Flashback to 2011. I was learning more about points and miles and getting more adventurous with my credit card applications. By that, I mean that I was looking to apply for cards outside of the programs I’d already been familiar with, like Delta or United. One airline program that everyone seemed to be in love with was the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. The co-brand credit card from Bank of America offered a 25,000-mile sign-up bonus and awarded a $99 companion certificate, which at the time was good for any Alaska flight for the $75 annual fee.
I signed up for the card and used the companion ticket to book two first-class tickets from Orlando to Hawaii via Seattle. Eventually, Alaska restricted the companion passes to only be used on economy tickets. There’s a limited amount of cities that we could fly to on Alaska from Orlando, so I canceled the card after a few years. It didn’t make sense to pay for a companion certificate I never used.
I still had the miles from the sign-up bonus in my account, adding to them a little bit here and there to keep them active. The most significant mileage bump came when Alaska bought Virgin America and merged the miles from the programs (and provided a 10,000 point bonus to current members).
The only time I’ve flown with Alaska since then, I redeemed British Airways Avios for my flight. I had over 50,000 Alaska miles sitting in my account and I finally found a use for them.
Two One-Way Economy Tickets
I redeemed 40,000 miles for two one-way economy tickets from San Francisco to Orlando, and I’m not sorry.
Considering that Alaska just put award flights to Fiji on their partner airline Fiji Airways on sale for the same 20,000 miles per ticket, it seems like I got a raw deal. But there’s one thing you need to realize. I have no current plans for visiting Fiji, but I do need to fly home from San Francisco.
I’ve had these Alaska miles in my account for almost 10 years; geesh, has it really been that long? If I could have, I would have preferably used Avios to pay for this flight but saver space wasn’t available. That’s why the ticket cost 20,000 miles instead of the regular price for a domestic flight with Alaska, which is 12,500. Paying cash for the flight would have cost $230 each, or $460 for the two of us. So I redeemed my miles for a value of 1.15 cents per point.
Now that some of you have stopped yelling at the screen about what a waste of miles this was and the only use for Alaska miles are for premium cabin redemptions with partners, listen to me. I know it sounds like blasphemy since people willingly buy Alaska miles for 2 cents each during the frequent sales that the airline offers. But you know what I’m realizing? Points that are sitting in an account and never used are worth nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
I decided spending miles I had been saving for some exotic redemption would be better put to use, and I’d have $460 extra in my pocket.
If I wanted to replace those miles right away, I could sign up for the Alaska credit card. It’s been long enough since the last application and they’re offering 40,000 miles as a sign-up bonus. But why should I do that, to have the miles sit there for another decade? I’ve already admitted that 40,000 points are worth $460 in value to me. There are plenty of cards I can sign up for with bonuses that are worth more.
That’s a risk when signing up for a card that earns points with a single airline. Unless it’s a program you deal with all the time, there’s a chance you’ll have a hard time redeeming those points. You need to look past the headline number and evaluate if you’re going to be able to use the points and benefits that a card provides. I was drawn into the Alaska program because of the aspirational partners they have like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Fiji Airways. Because of that, I had points that just sat there in my account year after year.
Here’s the key. Alaska’s points weren’t worth much to me. For the flights we take, I just couldn’t find a use for them or for the companion certificate. I know that some people feel that the Alaska card is a no-brainer to keep every year and love Alaska’s Mileage Plus program. If I lived in Seattle or flew to places serviced by some of Alaska’s partner airlines, I’m sure I’d love the program too, but I don’t.
I finally used some of my Alaska Mileage Plan points I earned from a sign-up bonus almost 10 years ago. After holding on to them for the chance I’d use them for some fantastic flight, I decided it was better to use them for a run-of-the-mill trip, getting only a mediocre value. They’re my miles; I can use them how I please. I’m glad getting to use them for a flight, and I have $460 in my pocket that I can use to pay for the rest of the trip.
The lessons from this journey are:
- Try not to earn points you’re going to have a hard time using.
- It’s better to spend points on something you need than to save them for redemptions you’ll never make.
- Points are only worth as much value as you give to them because everyone’s situation is different.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary