Alaska’s Mileage Plan is one of my favourite frequent flyer programmes due to their unique partnerships with mostly oneworld airlines. My favourite ways to redeem Alaska miles include Cathay Pacific First and Business Class, Qantas First Class, JAL First and Business Class, Finnair Business Class, and Aer Lingus Economy Class around Europe.
The one major restriction with Mileage Plan is that you cannot book every single flight as an award on all of their partners. For example, you can’t redeem miles for British Airways from London to Hong Kong but you can on Cathay Pacific. The entire Mileage Plan programme is very North America centric. Alaska also generally has less award availability for their partner airlines – they usually see one less award seat in Cathay First or Business than do other oneworld partners, for example.
Alaska hasn’t implemented a revenue-based earning structure yet and promises not to do so. However, in reality, they can’t continue to support this model for a long period of time. Given that virtually all frequent flyer programmes are heading towards the revenue-based model, there’s no way that Alaska can continue to award one mile per one mile flown. Perhaps they are still trying to apologise for devaluing Emirates awards overnight a few years back, but I bet you in a few years, Mileage Plan will be revenue-based.
Furthermore, when it comes to redemptions, Mileage Plan is already revenue-based in a variety of ways. Gone are the days of a one-way flight always costing 12.5k miles in Economy and 25k in First at saver-level. You can now redeem as little as 5k miles for a one-way Economy flight and up to 70k miles for a one-way First Class flight. If you book in advance, you can find a West Coast Economy flight for 5k one-way… if you wait closer to departure, chances are you will pay 20-30k for the same flight. You may get lucky and find a saver-level seat for 12.5k miles, but saver-level award availability has dropped.
While all First Class redemptions used to cost 25k miles at the saver level, now they cost more or less than 25k. Most long-haul flights are priced at 30k, while shorter flights are less than 25k. Both Economy and First redemptions clearly indicate a move towards a revenue-based model.
Furthermore, recently Alaska (finally) introduced the ability to redeem miles on Aer Lingus. The major difference here is that while there are still traditional saver-level awards, Alaska is also allowing you to redeeming your miles on Aer Lingus even if there is no award seat available. Essentially Alaska will “sell” you a seat for 280k miles one-way in Business Class on Aer Lingus, for example. So Aer Lingus awards can cost as little as 8k miles and up to 280k miles. Revenue-based approach? Yes.
The one major difference between what Alaska is doing now and a true revenue-based approach is that you can still find last minute saver-level awards which can cost 12.5k miles in Economy one-way, which is inline with the traditional frequent flyer programme model. However, in the future, I would expect this to go away. Delta is revenue-based, United is next in line, and you can be sure that American will follow. Alaska just won’t be able to sustain a traditional programme because the future is sadly revenue-based.