My Biggest Complaint About Alaska Airlines Miles…

a white airplane flying in the sky

Well, other than the fact that the system has been out of commission for the past 4 days (it’s back online this morning). Actually, I didn’t really mind since I had no pressing travel plans to make, and if anything got back the 30 minutes per day that I typically spend logging into my account and playing around with award availability.

Before I start complaining, as I wrote about in my mid-year report as a new Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, I’m really enjoying the program so far. Some of my favorite features of the program are summarized below:

  • Fee Waivers: An amazing benefit for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75k members where call center ticketing fees and ticket change/cancellation fees are waived. While other airlines waive award ticket fees for elite members, Alaska also waives fees for revenue tickets a la Southwest. 
  • Use of Smaller Airports: Alaska uses smaller airports, which in the Bay Area include SJC and OAK, with flight schedules that are on par with larger airports such as SFO.
  • Upgrades: Since I’m primarily a leisure traveler, unlike business travelers I have the luxury of purchasing el cheapo fares well in advance of departure date. Most airlines prioritize upgrades by elite status, then fare class. Alaska prioritizes upgrades by elite status, then time of purchase which works out well for me.
  • Direct Phone Access to Friendly and Helpful Agents: I’ve called in several times, and each one has been answered directly after a couple rings without having to fumble through a phone tree. Also, each and every interaction I’ve had with Alaska’s phone agents has been pretty darn pleasant. I’ve had to deal with my share of phone agents at other airlines that left me downright mad and angry, so don’t underestimate the value in someone not ruining your day. 

At the time, I only had a handful of complaints about the program, if you can even call them that:

  • Route Network: This comes with the territory given that Alaska is a regional program, and flight service on Alaska to the Midwest and East Coast is limited. This is why they’ve partnered with American and Delta to fill in the gaps.
  • Airline Partners: While the list of partners is big enough to get you where you need to go for the most part, there isn’t a lot of overlap that the bigger alliances have which can yield multiple options for many destinations.
  • Upgrade Waitlist: When using guest upgrades, Alaska doesn’t provide the ability to waitlist for upgrades, and instead “U” space must be available which dilutes the value of the guest upgrades
  • Mileage Posting Times: A minor issue, but in general I’ve had to wait 5-7 days for my Alaska flights to post, and over a week for my Cathay Pacific partner flights to post to my account. United flights would typically post to my account in 1-2 days

As is the case in any relationship, the more time you spend with someone or something, the more things you’ll find to complain about. My relationship with Alaska Airlines has been no different, and as I’m trying to use my miles for an award redemption for the first time, there’s a few things to add to the list:

a screenshot of a computer screen
  • Awards Must Include Travel To/From North America: This is my biggest complaint about the program. In theory, this doesn’t sound like a big deal for those of us based in North America (which is probably everyone that uses the Alaska Airlines program). As you can see in the chart above, that’s how the award charts for each airline are structured. But this is atypical compared to other programs, which usually allow you to book flights to/from any destinations that partners fly.

For example, I’m in need of a flight from Seychelles (SEZ) – Dubai (DXB) and a one-way coach ticket on Emirates is coming in at a whopping $650 for the 4-hour flight. I’d love to be able to use my Alaska Airlines miles for this leg, but it just isn’t an option given the structure of the program.

  • Travel To/From Domestic Gateway Only Available On Alaska Airlines: When booking award flights I totally get that it can be a bit of a crapshoot, and sometimes you just have to book a separate positioning flight. But Alaska only permits travel to/from your domestic gateway on Alaska-metal, which can be a pain if you need to position to the Midwest or East Coast. The reason they partnered with Delta and American was due to their limited domestic route network, and they should allow travel on these carriers to your North American gateway
  • No Mixed Partner Awards: related to the point above, but as you can see from the award chart everything is focused on each partner, as opposed to travel to a specific region/destination. Therefore, you are not allowed to mix-and-match partner awards as you can with traditional alliances in other programs, which limits the options for routes that need multiple connections.


Overall, I’m still really pleased with the Alaska Airlines program, but the issues I’ve found above have limited the flexibility in using my miles and is certainly part of the trade-off of being part of a smaller program.

I’ll report back with any other updates, and am also interested in hearing about your experiences using Alaska Airlines miles.

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