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6 Alaska Awards That Still Make Sense to Book

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Long some of the most appealing uses of Alaska miles, Emirates awards are now much more expensive. To help you prioritize Mileage Plan redemptions in light of this change, TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert runs through other partner itineraries that continue to offer a great value.

There’s no shortage of news on the Alaska Airlines front lately — the airline recently acquired Virgin America, and late last week it also dropped something of an unwelcome bombshell, raising the redemption rates for Emirates awards by as much as 100%. Perhaps anticipating the backlash, the carrier even published a Q&A about this unwelcome change, seemingly blaming “the rise of travel hacking” for the raised redemption rate.

The rates before and after the rate hike are below:

North America To: Old One-Way Award New One-Way Award % Increase
Middle East/India 90,000 150,000 67%
Europe 100,000 180,000 80%
Asia 100,000 180,000 80%
Africa 100,000 200,000 100%

Previously, you could book a first-class Emirates flight from the US to the Middle East for just 90,000 Alaska miles one-way or from the US to Europe for 100,000 — an excellent opportunity to enjoy great service on the airline’s A380. As of March 31, however, one-way first-class awards cost 150,000 miles and 180,000 miles, respectively. So while Alaska used to be the best choice for this particular premium-cabin redemption, you’ll now want to look elsewhere to book this award, including JAL and Qantas.

With Emirates awards no longer representing a great use of Alaska miles, you may be wondering how to best put your Mileage Plan awards to work. Read on for some redemptions that still offer some excellent value — many of which let you enjoy premium-cabin travel on highly rated international partners.

If you’re looking to stock up on Alaska miles, consider the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. Successful applicants get 25,000 bonus miles upon approval (with no minimum spending requirement), and benefits include an annual coach companion fare and an earning rate of 3 miles per dollar on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases.

1. Cathay Pacific First Class

First-class Cathay Pacific awards are still a great use of Alaska miles.
First-class Cathay Pacific awards are still a great use of Alaska miles.

Traveling up front on Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific has always been one of the biggest draws for using Alaska miles, and it’s even more important now that Emirates awards are downright unaffordable. Flights between the US and Asia cost 70,000 one-way or 140,000 round-trip, and give you plenty of time to enjoy the airline’s food, beverage and entertainment options. TPG recently flew first class from Ho Chi Minh City to New York on the carrier’s 777-300ER and enjoyed the experience.

Keep in mind that flights to Asia aren’t your only option when using Alaska miles to book awards on Cathay Pacific. You can also redeem 35,000 miles to fly one-way between New York-JFK and Vancouver (YVR) in first class or one-way between the US and Africa, India or the Middle East for 70,000 miles. While AA’s award chart once had a slight edge over Alaska’s, Cathay awards to Asia recently jumped from 67,500 miles to 110,000 each way, making Alaska the obvious choice here. Not to mention that you can build stopovers into your award on Alaska, which isn’t permitted with AA.

2. Qantas Flights to Australia

Use Alaska miles to fly Down Under on Qantas.
Use Alaska miles to fly Down Under on Qantas.

Another way to put your Alaska miles to use is to book an award to the South Pacific. While Qantas tends to be stingy with releasing premium-cabin award space, if you’re lucky enough to find it you can book a one-way business-class flight from the US to Australia for just 55,000 miles. First-class flights are a bit more expensive but still rather reasonable, at 70,000 miles each way.

3. Fiji Airways Flights

Redeem Alaska miles for flights to Fiji.
Redeem Alaska miles for flights to Fiji.

Alaska has another partner that opens up more redemption options in the South Pacific: Fiji Airways. Business-class flights from the US to Fiji cost 55,000 miles one-way, while economy awards cost just 40,000. Plus, you can stop in Fiji en route to Australia or New Zealand, stretching the value of your redemption.

4. LAN Flights to South America

LAN flights to South America are bookable with Alaska miles.
LAN flights to South America are bookable with Alaska miles.

Alaska still provides plenty of value for award flights to South America as well. On partner LAN, you can book one-way economy awards from the US to this region for 25,000-30,000 miles depending on your travel dates, while you can book premium-cabin awards for 45,000 miles one-way. South America Region 2 awards require 30,000 miles in economy or 57,500 in business each way if you’re redeeming from AA.

5. Alaska Airlines Flights to Hawaii

Alaska awards to Hawaii are still a great option.
Alaska awards to Hawaii are still a great option.

As TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen explained in his post on top Alaska Airlines redemptions, the carrier has an extensive network of flights from the continental US to Hawaii, including nonstop options from a variety of cities to Hawaii, Kauai, Maui and Oahu. Round-trip coach awards cost as little as 40,000 miles round-trip, while a round-trip first-class redemption will set you back 80,000 miles.

6. Hainan Airlines to China and Beyond

New partner Hainan has decent redemption options to Asia.

It’s still a relatively small player, but Hainan Airlines has been working to expand its presence in the US market. The airline recently launched nonstop Dreamliner service from Los Angeles to Changsha, and it also offers service from Boston to Beijing and Shanghai; Chicago to Beijing; San Jose to Beijing; and Seattle to Beijing and Shanghai. Economy awards run 30,000 miles each way while business class is available for a reasonable 50,000 miles, including domestic flights on Alaska and onward connections to Southeast Asia, and award availability is very good overall. Just be aware that Alaska applies fuel surcharges of $200 or more each way for flights to/from the US.

Bottom Line

There’s no denying that the dramatic price increase for Emirates awards is a huge bummer. Thanks to a variety of other great ways to use them, though, Alaska miles still remain quite valuable — TPG listed them at 2 cents apiece in his March valuations, though as a result of the Emirates change, they took a bit of a hit in April and are now worth 1.8 cents apiece. From premium-cabin travel to Asia to redemptions to the South Pacific and Hawaii — not to mention awards within the US and even within Alaska — there are still several great ways to redeem your miles.

What’s your (new) favorite way to redeem Alaska miles?

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

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  • 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days.
  • Annual companion fare from $121 ($99, plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
  • Free checked bag for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation.
  • 3 miles for every $1 spent on Alaska Airlines tickets, vacation packages, cargo and in-flight purchases.
  • 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn and redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles to over 800 destinations around the world on Alaska Airlines and our more than 15 global airline partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees, plus chip enabled for enhanced security when used at chip-enabled terminals.
  • The benefits above apply to Visa Signature consumer accounts only and different benefits apply to Platinum Plus® accounts. Card type is determined by creditworthiness.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 12.49% - 19.49% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers $75 0% Excellent/Good