OUCH: Alaska Mileage Plan Blocking Cathay Pacific & JAL Awards Within 3 Days Of Departure

Filed Under: Alaska, Alaska Mileage Plan

This is easily the biggest devaluation to Alaska Mileage Plan miles in nearly two years. Alaska Mileage Plan is no longer allowing redemptions on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Hainan within 72 hours of departure (though they continue to allow other partner redemptions within that timeframe). This policy has apparently been in place since February 8, 2018, and is due to the high fraud associated with these tickets.

Redemptions in Cathay Pacific first class using Alaska miles just became (almost) impossible

By “fraud” I’m guessing they’re referring to a combination of people hacking accounts and booking tickets last minute (before the account holder has the chance to realize the miles are missing, at which point the flight has already been taken), and brokers buying and selling miles. I can appreciate the challenges that airlines face with fraud, but this is really bad news and really punitive.

That’s because one of the best uses of Alaska Mileage Plan miles is redeeming them for travel in Cathay Pacific first class, and the airline often only makes first class award space available within a couple of days of departure. On top of that, Alaska doesn’t have access to all Cathay Pacific award space. When you combine these two factors, this makes it nearly impossible to redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for travel in Cathay Pacific first class, and legitimately impossible to redeem the miles for multiple first class seats (since they only make at most one first class award seat available in advance).

If Alaska Mileage Plan is indeed having big issues with fraud related to last minute redemptions, I’d hope that they’d at least adjust their rules a bit. For example, allow redemptions within a few days, but only if the account holder is traveling, or only if the account holder can verify certain information.

In general I give Alaska the benefit of the doubt on things, since they fundamentally run the airline in an honest way. However, I have to mention that this is of course a big cost savings for them (presumably), though at the same time I think it will massively hurt their business of selling miles.

The last big hit to the value of Alaska Mileage Plan miles was in March 2016, when they devalued Emirates first class awards without notice (they claim they were strong-armed into this change by Emirates).

Alaska, I can appreciate the challenges here, but you need to come up with some sort of a solution. This will hit their business of selling miles significantly, which isn’t good for Mileage Plan’s bottom line.

Redemptions in Japan Airlines first class just got much less practical

Interestingly Alaska Mileage Plan isn’t the only program making a change along these lines. Earlier I reported on how Delta SkyMiles is limiting many partner airline redemptions within a few days of departure through their website.

Hopefully this trend doesn’t continue, given that historically last minute has been an ideal time to book an award ticket.

(Tip of the hat to @CTravlr)

  1. I can see them fixing this issue down the road with something along the lines of your suggestions, but all of their IT resources are probably fully utilized with AS/VX integration projects for the next 12-18 months.

  2. I wonder if this affects new reservations only or both new and existing.

    I mean, if I have an existing CX J booking that I’d like to bump to F when space opens, will I not be able to do so within 3 days of departure?

  3. Wow, this is yet another lazy move by AS that is really pissing me off. Alaska’s been my airline, but if they keep pulling stunts like this I’ll go elsewhere. I don’t know why they even bother to pretend Emirate redemptions are a realistic thing: it’s like putting your money in a pile and setting it on fire. And now this.

    The “fraud” excuse sounds like complete bullshit to me…

  4. Could you still book a Cathay business award early, and then change to First if available close to departure if award space becomes available ? Does that fall under this restriction too?

  5. I’m talking out of turn here but surely Alaska could reduce a lot of the risk of this by implementing something like 2FA challenge that people booking have to provide the agent a one time pin sent to their phone via SMS or a push notification before they can process the ticket. It’s not a perfect solution but would make it much much harder for fraudsters as it would both trigger an alert to the account holder and block most of the less sophisticated fraudsters.

  6. Doesn’t CX usually release a lot of F or J around T-3? Could it be this is just a way for people not to be able to spend their miles on CX products?

  7. I actually almost got nailed by AS loyalty fraud 2 weeks ago… someone booked an Emirates ticket from Accra to JFK … thankfully i had been watching for HND-JFK F for a trip coming up when I noticed I had a random new trip on my account that was leaving in 12 hours and miles missing from my account…

  8. Not the first time such a policy was put in place to prevent fraud. AS gift certificates can’t be redeemed for 24 hours after purchase, to allow enough time for any fraudulent activity to be caught before the certificate can be used on a same-day flight. Seems like they want the same opportunity here – time for someone to notice a problem before it can be fixed. I agree with Mark (first comment), that a fix will likely come down the road, when they aren’t as tied up with integration work.

  9. So when you have a J ticket & want to upgrade to F if it opened up, that isn’t considered a new reservation right? You just pay change fee. Will this still be allowed under these new terms?

  10. The “fraud” excuse doesn’t hold up for upgrades that were originally booked weeks or months in advance like many are already suggesting…they SHOULD allow this since it can’t be fraud if prebooked well in adv & AS is still regarded as the friendliest program of all American carriers …either allow the upgrade option (AS could provide a minimum timeframe for upgrade to be allowed) OR have some other darn way of verification as Ben suggested, the Virgin integration does make sense though for making this 2nd option unfeasible for AS but come on…daddy gotta fly in J

  11. Wow, guess I was sort of lucky. I just booked a CX award on the 7th for travel commencing within 72 hours. At that time all classes of service were available for award travel (YVR-JFK).

  12. This is really bad. The whole reason I value Alaska miles is to be able to redeem on Cathay, and as you said, they often open up F / J at the last minute, which is the only hope if you haven’t been able to snag seats far in advance. Do they even do the exercise of identifying what side effects something causes when they put in IT “fixes” like this?

  13. The question that half the commenters have asked (“Does this mean you can’t book J and then move up to F if/when it becomes available at T-3?”) is the only relevant one for the 99% of people that can’t just book an entirely unplanned trip with three days’ notice

  14. As hinted in the article, this is starting to look like a trend. In a couple of years, loyalty schemes will be back where they started: redeem on direct merchant only. Starbucks points are for Starbucks redemptions only. Esso points are for Esso redemptions. And same is slowly creeping back into airlines too.

    Moment of silence for good times that have passed… and then 30 years down the road, some marketing guru will advise airline that biggest differentiator they can implement is allowing the use of points on partners. All those MBAs have to earn living, I guess.

  15. I call BS since Cathay awards can’t be booked online and have to be done over the phone.

    If the phone agents can’t stop fraud when they have eyeballs on the account then they’re unlikely to do much better fixing their algorithms or implementing some kind of conditional “rules”.

  16. @Brad C

    Exactly! These have to be booked with a live agent, you know the one that asks for the address, birth date, and your shoe size…

    Unless “fraud” in AS terms translates to “too many people redeeming our miles for something else”

  17. Question: How many commenters on here are Alaska elite’s?

    Many like to claim that they are “customers” of Alaska, when in fact they are only “customers” of MileagePlan. I use the term “customers” loosely, because if you are transferring thousands of miles into a frequent flyer program, then grabbing the best redemption’s (which are a net cash loser for MileagePlan), then you are not really a customer of MileagePlan, but instead a raider.

    I understand why you’re pissed, I used to be amongst you, but as the mileage game has become more mainstream over the years (thanks to blogs like this one), airlines are removing many of the cheats in order to protect their true customers. As a multi-year elite of Alaska, I applaud their effort to restrict access to non-Alaska customers.

  18. If anything, it’s better than BA, which implemented this restriction a while back and theirs is 7 days out!

  19. @Mark, stop excusing their lamentable IT with the whole AS/VX merger, which was almost two years ago.

    @lucky – I trust that you will now not peddle their miles-sales as a result, e.g. like you did back on Jan 16th?

    I hope Delta crushes Alaska – they deserve to regain some humility back, the hard way

  20. I have another problem. Booked months ago JAL F and AA C and at the end of JAN my ticket got cancelled “due to issue with my Alaska account”. Got back paid taxes but I still can see eticket on JAL, ticketed and everything confirmed. The same with AA. I guess I am just gonna get the answer if I fly or not at the airport but has anybody experienced this before?

  21. No!!!! I’m trying to find a seat for my mom on Cathay and this rule will hurt my chances of getting that seat for her.

  22. Meh. Will never make a difference to me. I could never handle waiting until 3 days before flying to confirm a seat. I usually am ready and looking to book when the schedule opens. ,

  23. Oh God. I’m currently counting on this to get me back from Hong Kong in April – I don’t mind flying J, but I hope the space shows up T-10 (which it usually does).

  24. I almost always travel with my wife and or daughter on Cathay and much prefer J over F so we can sit near each other and talk. F IMHO is only good if u are traveling alone.

  25. BA has the same restriction in place for CX J for quite a while now ( and they tend to be for short hops within Asia that require very few Avios)……so could it be CX’s the one requesting the change in order to stop people exploiting partner programs’ award chart in expense of its own frequent flyer members?

  26. I’m trying to keep up the love for Alaska MileagePlan, but they are making it more and more difficult. First there was the Emirates fiasco, which they have not seen fit to re-visit, and now this heavy-handed approach to close-in redemptions for CX and JL. I have read up on the old-as-the-hills fraud that has been going on, and note that Alaska has the unique solution/s in their hands as you HAVE TO PHONE THEM to make these redemptions. Would it kill them to have a few identifying questions at the ready, and only accept an on-file CC for payment of taxes & fees? Now, I would be the last to accuse Alaska of being dumb, or lazy, but I will call them out for diminishing what was once the best redemption scheme, in which they took great pride. I don’t know if anyone from Alaska MP reads these posts, but they could learn a lot about how their members feel, if they took the time to do so.

  27. As two people have already mentioned, BA has had a 7 day advance restriction on CX award tickets to and from mainland China for a long time now (at least a year), although you could sometimes get around this by calling in. It’s due to the massive fraud and mileage selling market in mainland China, which is like you’ve never seen in your life (I would know, as I’m based in Beijing. It’s the same reason that Delta Skymiles has had an advance booking requirement for all flights departing mainland China for a while now. What would shock me would be if AS puts this advance restriction on flights not departing from mainland China. If that’s really what’s happening, then that’s a disaster!

  28. This is just another way to stop booking partner award seats. The other airlines have many options such security code sent over to you cell. For example Qatar QMiles each transaction on the account automatically sends text message detailing number of miles used and for what. If AS wanted to make it better they could have, but I am afraid they will practice things like this more and more in the future.

  29. Two factor authentication or allow on call in and additional challenge question. Does no one know how to do security now?

  30. Ditto Brizone: The “fraud” excuse sounds like complete bullshit to me…

    AS never manages to find availability on CX anyway.
    And those JAL privacy screens are a thing of the past.

  31. @shva Same here. How many people can actually take an international trip that they book 2-3 days in advance? For me, I’d have a lot of schedules to work out, which is why I usually plan trips months in advance. No way I can just jet off to Hong Kong with 1 days’ notice.

  32. @Jim, actually there are lost of flyers in Hong Kong now using Alaska program because of business class earning rate on Cathay Pacific. It is a global loyalty program, not US based anymore.

  33. A side note to this issue, anyone is facing troubles booking JL in F for tickets released 325 days in advanced? I am unable to book anything within that timeframe despite the award being valid.

    It shows on JL Mileage bank and a call to Alaska confirms its availability just that ticketting seems to be invalid and error 1640 appears.

  34. @ Jim – Please save the tiresome “I’m a working stiff” ire. A lot of those hurt by the new policy aren’t wannabe jet setters, just people who ticketed the best they could get from Alaska’s limited availability hoping they could still upgrade to first or adjust dates at the last minute.

  35. This has been in effect since the fall. Managed to get an F seat for my wife YVR-HKG in Nov but could never find one for myself. Availability stopped at-3 days. Seats available on the plane but no award space.
    AS is really failing badly and it won’t be long before I leave the program.

  36. @Jim, @shva: your contribution here is a bit of “I’m alright, Jack!”, isn’t it?

    I, for one, have organized my entire travel life around last-minute availability. If you want 2 people to fly on CX in Business Class on the Toronto flight, you had no choice, and now, with this total broadside, we have no choices at all. My substiantial Alaska balance suddenly has no value. I can’t book a flight 325 days in advance because that’s too early to know my plans, and I can’t book last minute because Alaska won’t let me.

    “We’ve been experiencing fraud” is like the line call centres use and it’s a lie: “”experiencing high call volumes” isn’t actually the problem, is it, when your call isn’t being answered.

    Many of us out here in the travel hacking community rely on last-minute availability. I personally pack my bag and put it at my door, before I book my flight leaving home for Asia. This approach works comfortably using LifeMiles to fly EVA, using Aeroplan to fly EVA. But MileagePlan and Executive Club have screwed me.

    “Who would book last minute”?

    All serious travel hackers and booking services.

  37. “Many like to claim that they are “customers” of Alaska, when in fact they are only “customers” of MileagePlan. I use the term “customers” loosely, because if you are transferring thousands of miles into a frequent flyer program, then grabbing the best redemption’s (which are a net cash loser for MileagePlan), then you are not really a customer of MileagePlan, but instead a raider.

    I understand why you’re pissed, I used to be amongst you, but as the mileage game has become more mainstream over the years (thanks to blogs like this one), airlines are removing many of the cheats in order to protect their true customers.”


    Miles are sold bye airline to all of the public. Airlines don’t care who buys them, they want the cash. And now your here telling us that airlines only want loyal customers to buy the points?

    YOU AARE A MORON!!!!!!!!1!!!!!

    How do you know that purchased miles are a net cash loser for mileagge plane? YOU DONT KNOW THAT!!!!!!!!!! STOP COMMENTING HEREE!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!

  38. As a very loyal AS MP elite for many years now, I can tell all of you that there are methods to prevent fraud. I have a lock on my MP account for this very reason and why I don’t use services such as Award Wallet to store all my programs, passwords,etc. In order to book, I provide the agent my pin when I make an award booking.

    I do think AS’s fraud claim is stretching it, though. When the program is hyped all over the inter webs then saturation becomes an issue and the chances of fraud do increase exponentially- or, at least abuse.

    Yes, no award is truly ‘free’ but this mentality of grabbing premium seats by heavily discounted means (sale of miles) is similar to door-busting on Black Friday sales at retailers. Who ever in their right mind thought this is sustainable is foolish.

  39. @Kelly I disagree. It’s perfectly sustainable. Remember which seats we’re getting: the ones they can’t sell for money.

    In CX’s case, they wait until “day of” sometimes, before facing the reality that the seat will fly empty unless “sold” to us for points. We’re NOT a drain, a cost, a freebie, we’re a FireSale customer for something which, hours later, will go completely to waste.

    They’re lucky to have us, we’re lucky to have access. It’s a Win Win. There isn’t the slightest chance the carriers would offer the seats if they didn’t see it this way.

  40. Airline awards are on a collision course. When you consider the amount of points required for two round trip business class seats, it really makes sense to start shopping deals that include both airfare and hotels. For example use 230,000 AA miles for two, RT Bus seats to Greece. When miles are on sale, they will run about $5,600. It’s also a lot of spending on your credit card if you acquired the points that way. I received an American Airlines vacation offer, two round trip tickets business, including hotel for the same $5,600 LAX-ATH. It was essentially the same award but hotel thrown in for three weeks. Travel deals and waiting for that perfect travel opportunity seems to be worth it. Naturally, it’s a lot easier to do if you’re retired like me 🙂

  41. While reading some comments, I realized I have no idea what ticketing codes such as CXJ and F mean. Would you do a short piece on ticketing codes sometime? Thanks!

  42. Hey Ben,

    Do you know if AS has access to fewer award seats on CX & JL than (for example) QF & BA?

    Via the AS call centre, I’ve tried appending an Intra-Asia segment onto an AS award back to the US – both QF & BA show 2 seats available for PEK-HKG, but the AS agent cannot see any available space.

    (I searched for 2 adults to make sure there was > 1 seat available, thinking it may have been perhaps that AS can only see availability when there’s at least 2 seats available).


  43. @Dana

    CX is the airline code for Cathay Pacific, JL = Japan Airlines, AS = Alaska Airlines, BA = British Airways

    J means Business Class and F means First Class. So CX F means Cathay Pacific first class

    On a broader note, I do agree that it’s hypocrisy on the part of AS to run miles sale for the majority of the year and then NOT to expect a lot of shady characters to take advantage of such sale. Alaska Airlines, please go invest in better IT. And I bet you you can INCREASE your MileagePlan margin without incurring the wrath of your members!

  44. Update from my question posted 2 days ago – I called again this evening (not really a HUCA situation, as I’ve been trying for 3-4 days)..anyway, the agent could see the CX F space PEK-HKG and added it to my reservation (now, PEF-HKG-SFO-DAL) – AND I got a $3 refund on taxes!

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