Ladies and gentlemen, it’s still valuation season, and I’ve got a real turd nugget for you today. We’re talking Alaska Airlines and their completely over-rated award program, Mileage Plan. Is it the worst program in the world? Absolutely not. But it is the least useful domestic award currency among major US carriers.
Before we get going, I’ve got this little bit of d-list celeb drama that I wanted to share. It went down on a Delta flight out of Minneapolis. We’ve got Tamar Braxton being dressed down by a Delta Pilot prior to departure. For those unfamiliar, Tamar is one of those celebs whose only famous for being related to someone famous. In her case, her sister, the actually talented Toni Braxton. Here is the footage shared to Instagram:
Right away, I like this guy. He doesn’t know, or give a shit, who this person is. All he cares about is that there aren’t going to be any problems once en-route. As it should be. What exactly lead up to this incident is a bit of a mystery. Quoting Fox, which looks like the only outlet reporting more fact and less opinion, which in itself is a bit embarrassing, the following occurred.
I don’t know why anybody, barely-famous or not, would put this online. What type of sympathy does Tamar think she’s going to get here? From my point of view, it seems the most likely motivation comes from the desperation that one feels when their very-dim star power is waning. What set this whole debacle off will likely remain a he said-she said. What we do know, is that this is another case of some entitled pseudo-celeb trying to use their tiny bit of influence to generate some fallout for this poor guy just doing his job. I’m really glad that nobody, including Delta is falling for any of it.
Now let’s get back to Alaska and talk Mileage Plan. This month, I’m assigning a value of just .84¢ per mile. Sadly, this is actually a 29% increase since I last performed a full reckoning back in March. You know, in a lot of ways, Alaska’s award program is the polar opposite of Southwest’s, which I much prefer. Though valuations are somewhat similar, both sub-1 cent, they vastly differ in award availability and high-value redemption opportunities. This month, we found seats on a class-trailing 51.85% of our hypothetical city-pairs. To put this in context, it’s the only major US airline with availability under 75%. Unless we count Hawaiian, which, in my opinion, is only major in a strict legal sense. Talking about the potential to slay those massive over 4¢ unicorns, Alaska has it, while Southwest does not. In practice, we saw these lofty awards appear in 6 out of our 81 tests, or 7.4% of the time. Not awful, and potentially worth holding out for.
Unlike airlines with high-award availability, Alaska’s non-zero average, or the metric that ignores findings of no-availability, becomes somewhat important. This is the number to use if one is more flexible with their travel days and is willing to plan their vacations around finding an open seat. In this case, we saw a very healthy 2.51¢ average. As is often the case, the real star is international travel. Looking strictly at this subset and we see 3.63¢. Alaska has so much potential, if only they didn’t shun points and miles travelers.
Sketchy availability is just really frustrating and should make any loyal customer really question the efficacy of accumulating Mileage Plan miles if the end goal is high-value award travel. However, there is one aspect to the way Alaska presents their award availability that I find simply appalling. They will advertise a premium cabin fare, so long as any portion of the trip is up front. For example, this flight from LAX to Sydney is offered as a Partner Business award ticket. However, click through to book, and we see the 14 hour leg between Los Angeles and Brisbane is in coach, while the hour and a half flight between BNE and Sydney is in business. This practice to just total garbage, and in my opinion plays jump rope with that false-advertising line. This would be like a car dealer advertising a Ferrari for $20,000, and then in the fine print, saying they reserve the right to substitute a Ford Focus. They might be legally within their rights to do it, but it’s a complete dirtbag move.
To be fair, other carriers do this as well, take this screenshot from United for example. That said, Alaska is the only one, that I’m aware of, that doesn’t disclose on the initial search screen.
Heading over the earn side and we’ve got the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature. The standard signup bonus for this card is 30,000 miles, with targeted offers often being seen for 50k. Using the valuation above, I would consider the 30K bonus worth just $252. Far short of what I would consider valuable enough to warrant a new account. Issued by Bank of America, this card also offers an Alaska Companion pass. Sadly, unlike Southwest’s, this one isn’t anything to get overly excited about. To use it, one must pay at least $121 in taxes and fees. I do suppose in some scenarios this could offset the annual $75 fee. The card still just seems to be more hassle than it’s worth. Then we come across these poor souls, the reviewers I found on Alaska’s credit card ad page. These people remind me of Jerry.