How to earn Alaska Airlines miles

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In my humble opinion, Alaska Airlines has the most valuable miles of any U.S. airline and the competition doesn’t come close. That’s something I’m comfortable saying despite never having flown with Alaska Airlines (and not having any plans to in the near future). The reason is because they have such valuable travel options with their partner airlines, such as dirt cheap first-class award seats on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.

The biggest downside is there aren’t as many ways to earn Alaska Airlines miles as other airline miles, so you have to work a little harder to accrue them. The fastest option by far is to apply for a cobranded airline credit card, like the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card and/or the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card. Both come with extra-large welcome bonuses and a very reasonable minimum spending requirement.

But there are plenty of other ways to earn Alaska miles and some might surprise you. In this post, I’ll show you how to earn Alaska Airlines miles in 2020.

Here’s how to earn Alaska Airlines in 2020 so you can take the trip of a lifetime. (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)

How to earn Alaska Airlines miles

Credit card welcome bonuses

As with most airlines, the easiest way to earn Alaska miles is by signing up for one of the airline’s rewards credit cards. You have two nearly identical cards to pick from, one personal and one business credit card:

That’s a fantastic bonus and it’s just shy of the 50,000 miles you need to book a one-way business-class ticket to Asia on Cathay Pacific with a free stopover in Hong Kong. Both cards carry a $75 annual fee and both earn 3x miles on Alaska Airlines purchases (and one mile per dollar everywhere else). With both cards, you’ll enjoy a free checked bag for you and up to six companions when traveling on Alaska Airlines. You’ll also get an Alaska Airlines companion fare as part of the welcome offer and each year you renew your card. This lets you bring a friend on a round-trip coach Alaska Airlines flight for as little as $121 ($99 fare price + $22 or more in taxes and fees).

The Alaska Airlines Business card is a great option to consider because it won’t count against the Chase 5/24 rule. But overall, the personal Alaska Airlines card is a better offer because you’ll get a $100 statement credit (after meeting the spending requirements) which covers the annual fee and will put $25 back in your pocket.

Transfer points from Marriott

While Alaska Airlines doesn’t partner with a major transferable points program, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points, it does partner with Marriott. Points transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer.

That math can get a little confusing, so here’s an example:

If you were trying to get 50,000 Alaska miles for a business-class flight to Hong Kong, you would need to transfer 120,000 Marriott points. The 3:1 ratio would give you 40,000 Alaska miles (120,000 miles / three), plus two 5,000-mile bonuses for transferring two 60,000 point increments.

Business class on Cathay Pacific will be your favorite part of your vacation. If you were to pay out of pocket, it would cost nearly $5,000.

I normally prefer to save my Marriott points for hotel stays since my Titanium Marriott Bonvoy elite status really increases the value of my points. Alaska Airlines is one of the only exceptions where I think transferring from Marriott is a good idea. You’d be hard pressed to find a Marriott redemption that would net you close to $5,000 for that amount of points.

Fly with Alaska Airlines

With all the hype about travel credit cards, don’t forget about earning the old-fashioned way: butt-in-seat flight miles. Alaska Airlines is one of the few remaining airlines that gives you miles based on the length of your flight (most airlines base the miles you earn off the price of your ticket).

All Alaska Airlines flights (and eligible partner flights sold through Alaska) will earn 100% base miles for the distance of the flight and you can earn between 25% and 75% bonus miles for flying on a full-fare coach ticket or a first-class ticket.

Don’t forget about elite status, as Alaska Airlines elites will get the following bonuses:

  • MVP Elite: 50% bonus
  • MVP Gold Elite: 100% bonus
  • MVP Gold 75K Eilte: 125% bonus

Fly with partner airlines

While Alaska isn’t a member of a major alliance, it has formed individual partnerships with the following airlines for reciprocal mileage earning:

  • Aer Lingus
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Condor
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • PenAir
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska
  • Singapore

Mileage redemptions aren’t yet available for all these partners such as El Al, but you can earn Alaska Airlines miles by crediting paid flights on all of these airlines to your Alaska Airlines account. The exact rates vary by airline, but again, they’re all distance based. If you spot a great fare sale on an Alaska Airlines partner, it’s a good way to rack up some Alaska Airlines miles.

Buy miles (On sale, hopefully)

Normally, buying miles is a bad value unless you have your eyes set on a specific redemption and you’re just short. While I wouldn’t recommend buying Alaska Airlines miles speculatively, with the right flights in mind, this can actually be a great deal. Alaska Airlines frequently has sales that offer up to 50% bonus miles. Remember that $5,000 Cathay Pacific business class flight we were talking about earlier? If you’d buy the miles you needed for it during a sale, it could have cost you less than $1,000 (which isn’t much more than the price of a coach flight).

Alaska Airlines runs discounts on purchased miles a couple times each year, so be sure to keep your eye out for the next sale. Most customers can buy up to 150,000 miles per year; Alaska elite members don’t have any limit on the amount they can buy.

Use the Alaska Airlines shopping portal

Any time you make a purchase online, you should always start by clicking through a shopping portal to earn bonus miles or even cash back on purchases you were already planning to make. This “double dipping” is one of the best ways to watch your rewards pile up faster. Given how hard it is to earn Alaska Airlines miles, I’ll sometimes use the Alaska shopping portal over another airline even if it isn’t offering the highest rate.

Dining rewards

You can think of these dining rewards programs like the physical version of a shopping portal. Link your card from home (and pick one with a good bonus category for restaurants) and you’ll earn bonus Alaska miles when you dine at participating restaurants. You do not need an Alaska Airlines card to do this. You can link any credit card and you’ll earn credit card rewards in addition to Alaska Airlines miles.

Just keep in mind that your card can only be linked to one of these programs at a time, so you’ll have to decide which airline’s dining rewards program to utilize.

Rent a car

If you book your rental car through the Alaska website, you can earn 50 miles a day (and bonus miles with many partners) when you rent with the following agencies through this link:

  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Thrifty

Book a hotel stay

Alaska Airlines offers the ability to earn bonus miles on hotel bookings, but note that if you book through the Alaska Airlines portal (as opposed to directly with the hotel), you probably won’t earn points from that hotel and may not have your elite benefits honored. Here are the partners to choose from:

  • Alaska Airlines Hotels
  • Best Western
  • Choice Hotels
  • Coast Hotels
  • InterContinental Hotels Group
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • Rocket Miles
  • Westmark Hotels

Bottom line

There are a lot of different ways to earn Alaska Airlines miles, but the best way to build up your balance quickly is by getting one of (or ideally both of) the personal and small business Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards. Both cards have the same bonus offer, except that the personal Alaska Airlines card comes with an additional $100 statement credit after meeting the minimum spending requirement.

Beyond that, you can transfer points from Marriott, fly with Alaska or one of its partners or take advantage of a shopping portal, dining rewards network, etc. to top off your account.

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Ethan Steinberg is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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