As one of the few travel blogs with a large focus on Alaska Airlines — and, yeah, I’m based in Seattle — I get a lot of emails from people asking about how to use their Alaska miles. Among the most common question is along the lines of:
I’m trying to book an award from [City A] to [City B], but I’m not finding any award space. Is there some reason why this award isn’t available?
And even though the question is usually about Emirates, the answer really applies to all of Alaska’s partners. Alaska is not like other airlines. Their loyalty program, Mileage Plan, has been described as the “Switzerland of loyalty programs.” And just like Switzerland, Mileage Plan can be both really cool and a little weird.
Really cool stuff like stopovers on one-way awards — even domestic awards — and an eclectic mix of both SkyTeam and oneworld Alliance partners. I’ve detailed some of these in my guide to Alaska’s award routing rules.
And then there’s weird stuff like the most complicated award chart ever. Well, not really. The award chart is actually very simple. The problem is that it is unlike any award chart you’re used to reading.
43 Award Charts
Most airlines have an award chart organized by zones as well as a list of partner airlines. If you want to go from A to B you will need to redeem X miles. It doesn’t usually matter what airline you fly. (United does has one chart for itself and one chart for partners, but the theme is similar: one chart for all combinations of origin and destination.)
Alaska doesn’t do this. Alaska publishes 11 domestic award charts and 32 international award charts. Every destination has its own page. On each page, every partner serving that region has its own award chart. In each award chart, every allowable award has its own price.
If the itinerary you want to book is not published on one of these charts, you cannot book it with Alaska’s miles.
Personally, I have rarely found this to be a problem. Nearly every award that originates or terminates in the United States is included, which makes sense as Alaska is a U.S.-based airline. There are still many awards that do not included the United States, such as flying Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Europe, or Fiji Airways within the South Pacific. Some fifth freedom routes are also included. These are routes that don’t involve any travel through the airline’s normal hubs, such as Cathay Pacific between Vancouver and New York. The point is, there is no real pattern in determine what will and will not be on the chart until you read it.
(You may have problems for a different reason. Cathay Pacific’s awards are among the few that cannot be searched for or booked on Alaska’s website. But their website clearly discloses this at the top of the award chart. There are other places to look, like the British Airways website, and then you can call Alaska when you know which dates you want.)
If It Isn’t Published, You Can’t Book It
Other routes that you may like to book are not published. The most common complaint I get is about Emirates, such as their fifth freedom route from Bangkok to Hong Kong or any number of routes from their Dubai hub that don’t connect to the United States. I don’t think it should be viewed as a problem with Emirates and Alaska’s relationship. Emirates has a huge network, and some of these routes simply weren’t included in their agreement to redeem miles.
Most airlines have rules for their award programs. American probably qualifies for the strangest: The overwater carrier must publish a fare between the origin and destination, even if they don’t serve either city. Alaska’s award charts may be complex but they are at least transparent.
If you want to fly from Dubai to Male, for example, you can still do that on Emirates using Alaska’s miles. But you will need to book an award from the U.S. to Male, connecting in Dubai. Arrange a stopover in Dubai if you like. There are few flights that are truly impossible to book — just view it as another award program rule, like all the other silly rules that apply to other airlines’ miles.
You Can Still Earn Miles
Can’t use your miles to book an award? That doesn’t mean you can’t still earn Alaska miles if you book a paid fare. Each partner has its own rules for which flights and fares are eligible to earn miles. You can earn miles on every Emirates flight numbered 001 to 978 as long as it’s sold on Emirates ticket stock. Dubai to Male is operated by EK652, EK656, and EK658, so they all qualify.
Again, there’s no “rule” against redeeming miles on flights like this. You could book an Emirates flight to Male if you started in the U.S. because Alaska has a chart for that. But it doesn’t know what to charge if you start in Dubai.