Lots of people in the past have talked about using 70k Alaska Airlines miles to fly from North America to South Africa in Cathay Pacific First Class (although that’s no longer possible since Cathay no longer has first class between HKG and JNB), and Alaska is also well known for offering redemptions for Emirates First Class (granted, at a relatively pricey 100k miles for a one-way F redemption). But one thing that I don’t think gets enough love is that you can redeem Alaska miles for premium economy awards on its partners, and these are generally great redemption values.
As far as I know, Alaska is the only US program that allows redemption for premium economy. Premium economy only really exists on non-US airlines, which is perhaps why US mileage programs haven’t yet offered the option to redeem for premium economy on their partners. But Alaska allows redemptions for premium economy on Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and Qantas, and the additional mileage required is minimal.
For example, a one-way coach award on Cathay Pacific between North America and Asia is 30k Alaska miles. This in and of itself is a pretty good value, considering that American charges 35k miles for a one-way coach award between North America and Asia2 and United charges 40k miles for a one-way coach award between North America and South Asia. In addition, Alaska offers stopovers on one-way awards, so you could stop in Hong Kong for however long you want.
But premium economy is only 35k miles. That’s an additional 5k miles one-way for a verrry long trip. Worth it? I think so. In general, you’re getting an extra 6 inches of pitch and an extra inch in seat width, in addition to better meals, an amenity kit, etc. A quick, non-rigorous search on Cathay’s site showed a difference of about $800 between a roundtrip coach and a roundtrip premium economy ticket between SFO and HKG in April, while it would only be an incremental 10k miles for an award ticket.
Similarly, while a one-way coach award on Qantas between North America and Australia/New Zealand is 42.5k miles, premium coach is just 5k miles more at 47.5k miles. British Airways requires a 10k mile premium over coach, but why are you redeeming your miles for BA in the first place?
While most of the points/miles game is focused around aspirational travel, this is a pretty “cheap” way to buy some extra comfort while maximizing the amount of travel that you can do.