Nordstrom 10X Ultimate Rewards or 8X Alaska Mileage Plan for First Class to Asia?

Nordstrom 10X Ultimate Rewards or 8X Alaska Mileage Plan for First Class?

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Is Nordstrom 10X with the Ultimate Rewards Mall and gift cards or 8X via the Alaska Mileage Plan Mall better?

TravelSort reader Laura writes “I see that Nordstrom is 8X now in the Alaska Mileage Plan online mall, and 5X in the Ultimate Rewards Mall, but isn't it possible to get 10X if I first buy Nordstrom gift cards at an office supply store and then click through the Ultimate Rewards Mall? If my goal is first class to Asia, which should I take advantage of?”

I don't check the Alaska Mileage Plan shopping mall that frequently, but Laura's correct that currently Nordstrom is offering 8X when you login to Mileage Plan and click through from the Mileage Plan online shopping portal (see lower right of the screenshot):

Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping: 8X for Nordstrom


And as I noted in Ultimate Rewards Mall August 2014 Deals, Nordstrom, Macy's, and Sephora are all at 5X, such that if you first buy store gift cards at an office supply store (at OfficeMax or Staples, in the case of Nordstrom) using your Ink Plus or Ink Bold, you'll earn 5X for the gift cards, then can earn an additional 5X by paying with the gift cards after clicking through the Ultimate Rewards Mall.

Does Nordstrom Offer What You Want at a Competitive Rate?

For me at least, it's not that often that I end up buying from department stores, even online ones. The reason? 5X for All Amazon Spend. At this point, Amazon has so much variety and often such competitive prices, that there's a pretty high bar department store purchases have to meet in terms of similar pricing, or slightly higher but a much better point bonus, or a unique item not available on Amazon, for me to make the purchase there as opposed to on Amazon.

Weigh the Hassle Factor

Since you do need to find and buy Nordstrom gift cards first to earn the 10X, weigh whether the time and hassle are worth it to you, vs. just being able to 

Ultimate Rewards Points or Alaska Mileage Plan Miles for First Class Awards to Asia?

Since Laura notes that her goal is first class to Asia, let's look at the usefulness of Ultimate Rewards points vs. Alaska Mileage Plan miles.

Ultimate Rewards Points 

  • Transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer or Korean Air Skypass to book Singapore Suites or Korean First Class
  • Booked far in advance, may be possible to book 2 Singapore Suites or 2 Singapore First Class awards
  • Often good availability for 2 or more Korean First Class awards
  • Points transfer in ~2 business days
  • More miles required to book Singapore Suites/Singapore First Class or Korean First Class from U.S. to Asia than using Mileage Plan to book first class to Asia 
  • Singapore KrisFlyer: one stopover is allowed on a roundtrip Saver award; no stopover on a one way Saver award (but 1 stopover allowed on a one way Standard or Full award)
  • Korean Air Skypass: one stopover at ICN allowed even on a one way award
  • Can't buy Ultimate Rewards to top up an account, but several credit card signup bonus and category bonus opportunities to earn Ultimate Rewards points

Alaska Mileage Plan Miles

  • Book Cathay Pacific First Class, American Airlines First Class, Qantas First Class
  • Korean Air awards may only be booked as Business Class
  • Stopover allowed on a one way award
  • Can often buy Alaska Mileage Plan miles with a bonus to top up an account. Currently, through October 14, 2014, there's up to a 40% buy miles bonus (although note the bonus is tiered, and that even with the 40% bonus, you're paying about 2.1 cent per mile, so not that cheap)

Alaska Mileage Plan Buy Miles: 40% Bonus


The Verdict: In Laura's shoes, if there was an office supply store convenient to me which stocks Nordstrom gift cards, I would buy the cards and aim to earn 10X Ultimate Rewards points, before the end of August (in case the UR Mall 5X drops in September). That's because lately, when planning far in advance, I've found it easier to book two Singapore Suites or Singapore First Class awards than 2 Cathay Pacific First Class awards (keep in mind how small the Cathay First Class cabin is: just 5 open suites). And Korean Air First Class is a great fall back option, since there's usually plenty of first class award availability when planning several months out, as long as you steer clear of black out dates.

On the other hand, if Laura wants to stop over in Hong Kong, a great feature of booking with Alaska Mileage Plan miles is that she can stop over in Hong Kong en route to her final destination, on a one way award. American Airlines miles don't allow her to do that, and if using US Air miles, she'd have to book roundtrip and wouldn't be able to make any changes once travel has begun.

Which do you prefer: 10X Ultimate Rewards points or 8X Alaska Mileage Plan miles?

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