Have you ever flown on Alaska Airlines? Me neither. A little-known airline outside North America, they’re actually quite a big carrier. Following their merger with Virgin America in 2016, today they boast a fleet of 219 Airbus and Boeing aircraft flying predominantly across the west coast of the USA, Mexico, Hawaii and (duh!) Alaska.
|The Alaska ‘JAL stopover trick’|
They are also a Singapore Airlines partner airline, so you can earn KrisFlyer miles flying with Alaska Airlines, or redeem them if you want to fly on one of their flights.
This is all very interesting, but to many in Singapore it no doubt seems totally irrelevant. There’s a hidden gem though in this ‘little’ airline’s arsenal: Alaska Mileage Plan.
What is Alaska Mileage Plan?
No prizes for guessing that Mileage Plan is the Alaska Airlines loyalty program. Again the connection for Singapore-based miles hoarders seems distant, so let’s get to the crux of how this scheme can work for you. Alaska Mileage Plan:
- partners with 18 airlines around the world on which you can earn, but more importantly redeem your miles, including Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines
- does not impose fuel surcharges on redemption tickets
- has very attractive Intra-Asia award pricing, including a ‘stopover’ trick
- runs regular sales, during which you can purchase their miles at a discount
This page on the Alaska Air site shows partner airlines on which you can redeem Alaska miles, which as you’ll see later is the crux of this article and the real value proposition with this scheme. We think the most useful redemptions for most Singapore based travellers are:
- Japan Airlines – Intra-Asia and Asia to USA
- Cathay Pacific – Intra-Asia, Asia to USA / Canada, Australia to USA / Canada, Hong Kong to Europe / Australia / New Zealand / Middle East / India / Africa
- Korean Air – Asia to USA
- Qantas – Australia to USA
- Emirates – Asia to USA
The JAL stopover ‘trick’
Unlike many airline frequent flyer programs, with Alaska you can book stopovers on one-way redemption tickets. It’s a really good way of visiting two places during your trip without having to pay the extra miles normally associated with booking two stages of the journey separately.
What it also opens up is the ability to make a ‘pseudo return’ booking for a very low miles rate by booking a redemption to a close-by city, with a stopover in a distant one.
A good example is using Japan Airlines from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, with a stopover in Tokyo. Sounds like it shouldn’t be possible – but it is, and it’s incredible value at 25,000 Alaska Miles in business class (the equivalent of 12,500 miles for each 7 hour sector).
You can also experience JAL’s newest ‘Sky Suite III’ and ‘Sky Suite 787’ flat-bed products and excellent on-board service and cuisine with this routing. Granted you will have to make your own way back to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur at the end of the trip, but that’s no great hardship given how good a deal you’re getting.
You’ll also be able to enjoy the excellent Qantas lounge at Changi, or the British Airways Singapore lounge prior to your flight, as well as the very nice JAL lounges in Tokyo on your way back.
Other routings are possible too if they suit you better. Our latest Alaska redemption was a Bangkok to Tokyo flight in business with a 3-day stopover followed by a Tokyo to Singapore flight also in business class, for a total of 25,000 miles plus US$59.20.
We have to get ourselves to Bangkok in the first place, but that’s a nice excuse to check out the new Qatar lounge there before the JAL flight. Also we prefer to ‘position’ ourselves at the beginning of a trip, and then return direct to Singapore at the end. Just remember if you are going to do this to build in adequate contingency to get to the start point in good time.
How to book these routes
Just head to the Alaska Airlines website, at the booking area select ‘all search options’, then select ‘multi-city’ and of course ensure the ‘use miles’ option is selected.
After that simply enter each leg separately (e.g. Singapore to Tokyo for the first flight, Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur on the second flight), select the dates you want (your stopover in Tokyo can be as long as you like), then search to check award availability.
Other good value Alaska Mileage Plan redemptions
The JAL Intra-Asia itinerary with the stopover in Tokyo is a great example of the fantastic value you can get from Alaska miles, probably the best deal for those based in Singapore, however there are plenty of other good value options for these miles too.
Here are a few examples, with the Alaska mileage requirement shown alongside the equivalent for other popular frequent flyer programs.
|Singapore to New York
|Singapore to New York
* – Business Class Singapore to Tokyo, First Class Tokyo to New York
|Singapore to Los Angeles
|Singapore to Los Angeles
|Sydney to New York
|Sydney to New York
|Vancouver to New York
You can fly first class on Cathay Pacific from Singapore to Hong Kong, have a free stopover (if you wish), then continue first class from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, for 70,000 Alaska miles. The same trip in business class is 50,000 miles.
Cathay’s 4-class 777-300ER also operates a daily flight between Vancouver and New York (and vice-versa). Taking nearly 6 hours in each direction, it’s a great way to experience their first class product, and will only set you back 35,000 Alaska miles (compared with 40,000 Asia Miles or 50,000 Avios). The beauty of that flight – first class redemptions are usually easier to come by.
Oddly, Korean Air redemptions with Alaska miles are the same price for a one-way itinerary as they are for a return booking. This makes it logical to only use Korean for a round-trip redemption, but the mileage rate is pretty good. Korean first class is not available through Alaska Mileage Plan, so you’ll probably be looking at a business class redemption.
|Singapore to Chicago
|Sydney to Dallas
|Sydney to Dallas
First class redemptions on Qantas are really hard to come by, but you might get lucky and be able to fly to Los Angeles from Sydney or Melbourne, or to Dallas from Sydney, in their A380 first class seat for just 70,000 Alaska miles.
The same trip in business class is 55,000 miles. As usual, a stopover makes it an even sweeter deal – so you could start your journey in Perth for example, or even in Auckland, then stop for a few days in Sydney before continuing the journey – for the same miles rates.
|Singapore to New York
|Singapore to New York
No longer a ‘steal’ after the 2016 devaluation, Emirates award seats from Asia to the USA still aren’t terrible value using Alaska miles, especially in business class.
There are a few things to be aware of when booking partner redemptions with Alaska miles.
Firstly, the site makes it quite clear if your search only reveals a mixed class booking. Remember you will pay the full miles rate for the highest class if you accept this, though on some itineraries it is unavoidable (e.g. a first class redemption from Singapore to Tokyo to New York with JAL, first class cabin is only offered on the Tokyo to New York flight).
You also can’t combine flights with multiple partner airlines on a one-way redemption, except to add an Alaska or Virgin America operated flight with another partner flight.
You can buy (almost) unlimited Alaska miles
One benefit this program is the ability to buy an effectively unlimited quantity of Alaska miles to top up your account each year. You can only make a maximum of four miles purchases per card however, so you are technically limited by the number of credit cards you have.
At their normal price of US$0.0296 (2.96 US cents) each, it’s not usually a great deal (arguably the JAL Tokyo stopover trick is still good value, even at this rate). You’ll want to be waiting for Alaska to announce one of their regular bonus miles promotions, and there’s one running right now.
The current offer
Between now and 9th April 2018 you’ll receive a 40% bonus when you purchase at least 30,000 Alaska miles (i.e. 42,000 miles including the bonus), which brings the cost per mile down to 2.11 US cents (about 2.76 Singapore cents) each. There are lower bonus rates for buying a smaller number of miles:
- 1,000 – 9,000 miles – no bonus (2.75 US cents each)
- 10,000 – 19,000 miles – 20% bonus (2.46 US cents each)
- 20,000 – 29,000 miles – 30% bonus (2.27 US cents each)
- 30,000 – 60,000 miles – 40% bonus (2.11 US cents each)
Acquiring miles at the 40% bonus rate makes the example Singapore – Tokyo – Kuala Lumpur JAL business itinerary just US$527.50 (S$690) under the current offer, and remember we’re talking about a total of nearly 15 hours in a flat-bed business class seat here.
Alaska has also run 50% bonus miles promotions in the past, which would bring the same trip in at an incredible S$645. For perspective, JAL are charging around S$2,670 for a round-trip business class flight from Singapore to Tokyo in May 2018, or it would cost you 43,000 KrisFlyer miles each way for a Singapore Airlines ‘Saver’ business redemption on the same route.
Other ways of earning Alaska miles
You can elect to credit miles for paid fares with one of Alaska’s partner airlines to Alaska miles instead of that carriers own frequent flyer points. Each airline has its own earning chart, but there are some great deals to be had here.
For example crediting paid Emirates business class tickets to Alaska miles will net you 225% of miles flown, and 350% of miles flown for paid first class tickets – arguably a much better deal than crediting to Skywards.
SPG / Marriott
If you’re an SPG or Marriott Rewards member, SPG Star Points convert 1:1 into Alaska miles (Marriott members will have to transfer their points into SPG first to take advantage). SPG also provide a 5,000 mile bonus for every block of 20,000 points converted to frequent flyer miles, so 20,000 Star Points will get you 25,000 Alaska miles (exactly the amount needed to redeem the JAL Tokyo routing we mentioned above).
As it happens, you can currently buy SPG points at a 35% discount, which means US$455 will get you 20,000, meaning you can then convert into 25,000 Alaska miles. That brings the cost of the JAL SIN-HND / NRT-KUL business routing down to only S$598.
Like Kaligo, you can also credit points from hotel stays booked using Pointshound to Alaska Mileage Plan.
A third hotel option, Agoda Points MAX has an Alaska Mileage Plan option too.
A great advantage of buying Alaska miles directly from them during one of their sales is that the miles should credit to your account instantly, meaning you can search award availability on your desired route and dates, if you find what you want go ahead and purchase the miles, then lock in the redemption straight away.
Alaska miles can be very valuable, but it can’t all be positive. There are a couple of things to take note of before you go hoarding tens of thousands of them.
Firstly, things can change. Just 2 years ago for example, Alaska significantly de-valued their Emirates redemption chart for premium cabins – with no warning, just after one of their discounted ‘buy miles’ sales. At the time using Alaska miles for business and first class redemptions on Emirates flights to and from the USA was a great deal, and lots of people took advantage of it (too many, perhaps). After the devaluation it was significantly less attractive.
|Pre Mar 2016||Post Mar 2016||Increase|
|Asia to US / Canada (F)||100,000||180,000||+ 80%|
|Asia to US / Canada (J)||75,000||105,000||+ 40%|
|Asia to US / Canada (Y)||52,500||52,500||Nil|
Many people were obviously angry, and Alaska did offer a full refund to anyone who had purchased miles in that particular promotion, though that wasn’t much help to those who were accruing miles before that with an Emirates redemption in mind.
Moral of the story here for us would be don’t keep a large volume of miles in Alaska Mileage Plan speculatively. Earn and burn would be our tactic.
Secondly the fee to refund a redemption ticket booked with Alaska Mileage Plan increases significantly within 60 days of the flight departure. For a booking more than 2 months away you can cancel and get your miles back, but within 60 days of the trip the fee is US$125 (S$164).
If you’re booking less than 60 days ahead you’ll want to be very sure that you will actually use the ticket, as that’s a lot of money to lose if you don’t.
Bear in mind that you have to hold an Alaska Mileage Plan account for at least 10 days before you can buy miles, so we’d recommend signing up for a free account now if you don’t have one.
Lastly, Alaska miles expire if there has been no activity on your Mileage Plan account for 24 consecutive months. Don’t let that happen to yours, especially if you paid for the miles in the first place!
It’s easy to discount a loyalty scheme for a ‘little airline from Alaska’ as a useless proposition to miles hackers in Asia, but there’s real value to be had from being an Alaska Mileage Plan member, and taking part in their regular ‘buy miles’ promotions can often make good sense.
Some care has to be taken as there are a few drawbacks, and we would not recommend buying large volumes of Alaska miles speculatively – ideally use them straight away for a redemption you know exists.
While Alaska Airlines is not part of an alliance, most of their partners are oneworld carriers, making them a useful alternative to your KrisFlyer miles which can predominantly only be used with Star Alliance airlines.
You’ll need to have held a Mileage Plan account for 10 days to be able to buy Alaska miles, so open a free account now especially if you wish to take advantage of the current miles purchase offer, as it will still be running for a few weeks.
(Cover Photo: Alaska Airlines)