I was a little startled when I read the headline of a recent post by God Saves the Points, suggesting overnight changes to award travel on Singapore Airlines when booked through Alaska Airlines Milage Plan. It’s only been possible for a few weeks to book SQ awards using Alaska miles, and Gib was suggesting that the price had already more than doubled for intra-Asia itineraries. (He references another post on The Shutterwhale.)
Furthermore, there was talk about eliminating stopovers. Alaska Airlines normally allows a stopover in each direction of travel, so you can get two stopovers on a round-trip award (or one stopover on a one-way award) and visit three cities in the process.
There are two key changes that seem to have taken place:
First, Zone Definitions for Pricing Have Changed
When Steve covered in his post when the awards first became bookable, there were two prices for travel within Asia: from Southeast Asia to Southeast Asia, and from Southeast Asia to North Asia. Vague, huh? Alaska has never been very clear about what these regions mean, so it’s a bit of guess and check.
I just looked at the award charts again this morning. The prices are the same. However, North Asia has been replaced with the more specific “Japan, Korea, and China.” If there were any cities in China that you used to be able to book at the Southeast Asia price, they’ve since been bumped up.
Because I never actually tried to book a trip to China and was able to price it at the Southeast Asia level, I can’t confirm that this is actually what happened. If it is, then it’s annoying, but it is not a wholesale devaluation of the Singapore award chart. For what it’s worth, Hong Kong is still part of Southeast Asia.
Second, Stopovers Are No Longer Possible for Intra-Asia Awards on Any Parter
To be fair, this is the heart of Gib’s post, and I think the message may have been lost in the talk about devaluation of the award chart. New rules appear to prohibit booking a stopover on all intra-Asia award travel. I tried a few test cases bouncing between Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore and wasn’t able to get any of them to work. However, a connection in Singapore when traveling from Thailand to Vietnam on the same day was not an issue.
Then I noticed a footnote on the award chart. The award chart for Alaska Airlines isn’t static, but rather it updates when you select any two regions from the list. For travel from Asia to Asia, item 10 says, “Stopovers are not available on Intra- Asia award redemptions.” So that’s that.
If you used to book intra-Asia stopovers quite often, I can see how that would be viewed as a devaluation. But the award chart is still technically the same. It’s only the rules that have changed. Stopovers are still very much alive for international travel from the U.S. to Asia. You could, for example, fly from Seattle to Singapore, stop in Singapore for a few days, and continue to Bali all for the same price as a single one-way ticket.
Which Stopovers Are Still Allowed?
Several years ago, Amol wrote a great post about booking three round-trip tickets for the price of two by taking advantage of Alaska’s stopover rules. It’s an extreme case, but I mention it because in this case he was traveling to Hawaii. Alaska Mileage Plan may have stopped offering stopovers on intra-Asia travel, but they are very much alive for domestic flights to Hawaii. In the example below, a single one-way ticket is used to fly from Portland to Seattle on May 2 and then from Seattle to Honolulu on May 9.
What can we conclude from this? Well, Alaska Airlines has never been very clear about which stopovers are permitted and which are forbidden. The only clear direction that Alaska gives on stopovers is a link to a post on their corporate blog. A post that I wrote.
The rule against intra-Asia stopovers in the footer is the first time I’ve seen something like that. It really only mattered for Asia, and now it’s been stopped. (Intra-Europe awards are only possible on Finnair and Aer Lingus, and I wouldn’t expect either one to be a popular option for stopovers. British Airways and other allow intra-Europe travel but only as part of a single award with connecting flights from the U.S.)
As the apparent “expert” on Mileage Plan stopovers, here is my rule: You should be able to book a stopover on any award that passes between two regions, which I define as selecting two regions from the menu on the award chart page. That’s a no-brainer. You can also book stopovers within the same region in many cases. I’ve been able to book a stopover in Dublin on a one-way award with Aer Lingus. I’ve tried and been able to book stopovers within the continental U.S. on Alaska Airlines (not even going to Hawaii).
Exactly where those stopovers can be? Well… be reasonable. I would not expect to be allowed a stopover in New York on your way from Seattle to Maui. I would not expect to be allowed a stopover in Ho Chi Minh City when flying on Cathay Pacific, which has its only hub in Hong Kong. But if it’s a hub and/or generally on the way to your destination, it’s probably okay. I can’t be any more helpful than that.
I sent an email to one of my contacts at the airline asking for more clarification. But meanwhile, I’ll say I don’t think these changes are as bad as Gib suggests. Though nothing he said is untrue, the original post on Shutterwhale is a little more realistic about the changes, acknowledging that there might have been some bugs in the pricing structure that were due to get fixed sooner or later.
The removal of intra-Asia stopovers is a bigger change. And while that wasn’t a bug that would inevitably be fixed, it was a bigger hole in the program that probably wasn’t being used the way it was intended, allowing something close to round-trip travel over a very large geographic region for a one-way price. Stopovers everywhere else continue to work as before.