For those that visit the blog on the regular, you will know that I am heads over heals in love with Alaska Airlines and their Frequent Flyer Program, Mileage Plan. I’ve published extensive step-by-step tutorials on how to book partner awards using Alaska Miles and I’ve shown you how you can earn a ton of Alaska miles on the cheap.
In short, I’m all in on Alaska because of their amazing redemptions but what I discovered will perhaps change how you view searching for award flights.
Yesterday, Air France announced that they would be adding a direct flight from Seattle (SEA) to Paris (CDG) as of March 25th, 2018. I spent a month in Paris in 2011 to complete my MBA and I have been smitten with the city ever since. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to go back and I thought that this might be a perfect opportunity.
I know that Air France is a partner with Alaska Airlines and that their hub, Seattle, has 3 daily flight from Calgary. This new direct Air France flight from Seattle to Paris represents a very easy one stop flight to Paris for Calgarians as well as for folks in Vancouver. I’ve also been dying to try out Air France for some time now so it looked like everything might line up.
Availability is always the kicker isn’t it? Well, I figured that with this being a new announcement and flights likely already loaded into Alaska’s Partner Award inventory, it might be the perfect time to try to find an award flight.
I was curious as to how much availability there was for the direct flight from Seattle to Paris as I always preach finding the long, over-water leg first because they are almost always the most difficult to find. I jumped on ExpertFlyer and took a look at what award space was available.
Three seats available! Perfect … but let’s make sure that Alaska has access to the same 3 seats.
Great news! Based on my knowledge of the YYC-SEA schedule, I knew that there were 2 flights that would work to connect to this itinerary, the early morning flight out at 6 AM and the early afternoon 1:30 PM flight.
Let’s add that to the Alaska search and figure out what the total cost would be in miles and taxes.
No Business Class availability! How can that be? Perhaps there isn’t Business Class space for the YYC-SEA leg? Let’s take a look.
Both flights are available … but the cost is 60K Alaska Miles? That seems a bit exorbitant for a 1.5 hour flight. Maybe that’s the reason?
In my experience with booking Alaska Partner awards, it seemed that as long as the Alaska portion had any availability, you could add it on to the international redemption, no problem. Maybe this was an extraordinary circumstance where the award fare class wasn’t available?
If that was the case, perhaps we could just fly in Economy class from YYC-SEA … I mean it’s only 1.5 hours and it’s not like there’s that much difference between domestic economy and domestic first … at least in my opinion.
A Quick Call to Alaska
I’ve always maintained that Alaska reps are amongst the best trained and most willing to help in challenging circumstances so I thought that I would give them a call to see if they could either force an award seat in Domestic First for the YYC-SEA leg or at the very least force a mixed cabin redemption with an economy flight from YYC-SEA and a business class flight from SEA-CDG.
When I called in explaining the situation, the rep transferred me to the “Partner Award Specialty Desk”. When I spoke to the rep there, he understood the situation immediately and told me that the reason it wasn’t showing up was that there were only 2 seats available in the “A” fare class. The “A” fare class is First Class Award Saver class. Below is a handy reference chart for Alaska’s fare buckets:
Now that we knew that the reason that the full YYC-SEA-CDG flight wasn’t bookable online, we had a couple of choices:
- Book the SEA-CDG leg to lock down the availability and wait for a 3rd “A” fare to open up between now and departure
- Book the entire flight now but settle for an Economy seat from YYC-SEA but still have the Business Class seat for SEA-CDG. If we went with this option, the Alaska rep would need to force the award through their system … but at least it was possible.
I didn’t do either … at least not yet. I was more interested in if it was possible.
What I find fascinating about this entire process is that while some frequent flyer programs, like Aeroplan, are more than happy to put you in mixed cabin awards, Alaska tries to keep you in the same class of service throughout your flight, even if it’s to your detriment.
What’s great about Alaska is that they understand common sense. If someone wants to pay Business Class for a Business Class redemption for a mixed cabin itinerary, they are willing to do it … it’s just not how their system is currently designed.
What you should take away from this information is that even if you don’t think there is award availability when you search for your entire route, take a closer look segment by segment and see if you can figure out a route that would work, even if it’s a mixed cabin redemption. If you can find something that works, Alaska Airlines can make it happen.
I should caveat this by saying that I’m unsure if this would work if the entire flight was with a partner as they are unlikely to be able to force any redemptions but if you have an Alaska leg that need to be adjusted, they will go out of their way to do so.
When things don’t go your way for a redemption, don’t give up. Think of another way to approach the problem and be persistent. I have found throughout my travel hacking career that if you are willing to take no for an answer, airlines are more than willing to let you give up. Keep at it and you might be surprised at how often you find success.
Also published on Medium.