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Best Transfer Partners for Award Flights to Alaska

by on August 4, 2014 · 10 comments

in Alaska, Award Charts, Membership Rewards, Starwood, TPG Contributors, Ultimate Rewards

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Alaska is a fantastic destination for sightseeing and outdoor recreation, but it’s a long flight from what Alaskans call “the lower 48,” and it’s truly vast. At twice the size of Texas, Alaska is by far our largest state.  It’s also an interesting award travel destination, since some airlines include Alaska as part of the continental United States, while others create a separate zone like they often do for Hawaii.

The size of Alaska compared to the rest of the continental United States.

The size of Alaska compared to the continental United States.

Special considerations when traveling to Alaska

Several airlines offer service to Anchorage, and some have seasonal service to Fairbanks and Juneau. For all other destinations, award travelers will have to rely on Alaska Airlines, which offers extensive service throughout the 49th state.

Thankfully, Alaska is a Starwood transfer partner, and flights on Alaska can also be ticketed with miles redeemed from other frequent flier programs including LAN, Delta SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (economy class only), Air France/KLM Flying Blue, American AAdvantage, and British Airways Avios. Therefore, using miles from Alaska or one of these partners offers major advantages for those traveling to destinations other than Anchorage.

When you use Alaska miles, you also have the option of booking intra-state award flights on its partners PenAir and Ravn Alaska (formerly Era Alaska), which operate service to numerous remote airfields.

Spectacular scenery makes Alaska a fantastic destination. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Spectacular scenery makes Alaska a fantastic destination. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST

Economy
Alaska Airlines stands out as the most attractive airline transfer partner in the Starwood program, due to both its extensive network as well as its reasonably priced awards. Economy class awards are just 25,000 miles round trip, while first class is 50,000 miles, the same price most airlines offer for domestic awards. Alaska also offers intra-state awards for 15,000 miles in economy and 30,000 miles in first class.

Other carriers offering 25,000 mile economy class awards (by alliance) include:

  • OneWorld – American, US Airways, Hawaiian awards on Delta
  • Skyteam – Delta, Korean, Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), Virgin Atlantic awards on Delta, GOL awards on Delta
  • Star Alliance - Air Canada Aeroplan, Asiana, and Singapore

Finally, the British Airways Avios program is distance based, and award flights within 3,000 miles are 25,000 miles round trip. This includes flights to Anchorage from Chicago and points on the west coast. For travel within Alaska, flights on Alaska Airlines under 650 miles can be had for as few as 4500 Avios!

First class
Moving up to first class, Alitalia offers award flights from 40,000 miles, followed by Singapore awards on United for 40,000 miles, and Virgin Atlantic awards on Delta at 45,000 miles. United, American, and US Airways all price Alaska awards at 50,000 miles, the same as other destinations within the continental United States. Although there are no three-class aircraft servicing Alaska, these carriers will charge more for service that includes first class on a three-class plane.

For most travelers, Anchorage will be your gateway to Alaska. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

For most travelers, Anchorage will be your gateway to Alaska. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

AMEX MEMBERSHIP REWARDS

Those redeeming miles from this program lack the option to transfer points to Alaska, US Airways, and American, but they do have some other unique options.

Frontier Airlines is a transfer partner that offers seasonal service from Denver to Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks. Surprisingly, award tickets to Alaska start at just 20,000 miles round-trip, the same price as other destinations in the continental United States. Just be advised that travelers on Frontier award tickets must pay extra for both checked luggage and any carry-on bags that are larger than a “personal item.”

This leaves the following options in economy at 25,000 miles round-trip:

  • OneWorld – British Airways award flights on American or Alaska within 3,000 miles
  • Skyteam – Delta, Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), and Virgin Atlantic awards on Delta
  • Star Alliance – Air Canada Aeroplan

First class
In first class, Alitalia remains supreme at just 40,000 miles round-trip, along with Singapore awards on United for the same price. The only options for flights on American are distance-based awards from BA, Iberia, or the Asia Miles program of Cathay Pacific, which is also a partner with Alaska Airlines.

CHASE ULTIMATE REWARDS

The smaller list of Ultimate Rewards transfer partners makes redeeming Ultimate Rewards points quite a bit more simple. The biggest tip is that you’ll do better redeeming 40,000 miles for a Singapore award for a first class ticket on United than you will if you transfer your points to United MileagePlus, which requires 50,000 miles. If you want to fly Delta, you can redeem your miles with Korean Air, but you’ll have to endure their tedious award ticketing bureaucracy. Instead, choose Virgin Atlantic, which offers Delta awards at 25,000 miles in economy or 45,000 miles in first.  Finally, British Airways awards will offer you access to American and Alaska flight awards as described above.

CITI THANKYOU REWARDS

Now that Citi ThankYou Points can be transferred to 8 airline partners, the ThankYou program is now part of the conversation. Like Ultimate Rewards, the list is small, so options are relatively easy to parse.

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. This is one of the best options among ThankYou points transfer partners as it is the only one that allows awards to be ticketed on Alaska Airlines. This is especially important if your destination is not Anchorage. Unfortunately, its distance based award chart is not very generous for longer journeys, and can require more than 25,000 miles if your trip begins outside of the Pacific Northwest. However, award flights under 600 miles in distance require only 10,000 miles, so this is a great option for intra-state trips.
  • EVA Air. This Star Alliance partner does not have an especially attractive partner award chart. It includes Alaska for awards within North America, but requires more miles than fellow Star Alliance transfer partner Singapore.
  • Etihad. This Persian Gulf carrier is a OneWorld partner, but it doesn’t publish an award chart. Furthermore, reports indicate extreme difficulty booking flights on American Airlines with Etihad Guest miles, so their miles would seem to be an unlikely way to get to Alaska.
  • Garuda Indonesia. While Garuda is a SkyTeam partner, it might be one of the most difficult airlines in the world to book an award ticket with, as our recent overview shows.
  • Malaysia Airlines. In light of the two recent tragedies that this carrier suffered, its future remains in doubt. Notwithstanding, this OneWorld carrier offers a distance based award chart that is less generous than fellow OneWorld carrier Cathay Pacific, so it would be an inferior option in most cases.
  • Qatar Airways. This American Airlines partner offers terrible value in its distance based award chart, especially when traveling as far as Alaska. You only option would be the seasonal service to Anchorage from Dallas on American, and that would cost 75,000 miles round-trip in coach!
  • Singapore Airlines. As with other transfer programs, Singapore is the best value with 25,000 mile awards in coach, and 40,000 in first. You can’t beat that!
  • Thai Airways. This Star Alliance carrier recently announced, and then indefinitely postponed a drastic devaluation of their miles. Apart from the uncertainty, redemption rates on Thai Airways are higher than other ThankYou Rewards partners, so it’s hard to find any good reason to transfer miles to them other than to top out a substantial existing balance in order to ticket an award.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.LiveSmartNotHard.com/ Steve | LiveSmartNotHard.com

    Great post. I’m headed to Alaska later this month. Though I’m using Frontier, (only 20k miles for a roundtrip flight from the east coast… you can’t beat that!) This is great information. Thanks!

  • Moe

    Completely unrelated, but can you please put together a post listing credit cards that are churnable (multiple sign-on bonuses) and ones that are not? And if they are how long you have to wait before reapplying. Thanks!

  • pdx

    We’re noob travel hackers booked to ANC in economy on Alaska using AA points. How can we find out whether it’s possible to upgrade, and what are the best ways to upgrade if we can?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Glenn

    Since Alaska Air and Delta are partners can I use Alaska points on any Delta flight? On the Delta website you can’t log-in with Alaska rewards member number, so how can you use Alaska points with Delta flights?

    I understand that if I search for a flight on Delta’s website from say Seattle to Anchorage, it will show Alaska Airlines as the carrier for some of the listed flights. But say I want to go from Houston to Charlotte (Alaska Air doesn’t fly to Charlotte), how do I use my Alaska Air miles to fly book a flight through Delta (who does make fly between Houston and Charlotte), either on Delta’s website or Alaska Air’s?

  • tassojunior

    The BEST way is to get the Frontier credit card from Barclays for $69. 40K miles after $500 spend. Awards to Alaska from anywhere in US are 20K per person and availability is plentiful.

  • G

    Not only that, but if you are flying with two people, the second person flies for only 15K miles. Granted, you have to put up with all of the changes on Frontier, but that is the cheapest way to get to Alaska. 35,000 points for two people after $500 spend and $69 annual CC fee.

  • Redpanda

    Search on alaska airs website if you want to redeem alaska miles

  • iahphx

    Seems like a lot of blogger posts this month about award travel to Alaska. For most people, it’s really pretty simple: use Alaska miles or see if your airline partners with Alaska Air (DL, AA and BA do), and then look for seats on Alaska’s website. My guess is Alaska Air has 90%+ of the award seats available to and within Alaska; the odds that you’ll find seats on AA, UA, US or DL are pretty low. Indeed, the biggest problem with Alaska redemptions is usually getting to an Alaska Air gateway city — particularly for folks on the East Coast. Alaska has excellent award inventory to Alaska, within Alaska, and on the west coast, but very limited transcon award inventory in summer. So folks usually have to combine the Alaska segment with a segment on another USA airline, and that other segment is the biggest challenge to get (especially since there are also connection rules as to how much time you can spend in, say, SEA changing planes).

  • Bonnie

    Can you book Hawaiian Airlines with British Airways Avios?

  • slim

    This has to be one of the best posts you’ve had. I have been trying to figure out how to get an award seat on Alaska Airlines with my ThankYou points and I think you have answered my question (through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles). Now when are you going to write an iPhone app that will tell me this information for any airline?

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