%, and the other 2 at 30%. The targetted 50% sale last Dec was an anomaly and people eligible were selected at random..

The sad part here is that the USD is SO strong lately – too exp to convert! But on the upside, more miles since it’s counted as overseas spend… (online spend for Woman’s World is still best)

Plus!

“I have never been naked at 30,000ft. This is an unacceptable state of affairs that must change immediately”

Best. Line. Ever!

I hear Mileageplan just devalued Emirates awards. 🙁

i’ve used mileage plan for years to park miles from random flights (emirates, AA, delta, etc.) — i love their assortment of partners and ease of redemption — but never thought buying would be such good value. thanks for this post.

For this Mileage Plan, if I purchase the miles , does it actually combine miles from Asia Miles assuming I have after years of accumulating?

I have plans to fly to europe in business class with my other half in 5 yrs time as anniversary gift. So I thought if I could purchase miles and combine with Asia Miles, that would be great, in addition to miles accumulated from credit cards.

Fantastic program and I have just redeem a SIN-TYO-CGK route with JL flights. Outgoing on SkySuite II 767 J class, stopover 3full days in tokyo and NRT-CGK on 773er FC…all these for 30k AS miles plus 58USD fees….unbeatable value!

You can transfer now SPG points to VA elevate till 6th Jan only..probably too late to share. Following on Monday 9th, you can try to AS at a rate of 1.3… in short 20k transfer from spg will yield 32.5k through elevate…whopping 60+% increase..incredible value….

Aaron,

AA is also doing a miles sales with bonus, is there any value in this?

Okay, does stopover allowed for Australia to Asia (i.e. MEL-HKG-BKK)? I’ve bought 60000 miles (Return CX J) with whopping A$1812.

Alaska allows stopovers on one-ways.

Hi Aaron,
Alaska miles is doing a miles sale with 40% bonus. Seems like good value based on the sales they have done so far. Your thoughts? Also, what credit cards should we use to purchase to maximise miles? I read somewhere that Alaska miles are not coded as airline purchase.

Recently my wife mentioned she wouldn’t mind going to Dubai and this sets my mind to work on whether there is any opportunity to try the Emirates 1st class. I figured out I can sign up Qantas FFP since Qantas is a transfer partner for Citibank’s miles/reward cards and for 150K miles, I can redeem 2 1-way tix from Dubai to Bangkok (whether this is the best use of 150K miles is a different story altogether). Now the next piece of the puzzle is how to fly to Dubai at a reasonable price. SQ Economy has an offer of $548… Read more »
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