Alaska Airlines has enabled customers to earn miles for travel on Hainan Airlines for a couple months, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that you could actually redeem your miles for an award ticket. This is a significant development because Hainan releases a ton of award space, and it significantly increases Alaska Airlines’ reach throughout Asia.
If you want an inexpensive business class seat — whether an award ticket or a paid ticket — then Hainan is a good choice. But I think Cathay Pacific and Korean Air are probably better airlines when it comes to quality. I’ve never been disappointed by Cathay Pacific, and their award availability is actually pretty good when you search for award space in the last two weeks.
Alaska Airlines offers two types of awards on Hainan Airlines: intra-China and between Asia and North America. Prices max out at 50,000 miles one-way for transpacific business class. However, Alaska collects also carrier surcharges on Hainan Airlines, which adds up to $177 on a round-trip award between Seattle and Beijing. If that means better availability and fewer miles than booking travel on other partners, it might be a worthwhile trade.
In general, Alaska doesn’t have any routing rules for its award charts as long as you stick to the region definitions and only fly on a single partner airline (connections operated by Alaska Airlines are permitted). Alaska isn’t always great about defining these regions, so I set out to do it myself and see what options we have for travel on Hainan Airways.
Question #1: What Is “North America”?
Each of Alaska’s partners has a different definition for “North America.” Some say it’s just the 50 states and Canada. Others include Mexico and the Caribbean. Three exclude Hawaii. But I didn’t see an entry for Hainan.
Hainan Airlines’ destination page shows several Canadian cities in addition to the U.S. However, it only serves Calgary; the rest are via connections on local partners like Alaska Airlines and WestJet. Remember, Alaska won’t let you combine flights on WestJet with Hainan Airlines when booking an Alaska Airlines award, but you can combine Hainan with an Alaska Airlines flight.
I tried searching for travel from Calgary to Beijing and did find award space. None of it included the non-stop YYC-PEK route, but it was priced with the assumption that Canada is part of North America. I also tried other origins with the knowledge that I’d have to connect on Alaska. Honolulu to Beijing produced an error on several dates or just showed me flights on Korean Air. Puerto Vallarta to Beijing worked. Anchorage to Beijing also worked.
So I can say with some confidence that the definition of “North America” for Hainan Airlines awards includes the lower 48 states, Alaska, Canada, and Mexico — but not Hawaii.
Question #2: What Is “Asia”?
Hainan flies to a small number of places outside of China that are still included within the region definition of “Asia.” I was able to find award space for flights from Seattle to Tokyo (Haneda and Narita), Jeju (a small island in South Korea), Bangkok, and Phuket. Remember you’re allowed a free stopover, so you could visit more than one city on your trip.
There were some other cities for which I tried and failed to find award space. There was extremely limited award space to Jeju, so it’s possible I was running into the same problem. For example, I could not find any awards to Taipei (Taiwan) or Almaty (in Kazakhstan, but near the eastern border of China). I think it’s reasonable that Almaty is not included in Hainan’s definition of Asia. I’m not sure what the explanation is for Taipei; that should work.
Question #3: What Is “Intra-China”?
Now that I knew I could pay the same amount when flying from the U.S. to China as when I tried to fly from the U.S. to a non-Chinese city, it made sense to ask if a similar liberalism applied to regional flights. Alaska Airlines lists awards for “intra-China” flights on Hainan Airlines in economy, business, and first class.
I already knew certain dates had award space available from my attempts to answer Question #2. However, each time I tried to search for those flights by themselves, without a transpacific segment, I got an error. It appears that the “intra-China” definition is strict. I was not able to confirm this with flights to Taipei because I was never able to find any transpacific itineraries there in the first place.
I’ve already added Alaska’s Hainan award prices to the database used by my award chart comparison tool, but I still need to do some front-end work to actually make them appear. I’m flying to Asia today and will try to get this done en route.