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Alaska Air Mileage Plan tightens routing rules – no more cheap ’roundtrip’ award tickets

This follows the introduction of Singapore Airlines award tickets into the system.

Loyalists of Alaska Air will know that the programme is particularly generous in its award ticket rules, which has created some really interesting redemption tricks, including a (almost) roundtrip JAL ticket in business class for only 25,000 miles between Southeast Asia and Japan.

More recently, Alaska Air has added Singapore Airlines as as redemption partner, causing a big stir in the Singapore miles-chasing community.

Many miles-chasers have snapping up Alaska Air Mileage Plan miles to take advantage of some of the loophole in their award inventory, particularly in Asia.

So here are some of the changes:

Singapore Airlines award chart update: China-Southeast Asia award tickets now cost more

For a start, Alaska Air has corrected the categorisation for China (including Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing), and now it is grouped together with Japan and South Korea. This results in an increase of Southeast Asia-China routing from 25,000 in business to a whopping 60,000 miles. In economy, the increase is still a good 50% increase, from 15,000 to 22,500 miles.

This has also been updated in the inventory:

The good news out of this is that, if you are travelling to and from China, you still get a one-stop option on JAL via Tokyo for 25,000 miles each way.

No more stopover for intra-Asia itineraries

More critical, Alaska Air has removed the option for a stopover for intra-Asia itineraries. Effectively, that means that the long-time trick of doing an almost roundtrip Japan trip on JAL in business class for 25,000 miles has been officially snuffed out.

The ’roundtrip’ ticket on JAL is no more

However, straightforward one-way Singapore-Japan itineraries in business class are still possible, and for 50,000 miles on Alaska Air Mileage Plan, it still comes up cheaper than the 94,000 Krisflyer miles on Singapore Airlines. If you were planning to use Alaska Air miles for SQ tickets to Japan, it will set you back by a cool 120,000 miles.

Final thoughts

These changes are definitely very disappointing for the Asian community who are big fans of Alaska Air Mileage Plan programme given the possibility of creating a backtracking stopover even on a one-way itinerary.

As with any loopholes, it’s a matter of time before they are discovered and patched, and unfortunately the moment has come as a result of the addition of Singapore Airlines as a redemption partner.

Having said that, Alaska Air is still pretty good value as a programme to credit your premium cabin tickets to (250% for SQ business class revenue fares!), and specific award routings are still fairly cheap. Looking forward, it may no longer be worth buying Alaska Air miles, but if you travel in premium cabins often for work (or leisure), it may still be worthwhile to keep accumulating the miles.

You can now redeem Alaska Air Mileage Plan miles for Singapore Airlines award tickets

But the redemption rates are not great.

Update 16 Oct 19: Alaska Air has removed the ability to book a stopover for intra-Asia itineraries, and also adjusted the zones for Beijing and Shanghai. Read more here.

After a very long time, Alaska Air has finally added Singapore Airlines as an award partner.

Since two years ago, you could credit your Singapore Airlines flying with Alaska Air Mileage Plan, which gave excellent mileage especially if you are flying premium classes. For instance, if you are flying first class on a revenue ticket, you will earn 350% of the actual miles flown. Wow.

Alaska Air Mileage Plan earn rates for Singapore Airlines-marketed flights

Award charts are not great

Alaska Air has finally published some semblance of an award chart for Singapore Airlines flights, but they are rather disappointing.

[UPDATE] Following the update of the award chart, China is now classified under North Asia, resulting in a bump in the miles required. Hong Kong and Taiwan remains under “Southeast Asia”, requiring less miles.

Also, Alaska Air no longer allow for a stopover for intra-Asia travel, which means you effectively can’t get two tickets in one anymore.

Alaska Air Mileage Plan redemption table for Singapore Airlines flights (updated chart)

Note that Alaska Air has peculiarly categorised China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan as “Southeast Asia”, so that means that you can book a one-way ticket from Beijing to Sydney for 65,000 miles in Business.

The usual rule of one stopover is possible on a one-way ticket, so if you don’t want to do the USD100 stopover trick with your Krisflyer miles, you can also explore using Alaska Air Mileage Plan miles.

Alaska Air Mileage Plan miles are also particularly useful for backtracking (e.g. Tokyo-Singapore-Bangkok), since you can’t do that on SQ.

How does it compare to Krisflyer own redemption rates?

To sum it up: Krisflyer comes up cheaper.

The only bright spot in the entire chart is for itineraries involving China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. For some unknown reason, the three regions are considered as “Southeast Asia” by Alaska Air (now, no jokes about Americans not knowing where Singapore is), but this is clearly working in member’s advantage.

See below for the comparison chart (updated 17 Oct 19):

Comparison chart between Alaska Air Mileage Plan & Krisflyer. PDF available here.

[UPDATE] Alaska Air has revised some of the mileage required for award tickets over the last couple of days, including the Southeast Asia-China and Southeast Asia-India mileage, making the chart very unattractive in comparison to SQ’s own Krisflyer. Having said that, there are still rare cases where it makes sense to use Alaska Air Mileage Plan to redeem for SQ tickets, such as when you are travelling between the Middle East or US to Asia, or vice versa.

Also, as Alaska Air allows you to build in one free stopover in any one-way award, you can literally book two segments in a single award ticket, such as Beijing-Singapore and then Singapore-Hong Kong in business class for 25,000 miles. You will not be able to build such an itinerary using Krisflyer miles, so this is where Alaska Air comes up better.

Final thoughts

For Singapore based members, this new development on Alaska Air Mileage Plan is not overly impressive, particularly if you have a healthy stash of Krisflyer miles. With Krisflyer no longer adding surcharges to its award tickets, they may still make sense for simple, straightforward one-way redemptions.

If you compare most city pairs, Krisflyer still comes up a little cheaper in terms of miles. Given that there’s no easy way to earn Alaska miles, it might make a lot more sense to save them for your Japan getaways on Japan Airlines.

Addendum (17 Oct 19): Given the latest developments on Alaska Air pulling off the complimentary stopover for one-way itineraries within Asia, this has made Alaska Air Mileage Plan significantly less attractive as a programme. However, even with the ‘devaluation’ (I personally don’t see it as a true devaluation given that it was a loophole that was exploited to begin with), some redemptions are still good value: a one-way business class award ticket from Singapore to Tokyo for only 25,000 miles remain very competitive, compared to the 49,000 required by Krisflyer. The only caveat is how you accrue those miles: Alaska Air remains a rare partner for local banks, so your only way to get the miles is by actually flying.

Alaska Air Mileage Plan sale now on again: get up to 40% bonus miles

Works out to an effective 28.6% discount on the miles purchase. Book now until 1 November 2019, 3pm.

Alaska Air is back with a bonus miles promotion for miles purchase – this time round offering a 40% bonus when you buy miles.

Note that the bonus is tiered: you will need to purchase at least 30,000 miles to trigger the 40% bonus.

There is a limit of 60,000 miles that you can buy per transaction, up to a maximum of 150,000 miles (including all bonus miles) per year, per account. This limit is actually rather inconsequential, given that you can redeem air tickets for virtually anyone from any account. Having said that, status holders (MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K Mileage Plan) have no annual limit on the number of miles which may be purchased or gifted.

How much will it cost?

At the time of writing, Alaska Air Mileage Plan is selling miles at 2.75 US cents per mile, not including a 7.5% ‘tax recovery’ fee. At a 40% bonus, this works out to 2.11 US cents per mile after taxes.

Cost of purchasing miles, before tax recovery fee

What are they good for?

For the uninitiated, Alaska Air has amassed quite a good portfolio of partners to earn and redeem miles on, including Japan Airlines (JAL), Cathay Pacific, Emirates and more.

One of the most widely known sweet spot with this programme is the ability to book a quasi-return trip on JAL in business class for only 25,000 miles. Specific to this promotion, that means you can buy it for US$517.34, which is an absolute steal for a ‘return’ business class trip.

How to book the ‘return’ trip on Japan Airlines:

Japan Airlines (JAL) charges only 25,000 miles for intra-Asia itineraries involving a maximum of 1 stop, to count it as a ‘one-way’ journey. Alaska Air also allows for a stopover, i.e. staying in the intermediate point for more than 24 hours.

Using the rule above, you can technically book something like, Bangkok to Singapore via Tokyo on JAL business class, which will only cost you 25,000 miles because it is technically a one-way itinerary. All you need to do is to buy another (cheaper) ticket to Bangkok to start your journey.

Another sweet spot is that JAL allows for open-jaw booking, so you can booking something like Bangkok-Osaka, then Tokyo-Singapore in a same journey.

Return trip within Asia on JAL for only 15,000 miles in Economy, 25,000 miles in Business

DBS raises foreign currency transaction fee to 3.25%

From 1 November 2019, DBS will have one of the highest fees for foreign transactions for its Visa and Mastercard credit cards.

DBS will be raising its foreign currency transaction fee on all DBS & POSB Visa and Mastercard credit cards from the existing 3% to 3.25% from 1 November 2019.

The notice did not mention anything about Amex cards, so it should be staying at 3% for now.

What are foreign currency transaction fees?

When you use your credit card overseas, there are typically two fees involved that is added to the converted amount:

  • The card network fee (charged by Visa, Mastercard or Amex)
  • The bank transaction fee

These fees are incurred for processing the transaction, converting them into the billing currency (Singapore dollars for those using Singapore credit cards, etc).

The prevailing rates charged by the card networks are as follow:

  • Visa & Mastercard – 1%
  • American Express – 1 to 1.25%, depending on bank

Different banks have different transaction fees, which will bring the total up to anything between 2.75% to 3.25%.

What this means is that you are effectively paying not only for the ability to use your credit card overseas, but also for the rewards you are earning.

So how much am I effectively paying for miles?

Of course, this question only applies for when you use your credit card overseas, as opposed to cold, hard cash.

In DBS’ case, there are two key cards we are looking at here: the DBS Altitude Visa, and the DBS Women’s World Mastercard.

I’ve tabled some of the major bank cards that earn miles, their total foreign currency transaction fee and the effective cost per mile as a result:

Credit CardForeign currency feeMile earn rateEffective cost of buying miles
DBS Altitude Visa3.25%2 mpd (for foreign spend)
3 mpd (for online hotel & airline spend)
1.63 cent per mile (cpm)
1.08 cpm
DBS Women’s World Mastercard3.25%4 mpd (for online foreign spend)0.81 cpm
OCBC 90N3%4 mpd (until 29 Feb 20)0.75 cpm
OCBC VOYAGE3%2.4 mpd (until 31 Dec 19, 2.3 thereafter)1.25 cpm
UOB Signature Visa3.1%4 mpd (min $1,000 max $2,000 spend per statement)0.78 cpm
UOB PRVI Miles Visa/Mastercard3.25%2.4 mpd1.35 cpm
BOC Elite Miles Mastercard3%3 mpd1 cpm
Citi PremierMiles Visa3%2 mpd1.5 cpm
Citi Prestige Mastercard3%2 mpd1.5 cpm
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite3.5%3 mpd (min $2,000 spend per statement)1.17 cpm

Final thoughts

Every bank seemed to have raised their foreign currency transaction fees in the last year or so, and DBS has done it not once, but twice. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of the banks given that they are the one ultimately providing the service and the miles, so we can only choose wisely.

If you are holding the OCBC 90N card and travelling frequently over the next couple of months, that is your best bet in raking up the most number of points for now.

Transfer your DBS points to Qantas Frequent Flyer and get 25% more

Qantas is now running a points transfer promotion, offering a 25% bonus on top of the usual transfer rates. So that means, for every 5000 DBS points transferred, you will get 12,500 Qantas points instead of the usual 10,000.

The baseline number of points will usually show up within a couple of days (DBS says it will take up to 7 working days, but in reality it’s usually quite fast), and you will receive the bonus points by 14 November 2019.

Qantas first partnered up with DBS earlier this year in March 2019, and offered a launch offer of 20% bonus. Back then, I transferred 30,000 points to Qantas, and the bonus showed up that very weekend.

Transferring DBS points to Qantas points back in May 2019

Should you transfer your points to Qantas?

If you are familiar with the Qantas Frequent Flyer programme, you will know that the points are generally worth less than an equivalent mile on other programmes such as Krisflyer and Asia Miles, so transfer bank points to Qantas points is usually not a worthy endeavour.

Even with a 25% bonus, you will still come up short as compared to some other programmes such as Asia Miles and British Airways’ Executive Club for similar itineraries.

For instance, for Singapore-Hong Kong Cathay Pacific one-way business class seat, these are the miles required for each programme:

ProgrammeMiles/Points requiredFees
British Airways Executive Club22,000 S$70.50
Asia Miles25,000HKD400 (~S$70.50)
Qantas Frequent Flyer43,800S$70.50

So even with the 25% bonus (or an effective 20% discount), you are still burning through more points than you would on Asia Miles or British Airways Executive Club.

What is good for Qantas points is the ability to redeem on Emirates and Jetstar services.

You can redeem Emirates business class and first class flights using Qantas points, although the surcharges are pretty expensive. For instance, a first class one-way redemption from Singapore to Melbourne on Emirates will set you back by a whopping 102,600 Qantas points and $402.60 in fees. Ouch.

But given the lack of options to earn or credit to Emirates Skywards, this is probably your best option to have a drink at the famed Emirates A380 in-flight business class bar.

For Jetstar award tickets, in my opinion they are good for short haul destinations out of Singapore. For instance, if you need a quick and cheap ticket to Bangkok, a return redemption ticket on Jetstar along with 20kg checked baggage comes at 19,200 Qantas points and $86.10 in fees.

Final thoughts

Despite being one of the most poor-value transfer partners for credit card points, Qantas has most recently devalued their points further in September making their premium cabins even more expensive to fly on with points.

Having said that, Qantas Frequent Flyer programme is not one to write off, especially if you fly alot on oneworld airlines. They are still one of the easiest way to get status on and gives you a hell lot of points when you fly on Qantas and Jetstar.