Do you have few miles or points but would still like to fly business class?
Do you have some money to spend on upcoming travel but not enough to buy those hilariously priced business class tickets?
I feel your pain! Flying coach on long-haul trips sucks and I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that I avoid ever having to do it again. Mostly, my strategies revolve around using credit card sign up bonuses to build up large balances of frequent flyer miles that I can redeem for business and first class travel. But it takes time to build up these balances.
For those with travel plans that are happening in the very near future they might benefit from another way to avoid coach that doesn’t involve taking out a second mortgage on their cat.
When Buying Miles Makes Sense
It makes sense to buy miles when A) you might otherwise have paid for the business class ticket or B) you really don’t want to fly coach and are willing to pay a little extra to avoid it.
Until April 3rd, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles are on sale for 1.96 cents per mile (if you buy 40,000 miles with the 40% bonus), which is decent. $1,100 (plus tax) gets you 56,000 miles, enough for a one-way business class flight to Asia. The bitchin’ thing about Alaska Airlines is that they have some really great transfer partners as well as the ability to add a stop-over on a one-way award, which most airlines don’t allow on one-way award tickets.
Additionally, they have solid redemption rates with their award partners. In fact, a business class ticket between New York City and Hong Kong (or anywhere else in Asia, excluding India and the Middle East) on my beloved Cathay Pacific is only going to put you back 50,000 miles each way (100,000 round trip).
So for a round trip ticket in Business class to Asia on Cathay, you would be looking at purchasing roughly $2,200 in Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. Considering that purchasing the ticket outright would set you back $7,500, or likely more if you continued from Hong Kong on to other parts of Asia, this would certainly be a cheaper option than paying cash.
You Think That’s Friggin Sweet; Getta Load Of This!
Where it gets even sexier is when you start looking at flying to Australia or New Zealand. Alaska only charges 60,000 miles each way to get to Australia or New Zealand in business class on Cathay Pacific (120,000 round trip) and you could add a nice long stopover in Hong Kong to break up the flights. Considering that American Airlines AAdvantage awards to Australia/New Zealand cost 62,500 each way for business class and don’t allow a stopover, this is a better deal.
While the rates look similar on the surface, the devil is in the details. American doesn’t allow you to route through Asia to get to the South Pacific without breaking it into two separate awards. Which means you are stuck relying on award space with Qantas, who is famously stingy about release premium cabin space. Routing through Asia means booking two separate award tickets and that means paying 55,000 miles to get to Hong Kong and 35,000 more miles to get to the South Pacific, bringing the one-way total to 90,000 miles (180,000 round trip). That’s 30,000 more miles each way than you would have needed to book the same itinerary with Alaska miles.
To book that ticket with cash you are looking at spending more than the government collects in annual taxes from most Fortune 500 companies!
The Sticky Wicket
While I’ve never encountered a “sticky wicket” in the literal sense, I regard award availability as metaphorical equivalent of this. If you were to pull up the Alaska partner award booking search and look at the month of April it would look like this:
Eww, barf, gross! Not only does it look like the space isn’t there for most of the month, but most of those prices are 50% to 140% higher! That’s because not all of Alaska’s partners have such rockin’ award prices. Those prices reflect traveling on Emirates (75k) or on Korean (120k), which offer pretty crummy redemption rates.
The thing is, Alaska doesn’t display Cathay Pacific award availability at all! If you relied on their online booking tool you would never know the sweet taste of victory that accompanies flying in Cathay’s premium cabins.
Instead you will have to use either Qantas or British Airways to search for award seats and then call into Alaska Airlines reservation desk to make the booking (1-800-252-7522). The really awesome thing about Cathay Pacific is that within a few days of departure they typically open up their unsold inventory to award bookings.
So even if you aren’t able to get an award booked far in advance, the likelihood that you will be able to snag a business seat as your departure date nears is really good. And if you can use Alaska Airlines miles to fly round-trip to Asia in business class for $2,200, then maybe flying business class to Asia is within reach after all.
Hit me up with all your questions and comments!
If you’ve already got all the miles and just need some help finding space and booking the award, I have an award booking service that will get you all squared away. Find out more about it here.