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Alaska Mileage Plan shuts down the intra-Asia stopover ‘trick’

Alaska Mileage Plan miles can no longer be used for intra-Asia routes with a stopover.

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Alaska Airlines runs its own “Mileage Plan” frequent flyer programme, which as most of our readers will know is relatively popular in Singapore because of some competitive redemption rates on the likes of partners Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.

The scheme has also recently started allowing awards on Singapore Airlines using Alaska miles, including in long-haul Business Class, First Class and Suites cabins, fuelling interest locally in Alaska’s regular ‘buy miles’ promotions.

What’s changed?

Today Alaska clamped down on the intra-Asia stopover allowance. Despite the JAL ‘trick’ (a pseudo-return flight for 25,000 miles) being available and used for years, some other very inventive routings were being searched and booked on Singapore Airlines including ‘return’ flights to Europe for 25,000 miles in Business Class.

AStrans

Granted the Alaska Mileage Plan system should be clever enough to prevent such routings, which were obviously pricing incorrectly, but it seems like the easiest way for them to plug those crazy cheap itineraries was to simply prevent intra-Asia stopovers. That’s exactly what they have now done.

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New term in the intra-Asia award conditions for all Alaska partners

The JAL stopover trick is dead

For us the biggest news here is that we have lost the JAL ‘stopover trick’ option, perhaps the most frequently used sweet spot for Alaska miles members in Singapore and across South East Asia.

If you’re not familiar with what the JAL ‘stopover trick’ is, or should we say “was”, here’s a reminder.

What’s the JAL ‘stopover trick’?

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An exceptional rate of 25,000 Alaska Miles for a ‘return’ flight from Singapore to Japan in Business Class.

JAL787SkySuiteThis takes advantage of the ability under the Alaska scheme to book free stopovers on one-way redemption tickets. It means you can create a ‘pseudo return’ itinerary for a very low miles rate by booking a redemption to a close-by city, with a stopover in a distant one.

The JAL trick is effectively booking 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).

JAL Stopover Map.jpgOther routings are also possible, you could decide to start your journey in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok for example and return non-stop to Singapore. Jakarta is also an option.

Generally speaking, JAL Business Class award availability through Alaska MP is also quite good.

The variety of aircraft types used on JAL flights in Asia means you’ll likely be able to try out their newest ‘Sky Suite III’ and ‘Sky Suite 787’ flat-bed products, not to mention renowned on-board service and cuisine.

There’s also a selection of oneworld lounges to visit depending on your routing and the time of day, so this is your chance to try out facilities like the Qantas Singapore Lounge, JAL’s Tokyo lounges or the Qatar / Cathay offerings in Bangkok. Something new if you’re used to flying the Singapore Airlines / Star Alliance network.

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In order to search and book such an itinerary on the Alaska Airlines website, select ‘all search options’ under the booking area, 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.

Effectively you were paying an incredible 12,500 miles per 7-hour flight to or from Japan in Business Class, with the only catch that your departure and arrival airport at this end could not be the same.

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JAL Business Class. (Photo: Japan Airlines)

Most of our readers started off flying Singapore to Tokyo, then flew back to Kuala Lumpur with a short flight home at their own expense, but there were plenty of other options.

We managed to use the stopover a few times and our most recent was Bangkok to Osaka (after a cheap Scoot flight), followed by Tokyo-Narita to Singapore several days later. 25,000 miles in Business Class, no complaints (especially having used the fantastic Qatar Airways lounge in Bangkok on the basis of our oneworld Business Class boarding cards).

These itineraries will now cost 50,000 miles, but the only saving grace is that now the saving is gone, no more ‘positioning’ is required and you can fly the route to and from Singapore at that rate, like you always could.

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The new way. Twice as many miles, but at least no positioning is required.

If you’re buying 50,000 Alaska miles at the top 50% bonus rate this itinerary comes at a cost of US$985 + US$95 in taxes, or around S$1,480. While that’s close to twice as much as it was before, it’s still a good rate for a return Business Class flight to Japan, which will otherwise typically cost you S$2,500+.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles are much easier to come by for the majority of our readers (you don’t usually have to ‘buy’ them), but as a point of comparison the airline is charging 94,000 miles roundtrip for the same itinerary in Business Class. Indeed SIA charges 50,000 KrisFlyer miles for a round-trip in Economy Class on this route.

We’re not saying you should now rush to book JAL roundtrip flights to Japan using 50,000 Alaska miles, but some perspective is required – that’s still a good deal (even if it hurts because the 25,000 miles trick was an amazing deal).

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You can still stopover in Tokyo with JAL on USA flights

Note that the new restriction on intra-Asia stopovers using Alaska miles does not apply if you’re making a stopover as part of a longer journey on the same award ticket. It only applies to wholly intra-Asia itineraries.

For example SIN-NRT (stopover) NRT-JFK is still allowed for the regular mileage rate (65,000 in this case), with a stopover of up to 11 months.

The Singapore Airlines Alaska miles stopover is dead

A much more recent addition to the Alaska miles scheme is the ability to redeem on Singapore Airlines flights, and this is what seems to have triggered this latest change with some members making the most of the free stopover rule to create some amazing value itineraries including the likes of Europe and Australia.

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Long-haul Singapore Airlines Business Class seats are available to Alaska Mileage Plan members. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

When we say ‘recent’ here, it’s been less than a week since these options became available, so again some perspective is required. We probably all knew there would at least be some ‘tweaks’ as the system bedded in.

The intra-Asia stopover was the legitimate value here though, with itineraries such as Shanghai to Bali with a stopover in Singapore, or Beijing to Hong Kong with a stopover in Singapore coming in at very competitive rates.

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A stopover example for 25,000 Alaska miles in Business Class

These options are sadly no longer possible. Additionally Beijing and Shanghai have been shifted into the North Asia redemption zone, arguably where they always should have been, removing a great value option to and from those cities on simple one-way routings.

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These Shanghai – Singapore flights shown above were previously 25,000 Alaska miles in Business Class and 35,000 miles in First Class, but are now 60,000 miles and 75,000 miles respectively – not a good rate!

JAL still provides a good option here, as does Cathay Pacific (not shown, you have to call to search and book), even cheaper at 22,500 miles in Business Class.

Following these changes, there are now really no good uses of Alaska miles on Singapore Airlines flights for those buying Alaska miles (like most of our readers). For those accruing significant Alaska miles more naturally (like some of our US-based readers), there are still some options worth exploring.

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What about existing bookings?

If you’ve booked the JAL ‘stopover trick’ for 25,000 miles, for example Singapore to Tokyo in Business Class then the following week Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur in Business Class, for 25,000 miles, then provided your itinerary has been ticketed it’s unlikely there will now be any issue with your booking.

After all, the new condition (“10.” as shown above) did not exist when you booked the ticket, and the website permitted it.

For the more recent ‘inventive’ itineraries flying on Singapore Airlines, we expect Alaska will probably still honour these, though since they would have been booked only recently and could potentially be considered “obviously wrong”, they might still cancel them. It’s too early to tell for those.

Is all lost?

If you still have a sizeable balance of Alaska miles with the intention for using them to take advantage of the JAL stopover ‘trick’, or even the more recent Singapore Airlines stopover options, you might well be wondering if all hope is now lost and the miles are worthless.

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Don’t worry – they’re not.

Things certainly got a bit worse today with the withdrawal of these excellent value options, but Alaska miles can still be used to redeem Business Class and First Class flights at competitive rates.

Here are some examples, with a compmarison against alternative frequent flyer programmes on the same routes.

Japan Airlines

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AVIOStrans JALMBtrans AStrans
Singapore to New York
First Class*
200,000 85,000 75,000
Singapore to New York
Business Class
165,000 70,000 65,000
Singapore to Tokyo
Business Class
62,000 40,000 25,000

* Business Class Singapore to Tokyo, First Class Tokyo to New York

If you managed to buy Alaska miles in one of the 50% bonus sales, you’re looking at US$1,478 to New York in First Class, US$1,281 in Business Class or US$493 to Tokyo in Business Class.

Yes, you’ll have to find the award availability (easier on Singapore to Tokyo than Singapore to New York!), but these are competitive ‘fares’.

Cathay Pacific

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AVIOStrans Asia AStrans
Singapore to Los Angeles
First Class*
160,000 130,000 70,000
Singapore to Los Angeles
Business Class
135,000 85,000 50,000
Sydney to New York
First Class*
200,000 130,000 80,000
Sydney to New York
Business Class
165,000 85,000 60,000
Hong Kong to London
Business Class
90,000 65,000 42,500
Vancouver to New York
First Class
50,000 40,000 35,000
Singapore to Tokyo
Business Class
44,000 45,000 22,500

* Business Class to Hong Kong, then First Class to the USA

There are a number of good value Cathay Pacific options, including Singapore to the USA for 50,000 miles in Business Class (US$985 if you buy Alaska miles with a 50% bonus). Singapore to Tokyo via Hong Kong in Business Class, with some excellent lounges on the way, is 22,500 miles (US$443 assuming a 50% bonus when you bought).

I have personally used my Alaska miles for a last-minute (day before) Cathay Pacific Hong Kong to London flight in Business Class for 42,500 miles, a 13-hour flight typically costing at least S$6,000.