Business Class for Less: Why My Family Should Have Collected Alaska Miles Sooner
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On my path to earn lots of airline miles and hotel reward points as a novice points and miles collector, I would consistently hear about Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan miles and how they were arguably the most valuable airline miles to use for premium cabin redemptions, great for stopovers, etc. I quickly dismissed any chatter of Alaska miles, however, because I didn't live anywhere near an Alaska Airlines hub and had no plans to take the family on an Alaskan vacation anytime soon.
I'm just now learning about the real value of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program -- and beating myself up about not looking into it sooner.
This all started when my wife and I began discussing a potential summer 2020 vacation with our little ones to Southeast Asia. As a family of four, it takes a great deal of points and miles to take the whole family to Asia -- and flying 15+ hours in coach from the East Coast with young kids sounds pretty nightmarish. I made it my own personal mission to not just fly us all to Asia with miles, but to do it in style via four award-winning Cathay Pacific business class using miles.
Want to guess which miles offer the lowest award redemption cost to fly Cathay Pacific business class from the US to Hong Kong (HKG) and beyond? The highly-coveted-yet-easily-dismissed-by-me Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles at 50,000 miles per person, per direction.
My wife and I have an abundance of American Airlines miles to burn and, given how easy AA miles are to earn, we could just use AA miles to redeem for Cathay Pacific business class. However, there are some caveats to be aware of when using AA miles for redeeming business class awards on Cathay Pacific, which became a deal breaker for our proposed trip.
First, American Airlines charges more miles to fly Cathay Pacific business class from the US to Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia: 70,000 miles one-way per person versus Alaska's 50,000 miles. AA also does not allow stopovers on one-way awards, which means we'd have to fly to Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific's hub) then pay our own way to Singapore, Bangkok or wherever we end up in Southeast Asia. While this would not be the end of the world, as Asia has lots of budget airlines that make connecting in the region affordable, using Alaska Airlines miles allows us to fly in business class to our final destination with an included stopover (with some caveats) for no extra miles or cash as long as award seats are available. For these two reasons, I'm committed to using Alaska miles over American for our journey.
How to Get Alaska Airlines Miles
Alaska Mileage Plan miles are considered some of the toughest airline miles to earn. Unlike the generous and plentiful cobranded credit card options that American Airlines has, Alaska Airlines has fewer options to generate miles.
One popular choice to ramp up on Alaska mileage balance is the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. Currently this card has an offer of 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. The card also comes with a companion fare certificate each year, which allows you to bring a family member along on an Alaska Airlines-operated flight in economy from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22 (this even works to Hawaii!)). TPG lists it as one of its top airline credit cards for families in 2019 thanks to these two features. You can also earn Alaska Airlines miles by flying with the carrier or via an array of other methods.
There are also a few strong credit card options for earning Marriott points that then can be transferred to 44 airline partners, including Alaska. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card earns 6x points at participating Marriott properties, 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airlines, and 2x points on everything else. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card that earns 6x points at participating Marriott properties; 4x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers and on US purchases for shipping, and 2x points on everything else. Both cards are currently offering a 100,000-point welcome bonus after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months. Applications for those deals close April 24 so you'll need to act fast if you want to take advantage of the offer.
The transfer rate of Marriott points to Alaska Mileage Plan miles is at 3:1. By transferring 60,000 Marriott rewards points to Alaska, however, you're effectively earning 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles because you also get a 5,000-mile bonus when transferring Marriott Rewards points to airline partners, like Alaska Airlines. (Here's a guide on transferring Marriott points to airline programs.)
This is the method I will be using to get us close to our target of the 200,000 Alaska Airline miles we need for four one-way business class tickets to Asia on Cathay Pacific, since I put more value into flight redemptions than using Marriott points for hotel stays for our family as we often enjoy Airbnb stays on family trips.
How to Book Cathay Pacific Business Class With Alaska Miles
Since Cathay award seats don’t show up on Alaska’s Mileage Plan website (or American's, for that matter), your best bet once you have enough points is to search on the British Airways website 325 days before your desired flight date to improve chances at finding multiple business class seats for the family. You'll need to sign up for a British Airways Avios account to run searches on that site. Once you've found award space, write down the flight numbers, dates and times and call Alaska Airlines (or American Airlines, if that is who you are booking with) to have a phone agent verify the award space.
Have your family's passport information on hand and a credit card at your disposal to cover the taxes and carrier-imposed fees. Once the phone rep has ticketed the reservation, rejoice at your success!
In addition to using Alaska's loyalty program to experience a fancy long-haul premium cabin like Cathay Pacific business class, TPG has explored plenty of other sweet spots you can dive into using your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.
The Cathay Pacific A350-1000 business class cabin. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)
With sweet spot redemptions on partner airlines, free stopovers even on one-way awards, award prices that start at 5k miles and friendly phone reps, it's no wonder people have always recommended that I accrue Alaska Airlines miles. I just wish I had listened a bit more and realized the full value of Alaska Airlines miles sooner. But, as the saying goes, "Better late than never." We'll use Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to get to Southeast Asia and then likely use American Airlines AAdvantage miles to return home.
Updated on 11/3/21.