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Here’s the lowdown on cheap flight tickets using Alaska Airlines miles, elite status and D.C. flight safety protocols

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: January 16
  • Published January 16

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 on short final approach while landing to the South at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Are you sitting on a bunch of frequent flyer miles? I am. They’re starting to burn a hole in my e-wallet.

Over the course of the pandemic, I haven’t earned many flight miles. But miles earned because of credit card charges have been piling up.

While checking on airfares this week, I saw that rates have been creeping up. Between Anchorage and Portland, it’s $191 one-way on Alaska Airlines, starting Feb. 5. That’s a little more than rates to San Francisco, at $185 one-way on either Delta or Alaska. Rates like this usually mean there’s another big fare sale is right around the corner.

But if you needed to leave right away, your Alaska Airlines miles can come in handy. For example, if you needed to fly right away to Seattle, the fare is $369 one-way in the main cabin. “Saver” seats aren’t even available until later next week. That’s super-high. It’s times like this when you can dig into your mileage account. It’s just 12,500 miles each way — not for every flight, but there are seats every day in January for that rate.

In fact, 12,500 Alaska Airlines miles is the going rate for one-way tickets to top cities on the West Coast: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These rates are all for last-minute departures and they’re all in the main cabin. That means there’s no additional charge to get a pre-assigned seat.

Right now, though, COVID-19 numbers are high on the West Coast. Washington, Oregon and California all have travel quarantine requirements in place. That’s probably why the mileage levels are so low.

But the West Coast is not the value leader right now when it comes to mileage redemption. No, that honor belongs to Hawaii. Sure, they’ve got a quirky COVID-19 testing regimen. But the beaches are sunny.

If you plan carefully and fly in the middle of the week, you can catch the nonstop to Kona for as little as $199 one-way (Saver fare). But you can get a mileage ticket for 15,000 one-way starting on Monday, Jan. 17. These rates are in effect until mid-June, and not just for Kona — flights to Maui and Honolulu are the same price.

Do you need to top off your mileage account? The airlines, including Alaska Airlines, are really pushing their co-branded credit cards. Alaska’s card, marketed by Bank of America, is offering 50,000 bonus miles if you spend at least $2,000 within the first 90 days. The annual fee is $75.

Airlines, including Alaska and Delta, are trying to get travelers back in the air, touting their enhanced cleaning regimen, mandatory masks and empty middle seats (on Delta).

For frequent flyers, Alaska is rolling out some programs to jump-start the journey to elite status, MVP or MVP Gold.

For starters, Alaska Air extended everybody’s elite status through 2021. So if you were an MVP elite traveler for 2020 but didn’t earn enough miles for 2021, no problem. You can check your status online and it should reflect the same level for this year.

But the race is on for 2022. So between now and June 30, Alaska Airlines is awarding a 50% elite qualifying mile bonus on all flights. You can’t use these bonus miles to redeem free flights, but it will help you get to that elite level quicker. Between Anchorage and Seattle, it’s 1,449 miles. With this program, you earn a bonus of 724 miles. If you end up buying that ticket to Kona, you’ll earn 2,880 elite qualifying miles, plus 1,440 bonus miles. It won’t take long to reach 20,000 miles for MVP status.

The clock is ticking for Alaska Airlines to fully join the oneworld alliance. Partner airlines include Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, British and several others. This move will simplify many of the mileage agreements Alaska Air has with the carriers. Also, with oneworld’s three-tier elite traveler system, Alaska’s travelers can tier match with their status.

For example, if you’re an MVP traveler, you’ll become a “Ruby” traveler with oneworld, starting March 31. That means you have access to priority check-in and boarding on all oneworld carriers. MVP Gold elite travelers will earn “Sapphire” status, which includes admission to business class lounges and an extra baggage allowance.

Alaska just announced it’s coming out with a special 100,000-mile level for its uber-frequent travelers. There’s no word on how this changes the tier-match levels for oneworld. But these super road warriors will have the first crack at upgrades, that’s for sure.

Usually, airlines are busy trying to get you to fly somewhere. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. Now there’s another damper on travel: threats of violent protests in Washington, D.C., leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson said the carrier has been in touch with federal agencies including TSA and the FAA to implement additional safety protocols now in place, including:

1. Increased mask enforcement on the ground and throughout the journey for all routes.

2. Limiting the number of tickets sold to three capital-area airports: Ronald Reagan/National Airport, Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

3. Requiring all passengers to remain in their seats for one hour from takeoff or landing at these airports.

4. Prohibiting checked firearms to D.C.-area airports.

Last week Alaska Airlines issued 14 no-fly “yellow cards” to rowdy travelers who flaunted mask regulations on the flight from Dulles International Airport to Seattle. Right now, Alaska Airlines has 303 travelers on its no-fly list.

Most other major U.S. airlines have implemented similar safety measures. A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines wrote:

“Weighing the violence we witnessed in the Capitol last week alongside our unwavering commitment to the safety of customers and our people, Delta will not allow firearms in checked baggage for flights into the D.C. area Saturday, Jan. 16 through Saturday, Jan. 23, with the exception of credentialed law enforcement. Customers needing to change travel due this policy or requests from officials asking people not to travel to the inauguration, can do so using our flexible change policy. Nothing is more important than doing our part to keep people safe.”

The FAA recently announced a new policy for “unruly passengers” that could mean fines of up to $35,000 and jail time. “The FAA has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol,” the agency wrote in a statement.

Airbnb canceled all of its reservations in the Washington, D.C., area for the week of the inauguration. Guests received full refunds and hosts will be paid in full for the bookings.

If you did manage to make it to D.C., there may not be much to do. A COVID-19-related suspension on museum visits and indoor dining was extended by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The Washington Monument is closed through Jan. 24. The National Mall will be blocked off on inauguration day.

It’s a strange time for travelers in our country — and especially for those in Washington, D.C. We’re all hoping for an end to the pandemic, an increase in vaccinations and a cessation of violence. In the meantime, be sure to mask up, wash your hands and stay 6 feet apart when possible.