Creative Stopovers with Alaska Mileage Plan

This article is an adaptation of a detailed study on Alaska Mileage Plan’s stopover policies published on the Chinese-language site TravelAfterWork.com, reproduced in English with their permission. Full credit for the information goes to them.


One of the most attractive features about the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program is that it allows stopovers on one-way redemptions. Most frequent flyer programs limit stopovers to round-trip itineraries, if they even allow them all, so Alaska is unique in that sense.

As a reminder, a stopover is a break in your journey of longer than 24 hours in duration, whereas any connection of less than 24 hours would count as a layover. Stopovers are valuable because they allow you to stay in more places and see more of the world for the same mileage cost.

Now, Mileage Plan is also known for its unique partner relationships – Alaska Airlines isn’t part of any airline alliance, so instead they’ve partnered up with an eclectic mix of global airlines, and you can redeem your miles on any partner airline. 

However, these agreements between Alaska and other airlines can vary between partners, and one of the agreed-upon items that can vary is which routings count as valid redemptions and which cities can be used as stopovers. 

Since these rules vary from partner to partner, it can be useful to know how far you can stretch Alaska’s routing and stopover policies for any given partner. That’s exactly the information that the folks over at TravelAfterWork.com gleaned through painstaking searches on the Alaska website. Let’s have a look at their findings.


1. Alaska Airlines

We’ll begin with Alaska Airlines themselves – what are the stopover rules when you’re redeeming points solely on Alaska Airlines-operated flights?

There are many layers of rules here, and I won’t be covering all the details. I’ll talk about a few instances that Canadian travellers would find most relevant, and also a few edge-cases that are interesting in their own right.

First off, the stopover policies on Alaska flights are guided by the routing rules on Alaska’s published fares. If you have an ExpertFlyer account, you can look up these rules via the Fare Information search option.

 
 

As you can see, Alaska’s routing rules between, say, Edmonton and Los Angeles allow you to route through Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Salt Lake City. These are therefore exactly the cities that you’re allowed to have a stopover when redeeming miles between Edmonton and Los Angeles.

 
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Residents of Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, and Edmonton (the Canadian cities serviced by Alaska) can therefore score deals to the US West Coast for as little as 7,500 miles one-way, and have a stopover along the way. That’s an incredible deal!

 
 

If Alaska doesn’t have any published fares between two given cities, then unfortunately there’s no way to redeem miles for a one-way between those two cities. However, any published fare can be transformed into a one-way redemption with a stopover, even if that routing doesn’t look particularly logical on a map. 

For example, Alaska publishes a fare between Houston (IAH) and Orlando (MCO), with the routing rules as follows:

 
 

You can therefore fly the below routing for just 30,000 Alaska miles:

 
 

Lastly, it would be remiss for me not to mention the tremendous value of using Alaska miles to explore… well, Alaska itself.

Unfortunately you can’t have a stopover in Alaska on a one-way ticket between two points in the continental US & Canada, because no such published fares would include Anchorage in the routing rules. However, if you’re travelling to, from, or within Alaska, stopovers can be very useful for stretching the value of your miles. 

Here’s just one example. You could fly from Victoria to Anchorage, stay there for as long as you’d like, then fly onwards to Adak in the Aleutian Islands – the westernmost municipality in the United States, located due south of Russia – for only 12,500 miles. 

 
 

Given that such a trip would cost upwards of $800 if booked with cash, the value you’re getting is spectacular. Not only that, but you could also employ the principles of nested trips to explore more of Alaska during your Anchorage stopover. Take a look at the Alaska Airlines route map and play around with the possibilities.

 
 

There’s one caveat: If you’re travelling between two Alaskan cities which are both east of Glacier Bay (GST), then you can’t stopover in Anchorage. Instead, Juneau (JNU) would be your likely stopover point.

 
 


2. American Airlines

American Airlines is Alaska’s biggest domestic US partner, and being able to redeem Alaska miles on American-operated flights is particularly useful for travellers living in places that aren’t served by Alaska, such as the eastern Canadian cities.

Partner redemptions on American Airlines cannot have stopovers if travel is within North America only. However, as long as travel is intercontinental, then one stopover is permitted.

The question of where that stopover can be designated seems to have no clear-cut answer; instead, the folks at TravelAfterWork have created the below map, which highlights the airports you’re allowed to use as a stopover on an American Airlines partner award. 

(Anchorage isn’t shown on this map, but you can do stopovers there as well.)

Besides those rules, there really aren’t many other restrictions in terms of the routing (i.e., no dependency on published fares, as in the Alaska Airlines case). So as long as you can find availability, you can do some CRAZY things such as Toronto to Lima, with a stopover in Anchorage, for only 20,000 miles in economy class and 30,000 miles in business class:

 
 
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Business class cabins within the Americas tend not to be particularly impressive, so ordinarily I’d be happy with doing this trip in economy class as well. Imagine getting to visit both Alaska and Peru upon signing up for just one credit card. The possibilities here are endless, and I’ll leave it to you to customize your journey to your heart’s desire.


3. Hainan Airlines

Out of all of Alaska’s foreign airline partners, Hainan Airlines has by far the most relaxed routing and stopover policies. When redeeming miles for a Hainan partner reward, you can basically stopover anywhere you want within Alaska and Hainan’s combined route networks. 

So if you wanted, you could travel from Calgary to Nome, Alaska, stop there for a little while, then fly all the way to Almaty, Kazakhstan, for just 30,000 miles in economy class. If you wanted business class for the transpacific segment, that’d be 50,000 miles in total.

 
 

Alternatively, you could stopover in Sapporo and crush some of Hokkaido’s powder snow before heading to the sunny waters of Phuket to unwind. Now that’s what I call a proper vacation!

Note that the flights you can book are constrained by Hainan’s route network. In this example, Hainan only serves Sapporo from Hangzhou, so you’d have to route through there on your way there and back.

You can even do open-jaws, such as the below routing from Calgary to Bangkok, an open-jaw within Thailand, and then from Phuket to Beijing. Essentially, anytime you redeem miles for a one-way on Hainan, you have the opportunity to add an entirely separate one-way flight free of charge!

 
 

It’s worth noting, though, that Alaska’s partnership with Hainan only covers Asian routes, so you won’t be able to take advantage of Hainan’s flights to Europe (including Russia). But besides that minor restriction, you can get creative within the entirety of Alaska and Hainan’s route maps. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with! 


4. Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines is one of Alaska’s most useful partners, primarily because their business class and First Class products are among the best in the world. Their stopover polices are quite generous too, since you can have stopovers in, and open-jaws among, any of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya.

 
 

Note, however, that JAL’s routes out of Osaka and Nagoya are quite limited – only a handful of international routes originate out of either airport. If you’d like to open-jaw within Japan and then fly onwards to somewhere that’s only served from Tokyo, then you can take advantage of the Los Angeles–Osaka route, as shown below.

 
 
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Another excellent feature of the Alaska–JAL partner agreement is that you can do stopovers on intra-Asia redemptions. As I’ve written before, this opens the door to booking creative one-ways that look a lot like cheap round-trips, like Guangzhou–Tokyo–Hong Kong or Singapore–Tokyo–Kuala Lumpur.

 
 


5. Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is perhaps Alaska’s best-known partnership, in large part due to the outrageous value of redeeming Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific First Class. One well-documented perk of this relationship is the ability to enjoy a stopover in Hong Kong. In addition, though, you can also stopover in Taipei or Bangkok, but only if your trip originates or terminates by way of one of the fifth-freedom Cathay Pacific flights operated from these cities.

Indeed, the rule for Cathay Pacific seems to be that fifth-freedom flights grant the ability to have a stopover at the intermediate point of said flight. This is a rule that Vancouverites in particular will be well-acquainted with, since it means that you can stopover in Vancouver on your way to/from New York JFK on Cathay Pacific Flights 888/889.

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In other words, if you live in Vancouver and wanted to fly home from Hong Kong, you could in fact designate a stopover in Vancouver and thereby gain a free flight to New York – potentially with free-flowing caviar and champagne – at a later date. 

Unfortunately Cathay Pacific flights can’t be searched on the Alaska website, so you’ll want to use a different search engine to locate availability before calling Alaska to book.


6. The Other Airlines 

I’ve covered what I think are the most interesting partner stopover policies, and I won’t go through all the rest of them in detail, since this post would be far too long. If there’s interest, I might write another post in the future covering those airlines.

Briefly, though:

  • Emirates allows you to stopover in Dubai, as well as at the connection point of some (though not all) of their fifth-freedom routes: Larnaca, Accra, Lusaka, Male, Colombo, and Bangkok

  • Qantas allows you to stopover in any of their hubs and focus cities: Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland

  • LATAM allows you to stopover in any of their hubs and focus cities: Bogotá, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia; however, for Brazilian flights, you can only redeem on flights with the new LATAM flight numbers (LA) and not the old TAM flight numbers (JJ)

  • Fiji Airways allows you to stopover in Nadi, Suva (both part of Fiji) or Apia, Samoa

  • Condor allows you to stopover in Frankfurt or Dusseldorf

  • Icelandair, Korean Air, British Airways, and Finnair allow you to stopover only in their respective hubs: Reykjavik, Seoul Incheon, London Heathrow, and Helsinki


Conclusion

Allowing stopovers on a one-way redemption was certainly a masterstroke by whoever designed Alaska’s mileage program, since it’s one of the things the program is best known for. However, if you know where to look, you can certainly stretch the stopover allowance far beyond what it’s typically used for. 

From traipsing up to Alaska on your way to other continents, to getting essentially free flights by adding stopovers and open-jaws for future trips – as long as you have a bit of flexibility and are willing to plan your trips around the award space, there are certainly some pretty mind-blowing trips that you can take if you learn to maximize your Alaska miles.