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The Best Mileage Program for Average Travelers

SmarterTravel

With Delta and United’s transition to spend-based loyalty programs last year, and American’s upcoming later this year, there’s no longer room for debate as to the industry standard. Travelers should now expect to be rewarded according to their spend, not according to the number of miles they fly.

For the great majority of flyers, the new schemes are a negative. Miles are harder (more expensive) to earn. And in many cases, award prices have been raised as well. For infrequent leisure travelers, mileage programs are teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

Most mileage programs, that is. There remains one significant holdout in the rush to adopt revenue-based loyalty models: Alaska Airlines.

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When Alaska signaled its intention to retain its traditional mileage-based system a year ago, the promise was generally interpreted as a highly provisional one. It was less a long-term commitment, more a short-term acknowledgement of practical reality.

In a presentation at last week’s J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Industrials Conference in New York (webcast here), Alaska’s CEO and CFO once again addressed the issue. In response to a question regarding the future status of Alaska’s Mileage Plan program, CFO Brad Pedersen had this to say:

At this point, we like where we’re at. We’re essentially sticking with the traditional model. It gives us the opportunity to look at how we perform versus how others perform. We wouldn’t say that we would never go to that certainly, but we like where we’re at…

Alaska’s top managers went on to compare their carrier’s mileage-based program to Southwest’s no-bag-fee policy, calling it a point of differentiation from other carriers. As a result, they claimed, “its value has gone up.”

Once again, the airline stopped well short of promising that Mileage Plan will remain in its current state forever. But at least for the foreseeable future, average travelers looking to get worthwhile value from an airline program will find that Alaska’s program is at the top of a very short list.

Reader Reality Check

Do you get more or less value from the new spend-based loyalty programs?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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