How I earned 70,000+ Alaska miles with a short trip to China

Introduction
Understanding mileage earning bonuses (EQM vs RDM)
The booking process: Finding the right flight to China
Putting this mileage run into perspective
Summary

Introduction

Lately, Hainan Airlines has been offering phenomenal discount fares between select cities in the US and China, including single-connection routes from Los Angeles to Tier 1 cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen via Xi’An, Changsha, Chongqing, and Chengdu. And over the last few months, there has been huge mileage earning potential with Alaska Airlines, which compelled us to take a few trips back to China this summer on Hainan Airlines’ newly released 787-9 Business Class product that went into service this spring. Here’s a full review of our experience on Hainan Airlines.

This year, Hainan Airlines celebrated the 20th year anniversary of their frequent-flyer program, the Fortune Wings Club — a major milestone for the Skytrax 5-Star and #1 airline in China.

In light of this achievement, airline partner Alaska Airlines revealed a promotion of their own — offering double Mileage Plan miles for flights flown on Hainan Airlines. Details of this promotion, which ended August 31, are below:

20th Anniversary Double Miles Promo

One of our favorite things about Alaska Airlines is that they are one of the few airlines that reward members using distance-based awards. Unlike all other US-based airlines, Alaska awards frequent flyer miles (Redeemable Miles, or RDM) and Elite miles (Elite Qualifying Miles, or EQM) on distance traveled rather than the cost of your ticket. This means that cheap flights halfway around the world are rewarded handsomely.

Mileage Multipliers

EQM and RDM earning structures

The below chart is helpful in understanding both EQMs and RDMs with Alaska Airlines, which was the prime motivation for our trips.

Alaska Airlines mileage bonus chart

These cheap Hainan fares, which have been available for months and include most dates through next February, book into I fares for the transpacific segment, and C fares for the intra-China segment. To calculate EQMs and RDMs earned, simply add up the appropriate base mile and class of service earning percentages applicable to your fare. For RDMs, you also add the additional bonus column, which is 100% for all Hainan Business Class fares. Other bonuses, such as registering for the Hainan double promotion and holding elite status entitle you to an additional bonus on base miles that further increases RDM earnings.

Alaska’s Elite Status “Earning benefits” chart
Breakdown of total earnings

For example, on a round-trip fare from Los Angeles to Shanghai via Chengdu, EQM and RDM earnings for a Gold 75k Elite member flying during the promotional period would be as follows:

Miles FlownEQM MultiplierEQMsRDM MultiplierRDMs
(I) LAX<->CTU14,414100%14,414425%61,260
(C) CTU<->PVG2,120250%5,300575%12,190
Total16,53419,71473,450

You can find the miles distance for your specific itinerary using GCMap, a favorite tool of ours. A detailed breakdown of the above RDM earnings is below:

Base miles earned100%
Class of service bonus miles (for C fares only) 150%
Additional bonus miles100%
Alaska double base mileage bonus (which expired August 31) 100%
MVP Gold 75K base mileage bonus125%

Finding Flights

Searching availability to various cities in China out of Los Angeles via Google Flights returns round trip prices as low as $1,608.

Outbound on Google Flights
Inbound on Google Flights

When plugged in to Skyscanner, we saw several results this summer all under $1,500 per person. For some trips, we took advantage of the 50% travel bonus (thanks to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) through the Chase Portal, to book using Chase Ultimate Rewards points rather than cash.

Either way, this is an incredible value for business class travel from the US to China — not even considering the EQM and RDM earnings. And booking on our American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards also earned us 5x and 3x points respectively.

Valuing our earnings

To put it all in perspective, our trip from Los Angeles to Shanghai via Chengdu earned us a whopping 73,450 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles — more than enough to redeem a First Class ticket from Los Angeles to Asia on Cathay Pacific… which is a $10,000+ ticket, by the way.

Sample flight from LAX-HKG-NRT in Cathay Pacific First Class

Equally important is the fact that these EQMs will help us renew elite status with Alaska Airlines for another year, which requires 75,000 miles flown on Alaska, or 90,000 miles inclusive of elite-qualifying partners like Hainan. In the LAX-PVG example above, we’re earning 19,714 EQMs toward Elite status.

Having MVP Gold 75k status with Alaska comes with some enormous benefits of its own, including priority First Class upgrades, waived ticket change fees, and 50,000 extra RDMs as a reward for earning the status.

Bottom Line

Partner promotions like this open up doors for phenomenal earning opportunities, and this is definitely one of our biggest hauls yet. While the double promo with Alaska Airlines has ended, there’s still an opportunity to earn 325% and 475% RDMs on flights to China. The same sample route from LAX to PVG would still net over 56,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles today.

We personally value Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles much higher than any other mileage currency, based on the value we get from international award redemptions and the flexibility with stopovers. So having the opportunity to score a healthy number of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles through this promotion makes these transpacific hauls an absolute no-brainer. Plus, it’s not a bad way to see China if it’s been on your bucket list.

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