Using AlaskaAir.com to Find Award Seat Availability
To an infrequent traveler, Alaska Airlines and its Mileage Plan loyalty program might not seem to be great assets for award travel. While Alaska isn't a member of the any of the big three alliances, the Mileage Plan program's partnerships and the very user-friendly award search engine on Alaskaair.com mean all of us should be familiar with and collect Alaska miles. Today, I'll focus specifically on AlaskaAir.com and show you not only how easy it is find award seats bookable with Alaska miles, but also some of the site features you should be familiar with.
You can search for award flights on both Alaska Airlines and partners directly from the home screen, even without logging in to your Mileage Plan account. Simply enter your origin and destination and ensure the "Use Miles" box is checked before clicking "Find Flights."
The default search results page on AlaskaAir.com is outstanding. It automatically gives you a week's worth of results for your route, and each date is pre-filled with the cheapest available award, giving you a quick idea of which dates have only premium-cabin redemptions.
As you'll notice in the above search results, when you're looking for availability from JFK, the engine automatically searches Newark and LaGuardia as well. To the left of the results, there are efficient filters that let you quickly narrow down acceptable itineraries. You can filter by the number of stops or do something none of the legacy carriers can even accomplish: filter results to only a specific airline. If the carrier is grayed out, it either doesn't fly the route or has no availability for the given week of displayed search results.
My favorite feature of this engine is brought up by clicking the calendar radio button at the top left of the original search results. This will display an entire month's worth of availability on your requested route.
From the this view, you can then even tell the calendar to only show economy, business or first-class availability. This immediately lets you know how flexible you need to be with your travel dates if you're looking to fly a specific class or use a certain amount of miles. This route from New York to South Africa, for instance, only has a few dates with first-class availability:
My final basic overview tip may seem inconsequential, but if you use award search engines often you'll understand the convenience. Rather than having to hit your browser's back button one or more times to start a new search, you can simply click the "Change Your Search" link at the top of the results and move on to your next search.
There are a couple idiosyncrasies and options to be aware of when using this engine, which can both hurt and help you. Let's review them:
Phantom Availability — While it's not nearly as prevalent as phantom availability on United.com or BA.com, this does happen from time to time on AlaskaAir.com when you're trying to book partner airlines. If you're going to transfer Starpoints to Alaska or are relying on space you see to make larger plans, make sure to click all the way through to the checkout page or call Alaska to have an agent confirm that the availability you see is actually bookable. If you try to check out and get an "error code 1620," that most likely means you've found phantom availability.
Mixed-Cabin Awards — If you're flying an itinerary with two or more segments and your requested class of service isn't available for the entire trip, the website does a pretty good job of telling you that you're booking a mixed-cabin itinerary. However, people still miss both warnings and are upset when they find out they've paid the same price as a ticket with premium cabins the whole way. Look for the airline seat icon with a stick figure that indicates the ticket is mixed-cabin. Clicking the details of the flight will then show you your class of service segment by segment:
Refundable Award Tickets — Alaska gives you the unique option to pay a premium in miles on Alaska-operated flights for the ability to book a refundable award ticket. A button on the search results will give you the available refundable options, and the terms and conditions for the refundable ticket are stated on the checkout page. If you need the flexibility, this is actually not a bad deal, as the premium in miles is reasonable. The below Alaska-operated flights would cost 20,000 miles (vs. 30,000) as nonrefundable.
Phone Bookable Only Partners — You can book award tickets online for all Mileage Plan partners except Cathay Pacific and LATAM. To book award flights on these airlines, you need to call 1-800-252-7522. The good news is these airlines are Oneworld alliance partners, meaning you can find availability on BritishAirways.com or Qantas.com, and the vast majority of the time the seats you find will also be bookable with Alaska miles.
Book Multi-City and Stopover Itineraries Online — One of the most unique and valuable benefits of the Mileage Plan program is the ability to book stopovers on one-way awards. Seattle - San Diego - Narita - Hong Kong on Japan Airlines one-way in economy costs 40,000 miles.
For the same price and by using the multi-city online search function, you can book Seattle - San Diego - Narita (enjoy Tokyo for four days) Narita - Hong Kong for the same 40,000 miles.
Even for beginners, searching for awards with AlaskaAir.com should be rather easy. Given the wide array of partners (with more still being added) and the user-friendly site, Alaska miles can be incredibly valuable. Remember to do your due diligence in checking phantom availability before transferring in Starpoints, and remember to take advantage of stopovers on one-way awards.
What's your favorite aspect of the Mileage Plan search engine?