Although relatively unknown amongst airline programs in Canada, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is actually a great program to consider if you like to travel outside of Canada.

With the ability to use your points on 17 different airlines around the globe, there’s a good chance this program will have a redemption option for your travels.

Not to mention, if you live in Alberta or British Columbia, or can drive to a border city served by Alaska, and like to fly to the United States, you can fly on Alaska to get there and enjoy the best North American Airline as chosen by JD Power for 11 years in a row.

So, how do you get the best value from this program? Our guide will help you find the best way to use your miles and get out exploring.

Related: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: You’ll Need More Miles For Economy Flights

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan at a glance

Value of a Mileage Plan mile: High: $0.062 for magazines
Low: $0.011 for hotels
Ways to redeem Mileage Plan miles: * Flights – 2.3 cents per mile (CPM)
* Hotels – 1.05 CPM
* Magazine subscriptions – 6.2 CPM
* Charitable donations
How to earn Mileage Plan Miles: * Travel – flights, hotels, and car rentals
* 2 credit cards
Who these rewards are good for: * World Travellers
Frequently Asked Questions: * Level of flexibility? Low
* Blackout dates? Yes
* Do rewards expire? No
* Do rewards cover taxes and fees? No
* Can these rewards be transferred? No
* Is there a way to earn rewards faster? Yes
* Will I lose my miles if I cancel an award flight? No

Related: Aeroplan Alternatives: Your 7 Other Options

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Calculating the value of a Mileage Plan mile

With only a limited number of ways to use your miles, there, unfortunately, isn’t much flexibility. But what this mileage plan lacks in flexibility, it more than makes up for in value.

We’ve surveyed the various options to let you know how to best redeem your points, with a particularly surprising redemption option.

Redeeming for flights: 2.3 CPM

If you want the best value for your points, then using them for flights is the only way to go.

The number of miles needed for your flight depends on two factors – how far you fly and who you fly with. This link will actually show you how many miles you’ll need based on where you are planning to travel and the various airline options to get you there.

How did we come to our evaluation?

We surveyed various flights on multiple Mileage Plan partners, as well as looked at one flight to the United States from each of the 6 cities served by Alaska Airlines.

All flights were booked 3 months in advance, with flexible dates to get the best value. But unfortunately, our survey didn’t include flights on Cathay Pacific as you have to call Alaska to book them.

Note: When booking award travel, taxes, and fees are charged in US dollars, so be sure to get a no foreign exchange fee card as well to save on currency conversion fees. For our calculations, we used an exchange rate of 1 USD = 1.30 CDN.

We also looked at a handful of business and first class seats, for those of you who like to save your miles and enjoy a premium experience while travelling.

In general, it wasn’t difficult to find availability on our selected routes, but you had to be flexible in your travel dates.

We came to an average value of 2.3 cents per mile.

Tips for getting the most out of your miles

1. Watch out for taxes and fees

Like all airline programs, certain partners offered better value than others because they charge less in taxes and fees.

If you want to get maximum value, stick to these airlines:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Emirates
  • Qantas
  • Japan Airlines

If you’re going to Europe, unfortunately, that only leaves you with travelling on American, and we weren’t able to find any economy class redemptions (although business class seats were ample). If you’re absolutely dead set on going there, Icelandair offers some value (though not as great as the others), and avoid British Airways as the taxes and fees can be more than half the cost of simply purchasing a ticket.

This redemption isn’t included in our average value and is for illustration purposes only, but a round-trip flight from Montreal to Athens on British Airways only resulted in a point value of 0.7 cents. The taxes and fees were $695, against a full purchase price of $1,140. That’s 60% of the flight cost you still have to pay.

Related: Why British Airways Makes Sense For (Most) Canadians

2. Pamper yourself

Another way to get good value is to book business and first class seats.

The best redemption we found was a first-class ticket from Toronto to Dubai on Emirates. The ticket costs almost $17,000 dollars, but we got a point value of 5.5 cents – the best in our survey. And while you need to save a whopping 300,000 miles for it, it only costs $130 in taxes and fees.

3. Don’t save up forever

Another way to use your miles is through partial redemptions on Alaska Airlines flights. You’re able to redeem 10,000 miles and get a $100 USD ($130 CDN) off a flight you purchase, a value of 1.3 cents.

While all of our Alaska Airlines redemptions provided better value, if you have some miles you want to use and don’t want to wait while your mile bank fills up for full redemption, this can be an alternative to using your points.

Redeeming for hotel stays: 1.05 CPM

The only other way to redeem your points for travel is by booking hotels.

This option allows you to use your points towards free nights at more than 400,000 hotels around the world. Your miles cover the taxes and fees as well.

You can also use a combination of points and cash – the choice is yours.

As an added bonus, if you hold an Alaska Airlines credit card, you can get a discount on the number of miles required to book your room.

We looked at hotels in major Canadian cities in the downtown core and chose the hotel that was best recommended.

We came to an average value of 1.05 cents per mile.

Redeeming for magazine subscriptions – 6.2 CPM

There’s no denying that this is one of the strangest redemptions ever, but if you have some extra miles kicking around, you can actually use them to redeem for magazine subscriptions.

And there’s actually quite a wide range of publications available.

Here’s a small sampling of popular titles available, and how much your points would be worth. Our average value is 6.2 cents per mile, mostly boosted by one subscription.

Magazine, number of issues Miles Required Cost with sales tax Value (cents per mile)
People – 18 issues 1,600 $70 4.4
Sports Illustrated – 39 issues 200 $44 22
Better Homes and Gardens – 12 issues 500 $8 1.6
Fortune – 28 issues 2,300 $29 1.3
Vogue – 12 issues 1,000 $15 1.5

Depending on what your interests are, there could be some incredible value here. But unless you’re a magazine junky, you won’t be able to use many miles this way.

Donations to Charity

The last option you have for redeeming your miles is a donation.

There’s a wide variety of charities to choose from, and this is a great option if you want to pay it forward.

Other credit cards that allow you donate will often donate a dollar amount for you, i.e. 10,000 points = $100 donated to the charity of your choice. But the Mileage Plan doesn’t actually give your points a value, allowing you to donate as many or as few as you like.

Earn Mileage Plan miles when you travel

The easiest way to earn miles is through travelling.

Earn through flights

You can collect miles when you fly with Alaska Airlines and their airline partners. The amount of miles you earn is based on both the actual distance travelled in miles as well as the fare class purchased.

Earn through hotel stays

You’re able to collect miles when you stay at hotels. Simply book your hotel through the Mileage plan hotel portal and earn miles for your stay.

Or, in lieu of earning hotel rewards, you can collect miles when you stay with their hotel partners, simply by providing your Mileage Plan number when making a reservation and checking in.

Earn when renting a car

You can collect miles on rental cars. Collect miles when you rent cards with the major car rental providers.

Earn Mileage Plan miles with an Alaska Airlines credit card

The last way to earn miles is with a credit card.

And MBNA issues the only two Alaska Airlines credit cards on the Canadian market.

Credit Card Welcome Bonus Earn Rates Annual Fee, Income Requirements Apply Now
Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard 30,000 miles (terms) * 3 miles per $1 on Alaska Airlines
* 1 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases
$75, no income requirements Apply Now
Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard 20,000 miles (terms) * 3 miles per $1 on Alaska Airlines
* 1 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases
$99, 80K personal or 150K household Apply Now

Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard

The is a premium card, that will allow you to earn:

  • 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in 3 months,
  • 3 miles per dollar spent at Alaska Airlines, and
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.

The best part about this card is that you’ll get an annual companion fare, each year on your card anniversary, for use on an Alaska Airlines flights. For $99 plus taxes and fees, you’ll be able to take a second person with you. And for the first year, if you spend $1,000 in 3 months you’ll get it without needing to wait for your anniversary.

Plus, you’ll get 1 free checked bag for yourself and up to 5 additional passengers on the same itinerary. And get 8 types of insurance, including a rare rental car accident and personal effects insurance.

All this for an annual fee of $99. For what this card offers, this is a great deal.

Note: You’ll need minimum income requirements of either $80,000 personal or $150,000 household to be eligible.

Related: Best Perks Credit Cards in Canada

Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard

If you don’t meet the income requirements of the above card, the is also a great card.

The only differences between these cards are:

  • the welcome bonus is 10,000 fewer miles – 20,000 miles,
  • there are no free checked bags on Alaska Airlines flights,
  • there’s 1 fewer type of insurance (this card does not have price protection), and
  • it has a lower annual fee of $75 and no income requirement.

But for $24 less annually, you’ll still get the same earn rates on your spending, and you’ll still get access to the companion fare.

This card is a win-win, and it’s very rare to see two levels of cards with almost the same set of features and earn rates.

Mileage Plan questions and answers

Here are some common questions and answers about the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan rewards program:

How flexible are these rewards?

These rewards are not very flexible. You can’t use them to fly within Canada and you’re limited to only redeeming for flights and hotel stays.

Are there blackout dates?

Yes, there are blackout dates for flights.

Do these rewards expire?

No, provided you make a transaction on your account at least once every two years.

Can you use points to cover taxes & fees?

No, points cannot be used to cover taxes and fees for flights.

Can these rewards be transferred?

No, these rewards cannot be transferred.

Is there a way to earn rewards faster?

Yes, by earning miles by flying with Alaska Airlines and other airline partners, using an Alaska Airlines credit card, staying at hotel partners and renting cars.

Do you lose your points if you cancel a booking?

No, however, a service fee will be charged to redeposit miles into your account.

The bottom line

If international travel is your thing, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a program to be considered. With a wide variety of partners to redeem your miles with, getting where you want to go (and with good value) is well within reach.

Plus, if you live in Alberta and British Columbia, or you can drive to a border city served by them, you’ll be able to get great flights for your travels to the United States as well.

With two credit cards to choose from, both with great Alaska perks, hopefully hopping on a plane for some adventure is not that far away.