Huge changes on Alaska – Distance-based Award Travel Redemption and Termination of Delta Air Lines Partnership

Alaska Airlines recently closed their acquisition of Virgin America, and they are rolling out a bunch of changes, including cross-earning miles with Virgin. Today, Alaska announced some changes to their Mileage Plan program redemption. Here are the two most noticeable changes.

  1. Alaska will now use a distance-based award redemption model for travel in the continental US and Canada
  2. Their codeshare and frequent-flyer partnerships with Delta will terminate effective end of April 2017.

I will quickly cover No.2 since it is pretty straight forward and is no secret, ever since Delta invaded Alaska’s home base in Seattle, every one knew this was inevitable. Until April 30th, 2017, you can still book with Alaska and earn Mileage Plan miles when you fly on Delta flights. More details are available here. You will also no longer be able to fly on Delta-operated flights when booking award travel using Milage Plan, but that had never been a real benefit; while it opened more routes, you usually had to pay much more (be it miles or dollars) for award itineraries with one or more legs operated by Delta.

Now let’s talk about the distance-based travel! Here is the breakdown:

 

New Alaska Award Redemption Chart

 

As you can see, this is quite similar to the old British Airways’ award chart for North America, before BA removed its 4,500 miles bracket. The distance brackets are also a little different. And unlike Avios, this is not segment-based!

So what can you do with this? If you are a Vancouver-based traveler, you immediately save 7,500 miles on a 1-way flight to Seattle (not that I would spend my miles on that, however, because of the extra taxes and fees since you would be departing from a Canadian airport). However, you can now travel to and from Vancouver / Seattle to most West Coast cities for just 7,500 miles one way! (Vancouver to San Diego are only 1,177 miles apart). As Alaska Airlines claims, this is definitely a game changer!

Here’s a quick screenshot of an example award flight from San Diego to Vancouver:

If you care to work out the award value according to TPG, the ticket has an equivalent dollar cost of $141 USD. Not bad at all!

This is especially true for travelers based in Vancouver, because the entire West Coast just opened up for 7,500 instead of 12,500 miles, a saving of 5,000 miles! For those who have the Avios program, your only realistic option was direct flights to / from Los Angeles via American Airlines (Alaska used to have direct YVR – LAX flights, however they were terminated as of June 2016) for 7,500 miles, but any other destination would require another 7,500 miles or more because you have to pay for each leg. I would not use Mileage Plan to redeem for flights out of Vancouver, for the reason I mentioned earlier, but I would definitely book flights to Vancouver from California with Alaska, as they only cost 7,500 miles + $5.60 (most of the time)!

Keep in mind, there are no changes to redemption on flights to and from Hawaii, as those will still cost 25,000 miles, unfortunately.