Mileage Plan 101: The basics of booking award travel
Earning Mileage Plan miles is as easy as adding your member number to your ticket or when booking with Mileage Plan partners. If you’ve never done it before, you might not know where to start. Fortunately Alaska’s easy online search tool can find and book almost any domestic partner award ticket (as well as awards throughout Alaska’s route network in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica), and these tips will help you improve on the results.
(Look out for a future post that discusses international partner awards in more detail.)
Award Charts and Availability
Even during holiday periods and for popular destinations, you will be able to find award space. Mileage Plan has several different award levels, including “refundable” awards with access to the last seat on the plane. There are also some special awards for intra-state travel that start at just 7,500 miles.
For destinations served by Alaska Airlines, there are two discounted award levels when flying in the main cabin and one discounted award level for first class, enabling the airline to provide better award availability than many frequent flier programs. Refundable awards cost more, but as long as one seat is available for cash, you can still book it and even change or cancel your ticket without penalty.
Sample award levels on Alaska Airlines for travel within the lower 48 states, Alaska, and Canada. You can also redeem miles to receive a discount off a regular ticket.
|Award Type||One Way||Round Trip|
|Money and Miles – 50% Discount up to $100||10,000||10,000|
|Money and Miles – 50% Discount up to $200||20,000||20,000|
|Coach||12,500 / 20,000||25,000 / 40,000|
You can mix and match awards to find the best price and availability. For example, you might book a discounted award at 12,500 miles in one direction and a refundable award at 30,000 miles in the reverse direction if you want the flexibility to lengthen or change your departure date or city.
Alaska’s Mileage Plan offers award travel on 16 different partner airlines, which can help you reach more destinations in the U.S. as well as international markets that aren’t served by Alaska Airlines – for a total of 900 additional destinations worldwide.
Each partner has its own award chart. For example, flying to Europe on Air France might cost more or fewer miles than if you were to fly with British Airways or American Airlines. You can’t mix and match different partners on the same award, but you do have the option of booking a different partner in each direction. Connecting flights on Alaska is also permitted.
Fees and Taxes
All travel comes with some government taxes and mandatory fees. These start at $11.20 for a round-trip domestic ticket but can be higher, particularly for international travel. Alaska Airlines will collect these fees in addition to the miles you redeem.
Some additional fees apply to partner awards. Each traveler must pay $12.50 in each direction, or $25 for round-trip travel. There may also be carrier surcharges if you fly on British Airways or Icelandair. Finally, booking an award by phone requires an additional $15, but most travel can be booked online to avoid this fee.
Alaska doesn’t collect any fees if you change or cancel an award 60 days or more before departure. The cost is $125 per person within 60 days, but this is waived if you booked a refundable award or if you have MVP Gold or 75K elite status.
When to Book
An airline might release some seats early on when it publishes its schedule, typically 330 days before departure. A more likely scenario is that a few seats appear between two and six months before a flight. Availability changes constantly, so check back frequently!
Book separate one-way awards if you can’t immediately find the space you need in both directions. However, you might have to pay two fees to change or cancel each award if something better appears. (Partner awards on Delta Air Lines must be booked as round-trip itineraries, but the other direction can be with a different carrier and changed later.)
Gutsy travelers could wait until the last minute. During the last week or two many airlines have a good estimate of how many seats will be sold and how many will be empty, releasing additional award space. Fortunately, the tips provided here should help you book the right award with less effort.