Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a really unique program, which you should know about even if you never set foot in the home base of Seattle or for that matter in Alaska.
- Alaska has the last traditional frequent flyer program in the US. You earn miles based on distance flown, and for the most part their award chart hasn’t been seriously devalued outside of what they did with Emirates awards.
- They partner with a number of airlines from the oneworld and SkyTeam alliances, as well as standalone partners outside alliances like Hainan Airlines whose award availability tends to be quite good and also Icelandair. So you can earn and burn miles widely.
- They’re buying Virgin America, making them a substantial airline – 5th largest in the US and a major player on the West Coast
They’ve just published award pricing for JAL flights and put redemptions online. American Airlines has been partners with JAL for years, and is even in a revenue-neutral joint business venture with them, and can’t manage to get redemptions up at AA.com.
Here’s the new award chart for travel on JAL:
A few observations:
- Alaska Airlines awards allow for a stopover. So you can travel US – Japan (stopover) – beyond on a one way award, and stopover in each direction on a roundtrip.
- One Mile at a Time pointed out that Asia includes India. That means you can fly to India via Japan for the same price as a US-Tokyo roundtrip.
- Award prices are eminently reasonable, at 130,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Southeast Asia for business class and 150,000 miles roundtrip for first class. First class is a no-brainer.
- If Alaska Airlines were planning to seriously devalue their award chart they probably wouldn’t be introducing reasonable prices now only to yank them quickly.
- Indeed the Virgin America merger probably gives us a pretty good window before they substantially devalue Mileage Plan. So even if the plan were to do so, airlines usually don’t want that to be the marketing message while they’re merging.
In general I find that Japan Airlines award space is pretty good close to departure (within a week of travel mostly, especially in first class) but that’s not guaranteed. Overall they release space close to departure rather than far in advance. However in a real pinch I find that Los Angeles – Osaka award space is really good.
Award space between Sydney and Tokyo is quite good as well but Alaska hasn’t published an award chart to fly JAL between the US and Australia — so that’s not an option with Alaska miles.