What to know as Alaska Airlines unveils new initiatives and changes to rewards programs

Spring break has come and gone. So many Alaskans now are planning their summer travel adventures. There are a few developments at Alaska Airlines that might change how and when you buy your tickets, how you accumulate miles or points and how you deal with checked bags on your journey.

The first item is a new initiative from Alaska Airlines called Alaska Access.

I received an email on March 20 inviting me to join the program. The new scheme requires a $60 commitment ($5 per month for a minimum of 12 months). Subscribers receive a one-way Wi-Fi voucher each month (usually $8), plus early sale access to some of the airline’s big sales. “Early sale access” means subscribers will be notified the night before the sale is announced. Subscribers also get a “personalized fare page” which shows the best fares from your home airport.

Is this subscription worth the money? Well, it depends. I signed up just to see if the night-before access makes any difference, since I already track fares very closely. Perhaps Alaska Air has some good deals lined up to show off the new access project. I’ll be watching!

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Last week, Alaska Airlines joined a unique flexible spend credit card program with a twist.

Bilt Rewards is a travel rewards program that includes both a credit card and a payment portal. The single, most unique feature of the Bilt system is that it allows renters to accumulate travel reward points when they pay their rent. Further, there’s no additional percentage or convenience fee for paying with a credit card.


Gary Leff writes the travel blog View From the Wing. Leff told me about Bilt last year while comparing loyalty programs where you can move your points from one program to the next. Those programs are called flexible spend plans. Other popular flexible spend programs are available from credit card issuers like Chase, American Express, Capital One (Venture) and Citibank.

None of the other flexible spend programs had a favorable exchange rate with Alaska Airlines, until last week. Now, travelers who pay rent can earn travel rewards on Alaska Airlines, up to $100,000 per year. In addition to Alaska Airlines, travelers can move points to United, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt Hotels and others. But the Alaska Airlines connection makes it more valuable for travelers who live here.

“For many renters, the monthly payment is the biggest expense they have,” said Leff.

There is no annual fee for the Bilt card.

In addition to the regular credit card, Bilt has an online payment portal where renters can make payments using any Visa, Mastercard or American Express card.

According to Brett Caitlin, Alaska Air’s vice president of loyalty, alliances and sales, there will be extra benefits for travelers who use the airline’s co-branded Visa card. “Alaska cardholders will be able to use the Bilt portal to pay their rent and will earn triple Mileage Plan miles when doing so up (up to $50,000 per year or 150,000 miles),” wrote Caitlin.

There’s a 3% transaction fee, though, to use the Alaska Airlines credit card in the Bilt payment portal. Caitlin expects this option will be available for travelers later this spring. But Mileage Plan members can start earning and redeeming points in the Bilt system right now.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to bring more travelers into the Mileage Plan ecosystem while finding ways to make our co-brand card (with Bank of America) even more rewarding,” wrote Caitlin.

Right now, American Airlines also is a partner in the Bilt program. But that component is ending in June. Still, travelers can use Alaska Airlines miles to book American Airlines tickets — or any other Oneworld alliance partner.

One component that’s missing from the Bilt card is a big sign-up bonus. But there’s no fee for the card and the ability to get travel reward points for your rent payment, without an additional transaction fee, is a game-changer. Even if your landlord is not set up to take electronic payments, Bilt will receive your payment and issue a check to your landlord.

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Navigating airline tickets is confusing enough. But then there’s your bags. Alaska Airlines made a change in its baggage policy on March 1. The switch could make a big difference in how you book your flights if you have to take a flight on a different airline.

“Any time you booked an Alaska ticket and then got a separate ticket on to Australia or London, they used to check your bag all the way through,” said Nate Vallier of Alaska Travel Desk.

For example, I spoke with a traveler headed to Buenos Aires, Argentina. His Alaska Airlines ticket went to Houston, where he transferred to a United Airlines flight to Buenos Aires. When he purchased the tickets, he was assured that his bags would be transferred to United’s flight. That’s because Alaska and United have an “interline baggage agreement” to move bags from one flight to another.

“But now, you have to claim and re-check your bags when you change airlines,” said Vallier. “That means a longer layover in both directions.”

Alaska’s new policy took effect on March 1. The Buenos Aires traveler was told he would have to claim his luggage in Houston, check his bags at the United counter and pass through security once again. Since he only had a 90-minute connection in Houston, he was understandably concerned. Even though he was traveling first class, that’s cutting it pretty close at a big airport like Houston’s Bush International, a United hub.

Alaska’s new policy is pretty clear: “If your travel includes more than one ticket, each ticket is considered a separate journey. Baggage will only be checked to the final destination on the first ticket. ... Checked baggage will not be transferred on to your next flight that’s on a separate ticket. Baggage fees for each carrier may apply.”

If you’re going on a big trip that includes more than one airline, you and your fellow travelers may have to reclaim your bags, check them with the new airline, pay any additional baggage fees and pass through security once again. Now is the time to review your arrangements and make sure you allow more than two or three hours to claim and re-check your bags and once again pass through security.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit