Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan is one of my favorite frequent flyer programs. Sure, a little while back they decided to push down an instant and crushing devaluation (without any prior warning) to one of their most popular and attractive partner redemptions… but I have since forgiven them! This forgiveness was made possible because their partner award chart still provides amazing value – especially on Cathay Pacific!
One-way Cathay Business Class from the Continental US to Asia for just 55,000?
That’s what’s up!
Planning the Award
Over the course of the past year, I have been working to accumulate Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to redeem for a trip with friends to Tokyo! Alaska miles are easy to accumulate through personal and business co-branded credit cards offered by Bank of America.
While the 30,000 bonus miles offers seem low compared to other co-brand airline credit cards, Bank of America hasn’t imposed strict rules around repeated sign-ups. With two Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards each, my wife and I would have more than enough for our One-way Cathay Business Class redemption!
Easy to acquire – check!
And now for the “X” Factor – free stopover!
What is a Stopover?
The dictionary defines it as follow: Stopover –noun – a break in a journey.
Thanks for nothing, dictionary…
To elaborate on that fine definition, essentially a stopover is a long layover… think days, weeks, months kind of long! A stopover on an award flight makes it possible to experience a completely different location on the way to your destination, without redeeming additional points/miles!
For Mileage Plan redemptions on Cathay Pacific from the US to Tokyo, Alaska “limits” the stopover city to Hong Kong.. I include quotations around “limits” because a couple days in HKG at no additional mileage cost is no limit!
Searching the Award
It is not possible to search Alaska’s Cathay Pacific award availability online, so you will need to utilize another OneWorld airline search tool – like British Airways (BA) and/or Japan Airlines (JAL)!
While some say that the JAL tool is more accurate, I prefer the functionality of the BA site. (Note: To search the BA website you must sign-up for a free Executive Club account.) After inputting my route and dates, I was excited to see that there were 4 Business Class award seats available on both the long-haul JFK-HKG and the intra-Asia HKG-NRT (Tokyo) flight!
Note: Search each segment separately on the BA website for the best availability results!
Booking the Award
I dialed up Alaska Airlines and was quickly connected to a friendly representative.
I provided the agent the specific flights and dates of my travel (beginning with the JFK-HKG flight) and was happy to hold while he completed his search. After a minute or two, the agent returned…
Of the 4 Business Class award seats I saw on the British Airways website, none of them were available to Alaska Airlines.
After a brief back and forth, the agent informed me that the Cathay Pacific award availability is tiered for partner airlines. He blamed Cathay for opening award seating to some partners (their OneWorld partner British Airways in this case), but not others (like Alaska Airlines). I suggested he request the seats directly from Cathay, but was told this was not within policy.
After initial rejection I decided to pout. And then I did what any good travel hacker would do. I hung up and tried again.
Different Alaska Airlines agent, same result: bummer.
It seems that I was not alone in my frustration here. In addition to the Flyertalk chatter, both Lucky and Tiffany from One Mile At A Time have covered this unfortunate phenomenon. However, they blame Alaska Airlines system issues, rather than intention.
Note: Here’s one possible suggestion I read on Flyertalk to mitigate the IT issue. Instruct the Alaska Airlines agents to utilize the “old system” when searching/booking Cathay Pacific partner awards. It did not work for me, but could possibly work for you!
Malice or mistake: either way, I wanted those dang award seats…
Giving up was not an option!
My flight home from Tokyo on JAL 787 Sky Suites was already booked, so it was important to make this work…
I continued to monitor the British Airways website and called Alaska every day in the hopes that the availability would finally be released. Finally, after about 2 week of daily calls, 2 of the 4 Business Class seats “suddenly” became available! I quickly instructed the agent to book and I scooped them up in a hurry! JFK to HKG in Cathay Business Class booked!
Another stroke of luck – the HKG-NRT stopover segment Business Class availability remained open so I booked that portion of the redemption as well!
I did notice that the sudden availability of seats occurred exactly 6 months before the time of flight… coincidence? Hmm maybe? Probably? Who knows!?
My award seats are booked and the trip to Tokyo (via Hong Kong stopover) is a GO!
My personal experience suggests that Alaska Airlines does not have full access to Cathay Pacific partner award seats.
Whatever the cause, I know the effect – booking an Alaska Airlines award on Cathay Pacific is tougher than it used to be! You will have to be diligent in your redemption efforts and prepared to make regular calls to Alaska Airlines agents.
In the end, my efforts paid off and I cannot wait to experience such a quality airline in Cathay Pacific! And at such a reasonable amount of Alaska miles!
What are some of your favorite Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partner award redemptions?