Alaska Air eliminates some mileage redemption options, including for Ravn Alaska flights

It was a reader who first alerted me to a couple of changes Alaska Airlines was making to its Mileage Plan.

The changes were not dramatic but followed a pattern: whittling away benefits from the most popular frequent flyer program in the state.

Starting Aug. 1, the “Money & Miles” option is going away. This is an option where travelers can exchange 10,000-20,000 frequent flyer miles for a discount of $100-$200. The benefit is that travelers still can earn miles on the discounted ticket.

On the same day, Alaska Air is deleting its instant upgrade program. This feature allowed flyers to purchase a coach ticket for a slightly higher fare and be instantly upgraded to either a premium class seat or a first-class seat. The higher your status in the program, the less it costs to upgrade.

I never used the “Miles and Money” option, but occasionally used the “Instant Upgrade” plan to score a better seat.

It’s important for travelers to remember that all frequent flyer plans (and broader loyalty schemes) are changing all the time.

Over the last year or two, there’s been a drip-drip-drip of devaluations to the Alaska Airlines plan. Here are some recent changes:


1. Travelers who purchase the advertised price for an Alaska Airlines ticket (“Saver”) will only receive 30% of the miles flown. For example, if you buy a one-way ticket from Anchorage to Seattle for $167, you’ll receive about 483 frequent flyer miles. You’ll have to purchase a main cabin fare, the next level up, for an extra $35 to receive full mileage credit: about 1,449 elite qualifying miles.

Alaska Airlines is one of the only airlines that still calculate the miles you earn based on the miles you fly to earn elite status (MVP or MVP Gold). All other major airlines require travelers to spend a minimum amount of money to attain elite status.

2. The Alaska Airlines Visa card is a valuable tool to earn more miles. Alaska Airlines now requires new cardholders to charge at least $6,000 per year to receive an annual companion pass. Travelers who already have the credit card are not subject to the new minimum-spend requirement. But if you get a new card in order to get the hefty bonus (currently around 60,000 miles), the new terms apply.

Remember, too, that there’s a $95 annual fee (up from $75) and a $3,000 minimum spend within the first 90 days to receive the bonus miles for signing up.

3. No more baggage transfers to other airlines, when ticketed separately. This change does not specifically affect mileage earning and burning, but it can have a major impact while you’re traveling. If you have one ticket to Seattle and another ticket to an onward destination, Alaska Airlines will no longer transfer your checked bags. Travelers must collect checked bags and check in again at the new airline and pay the applicable bag fee. Then, travelers must again pass through the TSA checkpoint.

If you’re traveling through Seattle, plan on at least three hours between flights to accommodate Alaska’s new checked-baggage protocol.

[Summer air travel is about to reach peak misery]

4. Partner airlines’ earn-and-burn policies are under constant review and they can change frequently. For example, on a recent trip on Qatar Airways, I was able to earn 50% of the actual miles flown from Seattle to Qatar and on to Tanzania. That’s because I booked the ticket at Qatar Airways’ website. Had I booked the entire itinerary through the Alaska Airlines website, I would have earned 100% of the miles flown.

Partner airline mileage earning levels depend on the price of the ticket, as well as the class of service (business, premium economy or economy).

One partner airline, Ravn Alaska, has been entirely scrubbed from the Alaska Airlines website. Travelers can no longer book tickets, or accrue or redeem Alaska Airlines miles, for Ravn Alaska flights. “Alaska Airlines will honor all existing reservations,” said Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines’ regional vice president.

Last week, Ravn’s former CEO, Rob McKinney, announced he had left the company.

Josh Jones is the chairman of New Pacific Airlines, the parent company of Ravn, which includes the company’s struggling 757 operation. “Going forward, our President Tom Hsieh is stepping into the role of CEO,” Jones wrote in an email to employees.

The 757s, based in Ontario, California, originally were slated to serve an ambitious schedule linking Seoul and Tokyo with key destinations in the Lower 48. All of the flights would pass through Anchorage. In fact, New Pacific (formerly Northern Pacific Airways) even constructed a lounge in the north terminal of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Until April, New Pacific’s 757s were operating a limited schedule between Ontario and both Reno and Nashville. Now, the 757s are available only via charter from Ontario.

Last month, Aleutian Airways, which competes with Ravn on most of its routes from Anchorage, announced tickets now are available to book at Further, travelers now can earn miles for Aleutian Airways flights booked on Alaska’s website.

Travelers cannot redeem Alaska Airlines miles for flights on Aleutian Air. Yet.

What’s next for Ravn Alaska? The regional carrier flies from Anchorage to Homer, Valdez, Cold Bay, St. Paul Island, Dutch Harbor, Unalakleet, St. Mary’s and Sand Point. The company has been mum since February, when it laid off almost one-third of its workforce.


Regardless, Alaska Airlines is shifting its resources to assist Aleutian Airways by using its powerful booking engine at

[Regional air carriers are a critical part of Alaska’s transportation infrastructure]

The Mileage Plan at Alaska Airlines is an important component of the travel experience for Alaskans. Even though recent changes have devalued the program, there still are important benefits.

The Club 49 program, which allows for two free checked bags when flying to or from Alaska, still is in place.

Alaska Airlines’ partnerships allow Mileage Plan members to “earn and burn” miles on lots of other airlines, including American Airlines, Condor, Icelandair and other carriers in the Oneworld Alliance.

Travelers can and should regularly review the rules of the program regarding elite status, lounge membership and partner airlines.

If you’re earning lots of miles through flights or charging things on your credit card, you should use them promptly. Simply put, the best strategy is to earn and burn.

The industry trend is to make these plans less valuable through changes and award-level inflation. But the plans aren’t going away — because travelers love to play games.

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