Want more frequent flier miles? Perhaps you should fly Alaska Airlines

United and Delta recently made it more difficult for travelers buying cheap tickets to earn miles. Both airlines once allotted them based on the distance of your flight, but changed their programs to reward big spenders. Now, the least expensive tickets earn few miles. 

Later this year, American will institute the same model, giving miles based on how much you paid. Other airlines, including Southwest, Virgin America and JetBlue, have long had similar approaches.

But what if you prefer the old system? Perhaps you like being rewarded for how many miles you fly, rather than how much you spend?

You might consider Alaska Airlines, which is not changing its program. If you fly from Seattle to Newark on Alaska, you'll earn 2,394 frequent flier miles, even if you paid $100 for a one-way fare. On United, which gives regular travelers five miles per dollar spent, that flight earns about 500 miles.

At an investment conference last week, Alaska executives were asked if they would follow their competitors. They said they won't - at least not right away.

"We like where we're at," CFO Brandon Pedersen said at the JPMorgan Aviation, Transportation & Industrials Conference. "We're sticking with the traditional model. It gives us an opportunity to look at how we perform versus how others perform. And we wouldn't say that we would never go to that, certainly."

CEO Brad Tilden suggested Alaska may try to advertise its program as a competitive advantage, similar to what Southwest Airlines has done with checked bags. You've probably seen Southwest's "bags fly free" campaign.

"It is a lot like Southwest with bag fees," Tilden said. "We could argue about its merits five years ago. Today, it's very differentiated from what the other guys offer. So I think its value actually has gone up."

One interesting thing is that you do not necessarily need to fly Alaska to earn miles. You can, for example, fly American and credit your miles to Alaska. You can also fly Delta and sometimes earn Alaska miles, but that relationship is complicated, and not all fares qualify for full mileage credit. 

What do you think? Is Alaska's program this most generous now? Will you try to credit more miles to Alaska?



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