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Maximizing Alaska's New Distance-Based Award Chart

Jan. 13, 2017
6 min read
Maximizing Alaska's New Distance-Based Award Chart
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Back in December, Alaska made some changes to its award charts and the Mileage Plan program which have largely been received as positive. One of the biggest updates was the shift to a distance-based award chart for flights on Alaska metal. As you can see in the chart below, there are four zones aptly named Hop, Skip, Jump and Leap:

As you’ll note in the chart, Alaska's new zones offer variable pricing. While the carrier claimed it wasn't raising the starting price of any flights, it has made some flights more expensive by charging the mid to higher end of the variable pricing for the zones. However, the airline has also lowered the price of some flights, with itineraries less than 700 miles in length now starting at 5,000 miles one-way — a drop from the previous amounts of 7,500 (intrastate travel) and 12,500 (nationwide travel).

To maximize this new award chart, you need to know Alaska's generous award-routing policy, which allows for stopovers on one-way tickets. When I started searching routes with the multi-city award tool on, I began to notice something really fantastic: Alaska's new engine is apparently only taking into account the origin and destination of a one-way ticket, even when a stopover is a part of the ticket.

Example 1

Any itinerary under 700 miles in length will start at a 5,000 miles for an award ticket. lists Boise (BOI) to Los Angeles (LAX) at 674 miles. If you fly BOI to Seattle (SEA), stop over for a few days, then fly SEA-LAX, your routing will be 1,353 miles long. According to the above chart, your ticket should start at 7,500 miles; yet Alaska only charges 5,000 miles:

Example 2

Moving on to the more expensive "Jump" zone of the award chart, a nonstop flight from Chicago (ORD) to LAX is 1,744 miles, meaning award tickets start at 10,000 miles. ORD-SEA with a stopover in Seattle and then SEA-LAX is 2,675 miles in length, and an award ticket should start 12,500 miles. However, Alaska only charges you 10,000 miles for a ticket:

In all my searches and phone calls, the stopovers I input didn't affect the pricing — the total miles required is based on the nonstop distance from your origin to destination. I also found that this generally only works for itineraries that would fall in the Hop, Skip and Jump zones of the award chart and have flight availability. Once you get into the highest "Leap" zone, the online engine and phone agents can't get itineraries to price out in the above manner.

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Given Alaska's limited route network when you stay within the bottom three zones, this is mainly helpful for west coasters, but can be nice for everyone as the Chicago example above demonstrates. For ORD-LAX (stopover) LAX-SEA, the legacy carriers would charge a minimum of 22,500 miles.


The above two itineraries are great examples of saving miles and seeing two cities for a lower mileage requirement than the award chart would make you think. However, the true #AvGeeks out there can take it a little further and see a lot of North America for very few miles.

Example 3

SEA to San Diego (SAN) is a 1,050-mile nonstop itinerary and should cost between 7,500 and 20,000 miles for a one-way award ticket. I found an itinerary that is within the range of what it should cost, but I added a stop in Honolulu (HNL) on the way to SAN:

That's round-trip to Hawaii for 12,500 miles, which is priced within the range for what SEA-SAN should cost! Granted, you'll only see the Hawaiian pineapples for less than five hours, but you might look at it another way when you see the cheapest one-way ticket to Hawaii in March is 17,500 miles:

Cheap Prices for Same-Day Turn Awards

Things also get a bit crazy where they shouldn't, and that's involving partner airlines. Alaska's award chart for American airlines within the continental US says coach flights are 12,500 miles each way. When I searched for more Alaska stopover routes, put out the following American itinerary from SEA to Orlando (MCO) to San Francisco (SFO) and only asked for 12,500 miles:

That's cross country twice for a total of 12,500 miles. Add in a SFO-SEA (stopover) SEA-BOI itinerary for 5,000 miles, and you can fly a transcon seeing Orlando (at least for lunch), San Francisco, Seattle and Boise for a total of 17,500 Alaska miles. My guess is because the MCO is a same-day turn, Alaska's engine counts it all as one-way to San Francisco and prices it at 12,500 miles. You can also fly a same-day turn completely on Delta for 25,000 miles:

This really gets exciting when you look at the transcon possibilities on American's A321T and see you can fly it twice across country for only 32,500 miles in business:

Or fly to New York then back to San Francisco the next day all in Virgin America first class for a mere 15,000 miles:

As long as itineraries containing partner flights are concluded within 24 hours, it looks like Alaska prices the itinerary as if it were a one-way ticket.

Bottom Line

Here is a quick recap of the rules I believe apply to the Alaska online multi-city search engine:

  • If booking an itinerary with a stopover on all Alaska metal, Alaska will price the itinerary based on the mileage directly from origin to destination, as long as that distance is within the Hop, Skip or Jump zone.
  • If you cannot book it online, phone agents cannot manually price or book it for you (i.e., no rate desk).
  • If you book a same-day turn partner itinerary with an open jaw to a different destination than the origin, it will be priced as a one-way.
  • Virgin America transcons price as one-way intrastate itineraries if you complete the whole itinerary in 24 hours.

This is really encouraging to see out of Mileage Plan, and I'm sure this is just scraping the surface of the possibilities — especially with international partners. I also didn't show the options once Anchorage becomes involved. The 30,000-mile sign-up bonus from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days is enough for two people to fly transcon in Virgin America first, twice!

How do you plan to maximize the new award chart?

Featured image by Alsaka