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For many savvy award travelers, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan represents an incredibly lucrative program from an airline on which you may never fly. While Alaska isn’t a member of one of the three major alliances, the carrier has built a valuable loyalty program though partnerships with individual airlines like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. This has led to some terrific sweet spots when you redeem your miles, and in the process, it’s earned the title of the most valuable airline miles in TPG’s monthly valuation series.
However, whether you’re looking to fly at the very front or very back of the plane, and no matter which partner you choose to book, Alaska deserves some serious praise for being one of the last programs to offer free stopovers. In fact, the program allows a stopover on one-way award tickets. The only thing better than one free vacation is essentially getting two free vacations for the price of one award ticket, as this perk can be a great excuse to explore a new city en route to your final destination.
Today we’ll take a quick look at the rules surrounding this awesome perk and walk through how you can book a free stopover yourself (without picking up the phone).
Alaska Routing Rules
If you’re unfamiliar with the finer aspects of the Alaska Mileage Plan program, you should start by reading our complete guide to Alaska routing rules. However, for the purpose of booking a free stopover, here’s what you need to know:
- You can’t combine partners on a single award ticket. If you’re trying to fly from New York-JFK to Hong Kong (HKG), you can’t fly Japan Airlines from New York to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and then connect on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. You can, however, include a domestic positioning flight on Alaska to connect to a partner award. Again, sticking with the JFK-HKG example, you could fly Alaska from New York to San Francisco (SFO) and then hop on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, all on a single award ticket.
- International stopovers can only be in the hub city of the partner airline. This one is relatively straightforward; if you’re flying Cathay Pacific from the US to Bangkok (BKK), you’re only allowed a free stopover in Hong Kong.
- Each partner has its own award chart (that may not apply between all regions). Finally, unlike many other programs (or at least the ones that still have award charts), Alaska’s chart is both region- and partner-based. The required mileage to get from one city to another may differ depending on the airline you’re booking, and some partner-operated flights are eligible for Alaska awards at all. If you input your origin and destination regions on Alaska’s online award chart and don’t see the partner you want to book, that simply means it’s not available for Mileage Plan award tickets.
How to Book Stopovers
Now that we’re refreshed some of the nuances of Alaska’s routing rules, let’s take a look at the exact process for booking a stopover with Alaska Airlines. Sometimes the best award tickets require an inordinate amount of work to book, from carefully hunting through ExpertFlyer to waiting on hold for hours in the hopes of finding an agent that can help you. Thankfully, booking stopovers on your Alaska-issued award tickets is relatively simple.
As a reminder, Alaska partners with the following airlines for redeeming your Mileage Plan miles:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Fiji Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Icelandair (not currently available due to “a high rate of booking failure”)
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- LATAM Airlines
Most of these partners are bookable online, but unfortunately that’s not the case with Cathay Pacific and LATAM. If you’re looking to redeem your miles for travel on either of these airlines, you’ll want to search for award space on another Oneworld search engine like the British Airways or Qantas website and call Alaska to book. I’ve found Alaska agents to be quick and knowledgeable, and they should be able to waive the $15 phone booking fee for these two partners.
Ready to book your own free stopover online with one of Alaska’s other partners? Let’s dive in, using a first class flight from the US to Shanghai (PVG) on Japan Airlines as an example.
You’ll want to start by pulling up Alaska’s website. From there, find the box where you’d search for a flight and click on All search options.
This will take you to the advanced search page. Make sure you’ve selected a Multi-city trip and checked the “Use miles” box. Even though the search interface will indicate that you’re booking a round-trip award (see the departing and returning flight designations), this is the correct booking platform for snagging a one-way award with a stopover.
Once you click Find Flights, the search results will actually show you both of your flights at the same time, rather than having you select your segments separately.
So how can you tell that this award is a stopover? Simply click the hyperlinked “1 stop” under each reservation, and the website will pop open your flight details. You can see that it’s already noted your five-day stopover at no extra cost.
As an aside, JAL is one of the few international airlines that has two different hubs in the same city: one in Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and the other in Tokyo-Haneda (HND). Alaska will let you fly into one and out of the other, giving you even more flexibility when it comes to finding award space.
From there, it’s as simple as adding the flight to your cart and following the on-screen prompts to finalize the award ticket.
Even though the process is straight-forward, there are a couple of additional tips to get the most out of your miles. First, despite the easy-to-use interface of Alaska’s site, you may be better off searching for each segment you need separately (i.e. US-Tokyo, Tokyo-China) to make sure there’s award space before you try and book. This is especially true if you’re trying to book an Alaska-operated flight to connect to an international partner. Start with the long-haul to find availability before you start piecing together how you’d get to that departure gateway (which may involve a separate, paid ticket on another airline).
In addition, I’d recommend sticking with a one-way flight. Not only is it simpler to search; there’s also minimal benefit to booking round-trip awards with Alaska, especially due to the one partner limitation. Booking a round-trip award flight from the US to Shanghai means that you must use the same international carrier to get there and back. Award inventory may not be available, or you may want to experience a different carrier. You may even want to book through an entirely separate program.
If you need a return flight from your international destination, I’d recommend booking it separately (especially if you can snag one of the world’s best first class products).
Finally, you’ll definitely want to pay attention any time you see the blue seat icon in the search results on Alaska’s website, which indicates that you’re booking a mixed cabin award.
This won’t be a problem for the JFK-PVG award above, as JAL only offers up to business class on inter-Asia flights, and you’ll be prompted to confirm the fact that your itinerary won’t be in first class the entire way when you select it.
However, some awards might price at a premium class award rate if only the short flight is in first or business class and the long-haul flight is in coach, like this horrific option from Newark (EWR) to Shanghai.
You’re being charged first class mileage, yet you’ll be stuck in coach from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Shanghai. No thank you!
Earning Alaska Miles
Of course, booking award flights with stopovers through the Mileage Plan program requires you to actually have Alaska miles. While this currency isn’t the easiest to earn, there are some quick ways to boost your account (aside from paid flights on Alaska and its partners).
The first is the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 bonus miles plus a Companion Fare of $121 ($99 plus $22 in taxes and fees) when you make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account. The card awards you 3x miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases and offers a free checked bag for you and up to six travel companions. You’ll then enjoy another Companion Fare every year after your account anniversary, a great way to get from your home airport to catch an international partner flight if Alaska hasn’t released award availability.
For complete details on the card, check out our full review.
In addition, Alaska frequently offers bonuses on purchased miles, allowing you to pick up Mileage Plan miles for as little as 1.97 cents apiece. There’s no promotion currently available, but you should bookmark our permanent page for buying Alaska miles for future reference. You can also follow TPG on Twitter or sign-up for our daily newsletter to be the first to know about these offers.
While Alaska miles are some of the hardest to earn, they offer an outsized value thanks to a generous award chart and free stopovers (even on one-way award tickets). You can use this perk to see two cities for the price of one; you could also use it to break up a long trip to Europe or Asia by spending a night or two exploring a new spot. Even more importantly, adding in a stopover can make it easier to find award space, since you aren’t restricted to finding connecting flight options on the same day. All of this is a reason why you should seriously consider the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program for your next award trip.
Featured photo by Jeroen Stroes Aviation Photography / flickr)
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