I like saving points and I like saving money, in no particular order. This sweet little trick will save you 50% of your points when flying from a number of cities in the Southwest to either Seattle or Portland. (and vice versa)
As I discussed a few months ago, Alaska made a great improvement to their award chart for short-haul flights. Unfortunately, it looks like Alaska has fixed many of the loopholes, like this one, allowing you to fly from SFO or LAX to the East Coast for 6,000 miles one-way. Not to fear, I’ve found a little trick to save your valuable Alaska miles when flying on the West Coast.
For flights 700 miles or fewer, you’ll burn as few as 5,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to go one-way. The beneficial aspect of this 700 mile rule is that it only takes into account your start and end point distance. Even if your routing takes you over 700 total flight miles, you’ll still need just 5,000 award miles so long as the distance between A and C are 700 miles or fewer. (in the examples I show below)
Holding it down for the West Coast
The key thing to note is this trick only works when flying Alaska metal, not on Virgin, American or Delta (which you can use Alaska miles to book)
The premise behind this trick is the well-known, hidden-city or throw away ticket method, that I’ve discussed before. Hidden-city ticketing is more common on the “cash” side but still has its place when booking award tickets.
Hidden-city ticketing requires you to book a ONE-WAY ticket from point A to point C with a layover in point B. The hidden-piece is that you don’t intend to ever fly the B to C leg, just the A to B. The reason you do this is simple, it requires fewer points or cash to book A > B > C than it does to solely book A > B.
Two caveats when booking hidden-city, and this applies with award or cash tickets:
You must book as one-way tickets since any missed leg will cancel the rest of your itinerary
You cannot check baggage since it will be sent to your final destination, not your layover city
With the no-no’s out-of-the-way, let’s look at how this works
When flying from Southern California, for example, to either Seattle or Portland, Alaska Air will normally charge you 7,500 miles for a one-way award flight. That award rate is due to the flight distance clocking in at over 700 miles from point A to point B. (such as Orange County to Seattle, 978 flight miles)
What you are essentially doing with this trick is searching for flights from the Southwest area to San Francisco or Reno. Since most SoCal cities don’t fly non-stop to Reno or San Francisco, Alaska will HAVE to route you through either Seattle or Portland to get you there.
There could be other routings out there, but here are some city combinations that will work at ONLY 5,000 points one-way when they should be 7,500, if you take advantage of the hidden-city – Portland or Seattle: (This assuming you find ‘saaver’ award flights at 5,000 miles one-way, sometimes they require more when award seats are less plentiful)
— San Diego to San Francisco — via Portland or Seattle
— Orange County to San Francisco — via Portland or Seattle
— Phoenix to Salt Lake City — via Portland or Seattle
— Las Vegas to San Francisco — via Portland or Seattle
— Los Angeles to Reno — via Portland
— Burbank to Reno — via Seattle
Keepin’ it 700
By booking from San Diego to San Francisco, for example, Alaska can only offer to get you there via Portland or Seattle. Since the distance between A and C (San Diego and San Francisco) is less than 700 miles, it requires only 5,000 award miles. Saving you 2,500 award miles each direction. (50% savings) When you land in Portland or Seattle, you will just “throw-away” your ticket to San Francisco and leave the airport.
When there are direct or more convenient routings available, it seems that Alaska won’t allow your layover to deviate too far. For example, if you try to book a one-way from Orange County to San Jose, they won’t display flights with layovers in Seattle or Portland. That is because you can catch a direct flight or layover in Reno. I am not sure if they are trying to simply limit your travel time or limit the amount they have to transport you. Maybe a little of both.
I tried booking Palm Springs to San Jose, less than 700 miles, and it would not display ANY flights at 5,000 points. Even when I found award space from PSP to PDX and from PDX to SJC on the same day, when it pieces them together it charges 12,500 miles from PSP to SJC via PDX. I don’t know why they don’t allow it at 5,000 points, but they must have some rule preventing it.
On the flip-side
This also works in reverse from Seattle, Eugene and Portland. Your only “layover” or hidden-cities when departing from Portland and Eugene are Los Angeles or San Diego. From Seattle, you can only go hidden-city for 5,000 points to Los Angeles.
What I did was search for all “Alaska served” airports within 700 miles of Seattle, Eugene and Portland but did NOT have direct Alaska flights. What I found is that you can fly from Portland to either Monterey or Mammoth Lakes for 5,000 points one-way. In order to do so, Alaska will have to route you through Los Angeles to get you to your final destination. (saving you 2,500 points)
From the Pacific Northwest, here are your 5,000 point hidden-city options for one-way flights to either Los Angeles or San Diego:
— Seattle to Mammoth Lakes — via Los Angeles
— Portland to Mammoth Lakes — via Los Angeles
— Portland to Monterey — via San Diego or Los Angeles
— Eugene to Monterey — via San Diego or Los Angeles
— Eugene to Mammoth Lakes — via Los Angeles
From Seattle, you cannot use this trick to fly 5,000 miles hidden-city to Monterey since it just slightly exceeds the 700 mile flight distance bracket. You can, however, fly Seattle to Mammoth Lakes with a layover in Los Angeles for just 5,000 award miles one-way. The funniest thing is that the distance between Seattle and Mammoth is EXACTLY 700 flight miles. If they were one mile further apart, it would require 7,500 points (50% more).
There are probably some other “miles saving” routing options out there I missed, if you spot any feel free to post in the comments and I will update the list (and give credit)
For flyers that live in the Los Angeles area, here is a scenario that might work for you:
You fly from Los Angeles to “Reno” via Portland, spend a few days in Portland, do some weird things. Then for your return leg you book Portland to “Mammoth Lakes” via Los Angeles. That trip would only require 10,000 points to effectively go round-trip from L.A. to Portland on non-stop flights. Remember, you MUST book as separate one-way tickets when going hidden-city (and don’t check bags).
This scenario would save you 5,000 points which is enough for an additional ONE-WAY from SoCal to PDX & SEA using this same booking trick!