I love finding award flight routing tricks. Some are simply nice in theory (because I will likely never personally fly the route), but there are a precious few I have found that actually provide great opportunities and real value. And these I get excited about.

The latest is using a one-way Alaska award as a (sort of) round-trip ticket to either Seattle or Portland. How? By utilizing Alaska’s fantastic stopover rules. If you are not familiar the term “stopover”, it is essentially a scheduled break in a ticket where you can leave the airport and visit a destination before continuing on. It is different than a layover in that it can typically be of any length. Layovers are nearly always less than 24 hours (and less than 4 domestically).

Alaska has a generous stopover policy on award tickets. Each one-way award allows one stopover, with some associated rules as to where they can occur. They typically have to be in a “hub”, although I find this to be pretty loosely defined, and more or less determined by the routing engine based on your origin and destination. On a round-trip award, you get a total of two stopovers, which effectively gives you up to 3 destinations! These generous stopover rules are one of the primary reasons I love Alaska MileagePlan miles.


The new flight out of ACV to Portland is on a tiny Saab 340!

For a recent trip to surprise my in-laws in Portland, we had three options: (1) pay $536.40 for two ACV-PDX round-trip tickets (no way), (2) spend 30,000 Alaska miles and $72.40 for two ACV-PDX round-trip tickets, or (3) spend 25,000 Alaska miles and $22.40 in fees for two “one-way” tickets from ACV-PDX-OAK, including a stopover in Portland. As you might guess, we chose option (3). I guess there was an option (4) on the table: drive, but that would have cost us two full days. One full travel day is plenty for such a short trip.

This “trick” of turning Portland (our true destination) into a “stopover” is completely valid based on Alaska’s rules. The routing engine at Alaska’s website had no trouble pulling it up. We flew out of Arcata (ACV) on 10/4, stopped in Portland (PDX) for a few days, and continued on our last leg to Oakland (OAK) on 10/9. Now Oakland isn’t all that close to home (~5 hours by car), so you may be wondering why I would want to book a ticket there. Bear with me and it will all become clear.


ACV-PDX prices out as an “intra-state” award, but the $12.50 partner fee is added

First, we saved $50 in fees. Alaska charges a $12.50 “partner fee” per one-way ticket if none of the segments are on Alaska metal. The Alaska website officially says $25 per ticket, but this is the round-trip price. Thus, two round-trip tickets from ACV to PDX would have cost us $50 in partner fees. Since the PDX-OAK flight is on Alaska metal, the partner award fee disappeared, and the fees came to only $22.40 for the entire ACV-PDX-OAK ticket.

Second, we saved 5,000 Alaska miles over the round-trip ACV-PDX option. Two one-way tickets price out at 25,000 miles, rather than 30,000 miles for two “intra-state” tickets. Valuing Alaska miles at a conservative 1.5 cents each, we “saved” $75 this way. This is arguably not truly a savings since it isn’t cash out the door, but I am viewing it that way.

Lastly, it saved us $25 in bag fees. We typically travel with a checked luggage, and the ACV-PDX flight is unfortunately not a code share flights where Alaska bag fees are waived (if you have the Alaska credit card). This meant we would only spend $25 on bag charges rather than $50.

But this still left us in Oakland rather than in Humboldt County. My in-laws had booked their tickets in and out of Santa Rosa/Sonoma County (STS) airport, which is only a 90 minute drive from Oakland. The preferred option would have been for me to simply book our award to STS, but there was no saver availability, so Oakland had to do. To get us to our rendezvous with them, I booked a rental car. The cost of the rental car plus gas and toll came to $98.


Targeted Hertz/United promotion that offers 5,250 United miles on up to two rentals

That, plus the 5 extra hours, was the trade-off. However, because we were able to utilize a Hertz promotion where we will get 5,250 United miles for the car rental, it was actually a major win, in my book. The value of the points and cash we saved, minus what we spent, left us about $130 ahead. The out of pocket cost came to only $145.

What this experience really did was seed me with ideas on other Alaska routing tricks. I spent some time on alaskaair.com, and I found that every Bay Area airport, plus both Santa Rosa and Sacramento, allowed a one-way stopover through either Portland or Seattle. This is what I am calling the “Pacific Northwest Stopover Trick.” Granted, this “trick” is only for two destinations, but it could still prove useful. Remember, it is either very expensive or time consuming to get anywhere from where we live behind the Redwood Curtain, so any trick to save miles or money is heartily welcomed.


Downtown Seattle, as seen from the Space Needle

The Portland option could be a wash, depending on how you value points and time. In my opinion we came out ahead. However, the Seattle option offers fantastic value. Round-trip tickets from ACV-SEA are either 25,000 Alaska miles and $11.20 in fees, or ~$325 at the cheapest. Or make the 10 hour drive. By using the stopover trick, though, and returning to the Bay Area instead, you can reduce the cost to only 12,500 miles and $11.20 fees. That’s a win in my book.

My wife is the only one in her family who has not been to Seattle, so maybe we will utilize this trick again and head up there for a long weekend. One way rental car prices from the Bay Area to either Eureka or Arcata routinely fall to $85 with Hertz (the reverse is not true!), so the out of pocket cost can potentially be reduced to $120 for all transportation. Combine that with a few free nights, and we have ourselves a cheap vacation. Bring on those Alaska Visa card offers!

Cover photo courtesy of Tiffany Von Arnim under creative commons license.