How to use Alaska Airlines miles: Everything you need to know
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Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most valuable, even if you’ll never actually fly the airline.
The West Coast-based carrier isn’t yet a member of any airline alliance (though they intend to join Oneworld in 2021), but don’t let that fool you. Through individual partnerships, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program is more useful than most airlines. Alaska miles can be a good deal for domestic travel within the U.S. or even to Hawaii — but you’ll get the most bang for your rewards by flying on international partners like Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines – and taking advantage of a free stopover en route to your final destination.
We’ll show you how to use Alaska Airlines miles for nearly free flights and travel all over the world.
How to use Alaska Airlines milesAlaska Airlines miles value is abnormally high for many reasons, not the least of which is flexibility. To start, you’re allowed to book one-way awards (not all carriers allow this). This means you can fly from the U.S. to Asia on American Airlines, and return on Cathay Pacific by booking two different awards.
Keep in mind that Alaska uses a different award chart for each of its partner airlines. This means that even on the same route (like the U.S. to Hong Kong) prices can vary by three-fold or more depending on the airline.
While you can do 99% of the booking work yourself directly on the Alaska Airlines website (even if you’re booking a stopover or a complicated multi-city itinerary), I’ve found Alaska Airlines to have some of the friendliest and most competent phone agents in the entire industry. I redeemed 70,000 Alaska miles for a Cathay Pacific first class flight to Hong Kong, and the entire phone call start to finish, including reading out my credit card info and working through the automated system to get to a live agent, took exactly 10 minutes. How’s that for efficiency?
If you’re short on Alaska Airlines miles, you can earn them directly from these cards:
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Check out our post on how to earn Alaska Airlines miles for more options to boost your account balance.
Alaska Airlines partners
The best uses of your Alaska Airlines miles come from redeeming on partner airlines. Here’s the full list of partners:
- Aer Lingus
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- El Al (can currently only earn miles)
- Fiji Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Japan Air Lines
- Korean Air
- Ravn Alaska
- Singapore Airlines
The good news is you can book most of Alaska’s partner airlines online. If you want to book flights on those airlines, you should use a different oneworld award search engine, like the British Airways or Qantas website, then call Alaska once you find the seat you want.
Where can Alaska Airlines miles take you?
While these partners cover just about every continent, you’ll notice there are strengths and weaknesses. You have the most options for flights to Asia between Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines, while Europe is much more limited. Sure, you can fly American Airlines (if you can find award space) or British Airways (if you’re willing to pay excessive fuel surcharges) but your choices are not as good.
That said, it’s possible to visit every inhabited continent with Alaska Airlines miles. And the award prices are very reasonable.
Each airline has a different award chart
Let’s look at a few ways you could use Alaska Airlines miles to travel to Bangkok, a popular city among travelers of all kinds. Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly from the U.S. to Thailand, but partner airlines can get you there.
This example demonstrates how much the price varies depending on which partner you fly. It’s also important to note you can’t mix partners on an international award ticket,meaning you can’t fly American Airlines from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and then switch to Cathay Pacific to get down to Bangkok. You can, however, add a domestic flight on Alaska Airlines to position to an international gateway airport at the beginning or end of your trip.
Let’s start with Cathay Pacific, my favorite use of Alaska miles. One-way flights from the U.S. to Asia cost:
- Coach: 30,000 miles
- Premium economy: 35,000 miles
- Business: 50,000 miles
- First: 70,000 miles
Cathay Pacific first class tickets are some of the most expensive in the world, routinely clocking in at $20,000 or more. If you book one for only 70,000 miles, that means your Alaska miles would be worth a whopping 30 cents each!
With Cathay Pacific, Alaska Airlines treats all of Asia as a single region so your awards cost the same if you stop in Hong Kong, or if you continue on to other destinations like Singapore or Bangkok.
Meanwhile, Japan Air Lines (my second favorite Alaska Airlines partner) has different award pricing for flights to “Asia” and “Southeast Asia.” These regions aren’t defined on the Alaska site, but I’ve found Southeast Asia to include China and everything south of it.
JAL offers an incredible premium cabin experience, with some of the best food and drinks in the sky in first class and amazing suites in business class, but you will pay an extra 5,000 to 15,000 miles to fly JAL over Cathay Pacific, depending on your route and cabin.
For the same U.S. to Asia route, other options include redeeming 180,000 miles for Emirates first class or 70,000 miles for Korean Air coach, in each case twice as expensive (or more) than Cathay Pacific.
Not only do award charts vary by airline, they also vary by route – so you’ll have to do your own research before booking.
Also, make sure to read the fine print. For example, while Alaska Airlines gives you an option for flying from Asia to the Middle East using your miles, it’s only valid for travel to and from Hong Kong (not the rest of the continent).
Flying with Alaska Airlines
Of course you may want to use your miles to stay closer to home, and Alaska Airlines makes that easy, too.
Flights operated by Alaska Airlines within the continental U.S. or between the continental U.S. and Alaska are priced based on distance: you can either take a “hop, skip, jump or a leap.”
You’ll also see a range of pricing for each distance. While Alaska Airlines doesn’t use dynamic award pricing the way United Airlines or Delta does, it does have different pricing tiers so you might see variations, especially if you’re traveling at a busy time.
The “hops” can be a great value at only 5,000 miles each way in coach, for flights like San Francisco to Seattle. Alaska also operates a robust route network from the West coast to Hawaii, and flights start at only 15,000 miles each way in coach.
Fees and policies
My Cathay Pacific first class award came with a total of ~$75 in taxes and fees, which I was happy to pay for such a great redemption.
In addition to the ~$48 taxes and fees for this ticket, Alaska charges a $15 phone booking fee, which is unavoidable since Cathay Pacific awards have to be booked over the phone. The Alaska website also lists a $25 partner award booking fee, though that appears to be based on round-trip tickets since every one-way award I’ve booked has only had a $12.50 partner award fee. If you need to change or cancel your award more than 24 hours after booking, you’ll also be charged a $125 chance/cancellation fee.
Note that taxes and fees vary based on which airline you fly. But you’ll always pay the partner award booking fee and phone booking fee (if applicable) on every redemption.
One-way awards, open jaws and stopovers
Free stopovers are one of the most valuable things about Alaska miles, and you can check out our full review of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan for more information on how to redeem them. Here are the important things to remember:
- Stopovers are valid on one-way or round-trip tickets
- You can only stop over at the hub of your partner airline (i.e. Hong Kong for Cathay Pacific, Sydney for Qantas, etc.)
The good news is you can book these online yourself, unless you’re flying Cathay Pacific or LATAM, in which case you’ll need to call in.
Booking a stopover is as simple as searching for a multi-city award ticket, though I recommend searching segment by segment at first to find the award space you need. Not only do stopovers give you two destinations for the price of one, but they make it easier to find award space because you can be more flexible with your dates.
Because Alaska lets you book one-way awards, it’s also easy to construct an open-jaw. An open-jaw is just a fancy way of saying you aren’t flying a perfect round-trip. Maybe you fly from city A to city B, and return from city B to city C. Or maybe you fly from A to B, then hop on a train or bus to a different city C before flying back to city A.
A practical example of this would be someone who lets the award space dictate their vacation plans. If you want to fly Cathay Pacific first class round-trip on your vacation, you might need to fly out of Los Angeles and back into San Francisco depending on the availability. This would be an open-jaw, and easy to book as two one-way awards.
Redeem miles on Alaska Airlines partners
The hardest part of redeeming your miles and points is finding the award space you need, especially if you want to travel in first class or with a larger group. Using Alaska’s partners is otherwise quite hassle-free — they can take you just about anywhere.
While Alaska has the most partners flying to Asia, you’ll always want to start by searching for Cathay Pacific availability. Not only is it the cheapest option, but Cathay Pacific has the broadest U.S. route network so you’ll have an easier time finding seats.
Cathay Pacific has a six-seat first class cabin, and will release one seat on each flight a year in advance when the schedule opens. You might get lucky and see another seat released closer to departure, but it’s certainly not a guarantee which makes this hard for couples to book together.
After that I would look at JAL (don’t forget to search for flights to both Tokyo Narita and Tokyo Haneda airports). You’ll often see one or two seats released far in advance, but the real gold mine comes in the week or two leading up to departure.
I’ve seen Japan Air Lines release as many as five first class award seats on a single flight for last-minute travelers! Of course if you have your heart set on a specific route, you can use ExpertFlyer to search for award availability and set alerts if it opens up. ExpertFlyer doesn’t support searches for JAL and Cathay Pacific, but it’s a great tool for most of Alaska’s other partners.
You might also check American Airlines and get lucky. I generally ignore Korean Air and Emirates because of the high prices.
Alaska partners with Qantas, and while it’s tough to find premium cabin award space on the non-stop flights between the U.S. and Australia, coach space is more readily available. You can also break up your journey by flying Cathay Pacific and enjoying a free stopover in Hong Kong. Don’t forget to look for American Airlines award space as well… but don’t get your hopes up here.
British Airways is your simplest option here, and it might be worth sucking it up and paying the high taxes. You can also look at Condor if you’re traveling a route they serve, or Finnair.
LATAM has an extensive route network both from the U.S. and within South America. Remember you’ll have to use either the British Airways or Qantas website to search for award space here, then call Alaska to book.
Alaska will let you fly “the wrong way around the world,” and route through Hong Kong en route to Africa. Cathay Pacific is your best bet here, and don’t forget about that free stopover in Hong Kong. A first class flight to South Africa via Hong Kong is just about the best way to get your money’s worth for a practically never-ending luxury flight.
Best ways to use Alaska Airlines miles
The Alaska Airlines award chart for Cathay Pacific flights to Asia is reason enough to love the program. Where else can you book a 15-hour $20,000 first class flight for only 70,000 miles? Even if you choose to fly in business class instead, 50,000 miles for a one-way award is incredibly reasonable. You can also build in a free stopover in Hong Kong before continuing on to any other destination in Asia at the same price, giving you two destinations for the price of one.
Cathay Pacific offers one of the world’s best first class products, and you’ll usually see one award seat released on every flight about a year in advance when the schedule opens, and then occasionally more seats in the days and weeks leading up to departure.
You can also take advantage of Alaska’s unique award chart for Cathay Pacific to explore many other destinations. Fly from the U.S. and stop in Hong Kong, before continuing on to India, South Africa or Australia at the following rates:
|Destination||Economy||Business class||First class|
These are some of the farthest destinations from the U.S., and you’ll have a much easier journey if you break up your flights with a stop in Hong Kong. As an added bonus, you’ll have an easier time finding award space if your two legs (U.S. to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to your destination) can be spaced out by a few days.
Last but not least, Cathay Pacific also operates a route between New York (JFK) and Vancouver before continuing on to Hong Kong. While this is one of Cathay Pacific’s shortest routes to feature a true first class cabin, you can book this six-hour flight for only 35,000 Alaska Airlines miles and get a taste of the good life without flying all the way around the world.
While Cathay Pacific has slightly lowers prices and a more robust U.S. route network, Japan Airlines offers an equally impressive experience in coach, business class and first class. One thing to take note of here is the different prices for flights to “Asia” vs. “Southeast Asia.” These regions aren’t clearly defined on the Alaska Airlines website, but I’ve found that they match up closely to the American Airlines award chart, where Japan and Korea are one region, and the rest of Asia is slightly more expensive.
This means you’ll be looking at 60,000 to 65,000 miles for a one-way business class award or 70,000 to 75,000 miles for a one-way first class award flight. Japan Airlines is often great about releasing last minute award space, and it’s not unusual to see three or more first class award seats close to departure! Don’t give up hope if there’s nothing available off the bat.
Of course, don’t forget about your free stopover in Tokyo! These can be booked directly online by selecting a multi-city award search. Here’s a screenshot.
I find it much easier to find the award space you want first by performing two separate searches, and then click multi-city when you’re actually ready to book.
Emirates first class is the stuff that dreams are made of, and something every award traveler should endeavor to try at least once. While award rates have skyrocketed in recent years, there are a few advantages to booking a first class Emirates flight through Alaska Airlines. And let’s be honest, if you’re going to splurge on any flight, you’re going to pick the one with the onboard shower.
A one-way first class award from the U.S. to the Middle East will set you back a whopping 150,000 miles. If you’re heading beyond the Middle East, you can absolutely build in a stopover in Dubai before heading on to other destinations in the area, such as the Maldives, India, etc. First class Emirates flights to Asia will cost 180,000 miles one-way.
Emirates also operates two flights from the U.S. to Europe, but those short seven-hour hops are paradoxically more expensive than flying all the way to Dubai. It costs 180,000 miles to fly from New York JFK to Milan or from Newark to Athens in Emirates first class. If you’re shelling out this many miles, make sure you get at least one true long haul flight to enjoy all that Emirates has to offer.
One of the best uses of Alaska Airlines miles is to fly to remote destinations that are a little harder to reach. Fiji is about as remote as it gets, so consider using your Alaska Airlines miles to fly Fiji Airways from Los Angeles to the South Pacific. For only 40,000 miles in coach or 55,000 miles in business class, you can take a nonstop flight to kick off your tropical vacation in paradise.
Hainan Airlines often gets overlooked because, like Alaska Airlines, it’s not a member of a major airline alliance. However, the airline’s got a lot of fresh 787 and A350 planes, which have excellent lie-flat seats.
One-way business class awards from the U.S. to Asia only cost 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles, and because of some of the quirks of Chinese aviation, you’ll find Hainan operating some pretty niche routes. You have one of the only non-stop flights from Boston to Asia (Beijing), as well as Los Angeles to Chongqing.
Australia is a tough spot to get to with points and miles, but Alaska Airlines is the answer. It gives you the amazing option of booking nonstop flights with Qantas. Qantas flies a mixture of humongous planes like A380 and 787 aircraft to U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas from its hubs in Sydney and Melbourne. One-way awards cost the following amounts, no matter which route you fly:
- Coach: 42,500 miles
- Business: 55,000 miles
- First: 70,000 miles
While coach space is relatively easy to come by, first and business class space is incredibly rare. In fact, I’d say that Qantas first class is probably the single hardest award seat to find, so have realistic expectations.
If you plan on venturing into southern South America and don’t want to pay the more expensive American Airlines award prices, LATAM is a great option to consider. Flights from the U.S. to South America cost the same amount no matter which country you’re traveling to:
- coach (off peak): 25,000 miles
- coach (peak): 30,000 miles
- Business: 45,000 miles
Off-peak award flights run from March 15 to June 30, all of August, October, and November. Many of LATAM’s U.S. flights are operated by a modern 787 plane (that’s a good thing).
At this point in the list, you’ve probably noticed one thing conspicuously missing: any mention of Europe. While Alaska Airlines miles have plenty of strengths, Europe is not one of them. You can book flights on American Airlines at pretty average rates, but award space is hard to find and there are better ways to use those miles.
However, you can get a great deal booking off-peak awards to Europe for only 22,500 miles each way in coach. Off peak travel dates run from October 15 to May 15, giving you more than half of the year to enjoy these discounted prices.
Additionally, thanks to its fortress hub in Miami, American Airlines dominates much of the traffic between the U.S. and South America. Flights to South America zone 1 (everything except Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela) are priced very attractively:
- Coach: 20,000 miles
- Business Class: 30,000 miles
Zone 1 includes popular destinations like Quito and Lima, and AA even operates many of these flights with true lie-flat seats on the relatively short flights. Continuing on to southern South America can still be a good deal, especially if you snag a seat in business or first class on American Airlines’ long-haul routes to Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires.
With all this talk of international partner awards, let’s not forget the amazing value Alaska Airlines miles can offer for flights to Hawaii. Flights will generally be cheapest if you stick to Alaska Airlines operated flights, such as Portland to Kauai for only 17,500 miles each way in coach.
If you use your Alaska Airlines miles to fly American Airlines instead, you’ll pay 22,500 miles each way in coach or 40,000 in business class, and between these two airlines you have access to an extensive route network that serves most of the major Hawaiian destinations.
Alaska Airlines miles can offer outsized value to the right type of traveler. If you’re heading to Asia and looking to fly in a premium cabin you simply can’t do better than this, but even people traveling within the domestic U.S. or to Australia or South America should give Alaska Airlines miles serious attention.
I’ve never once flown on or been to Alaska, yet Alaska Airlines miles continue to be my favorite frequent flyer program.
Updated on March 9, 2020To find out about more opportunities to earn the most rewards for credit card spending, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.
Ethan Steinberg contributed to this post.
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