Part 2. Visiting Alaska with the help of miles and points
This is a second installment in my quest to convince USA to give Alaska back to Russia. Wait, wrong blog… No, we are going to focus on ways to visit Alaska using miles and points. This is actually one of the best “bang for your buck” redemptions you can get. Flights to Alaska are quite expensive, especially if you are flying from the East coast. Fortunately, the cost in miles via several programs is the same as for flights within the lower 48 states. Without further ado:
Avoid United Mileage Plus!
With an exclamation point. Well, if you possibly can. The reason: Saver level (cheapest) flights to Alaska via United program cost 17,500 miles one-way. Of course, there may be compelling reasons to go this route. One of them is if you have a ton of that currency and don’t know what to do with it. Otherwise, if you plan to transfer flexible points, there are better ways to get flights on the same United flights via partner programs.
The cost is 12,500 miles one-way as long as you can find saver level seats on United website itself (those will price out at 17,500 miles). Membership Rewards points transfer instantly to Air Canada. Another option is SPG, but it could take a few weeks. If you have decent flexibility in your plans, this could very well be a viable option. Hint: stick to summer months for obvious reasons.
The cost is also 12,500 miles one-way, and you can redeem on United flights. Some ways to get Krisflyer miles: Transfer from Citi Thank You program (with eligible cards like Citi Prestige and Citi Thank You Premier), Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. The transfer could take 1-2 days. SPG is another option, but it could take weeks for miles to appear in your account.
American Airlines AAdvantage
The cost is 15,000 miles one-way, and availability isn’t too bad as long as you plan your travel far in advance. You can get AA miles via co-branded credit cards or transfer from SPG (takes 2-5 days).
British Airways Avios
This is mostly of use to those who live on the West coast. Avios program is distance-based and partners with American Airlines and Alaska Air. You will not be able to search award availability for Alaska flights on BA.com and would have to call in order to book it. Check this guide on using Avios for Alaska flights.
Avios transfer instantly from Ultimate Rewards (1:1) and Membership Rewards (800:1,000). SPG is another possibility, but the transfer can take a few weeks.
Yes, you read that right. Often maligned and despised Delta could be a very good option indeed, especially for those who are hub-captive. The cost is 12,500 miles one-way for lowest-tier redemption level. Sure, you will need some flexibility, but the situation is not as bad as some portray it. For example, I did a random search for 4 award seats from Orlando to Anchorage during June of 2016:
That ain’t bad! My point is, don’t overlook Delta, always check all of your options. You can get Delta miles via co-branded credit cards, transfer from Membership Rewards (instant) or SPG (takes a few days).
Air France Flying Blue
The redemption would be on Delta, its partner. The cost is 12,500 miles one-way. I wrote about ways to use this currency for flights to Hawaii, and the same principle applies here. A couple of things to remember: Air France loads its schedule 10 months in advance and website can be buggy. This option is mostly good for those who have a lot of Citi Thank You points and an eligible credit card. You also need to be flexible with your plans since the transfer to Flying Blue from Citi is not instant.
Korean Sky Pass
The cost is 25,000 miles, and you can only redeem them for roundtrip Delta flights. From what I’ve understood, the process is very cumbersome, where you have to fax your paperwork. Not ideal, but an option for those who have a ton of Ultimate Rewards (a partner of Korean) and are looking to redeem miles on Delta flights with a connection.
Virgin Atlantic Flying club
Once again, this redemption will run you 25,000 miles roundtrip on Delta flights. Read my post for more on this program and times you may want to consider it.
Alaska Mileage plan
The cost is 12,500 miles one-way, and you can redeem these miles on Delta and American. Alaska miles transfer from SPG program, but it will take a few days.
You can also consider their co-branded credit card, but the sign-up bonus is a bit low at 25,000 miles.
An update: Kenny has pointed out in the comments that Frontier no longer flies to Alaska.
An obscure niche program that can be a good deal for some. Award availability can be spotty, but flights run at only 10,000 miles one-way. The only way to get them is via flying or applying for their co-branded credit card. You can receive 40,000 miles after spending $500, annual fee of $69 is not waived. That would be enough for 2 roundtrip tickets to Alaska. Here is a non-affiliate link.
There are other programs, but I wanted to mention some of the best options. Feel free to chime in in the comments section and add something I might have missed.
This will depend on where you plan on going, but I recommend starting with Awardmapper to get an overall picture:
As you can see, there are plenty of points options in large cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks (spend a few days in each), but nothing near Denali National park. And Denali is where you want to go, at least IMO. Just look at this spectacular scenery!
We got a vacation rental in Healy, which was a much cheaper option than those inside the park itself. For example, here is a reasonably priced rental. Fortunately, there are credit card bonuses that can be redeemed for travel expenses, including lodging. You can read about those as well as miles and flexible points sign-up bonuses in my page Best credit card deals for family
A few possible good candidates for flights:
1) Citi AAdvantage MasterCard that comes with 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months.
2) Chase Sapphire Preferred (especially if you are just starting out in the hobby). Do wait till November 16th to apply because the offer is supposed to be increased at that time. You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer program and redeem them on United flights to Alaska at a cost of 12,500 miles each. Transfer is not instant, so make sure you are flexible in your plans.
3) Citi Prestige or Citi Thank You Premier. You get 50,000 Thank You points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. Those transfer to Singapore and Air France (the last one is redeemable on Delta flights).
I do recommend you always focus on flights first, and worry about hotel points later.
You can, of course, just pay cash. There is also an option of redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You points (with Citi Thank You Premier) and getting 1.25 cents per point. You have to book your car rental through respective bank portal. I found that the rate is comparable (and many times better) to what you would find on major sites like Orbitz and Expedia.
Of course, whether you choose to burn your flexible points on car rental or save them for mileage transfers is totally up to you. Personally, I subscribe to “earn and burn” mentality. My goal is to preserve cash, not save points for a potentially glamorous redemption in a distant future.
P.S. You may also want to check out this cool (naturally, since it’s about Alaska) trip report on Miles4More
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