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.
In This Post
- 1. Cathay Pacific First Class to South Africa or the Middle East for 70,000 miles
- 2. Cathay Pacific First Class to Oceania for 80,000 miles
- 3. Japan Airlines First Class to India for 70,000 miles
- 4. Alaska Airlines flights within North America from 5,000 miles
- 5. American Airlines to South America from 20,000 miles
- 6. Fiji Airways to the South Pacific from 40,000 miles
- 7. Hainan Airlines business class to Asia for 50,000 miles
- 8. Singapore Airlines business class to Japan for 80,000 miles
- 9. An Emirates First Class Extravaganza!
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 (likely a US gateway airport) 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. Having flown this product thrice so far, I can safely say that it’s given me some of the best flights of my life.
You can check out my review of my first Cathay Pacific First Class flight from February 2018, as well as a more recent review of Cathay Pacific’s refreshed soft product in March 2020.
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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, a program like 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. Traditionally, Cathay flies Hong Kong–Johannesburg year-round and Hong Kong–Cape Town on a seasonal basis.
Similarly, Cathay serves Tel Aviv, Dubai, and Bahrain (as a fifth-freedom tag-on from Dubai), 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.
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: The Wing and The Pier.
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. While it’s true that First Class is a better deal, requiring only an incremental 7,500 miles, award space is much tougher to find in First Class: Cathay Pacific generally only releases one First Class award seat to partners on every flight, with the remaining seats subject to the whims of last-minute availability (although the Asia Miles waitlist trick can certainly help your chances).
2. Cathay Pacific First Class to Oceania for 80,000 miles
Similar to the above, booking a flight from North America to Australia or New Zealand in a mix of Cathay Pacific First Class and business class is another awesome deal, even if it’s slightly more expensive at 80,000 Alaska miles one-way.
For comparison, most other frequent flyer programs would charge in the range of 80,000 miles for a one-way flight to Australia in business class all the way, but Alaska allows you to fly the transpacific segment in the ever-excellent Cathay Pacific First Class cabin instead, as well as add a stopover of extended duration in Hong Kong. If you only wanted to fly business class all the way, that would cost you 60,000 miles one-way.
Within Oceania, Cathay Pacific’s route network consists of Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland. Most of these are served by their relatively new Airbus A350s, which offer lie-flat business class seats with onboard wifi.
Like before, if you’re planning a Hong Kong stopover, it’s a better idea to book the eastbound journey so that you’re departing Hong Kong in First Class and get to sample Cathay Pacific’s world-class ground experience. And since Alaska Mileage Plan works on a one-way redemption basis, you can always combine this redemption with another one in the opposite direction (perhaps Fiji Airways, as we’ll discuss below, or even the Etihad Apartments for 110,000 Aeroplan miles).
3. Japan Airlines First Class to India for 70,000 miles
Alaska’s partner redemption chart with Japan Airlines offers a similar quirk. 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.
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Make no mistake, though: 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 to India, 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.
One example of another interesting routing possibility is adding a free open-jaw between Tokyo and Osaka, before continuing onwards to other points in Asia – all for a maximum of 75,000 miles one-way.
Note: As reported by The Points Guy, Japan Airlines First Class awards after March 31, 2021 are currently not bookable with Alaska miles due to a change in the back-end fare code on Japan Airlines’s part. Hopefully this issue will be resolved soon.
4. Alaska Airlines flights within North America from 5,000 miles
The above 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 700 miles in distance could be booked for as little as 5,000 Alaska miles one-way.
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, Kelowna, Calgary, and Edmonton. For Albertans especially, you can’t beat a weekend getaway in Washington State for just 10,000 miles round-trip.
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.
5. 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 being listed in “Zone 1” is an interesting case in particular: many other award programs group Peru among the “Southern South America” countries, making a redemption to Peru disproportionately expensive in terms of miles. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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; a program like Aeroplan would charge you 75,000 miles for a similar journey.
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.
8. Singapore Airlines business class to Japan for 80,000 miles
Alaska Airlines and Singapore Airlines formalized the ability to redeem Alaska miles on Singapore flights in late 2019, and have set up a rather unique relationship in terms of the value proposition.
While Singapore Airlines flights will command a relatively higher price point compared to other redemptions you could make with your Alaska miles, they are also accessible in far greater numbers in terms of award availability patterns.
Therefore, Singapore Airlines likely wouldn’t be my first choice for a high-value Alaska redemption. However, it could be the case, if you’ve chosen to travel on a particular day during peak season, that none of the above redemptions with Cathay Pacific or JAL are available, and the best option you’ll find is redeeming 80,000–100,000 Alaska miles (depending on whether your trip ends in Japan or Singapore) for ample award space in Singapore Airlines business class.
(Plus, I know there’s always a small community of hardcore Singapore Airlines fanboys out there – unless you earn KrisFlyer miles, Alaska might be your best bet at booking Singapore Airlines’s premium cabins using partner miles.)
However, the reason that Singapore Airlines is relatively low on this list is because, despite the ample award space when the partnership was first announced, there is actually little-to-zero award space available at the moment. This is likely due to Singapore Airlines’s uncertain long-haul route network during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hopefully the award space will come back online sometime soon in order to give us the opportunity to take advantage of a partnership whose days, given Alaska’s imminent entry into Oneworld and Singapore Airlines’s proud membership of Star Alliance – appear to be numbered.
9. An Emirates First Class Extravaganza!
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 across both the older Emirates A380 First Class with the onboard shower and bar, and the newer Emirates 777 First Class with the fully enclosed suites, ultra-modern interiors, virtual LED windows, and disco lights.
Basically, Alaska usually charges 150,000 miles for an Emirates First Class award between the Middle East and North America. But by taking advantage of Emirates’s intriguing route network, you can book something like Dubai–Geneva–Dubai–Toronto, all in quick succession of each other, and experience three flights on Emirates First Class for the price of one!
To book this, you need to get a little creative with the way you search for the itinerary on the multi-city tool:
Note that this routing possibility doesn’t actually allow you to spend any meaningful time in your European point of turnaround, nor in Dubai when you’re passing through. You’re limited to a 24-hour layover in both cases.
Therefore, it’s really only useful for those who’d like to indulge in 27+ hours of Emirates First Class purely for the sake of it – but I know there’s plenty of you like myself out there. 😉
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.
As Alaska looks set to join Oneworld in late 2020, the future of some of these sweet spots is looking uncertain. While it’s pure guesswork at this moment, most observers agree that some award rates are likely to increase (such as the Cathay Pacific First Class for 70,000 miles), while some partnerships may be phased out entirely. If you’d like to redeem Alaska miles for truly outstanding value under any of these sweet spots with a view to travel in 2021, now’s the time to take action.