For those of us in Singapore, the JAL one-way trick was one of the most loved “features” of the Alaska Mileage Plan program.
I say “was”, because yesterday, Alaska inserted an innocuous line into its terms and conditions:
|10. Stopovers are not available on Intra-Asia award redemptions.|
And just like that, the JAL one-way trick is dead. Attempting to book a stopover on a one-way redemption within Asia now generates the following error message:
It doesn’t mean that Mileage Plan has no more JAL award space. The space is still there, just that it’ll cost you 50,000 miles to fly round-trip between Singapore and Tokyo, instead of the 25,000 miles before.
|What was the JAL one-way trick?|
|The JAL one-way trick was a way of redeeming a pseudo round-trip between Singapore and Japan for the price of a one-way.|
It took advantage of the fact that Mileage Plan allowed a stopover on a one-way award of up to a year. This meant you could book SIN-NRT-KUL, spend a week in Tokyo and pay just 25,000 miles in Business Class, a spectacular deal if you bought miles when they went on sale. At a price of 1.97 US cents/mile, your journey would cost you the equivalent of S$670 or so, plus some taxes.
You’d of course need to find your way back from KUL-SIN, but this was a simple as buying a sub-S$100 budget flight. Alternatively, you could start in KUL and fly KUL-NRT-SIN. You could also finish your itinerary in BKK or CGK if you so pleased, or do an open jaw at the turnaround point to fly home from KIX.
In the cold light of day, paying 50,000 Mileage Plan miles for a round-trip Business Class flight to Japan isn’t terrible. It also means there’s no longer a need to position yourself to/from Singapore on the first/last leg of your journey, and if you bought miles at 1.97 US cents each, your cost would be S$1,350, still much less than paying cash outright.
For comparison’s sake, a round-trip Business Class ticket from Singapore to Tokyo on Singapore Airlines would cost 94,000 KrisFlyer miles, so you’d need to buy them at ~1.4 cents each to match the Alaska Mileage Plan price- possible, but not easy. It’s not much consolation when the price has effectively doubled, but it’s something.
This new rule doesn’t just affect JAL awards, by the way. It also means you won’t be able to book a one-way stopover on flights within Asia on:
- Cathay Pacific
- Hainan Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
The JAL one-way trick existed for years, and I think most of us felt it was always a question of when, rather than if, Mileage Plan would clamp down. We just hoped that “when” would be later rather than sooner.
I believe the catalyst was the addition of Singapore Airlines as a redemption partner, which happened one week ago. Although the award chart represented dubious value*, Mileage Plan members had access to SQ’s “forbidden cabins“- First and Business Class seats which were normally not available to partner airlines.
*for buying Mileage Plan miles; if you were earning them by crediting Singapore Airlines flights it could still make sense
That proved to be important, because of two things:
- Alaska Mileage Plan allowed stopovers on a one-way itinerary
- Shanghai and Beijing were classified in the same zone as Singapore and the rest of South East Asia
People soon figured out that you could put together some nifty itineraries using Singapore as a stopover point to redeem two flights for the cost of one.
For example, you could redeem First Class from PVG-SIN, stay in Singapore up to a year, and continue your journey from SIN-HKG, also in First Class. The cost? 35,000 miles and US$32 of taxes.
You could stretch your horizons by redeeming LAX-NRT-SIN-HND for just 80,000 miles + US$79, giving you the chance to take one vacation in the USA and one in Japan.
Or you could go the whole nine yards and fly PVG-SIN-LHR-SIN with 2 out of 3 legs in First Class and the other in Business for just 35,000 miles and about US$50 of taxes (the UK’s notorious APD is avoided because the stop in London is less than 24 hours).
The catch was that you had to do an immediate turnaround in London, or else forfeit your return flight to Singapore, but that’s still an insane amount of flying for 35,000 miles.
While these were phenomenal redemptions for members, they obviously made no sense for the program, so it looks like Mileage Plan decided to “fix” it by removing stopovers on one-way intra-Asia awards altogether. From this perspective, the JAL one-way trick was simply collateral damage.
|Shanghai and Beijing have been reclassified|
|For good measure, Mileage Plan has also reclassified Shanghai and Beijing into North Asia, which means one-way Business/First Class awards are now pricing at 60,000/75,000 miles, versus 25,000/35,000 miles a few days ago. |
Of course, you also can’t discount the possibility that the JAL one-way trick was becoming more common knowledge (I’ll talk about this a bit more later on), leading to higher reimbursement costs for Mileage Plan, and they saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
What if I have an existing booking?
If you’ve booked an existing JAL one-way trick, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. I think it’s highly unlikely anything will happen to your itinerary, although I’d obviously monitor it every now and then to make sure it’s still appearing.
This is provided you don’t need to make any changes to your booking- for all intents and purposes it’s become non-changeable. Don’t even think about touching it!
What do I do with the rest of my Alaska miles?
Alaska Mileage Plan has been running frequent miles sales in recent months, and I know at least a few people who have been loading up.
If there’s an object lesson to be drawn from all this, it’s that you should never buy miles speculatively. If you’re in the market to buy, you’re in the market to redeem. Award charts and routing rules can change without any warning, and the last thing you want is to be left holding the bag.
That said, if you’ve still got a healthy stash of miles, the sort-of-good news is that they aren’t useless all of a sudden. There are still other sweet spots available within Mileage Plan, particularly for travel between Singapore and the USA:
- 50,000/70,000 miles for a one-way Business/First Class award between Singapore and the USA on Cathay Pacific (these awards don’t appear online, you’ll need to call in to book)
- 65,000/75,000 miles for a one-way Business/First Class award between Singapore and the USA on JAL
- 120,000 miles for a round-trip Business Class award between Singapore and Hawaii on Korean Air
Alaska Mileage Plan miles can also be redeemed on the following carriers, which can be useful if you’re traveling point to point outside of Singapore:
Remember that Mileage Plan does not pass on fuel surcharges, so that’s another plus point.
Reflections on the JAL one-way trick’s demise
I first wrote about the JAL one-way trick in 2017. At the time, I got some very angry comments and emails from people accusing me of “spoiling” it, saying that Alaska would swoop in and plug the loophole, and we’d have a classic tragedy of the commons on our hands (I’m paraphrasing, in reality it was mostly a combination of curses upon my loved ones and ancestors).
Now, there’s a sort of inevitability to such predictions about loopholes, in that they’ll eventually be proven right. But it didn’t happen straight away. We had had a full two years to make hay, and for the record, I don’t regret sharing this trick at all; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
One of the best things is to meet readers who say that thanks to this, they’ve been able to give their whole family their first-ever Business Class experience. Likewise, it’s heartwarming to hear about a newlywed couple, who thought they’d never be able to afford anything other than Economy, jetting off to Tokyo in style for their honeymoon. I myself have had some great experiences with it, doing the Tokyo Ramen Run and other fun trips.
The miles game is not about a bunch of people hiding in closed groups, talking in code and squirreling away the best deals for themselves. It’s about helping people travel better for less, and the more people know how to do so, the better.
Does it mean that some tricks end up lasting shorter than they otherwise would have without the publicity? Sure. But tricks come and go, and nobody “owns” them. It’s part and parcel of the game we play.
So I’ll never understand the mentality of people who get angry at those who share, especially when they didn’t discover the trick for themselves. I am aware of some of the comments that have been made on Lucky’s post, and it’s slightly amusing to read the rage of those railing at “idiots in Asia” for causing this, as if by virtue of being ‘Murican you have some divine right to Mileage Plan. Ok, truce- we’ll stay clear of Mileage Plan if you stay out of KrisFlyer 😉
tl;dr: JAL one-way trick is dead, Alaska miles worth less, but not worthless.
For the sake of all Singaporeans who love flying to Japan, let’s hope that Aegean Miles and Bonus does something big for Black Friday soon…