My 3 Costly Mistakes With Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

My 3 Costly Mistakes With Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

I recently made some big and really embarrassing mistakes when using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. While it really sucked at the time, I now view it as an expensive lesson to learn. My experience just reaffirms that in this hobby, you can never be too cautious and that it pays dividends to be meticulous when it comes to your bookings. So learn from my costly errors and do as I say, not as I do.

Falling For Phantom Availability

Phantom availability is one of the biggest fears that all points enthusiasts have. There’s no worse feeling than finding a great redemption, going to checkout, and then getting met with an error. This is why it’s always recommended to cross-reference other partner programs to validate that the award space you’re looking at is real. I even wrote about doing this extra check when explaining how to search for OneWorld award availability….

However, I was stupid and didn’t even follow my own advice.

For context, I was looking for return flights from Sydney to Los Angeles and saw that Alaska Airlines had two premium economy seats available on the dates I wanted. They were going for 47.5k miles each which is a pretty good deal so I was super excited to book them.

Alaska Airlines website was showing Qantas Award Availability
Alaska Airlines Website Showing Qantas Award Availability

However, when I went to checkout to purchase the tickets, I encountered the dreaded error message of death.

I received an error message when trying to book phantom Qantas award seats via Alaska Airlines mileage plan
Error Message When Trying to Book Phantom Seats

This whole ordeal could have been avoided with a simple check on British Airway’s website because had I looked at British Airway’s site first, I would have seen that the 2 seats Alaska was showing were not real.

British Airways showed no Qantas Premium Economy award availability
British Airways Showed No Qantas Premium Economy Availability

So to drill this extremely important point home, when dealing with partner bookings, it’s always good to double-check if other partners can see the seats you’re interested in and ensure that the award space you’re seeing isn’t phantom availability. As a rule of thumb, British Airways and Cathay Pacific are pretty reliable partners to use when verifying that OneWorld award seats exist and aren’t phantom seats.

The second thing I should have done before purchasing miles was to simply call up Alaska Airlines reservations and ask them if they could see that award and try to book it. If the representative confirmed that these seats were real, then I would purchase the miles and complete the booking. This is because mile purchases are instant in most cases. There are a few data points indicating that miles can take longer than 24 hours to show up in your account but in my experience, all mileage purchases have been instantly deposited into my account and ready for use.

The interesting thing is that American Airlines also incorrectly shows this phantom space. So maybe American Airlines and Alaska Airlines use a similar backend system. Regardless, you can’t trust the partner award space shown by either of these programs and should use someone reliable like British Airways to verify award space before transferring points over or purchasing miles.

American Airlines also showed incorrect award availability
American Airlines also showed incorrect award availability

Not Checking For Mileage Purchase Bonus

At the time of booking, I unfortunately didn’t have enough miles in my account to book the award directly so I had to buy miles to reach the necessary amount. Unless you’re making a high value redemption, buying miles in general is almost always a bad idea since airlines sell miles for 2+ cents a mile, which is horrible.

In my situation, I was willing to purchase miles at full price because I knew that the value of my award would be greater than the amount I spent purchasing those miles. However, before I did ANYTHING, I should have first checked what Alaska’s mileage purchase bonus history looked like….

Airlines try to entice customers to buy miles by offering mileage purchase promotions where buyers can get up to 100% bonus miles depending on the number of miles purchased. These bonuses can bring costs down to as low as 1.27 cents per mile, which is much more affordable and can be useful when making strategic redemptions.

Alaska Airlines routinely offers mileage purchase bonuses
Alaska Airlines routinely offers mileage purchase bonuses

These promotions are still not as good as earning at least 1 mile per dollar spent via credit cards but purchasing miles with a sale is a good way to top up your account for relatively cheap. Airlines routinely offer these bonuses and many of these airlines do so in a predictable pattern.

This is similar to transfer bonuses, which are also done fairly regularly. For both of these types of promotions, it’s always recommended to check the history of the promotion to see if there’s a potential bonus coming up based on the history before transferring points or buying miles. I even built a nifty tool that helps track transfer bonus history. For mileage purchase bonuses, I like the ones that OneMileAtATime creates, here’s the article that tracks the mileage sale history for Alaska Airlines.

However, I don’t know why at the time it didn’t occur to me that the advice to check the transfer bonus history also applies to mileage purchase bonuses as well…

If I had checked the history, I would have seen that Alaska Airlines consistently offers a bonus once every 3 months and that the next bonus to come would be sometime in November. Specifically, last year there was a bonus on 11/14/2022 which would have been 5 days away from the day I was going to book. Looking back, it would have been worthwhile for me to at least wait until that day to see if the bonus was offered or not.

Well to my dismay, on 11/13/2023 it was announced that Alaska Airlines was having a 60% bonus on purchased miles. If I had just waited 4 days, I would have been able to purchase the same amount of miles I needed for $700 less. Yep, you read that right. It hurt to type that out lol.

Example of a mileage purchase with an added bonus
Example of a mileage purchase with an added bonus

So the lesson here is to always check the transfer bonus history and mileage sale history to see if there are any potential bonuses coming up based on past promotions. This simple check can save you hundreds of dollars and thousands of points.

Not Calling Customer Service For Cancellation

The last mistake that I made wasn’t as costly as the previous two but was still one that could have been easily avoided. I had an unused Alaska Airlines companion pass that was set to expire that night. I hastily put together an itinerary and booked the trip without verifying the dates and details were correct. I know, I know.. what a rookie move.

Well, after receiving the confirmation details, I quickly realized that I had selected the wrong return date for the trip. I figured that it was no big deal and that I could simply go online to correct the date. Well to my surprise there was no “change flight” option that I normally saw when dealing with cash or award bookings. The only thing showing was to “cancel and refund flight”.

Alaska Airlines usually offers a Cancel Trip and Change Trip option when modifying a booking
The Cancel Trip and Change Trip Options

I naively thought that this would just refund my companion pass and let me make the correct booking again so I did it.

And, that’s where I messed up.

After minutes of waiting and refreshing the page, I still didn’t have my companion pass. So I gave Alaska Airlines a call and after telling the representative what happened, she regrettably told me how canceling the way I did DOES NOT give you back your companion pass. She explained how companion passes are tricky and that the proper way to get it refunded is to have a customer service representative perform the cancellation and refund for you…

At the end of the day, I’m “only” out ~$99 which is much better than my previous mistake costing me $700 but it still sucks to lose out on a companion pass for no reason. The lesson here is to always call customer service when you want to cancel an award booking or a booking with a special discount like a companion pass to ensure you get your discount or points back.


I made some pretty boneheaded mistakes that could have been avoided with the right preparations and procedures. Hopefully from my experience, you won’t make the same mistakes I did and will make some awesome (non-phantom) bookings!

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