Are you a mileage runner? By definition, that’s a person who flies around just to get the frequent flyer miles and to earn the accompanying “elite status” with an airline.
There are many brands of frequent flyer miles. American Airlines, United Air and Delta all belong to “alliances” of other airlines that swap miles back and forth. For American Airlines, it’s the “oneworld” alliance that includes British Air, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Iberia. United’s “Star Alliance” includes Air Canada, All Nippon Air (ANA), Asiana, Eva Air, Avianca and SAS, among others. Delta’s “Sky Team” alliance includes Aeromexico, AirFrance, Alitalia, KLM and Korean Air, among others.
Most of us who live in Alaska don’t care about the “Big 3” alliances. They’ve watered down their plans and made it so you have to spend a minimum amount of money to achieve elite status.
Rather, Alaska-based travelers are more interested in Alaska Air’s mileage plan. It’s not perfect — but it’s the best one out there. Alaska Air has put together its own collection of partners, including some airlines that also belong to other alliances.
As fall approaches, many travelers take an active interest in the mileage balance, particularly the number of elite quailfying miles (EQM) they have. For Alaska Air travelers, that determines whether they will achieve “MVP” status after flying 20,000 EQM or the loftier “MVP Gold” level (40,000 EQM) for the following year. Travelers who log 75,000 miles over the course of the year earn “MVP Gold 75K” status. They’re the ones who get most of the upgrades, particularly between Anchorage and Seattle.
If you’ve flown even a couple of trips to the Lower 48, chances are good that you could saddle up, fly to the East Coast a couple of times and become a freshly-minted elite-level flyer. That means you get more miles every time you fly (1.5 miles for every mile flown for MVP travelers).
Once you qualify for MVP, you can enjoy your “status” for the next calendar year, through Dec. 31, 2020.
If you want to top off your mileage account to reach MVP or MVP Gold, take a look at some of the best-priced long-haul flights.
Fly from Anchorage to Boston via Seattle for $200 one-way on Alaska Air. That routing yields 3,930 miles in each direction. But if you’re in it for the miles, fly from Anchorage to Los Angeles on Alaska’s nonstop, then connect to fly from LAX to Boston. The price is the same: $200 ($202 for the return flight Boston-Anchorage). But you’ll fly an extra 1,010 miles (4,040 EQM) in each direction.
Flying via Los Angeles/LAX also is a mileage-building option when you’re traveling to Washington, D.C., Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, or New York City/JFK.
Go ahead and fly that route twice — you will have earned just shy of 20,000 EQMs. Just a short roundtrip hop from Anchorage to Fairbanks will put you over the top for MVP.
If you want to stick closer to home and still earn the miles, fly from Anchorage to Honolulu. The nonstop flight costs $238 right now, which is not a bad way to earn 2,780 EQM.
Do you have your passport? As the temperatures drop, consider a trip to San Jose, Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a beautiful country — and Alaska Air flies to both San Jose and Liberia. Liberia is in the northern part of the country and tickets are a little cheaper: $264 one-way. Tickets to San Jose are a little more ($304 one-way), but you can net 5,114 EQM in each direction.
There are several Alaska Air destinations in Mexico that can yield some good miles. However, the prices are a bit high right now. Alaska AIr resumes its seasonal service between Seattle and Cancun on Nov. 3. I bought one of those tickets and I’ll earn 4,120 EQM on my way back to Anchorage. It was more than $300 one-way on the day I needed to fly. So, compare that with the fare to/from Boston. But remember — the beaches in Boston are a little colder than those in Cancun in the fall.
You can also earn EQM on Alaska Air’s partners — at a lower level. For the cheapest fares, you’ll usually earn about 50 percent of the actual miles flown. The exception is Qantas. When you fly from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Sydney or Melbourne, you’ll earn 100 percent of the miles flown. If you’re spending the big bucks and flying in business class or first class, you’ll be showered with lots of EQM.
But there’s another catch when you fly on Alaska’s partner airlines. Instead of earning 20,000 EQM to earn MVP status, you must fly 25,000 (50,000 to reach MVP Gold). Typically, the partner itineraries are much longer: Seattle to Asia or Europe, for example. So you’re likely to earn a bunch of miles. You’ll just have to earn more of them.
There are lots of other tricks to earn miles, including Alaska Air credit card bonuses, currently pegged at 40,000 after you charge at least $2,000 on your card.
But the real quest is to grab those EQM. Those who reach the MVP or MVP Gold level will enjoy access to better seats, a better shot at upgrades and some mercy when it comes to change fees. In many ways, the travel experience is a little better