Reader Question Answered: Best Uses of Alaska Airlines Miles

Is finding award seat availability a challenge for you? It’s no secret that families find it both challenging and frustrating. The easier part is accruing miles and points, because after all we put our spend on credit cards offering us bonuses, accrue miles from flying, and can even buy miles when we need to. We have big smiles on our faces when we see our airline point balances, but often those smiles turn to frowns when we try to put them to good use booking award flight tickets. Reality is not always an easy cup of espresso to swallow!

Alaska Airlines Award Tickets

What Are The Best Uses of Alaska Miles?

Recently, a reader asked me for advice because he has a huge stash of Alaska miles, a family of four, and not only wanted to know the best uses of his Alaska miles but also his best chances for getting award seats for his family of 4. I took on the challenge, and here’s what I discovered. But first let’s go over how Alaska’s Mileage Plan program works.

Redeeming Alaska Airlines Miles Using Mileage Plan

Because Alaska Airlines is not a part of an airline alliance they pick and choose which airlines to partner with.

List of Alaska Airlines Partners

I’ve used Alaska Airlines award redemptions many times. They offer an extra stopover on their own flights, as well as through partnerships with their partner airlines. You will need to call Alaska Airlines to book award flights on a few of their partners such as LAN and Cathay Pacific. The other partner airlines can typically be booked on Alaskaair.com.

You can use your Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book with all of the following Alaska Partners:

  • American Airlines
  • Hainan Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Icelandair
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Japan Airlines
  • Condor
  • Korean Air
  • Emirates
  • LATAM
  • Fiji Airways
  • Qantas
  • Finnair
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Aer Lingus

And Regional Partners: PenAir and Ravn Alaska

Best Ways To Use Your Alaska Mileage Plan Miles

Alaska awards can be used to book one-way tickets, which means they can be used for booking flights to two destinations with the same amount of miles it would take to get to one. When searching for reward availability on partner flights, simply search your dates with the “use miles” option checked. After you click to search, you may filter the results by airline using the sidebar that appears to the left of the search display. Please note that I’m making these suggestions to maximize the value of the miles based on flying in business or first class.

Remember that although you’ll read articles with such titles as “21 best ways to use your Alaska Mileage plan miles”, it’s true that all options are viable, but viable doesn’t necessarily equal reality. And we are still talking about award seats for a family of four. So let’s get real!

Award Seats for a Family of Four

1. Using Japan Airlines as a Mileage Plan partner.

Japan Airlines releases 2 seats in business class and 2 seats in first class at the 330 day mark. JAL used to release four in business but that’s changed over the past year. Sometimes during off peak periods JAL will release a few more seats but generally not during the summer. JAL does release last minute seats. So JAL would be doable for four people if they’re willing to split cabins.

2. Using Korean Air as a Mileage Plan partner.

Korean Air tends to release one seat in business to any partner (maybe 2 but not usually). They save 99% of their availability for Skypass members. As an aside, losing Korean Air as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner hurts. Generally, the only way to get really good availability on Korean Air was with Skypass miles. Korean Air Skypass program was one of the most reliable ways to get seats for 4 people in business class to Australia and Asia almost any time of year. So this would be TOUGH for four people using Alaska Miles.

3. Using Cathay Pacific as a Mileage Plan partner.

Cathay Pacific does release 4-5 business class seats in advance on US routes. However, they generally have been withholding availability on weekends (Thursday night to Monday morning flights) from their partners. However, availability is wide open for Asia Miles members. Cathay Pacific is very stingy on flights to Australia and New Zealand. They are also stingy with travel to South Africa, so these destinations would require you to be very flexible in your time frame of travel. Cathay Dragon flights are not bookable with Alaska miles, so a lot of destinations within Asia such as Siam Reap require either an extra flight or require a revenue flight.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Seat

I always enjoy my Cathay Pacific Business Class experience.

3a. Cathay Pacific releases one seat in first class in advance.

4. Using LATAM as a Mileage Plan partner.

LATAM does release seats in advance if you can plan far enough in advance.

5. Using Hainan Airlines as a Mileage Plan partner.

Hainan is the best bet for families because there is a ton of availability. The experience might not be as stellar as Cathay Pacific and JAL, both of which are known for their wonderful service and inflight experiences. I’ve flown Cathay and JAL and can attest to their being exceptional airlines. Even knowing that Hainan may not be as desirable as Cathay or JAL, due to the availability of seats, they are still a solid choice.

Hainan Business Class Seat

Hainan Business Class seat looks good to me!

6. Fiji Airways as a Mileage Plan partner.

Fiji Airways would be difficult as an award because availability is not very good.

7. American Airlines as a Mileage Plan partner.

American Airlines availability isn’t very good anywhere.

What About These Other Airline Options?

You might have noticed on Alaska’s airline partner list three other airlines we don’t often think about for award seats. So what about Icelandair and Finnair or Condor for award seat availability?

Finnair does show lots of seats for January on their next Los Angeles-Helsinki route, if you’re up for that kind of winter trip. Icelandair and Condor seem to be fairly generous with award seat availability.

With these airlines we come to an issue of desirability. For instance, Icelandair has recliners on all their planes, so there goes the lie flat experience so many of us enjoy. Condor has angled flat seats in business. Business class really is all about the seats, so you have to weigh your expectation for a good night’s sleep in a lie-flat seat and decide what matters most. And of course there is always the issue of where you live and which hubs are easiest for you to use.

Bottom Line

Cathay, Hainan, LATAM and JAL would be the most doable for four people, but with caveats such as not being able to book a weekend flight on Cathay in advance. Anytime we use miles for award seats, regardless of how many seats we need, there are lots of considerations. Beyond the desirability of the airline, time frame of the trip, how far in advance you can book, and destination are just some of the considerations.

I hope fleshing out this information, which I couldn’t have done without my exceptional award booking team at Juicy Miles, helps steer our reader who needs four award seats, as well as anyone who sorts out options using Alaska miles, in some interesting directions. Happy booking!

9 thoughts on “Reader Question Answered: Best Uses of Alaska Airlines Miles

  1. Greg

    I would also say for a family of four, British Airways in First class from the New York or other East coast cities is pretty easy to get and a reasonable 140K each return. Sure you will pay over $4000 in fees, but there is some availability even for four. (I have seen some winter months with as many as 50% of the days with availability JFK-London in First for 4) In business class (which is only a 10K cheaper) the taxes are similar over $4000 for the family of four is also an option but not quite as good value as the miles are similar and the taxes similar for a product that is only so-so.

    I would also suggest for a family of 4, Emirates especially from the east coast to the Middle East. at 170K return in business class its a lot of miles, but on the a380 it is terrific for families. You can get up and stretch at the bar and chat, and the seats are lie-flat and the food is great.

    When it comes to redeeming miles remember the value is ZERO if you can’t redeem. So I appreciate this post as its good to see where it is possible to get some value.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      HI Greg, Thanks so much for adding these possibilities to the AS options. I have paid high fees for a BA award flight, so I know there are times that option does make sense. I’ve also flown Emirates back in the day. Thanks for adding that one, as well. Your point about ZERO is well put. You’re well versed on the family awards, so hope other readers take note of your comment.

      Reply
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  3. Rich T

    Great post Shelli – thanks. This is the most valuable type of info – what’s likely, not what’s theoretically possible. I’ve been mostly disappointed by lack of Alaska biz class of options available over last 3 years.

    My challenge with searching for Alaska awards is there habit of showing an award as business class but when you click on details it’s a 10 hour coach flight + a 90 minute business segment in the details. Lots of clicking seeing this same result. It also seems that when I find a desirable biz segment, when I try to add a connection, that segment disapears. Any tips on searching welcome!b thanks again

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      HI Rich, Thanks for the thumbs up on this type of post. And you reiterate my point well……theoretically is often not likely. Over and over again people with AS miles have complained about how poorly the AS award search tool works, but I guess AS isn’t listening. As for searching tips, as I’ve mentioned before, I really DO use Juicy Miles to book all my award tickets for international travel. That works best for me because I can’t possibly duplicate their skills at finding me seats. I realize that’s not the solution to your question, so maybe someone who is skilled with the AS search tool will chime in with some hints. Thanks for reading Rich, and taking the time to comment.

      Reply
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