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Holiday travel: Where to find cheap airfares while racking up the mileage points

Scott McMurren
Josh Saul photo

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- This is the time of year when frequent flyers check their mileage account status. If they're just a few thousand miles short of the coveted "MVP Gold" status, many travelers will go ahead and schedule a "mileage run" to put them over-the-top.

If this sounds like a total waste of time and money, consider some of the goodies that you receive as a "preferred traveler" with Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines or any other airline:

  • Preferred seats: Think "exit row" for extra legroom, or seats closer to the front of the plane.
  • Early boarding: so that your carry-on luggage can be in the same zip code in one of the overhead bins. Speaking of luggage, many Alaskans are members of the Alaska Airlines "Club 49" program, which allows two checked bags for free. But top-tier mileage members on other airlines also get to check bags for free.
  • Better customer service: As a preferred flyer, you’ll spend less time on the phone for customer service. There are special numbers the airlines hand out to their preferred flyers.
  • Fees waived: There's a fee for everything, of course, including but not limited to changing tickets, canceling tickets, re-depositing mileage back into your account and baggage. Super-frequent flyers don't pay these fees.
  • Bonus miles: With Alaska, MVP Gold travelers receive double miles, which – take my word for it – add up quickly and come in handy.
  • Upgrades: As a preferred frequent flyer, you’ll actually get upgrades. And that makes this the "Holy Grail" of mileage perks.

Getting the picture? And the list keeps going. Frequent flyers with preferential status spend less time in security, get special notices from the airlines, enjoy free alcoholic beverages in coach, and much more.

Good time to fly is dead ahead

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is very slow in commercial airline land, so there are plenty of good deals. That's good news for mileage runners and for travelers who actually want to GO somewhere!

Anchorage, Alaska to Kona, Hawaii: I'm in Kona right now. I flew over with a planeload of smiling Alaskans, many of whom scooped up the $299 roundtrip deal for the Nov. 10 inaugural flight, smooth traveling on a brand-new Boeing 737-800.

Miss that deal? There’s hope, sort of, in the form of miles.

Cost: $329 RT

Departing: Leaving Anchorage on Nov. 27, 2012 via Delta.

Itinerary: ANC-SLC-LAX-KOA [That’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport-Salt Lake City-Los Angeles-Kona International Airport.]

Returning: Leaving Kona on Dec. 6, 2012.

Itinerary: KOA-LAX-SEA-ANC [That’s Kona International Airport-Los Angeles-Seattle-Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Miles accrued: A whopping 9,490 miles, which can apply to your Alaska Airlines quest for MVP Gold! That’s because Delta miles count toward your status with Alaska Airlines (although at a lesser rate, about 80 percent).

Anchorage to San Juan, Puerto Rico: We've talked about this route before. Most of the cheap coach seats on Delta are gone. But you still can ride in First Class for $890 roundtrip in late November and early December, grabbing 10,336 miles in the process.

Anchorage to Los Angeles: Got a month to kill? Stay in L.A.

Cost: $349 RT

Depart: Leave Anchorage Nov. 27, 2012 via Delta and flying ANC-SLC-LAX.

Return: Leave L.A. Dec. 25, 2012 (Christmas Day).

Miles accrued: 5,418 on Delta.

Anchorage to Las Vegas, Nev.: Alaska Airlines has a nice deal to Las Vegas in early December. Fly between Dec. 2 and Dec. 7, 2012 for $467 roundtrip.

Star Alliance Mileage Plan members

Star Alliance includes United, USAirways and Lufthansa. Top off your miles with one of these deals from United:

Anchorage to Phoenix, Ariz.: Fly all winter for $467 roundtrip.

Anchorage to Boston: A great fare for a week on the East Coast.

Cost: $481 RT

Depart: Leave Anchorage on Nov. 27, 2012.

Return: Leave Boston on Dec. 3, 2012.

Miles accrued: 8,294

Spring 2013

If you're ready to plan ahead for next spring, there are several deals from which to choose:

Anchorage to Long Beach, Calif. on jetBlue: Nonstop flights start in May 2013 for as little as $327 RT.

Anchorage to Los Angeles on Alaska: Not to be outdone, Alaska Airlines is offering nonstop flights from Anchorage to LAX for as little as $327 roundtrip in mid-May, 2013.

Anchorage to Iceland: Icelandair is starting nonstop service between Anchorage and Reykjavik, starting on May 16, 2013. Fares are available for as little as $888 RT in May.

Fares change all the time. So whether you're in for the miles or a new experience, take advantage of these great deals! 

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his websites at www.alaskatravelgram.com or www.seattletravelgram.comFollow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.