Monday, April 4, 2016

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan devalues Emirates premium class award tickets

Rewards Canada is back from Easter Break, of course while we were gone some big news comes out (Murphy's Law right?). The biggest news came from Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. On Thursday March 31st it became known that overnight from the 30th Alaska Airlines altered their award chart for travel on Emirates.

The changes affected Business Class and First Class awards on Emirates. They have been known as an exceptionally great value ever since the two airlines partnered up and began allowing redemptions. Travellers bought miles with Alaska's frequent mileage sales to take advantage of flying on Emirates in Business or First class.

Then all of the sudden on March 30th/31st these great value redemptions went up by up to 100% with no advance notice. Here is the explanation that Alaska Airlines gave on FlyerTalk:
Why is Mileage Plan making this change?

Alaska’s premium Emirates awards have long been known as an exceptionally good deal. With the rise of “travel-hacking,” intended to exploit Mileage Plan’s award routing rules, coupled with below-market award levels, our previous award levels were unsustainable. The new award levels enable Alaska to continue to offer Emirates Business Class and First Class as a redemption option

What if I purchased miles intending to book Emirates Business or First Class before I had a chance to book at the previous award level?

If you purchased miles on or after March 1, 2016, you can contact our Customer Care team for a refund.

Why didn’t Mileage Plan give advance notice? How can I expect other awards to not change suddenly?

Given the dynamics of this particular award, we were unable to announce changes in advance. This approach doesn’t represent a new normal. Our policy is to communicate significant program changes with at least 30 days’ notice when at all possible.

I’ve been saving my miles for this award. What am I supposed to do?

You’ll continue to have access to awards in premium cabins on our other partners with coverage to most of the same destinations. Future changes, if any, to these award levels will be given with advance notice.
These are the new redemption rates:
Prior to this North America to Asia was only 100,000 in First Class one way as was Africa. So right there you have 80% and 100% increases. Ouch!

Alaska put the blame on travel hacking (blogs, forums, etc.) and rightfully so. It is a cat and mouse game. People find the best value in programs and take advantage of it, when it doesn't become sustainable for the program they change and the cycle continues. However I think the much publicized stories of Sam Huang late last year is what put the final nail in the coffin. His story of getting $60,000 of Emirates flights for $300 was covered by major news sources around the globe, Canada, the U.S., the U.K. you name it. Alaska did change their wording a bit in their response about exploiting mileage rules to "the selling of award tickets for a profit by individuals and brokers in direct violation of our policy and Emirates policy" so it appears some people may have been taking advantage of buying Mileage Plan miles, then offering to buy tickets for people on Emirates lower than what Emirates was charging but higher than what those people paid for the miles. This is against the terms of any frequent flyer program! Honestly, it was probably a combination of all of the above that led to Alaska making the changes.

Overall this is a huge change and devaluation however I don't see it affecting Canadians as much as those south of the border. While many of us read about, write about and discuss the Emirates options via Alaska Airlines for many Canadians it just didn't make much sense unless you were near an Emirates city (Toronto, Seattle etc.) Those who do are a minority and it truly bites for that minority who have been saving up for that Emirates experience. No matter what Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is still a great program and makes a ton of sense for Canadians (both before and after this change) but in reality most Canadians outside of the Frequent Flyer/Travel Hacking circles won't have had these awards on their radar. Sure it sucks for those of us who wanted to redeem for high end Emirates flights via Mileage Plan but for Canada as a whole its not that big of news. The companion vouchers on the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MasterCard still provide great value while Mileage Plan miles still provide great value on Cathay Pacific premium awards, Hainan Airlines and others.

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