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Today, Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at the top awards options in one of my favorite frequent flyer programs, and explains why collecting Alaska Airlines miles should be a priority for all award travelers.
Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan is one of the most valuable loyalty programs out there. In TPG’s most recent valuations, he pegs Alaska miles at 2 cents apiece — tops among airline programs, and among the highest of any loyalty currency. This is due in large part to the array of partner redemptions available through the program (like the new agreement with Hainan Airlines), as well as its flexible routing rules. In this post, I’d like to cover 10 of my favorite ways to use Alaska miles to hopefully give you some inspiration for your next trip.
About Alaska Mileage Plan
First, a quick overview of the program. At the time of writing, you can use your Alaska miles for award travel on all of the program’s partner airlines except Hainan Airlines, which currently only allows you to earn miles, but won’t be available for award redemptions until November. Here are the others:
In addition, all but two of these partners are bookable online through Alaskaair.com (Cathay Pacific and LAN are the exceptions). You can search for award inventory from Alaska’s homepage by simply checking the Use Miles box:
Alaska’s award chart is a bit funky, as it’s based on a combination of your routing and airline. Here are links to award charts for various regions:
What makes those mileage charts especially valuable is that Alaska allows two stopovers and two open jaws on round-trip international award trips, and you can even add a stopover on a one-way international award ticket. However, you can only have one partner airline per ticket (in addition to a connecting flight within the US on Alaska), which does limit your options somewhat.
Keep in mind that Alaska charges a $12.50 fee per person each way for partner award redemptions, and trips with stopovers must be booked over the phone, which incurs a $15 call center ticketing fee (this is waived for MVP Gold and 75K members, a nice benefit of Alaska elite status). You can also change or cancel your tickets for free at least 60 days ahead of departure, giving you valuable flexibility to modify your itinerary if your plans shift or a better routing opens up.
If you need additional Alaska miles for your next trip, consider opening the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card from Bank of America. You’ll earn 25,000 miles upon account approval, and the card comes with some quality benefits like 3x miles for purchases on Alaska and an annual economy companion pass. There’s another offer that comes with a $100 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases, but it has some verbiage indicating that the promotion is limited to “new customers,” so take heed if you have held this card previously. If you’re having trouble getting the offer to load, you might find it by attempting to book a flight on the Alaska Airlines website.
You can also credit just about all revenue flights from the above partners to the Mileage Plan program, but keep in mind that certain fare classes won’t accrue full miles (especially when you credit Delta flights to Alaska).
With all that in mind, here are my picks for valuable ways to use your Alaska miles:
Emirates First Class
One of the most popular uses of Mileage Plan miles is for first-class flights on Emirates (especially on the A380, which TPG flew from Dubai to JFK back in 2013). One-way itineraries from North America to the Middle East or India will set you back 90,000 miles, and one-way flights to Asia or Africa are 100,000 miles.
Here’s a sample one-way award ticket from Los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea:
In case you’re keeping score, that’s 24 hours (literally a full day) of first-class travel on the A380! Remember that you can build in a stopover in Dubai on these tickets, though you would need to call to make those reservations.
Alaska Airlines to Hawaii
Alaska has the most extensive Hawaiian route network for flights from the continental US, with multiple nonstop options to all four major airports in the state:
– Honolulu/Oahu (HNL) — fly from Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle
– Kahului/Maui (OGG) — fly from Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle
– Kona/Hawaii (KOA) — fly from Anchorage, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle
– Lihue/Kauai (LIH) — fly from Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle
These awards are 40,000 miles round-trip, and award inventory tends to be terrific, even at the last minute. Here’s the award calendar for San Diego to Honolulu for this month:
With less than a month’s notice, 11 days have nonstop flights open on the outbound, and 17 have the same availability on the return.
Cathay Pacific First Class
Another luxurious way to use your Alaska miles is for first-class flights to Asia (and beyond) on Cathay Pacific. While rumors abound regarding future restrictions on partner first-class redemptions, for now this option is alive and well. You can even build in a stopover in Hong Kong en route to your final destination! Here are some terrific options for these awards:
– New York-JFK to Vancouver — 35,000 miles one-way
– North America to Asia — 70,000 miles one-way
– North America to Africa — 70,000 miles one-way
– North America to Australia/New Zealand — 80,000 miles one-way
Cathay is one of the carriers that cannot be booked on Alaskaair.com, so you’ll need to call to book these awards. If you want to search availability before you call (which I highly recommend), you can use the British Airways award tool. Any Cathay Pacific flights that appear there should be bookable with Alaska miles.
Qantas Flights to Australia
Award flights to Australia aren’t easy to come by, nor are they cheap (I redeemed 480,000 SkyMiles for two business-class tickets back before I started reading The Points Guy!). Qantas tends to be relatively stingy about releasing business-class award space to partners, but if you can find a seat, booking an award ticket is an absolute steal using Alaska miles, at just 55,000 miles one-way:
You can also add a stopover to extend the value of your miles even further.
Fiji Airways Flights
A similarly priced award itinerary involves Fiji Airways, which offers nonstop service from Los Angeles to Nadi. My wife and I visited Fiji on our honeymoon and loved it, and booking through Alaska allows you to stop in Fiji en route to Australia or New Zealand for the same number of miles as a nonstop flight. Availability is relatively limited (especially in business class), but when you can find it, it’s also a steal:
This award inventory is also available on ExpertFlyer, allowing you to set availability alerts and change your flights if a better routing opens up (especially since Alaska allows free cancellations up to 60 days prior to departure).
The first time I went to Alaska for work, I flew Delta from Florida to Anchorage and booked a separate ticket from there to Hooper Bay. The intra-Alaska flights were over twice as expensive! Fortunately, if you need to travel within the state of Alaska, economy awards on Alaska (including flights on Penair or Ravn Alaska) will only set you back 7,500 miles. These may not be the most luxurious redemptions, but they can keep a solid amount of cash in your pocket.
LAN Flights to South America
A final terrific use of Alaska miles is for flights on LAN to South America. These one-way flights cost just 25,000 – 30,000 miles in coach (depending on the date of departure) or 45,000 miles for business class. While LAN also partners with American, you can’t have a stopover when booking awards with AAdvantage miles, whereas Alaska allows one (plus an open jaw) in each direction. As a result, you could fly from Miami to Lima, stay for a few days, then continue from there to Santiago. On the way back, you could fly from Buenos Aires to Guayaquil, stay for a few days, and then continue from there to New York. This itinerary would set you back the same number of miles as a simple round-trip flight.
With all of these options, it’s no wonder that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is generally considered one of the most versatile and valuable programs out there. While the airline doesn’t belong to any alliance (as of now), that’s actually a good thing when it comes to award redemptions, as it can pick and choose the partners it wants without being “forced” into any relationship. I hope this post has given you some inspiration for your next trip!
What are your favorite uses of Alaska miles?