8 Sweet Redemptions with Alaska Mileage Plan

For Canadians looking to travel the world on points, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is probably the second most useful bona fide frequent flyer program after Aeroplan, although it hardly ever gets any of the spotlight. By eschewing the traditional zone-by-zone award chart and instead giving its members the versatility of separate redemption charts for each of its wide range of airline partners, Alaska delivers excellent value that frequent travellers would do well to capture.

Some of these sweet spots are immediately apparent if you study the partner redemption charts, while others are more reminiscent of tricks that you keep up at your sleeve to deploy at a moment’s notice. In any case, I hope you find this refresher helpful in terms of keeping up with all the ways to craft some incredible trips using Alaska Mileage Plan.

Before we begin, a reminder of the best ways to earn Alaska miles here in Canada:

  • The MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard gives you 25,000 Alaska miles upon spending $1,000 in the first three months; this card can also be “churned” repeatedly so as to obtain the bonus multiple times
  • SPG Starpoints can be transferred to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 1:1 ratio; you also get a bonus of 5,000 miles for every chunk of 20,000 Starpoints you transfer
  • Marriott Travel Packages allow you to trade in 270,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 Alaska miles, PLUS 7 nights at a Category 1–5 hotel


1. Cathay Pacific First Class to South Africa or the Middle East for 70,000 miles

Let’s start with a fan favourite and perhaps the single most valuable redemption opportunity available to Canadians at this moment. For just 70,000 Alaska miles, you can fly one-way on Cathay Pacific First Class between North America and either South Africa or the Middle East, with a stopover in Hong Kong of up to 364 days.

There’s just so much to love about this redemption. Cathay Pacific First Class is simply incredible, featuring world-class dining and service onboard an unbelievably cozy First Class cabin and suite. I’ve only recently flown this product and have yet to review it, but you can bet that, all things considered, it was probably the best flight of my life.

 Cathay Pacific First Class

Cathay Pacific First Class

Then you’ve got the possibility of a free stopover on a one-way ticket, which is indeed a huge selling point of the Alaska program overall. As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge 105,000 miles for a one-way to Africa or the Middle East, and you wouldn’t be allowed to have a stopover.

Between Hong Kong and South Africa, Cathay doesn’t offer First Class, so you’ll have to “settle” for business class. However, this is still a splendid way to get to a place that’s traditionally quite challenging to visit on points. Cathay flies Hong Kong–Johannesburg year-round and will also be launching seasonal flights to Cape Town beginning in November 2018.

Similarly, Cathay serves Tel Aviv and Dubai from Hong Kong, and you can leverage this opportunity to fly to the Middle East in a mix of First Class and business class for just 70,000 miles as well. From these places you can typically find cheap cash or award flights to Europe, so if you ever needed to get to Europe with a stopover in Hong Kong (or elsewhere in Asia!), this is an option you should keep in the back of your mind.

And as long as we’re talking about Cathay’s route network, keep in mind their lovely fifth freedom flight between Vancouver and New York. It may take a bit of work on the phone, but if you're persistent you ought to be able to book a Cathay First Class journey that begins from Vancouver, goes east towards New York JFK, and then flies back to Hong Kong. That’s an incredible 21 hours in First Class for you to savour to your heart’s content!

Another noteworthy point about this redemption is that if you’re doing a stopover in Hong Kong, it’s a better deal to redeem for travel TO rather than FROM North America. That’s because you’d then be flying First Class on the outbound from Hong Kong and therefore would get access to Cathay's incredible First Class lounges. If travelling in the opposite direction, you’d only be able to access the business class lounges, since the flights to South Africa or the Middle East don’t feature First Class. (If you’re not doing a stopover, you can disregard this point, since you typically get access to First Class lounges if connecting off a First Class flight on the same day.)

Lastly, you can also do the whole trip in business class, for a lower rate of 62,500 miles one-way. It’s not that Cathay Pacific business class is bad per se, but if you can get First Class for just an incremental 7,500 miles, why wouldn’t you?!


2. Japan Airlines First Class to India for 70,000 miles

A similar award chart quirk exists within Alaska’s partner redemption chart with Japan Airlines. Whereas most of Asia is included in the more expensive award zone and would cost you 75,000 miles for a one-way First Class trip, three countries can be had for just 70,000 miles: Japan, Korea, and India.

No one knows why India is included in the cheaper zone when you’ve got about a baker’s dozen worth of countries that are located closer and yet are more expensive. But this makes redeeming Alaska miles for travel on Japan Airlines by far one of the most compelling ways to get to India. Oh and of course, you get a stopover in Tokyo of up to 364 days as well.

Enjoy a dazzling gastronomic experience aboard JAL First Class before parlaying that seamlessly into the gastronomic heaven that is the streets of Tokyo. After you’ve had your fill of Japan, connect onto your JAL business class flight – featuring the remarkable Sky Suites – to New Delhi, all for 70,000 miles. As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge 105,000 miles for a similar redemption, and you wouldn’t be allowed to have a stopover either.

Make no mistake, though – and this holds true for the Cathay example as well – that even if you were to use this opportunity to travel to other parts of Asia, instead of “maximizing” the redemption by going as far as possible, it’s still an incredibly sweet deal to cross the Pacific for between 70,000 and 75,000 miles in two of the world’s best First Class cabins.


3. Alaska Airlines flights within North America from 5,000 miles

The above two redemptions no doubt represent the crown jewels of Alaska Mileage Plan, and are usually the two most talked about opportunities for transforming your miles into unforgettable trips. But there’s plenty more to love about the program, so let’s take a look, starting a little closer to home.

Last year, Alaska implemented region-based redemptions for flights on their own metal (i.e., flights operated by Alaska Airlines themselves, as opposed to partner redemptions). Flights less than 650 miles in distance could be booked for as little as 5,000 Alaska miles one-way.

 
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Ultimately this redemption is going to be much more useful for those of you living in the western parts of Canada, since Alaska operates flights from Seattle to Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary. For Calgarians especially, you can't beat a weekend getaway in Washington State for just 10,000 miles roundtrip.

To make things more interesting, PointsNerd discovered a while ago that the way Alaska calculates distances is a little funky. Specifically, it appears that for some awards, only the distance between the origin and the destination is taken into account, and not the flown distance counting the connection in Seattle.

For example, Calgary and Chicago are 1,385 miles apart, whereas the actual distance you’d be flying (via Seattle) is 2,173 miles. However, Alaska still treats this as a flight under the 1,400-mile threshold, giving you the option to redeem this one-way journey for only 7,500 miles.

Lastly, an excellent place to use take advantage of this opportunity is – surprise, surprise – within Alaska itself! Alaska Airlines is the chief airline dominating this part of the world, and as we all know, cash prices of flights in remote areas like this tend to be quite expensive.

If you’re interested in seeing the captivating beauty of the Alaskan coastline or visiting the indigenous communities of the Aleutian Islands, leverage the ability to redeem award tickets based on distance flown and you can really squeeze some killer value out of your Alaska miles.


4. American Airlines to South America from 20,000 miles

Alaska’s mileage chart with American Airlines provides some excellent value for travelling to certain parts of South America. According to the chart’s footnotes, “South America Zone 2” includes Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the redemption rates to this zone are roughly on par with what Aeroplan would offer.

The value lies within “South America Zone 1”, which includes Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Guyana. Alaska only charges 20,000 miles in economy class and 30,000 miles in business class for a one-way trip.

Peru is an interesting case in particular: Aeroplan groups it with its “Southern South America” countries, making a redemption to Peru disproportionately expensive in terms of miles – it'd be 55,000 miles one-way in business class. So if you’re looking to hit up Machu Picchu in the near future, redeeming Alaska miles for travel on American Airlines is a possibility you should definitely be exploring.

Similarly, American Airlines operates a flight between Miami and Manaus, a city in northeastern Brazil that’s situated in the heart of the Amazon and designated as “South America Zone 1”. If an Amazonian adventure is something you’d be keen on trying, I can think of no better way to redeem miles for your journey into the heart of the world's largest jungle, especially since every other frequent flyer program out there would lump Manaus together with the rest of Brazil and charge you accordingly.


5. Fiji Airways to the South Pacific from 40,000 miles

Some parts of the world are more difficult than others to redeem miles for travel; Australia and New Zealand is one such example. Others, such as the South Pacific, are notoriously difficult. So what if you could knock off both of these in one award trip?

One of Alaska’s chief selling points is the sheer diversity of its airline partners, and Fiji Airlines is perhaps the partner that espouses this notion the most. For just 40,000 miles in economy class or 55,000 miles in business class one-way, you can fly from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Australia or New Zealand, with a stopover in Fiji. Keep in mind that you can add Alaska-operated flights to your itinerary to complete the trip from your home airport.

This is a slick redemption for many reasons. First of all, most programs would charge in the vicinity of 80,000 miles for business class to Oceania, so 55,000 miles is an absolute steal. And a stopover in Fiji on the way to Australia or New Zealand makes for all the ingredients of an affordable yet unforgettable trip, since the South Pacific islands are otherwise quite expensive to reach. 

Fiji Airways is also the most convenient option for using points to get to some of the more remote regions in the South Pacific, such as Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Solomon Islands. Intra-regional travel is only 17,500 miles in economy class each-way, another solid proposition for booking flights which tend to be quite expensive if bought with cash.


6. Hainan Airlines business class to Asia for 50,000 miles

Here's another nifty airline that Alaska has linked up with to deliver a great redemption opportunity to its members. The Hainan proposition isn't quite that it'll deliver as luxurious a travel experience as Cathay or JAL, but rather that it's very well-rounded in terms of getting a strong value out of your miles.

First of all, while Hainan's business class product isn't cutting-edge, by all accounts it offers excellent food and service onboard, and makes for a comfortable way to cross the Pacific. Accordingly, the mileage cost is also very reasonable – flying trans-Pacific business class for 50,000 miles is one heck of a deal; Aeroplan would charge you 75,000 miles for a similar journey.

 Hainan Airlines business class

Hainan Airlines business class

Not only that, but availability on Hainan is much more plentiful compared to Cathay and JAL, since those two airlines tend to have their award seats snapped up many months in advance. Furthermore, you of course get to stopover in Beijing for up to 364 days (and if your stopover is less than 6 days long, you can even enjoy visa-free transit in Beijing as long as your onward flight is headed to a different country).

And as if there weren't enough to love already about redeeming Alaska miles on Hainan, the airline also flies nonstop to both Toronto and Calgary, making it a convenient way for Canadians to get to Asia without having to transit the US.

The one caveat about this possibility is that it does come with some fuel surcharges, typically in the range of US$200 per direction. That's not unreasonable, I'd say, but it's worth a mention since it might tip the scales in favour of redeeming your miles on Cathay or JAL instead.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that Hainan Airlines economy class is also a great deal, at only 30,000 miles one-way from North America to Asia – savings of at least 7,500 miles when compared to Aeroplan.


7. Cathay or JAL intra-Asia business class for 25,000 miles

OK, here's where things start to get much more interesting. First off, the basics: given the strong route networks of Cathay Pacific and JAL, it's super easy to get around Asia using Alaska miles. One-way economy class trips on the two airlines are 12,500 miles and 15,000 miles respectively, and business class is 22,500 miles and 25,000 miles respectively. Depending on where you're flying, you may want to research the possibility of booking with British Airways Avios, since that program may offer better value for short-haul journeys especially.

Now, whereas you're not allowed to book a Hong Kong stopover on an intra-Asia award on Cathay Pacific, you can book a Tokyo stopover on a similar award on JAL. And that makes for a lot of fun possibilities, including routings such as the following:

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You can fly from Singapore to Tokyo, stay for up to 364 days, and then fly to Kuala Lumpur. Alaska treats this routing as a one-way redemption, even though it's for all intents and purposes a roundtrip flight – after all, you can book a cheap AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur back to Singapore for as low as $35 – meaning you only pay 25,000 miles for the entire journey!

To book this, use the multi-city tool on the Alaska website:

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As you can see, it's super easy to book a long Tokyo stopover on the website, and it prices out at 25,000 miles for the "one-way" journey.

So for just one credit card signup bonus, you can enjoy JAL business class for 14 hours in total, which is one of the best flight-time-to-miles ratios you can possibly achieve for premium cabins. You could nest this trip within a larger Aeroplan Mini-RTW with Singapore (or Kuala Lumpur) as the destination, allowing you to see even more places and stretching your Miles & Points as far as they'll go.


8. Emirates First Class to Australia for 150,000 miles

Before March 2016, Alaska used to be everyone's favourite program for booking Emirates First Class, before all of a sudden an overnight devaluation was implemented and the cost of many awards doubled in price. Nowadays, Emirates First Class awards are disproportionately expensive, and usually it's better to try to use another program – such as JAL Mileage Bank – if you really want to try it.

Nevertheless, there's still a great trick to know for redeeming Alaska miles for the most ostentatious First Class cabin in the world, if you have the miles to burn and would like to splurge on a truly epic experience.

 Emirates First Class

Emirates First Class

Basically, Alaska usually charges 150,000 miles for an Emirates First Class award to the Indian Subcontinent, and usually 200,000 miles for a ticket to Australia. But by taking advantage of Emirates's intriguing route network and booking a routing as below, you can route to Sri Lanka via Australia, thus incurring the cost of 150,000 miles. And you're free to get off the plane in Melbourne and never look back.

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To book this, you need to get a little creative with the way you search for the itinerary on the multi-city tool:

Alaska-Emirates

Most of the options under First Class will likely be mixed cabin tickets, but as long as the first two flights are in First Class, you're golden (assuming that you'll be getting off in Australia).

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Note that even if you actually did want to fly to Asia, it might be fun to go via Australia in order to get as much flight time in the coveted confines of Emirates First Class as possible. By my calculations, you'd potentially get to experience up to four onboard showers! Would the novelty start to wear off by the fourth time? Somehow, I doubt it...


Conclusion

Alaska Mileage Plan is a truly underrated program. Its miles derive value from the program's unparalleled diversity in airline partners, giving you the option of redeeming miles – at extremely favourable rates, no less – for travel on so many partners to so many regions of the world. And given that Alaska has recently been busy adding to its partner network, teaming up with Finnair, Singapore Airlines, and Aer Lingus, I expect the utility and versatility of Alaska miles to only grow from this point forward.