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With major changes to Delta and United’s frequent flyer programs in the past year and more to come from the American Airlines/US Airways merger, I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to look at the current state of airline award routing rules for the US legacy carriers. Each day this week he’ll feature a different carrier (see earlier posts on Delta, United, American, and US Airways); read on for his analysis of award routing rules on Alaska Airlines.
Alaska Airlines is the little legacy airline that could. This Pacific Northwest-based carrier has some amazing award rules and airline partners (including both American Airlines and Delta) that make its Mileage Plan program one of the most versatile and lucrative frequent flyer programs out there. Here are the details.
Like many other airlines, Alaska will charge you to use your miles. Here’s how much you can expect to pay.
Call center booking fee: $15. Waived for MVP Gold and Gold 75K elites. Note that for itineraries that include stopovers (see below), you have to call in and cannot book online.
Partner award fee: $25.
Change/Cancellation fee: $125, applies to changes/cancellations made within 60 days of travel. Waived for MVP Gold and Gold 75K elites using their own miles.
The good news here is that there are no close-in fees for booking within 21 days, so this is a good option for last-minute awards. Unfortunately, Alaska no longer allows you to put your award ticket on hold. However, you can still cancel it within 24 hours and make free changes within 72 hours of booking.
Alaska is not part of any of the three major alliances, but it has a number of airline partners including.
- American Airlines
- Air France
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Fiji Airways
- Korean Air
- Ravn Alaska
You should be able to book awards online for all partners except Cathay Pacific and LAN.
Alaska has not consolidated its awards into a single chart, but rather uses several different charts depending on the region and airline partner. If you’re interested in flying with a specific partner, you need to look at the regional award chart and then scroll down to your airline of choice to find entries for your specific destinations. Here are links to all the charts.
- Continental US and Canada
- Africa, Middle East, India
- Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific
- Central and South America
One-Ways, Stopovers and Open Jaws
Alaska Airlines allows you to book one-way awards, which makes these miles especially useful for flexible travel plans.
Furthermore, the Alaska’s routing rules for stopovers (stays of more than 24 hours on an international itinerary) and open jaws (when you return from a city other than your destination or fly home to a city other than your origin) are among the most lenient in the frequent flyer world.
Award travelers are allowed to include two stopovers and two open jaws per round-trip international itinerary, meaning you could fly from Seattle to London on British Airways, stopover there for a few days, and then continue on to one of British Airways’ other destinations – let’s say Rome. On the return, you could begin from Barcelona (open jaw), again route through London on BA for another stopover, and then fly back to Chicago (second open jaw).
On international one-ways, you’re also allowed one stopover. That amounts to the same routing rules as the round-trip mentioned above, since you can just include a stopover in each direction and book separate one-ways between different city pairs, effectively creating an open jaw on each end.
However, this bears mentioning due to Alaska’s third major routing rule: on partner awards, you are only allowed to fly one of Alaska’s airline partners in addition to any connecting Alaska flights. By booking two one-ways instead of a round-trip with the stopovers and open jaws, you could fly one airline on the outbound (like British Airways in the example above) and another on the return (like Air France).
On the negative side, the inability to mix and match carriers – for instance, flying from Los Angeles to Seoul on Korean and then continuing on Cathay via Hong Kong to another destination – limits the destinations you can access with an award.
The one other rule to keep in mind is that the stopover must be a logical routing to your final destination (i.e., a hub), and it can be in a third region that is neither your origin nor destination. For example, if you flew Emirates from Washington to Bangkok, you could stop in Dubai on the way.
Your stopover cities when using Alaska miles are likely to be the following depending on the partner you choose:
- American Airlines: the international gateway city will likely be Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, or New York. (This is a nice workaround since American ended the ability to do this when using its own miles.)
- Aeromexico: Mexico City
- Air France: Paris
- British Airways: London
- Cathay Pacific: Hong Kong
- Delta: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle
- Emirates: Dubai
- Fiji Airways: Fiji (this will pretty much just be en route to Australia)
- KLM: Amsterdam
- Korean Air: Seoul
- LAN: Lima, Quito, Santiago
- Qantas: Sydney, Melbourne
In terms of domestic awards, you can also have a stopover as long as you’re flying Alaska. For example, you could fly from San Diego to Seattle, stopover for a few days, and then continue on to New York.
The final major rule to keep in mind is that an award itinerary can only have up to 10 segments. That’s pretty easy to adhere to, but keep it in mind for those complex itineraries.
Specific Routes of Interest
As I mentioned, Alaska plots out its award charts slightly differently from other carriers. That can mean a bit of extra work if you want to compare flying a carrier to one region or another, but if you’re simply looking to reach a specific region, it can make things easier by presenting all your options in one place. That said, here are a couple awards to look for.
One of the most interesting facets of Alaska’s mileage program is that it partners with Emirates, so you can use your miles to fly some of the top airline products out there with this Middle East-based carrier.
While flying from the US to Dubai one-way will cost you 42,500 in economy, 72,500 in business, or 90,000 in first, you can also continue on to India without spending any more miles. What’s more, remember that you can stopover in Dubai en route to other destinations like these:
So continuing on to Africa (including all the way to South Africa) will cost you just 5,000 more miles each way in economy or business, and 10,000 miles in first class.
You could even route to Europe (for example, by flying from Boston to Dubai, then on to London or Paris) for just 5,000 more miles in economy, 2,500 more miles in business, and 10,000 more miles in first.
However, Asia has to be the real gem here. Continuing on to a destination like Bangkok or Hong Kong, you would need just 2,500 more miles in business class and 10,000 more miles in first class. That’s a pretty great value!
Cathay Pacific, based out of Hong Kong, is an amazing airline with some of the best premium cabins in the skies and a fantastic route network in Asia and beyond. The ability to use Alaska miles is a definite plus.
The following chart shows its awards from North America:
|Africa, India, Middle East||50,000||62,500||70,000|
So instead of just flying to/from Hong Kong, for an extra 10,000 miles in economy, business or first, you could have a stopover in Hong Kong and then continue on to Australia or New Zealand.
Here’s a quick look at the Qantas chart for awards to Australia and New Zealand.
While economy awards are higher using Alaska miles instead of American miles, both business and first class redemptions are cheaper – by 2,500 miles each way in first class and 7,500 miles in business class.
Also, using Alaska miles allows you to have a stopover in Australia (in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne) for a few days, weeks or months, and then continue on Qantas to New Zealand for a whole second trip. Again, that’s a great value!
This airline has a whole new look (and name, for that matter) and while you can use American miles to fly it as well, you get more bang for your buck using Alaska miles, since you pay just 55,000 miles in business class (as opposed to 62,500 on American).
You could actually fly Fiji Airways to Fiji for an island getaway, then continue on to Australia or New Zealand without spending any more miles. It’s two vacations in one.
The award to keep your eye on here is business class for just 45,000 miles one-way (5,000 less than American would charge you to fly LAN), and you can even stopover in Lima or Santiago before continuing on to Buenos Aires or another destination.
In terms of other awards to look out for, Alaska will let you book one-way awards on Air France, and KLM, which you cannot do (for the time being) using Delta miles. Unfortunately, you can only book roundtrips on Delta and Korean Air.
One interesting feature of Alaska’s partnership with American Airlines is that you can redeem the same number of Alaska miles that American would charge you for American’s seasonal off-peak saver awards.
That means at certain times of year, you can get to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Central America, Japan, Korea and Europe for far fewer miles than normal. Here are the dates and mileage numbers.
Note in the award example above that American’s flights to Europe are priced at 20,000 miles each way, while Delta’s are 60,000 for a round-trip (the normal level).
- Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Central America: January 16 – June 14, September 7 – November 15
- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay: March 1 – May 31; August 16 – November 30
- Europe: October 15 – May 15
- Japan and Korea: October 1 – April 30
For many destinations including Europe, over half the year counts as off peak season. From North America, here are the one-way mileage requirements:
- Central American and Northern South America: 15,000 miles (instead of 17,500).
- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile or Uruguay: 20,000 miles (instead of 30,000).
- Europe: 20,000 miles (instead of 30,000).
- Japan and Korea: 25,000 miles (instead of 32,500).
Have any other questions or tips about Alaska award booking and routing rules? Share them in the comments below.
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