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Everything You Need to Know About How to Use Alaska Airlines Miles

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Everything You Need to Know About How to Use Alaska Airlines Miles

Ethan SteinbergEverything You Need to Know About How to Use Alaska Airlines MilesMillion Mile Secrets Team

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

INSIDER SECRET: You can add a free stopover on almost every international award redemption with Alaska Airlines miles. 

Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most valuable, even if you’ve never flown with this West coast-based carrier. Alaska Airlines isn’t a member of any airline alliance, but don’t let that fool you. Through individual partnerships, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program is more valuable than most airlines.

Alaska miles can be a good deal for domestic travel within the US or even to Hawaii, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck 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.

When you know how to use Alaska Airlines miles, you can get neat redemptions like visiting Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific! (Photo by FS11/Shutterstock)

How to Use Alaska Airlines Miles

Alaska Airlines miles are incredibly flexible. To start, you’re allowed to book one-way awards. This means that you can fly from the US to Asia on American Airlines, and return on Cathay Pacific by booking two different awards.

Keep in mind Alaska uses a different award chart for each of its partner airlines. This means that even on the same route (like the US 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:

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:

Alaska Airlines has a robust array of airline partners to travel all over the world.

The good news is you can book most of Alaska’s partner airlines online, with the exception of Cathay Pacific and LATAM. 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.

Note that Alaska partners with a few other airlines including Aer Lingus, El Al and Singapore Airlines, but at the moment you can only earn miles with those programs, not redeem them.

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 and Korean Air, 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 those fees) but your choices are not as good.

That said, it’s possible to get to 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. Obviously Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly from the US 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 US 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 US 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 US or between the continental US 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.

Award Fees

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.

Piecing It All Together: Routes And Availability

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.

Asia

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 US 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.

Cathay Pacific first class to Asia is one of the best ways to redeem your Alaska miles. (Photo by wkst/Shutterstock)

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.

Australia

Alaska partners with Qantas, and while it’s tough to find premium cabin award space on the non-stop flights between the US 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.

Europe

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.

South America

LATAM has an extensive route network both from the US 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.

Africa

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.

Bottom Line

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 US 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.

If you need to top-off your Alaska Airlines account, consider the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card or Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card, which both come with a bonus of 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements.

For more about Alaska Airlines miles, check out our guides:

To find out about more opportunities to earn the most rewards for credit card spending, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I been using AS miles on Emirates flights to India, never thought of using on Cathay Pacific! Can I use AS miles on Cathay Pacific for my next flight from midwest US to India with stopover in Hong Kong? If yes, would that cost me 50K only in business?

Are you sure that cabin shot of Cathay is First? Looks more like Biz class to me.