Alaska Demolished Emirates Award Chart, then provides Q and A a day later

AS - Customer Loyalty

The big news today (other than Anbang bowing out of the bid for Starwood) is Alaska’s no notice changes to the Emirates Award Chart. This is a big deal. We’re talking increases of 50-100% for the cost. Folks that had enough for a round trip to Africa, now have enough for a one way, for example. Here’s the new chart:

AS EK Changes 31 Mar 16

It’s funny, because I was on the phone with Alaska Air yesterday evening, for over 45 minutes from 7:30 to just past 8:20pm Eastern, and in that time, I went from having the perfect seats, to the availability disappearing as I was providing our Alaska numbers (I was booking for my father and brother as well). No notice, the agent had no idea what was going on. First had been available, then poof, only business. Had I been on longer, I probably would’ve seen business go as well, but, alas, I had to sleep.

No Notice Award Chart Changes

Ok, this is a pet peeve of anyone that plays this game. We devote a lot of time to accruing miles. We risk, what many call, one of our most valuable assets, our credit (I personally think it’s 2nd, behind reputation), to apply for credit cards, to fly these great awards. Some go out and manufacture spend, meaning that they spend countless hours in lines at Walmart and other places to generate Alaska miles. Others, fly, whether they are mileage runs, business, or otherwise, they fly to earn enough for that awesome experience. My point here is: We can’t snap our fingers one day and suddenly double our Alaska mileage stash (without buying them for a minimum of 2.11 cents per mile), why should Alaska change their chart with no advance notice? I call this a lack of decency.

A Demolished Emirates Award Chart

Emirates is a truly awesome Alaska partner, for many in the mile and point community. We are the 1% when it comes to pursuing this type of award, so, pat yourself on the back. But then ask – if, according to Alaska’s investor day in 2013, if 3.5% of Mileage Plan Member Award Redemptions are on “International Partners” which includes more than just Emirates, how are we even moving the needle?

Alaska Investor Day 2013

The FAQ That Tells it Like it is

A day after the changes were officially made, on 31 March (the day most folks noticed those changes), Alaska finally got around to putting out a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about their change. There are some interesting points in that FAQ.

First, “Track Hacking:”

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.

I dare say that Bank of America was more the loser when it comes to “travel hacking.” If anything, Alaska was doing exceptionally well, because beyond applying for credit cards, (which seem to be increasing pretty substantially, see chart from 3 December 15 Investor Day):

AS Affinity Cards

So, please, Alaska, tell us how much you were “losing” from “travel hackers.”

The next question – Why didn’t Mileage Plan give advance notice?

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 really don’t understand this. We’re talking about an award that is less than 2.5% (based on 2013 numbers) of overall Mileage Plan redemptions, from a company that is returning significant dollars back to shareholders (a great thing for shareholders), which has reasonably low debt, and in general, is doing pretty well (another chart from 2015):

Alaska Investor Day 2015 - 2

So yeah – why, Alaska, do you need to stick it to folks that are such a small percentage of award bookings, with absolutely no notice. There is no goodwill here.

Of course, there is a bright side:

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

I guess that’s the benefit of booking during their 40% bonus on purchased miles program.

And the final point glossed from the FAQ: What about future changes?

Future changes, if any, to these award levels will be given with advance notice.

Because, somehow, even though Alaska states that they could not announce changes in advance based on the dynamic of Emirates awards, Alaska still believes they can provide advance notice in the future. Does that mean we can still trust them?

A Reminder – Earn and Burn

We should all know this by now. But if we haven’t, we have Kenny, and Milenomics to help remind us. Miles and Points are an unregulated currency, and as a result, airlines can do what they please, when they please, if they please, and we get virtually no say. I’m just as guilty. As I mentioned earlier. I had gotten my brother and father up to 100,000 Alaska miles, and waited. I waited because I wanted the availability to open up for our window (well within the booking window), so I could architect the perfect trip. Ironically, I even stated in a meeting today: Perfect is the enemy of good. In other words, if good is enough, do it.

Wrapping Up

Today was a bad day. I dare say it was Black Thursday (since so many Black Fridays, and who could forget, Blue Tuesday). For me personally, this is huge, not because I won’t ever fly Emirates again–I’ll find a way, as those ways are still out there, just more difficult–but rather, Alaska showed what are perhaps their true colors. All of those positive overtones, and yet, just like I mentioned earlier, your reputation is your most important asset, and Alaska has just tarnished their reputation of being trustworthy and customer focused, for what? To eek out a little bit of extra profit for Emirates awards.

8 thoughts on “Alaska Demolished Emirates Award Chart, then provides Q and A a day later

  1. 1% of the total redemption might = 5-20% of the total redemption expense, because any redemptions on Alaska are consider much lower cost(freeish). The actual cost of EK rembursement first class might be 100x the marginal cost of one seat on lax-sea.

    • @Ted – Fair point, but given the condition of the airline’s finances (bolstered by affinity programs and mileage sales), you’d think they’d have offered some amount of advance notice.

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  3. one of these days I’ll get off my can and fly one of the really nice airlines. United GlobalFirst is the best I’ve ever seen.

    What is the best redemption remaining for an aspirational up-front product now that AA and AS have gone the way of the dodo?

    • The best “Deal” I’d say is still using Alaska Airlines’ miles, flying Cathay Pacific First for 70k miles oneway.

  4. Interesting that Alaska often features Scott of Travel Codex (formerly “Hack My Trip”) and then lists “travel hackers” as a reason for the no-notice devaluation. Also not surprising that Scott doesn’t seem too upset about the changes — I do wonder if there is any financial component to his participation as as guest blogger. Anyhow, I’m pissed — I haven’t churned BoA Visas and have gone out of my way to accrue actual butt-in-seat miles on Alaska while slowly burning my AS miles. I was hoping to have a nice trip on EK for myself and my s/o but apparently I should have burned more quickly.

  5. @Hua – Scott is not pissed because he understands these things happen, and we as the players of the game have ZERO control. We are all #blessed to have the opportunity to churn, burn, and have the freedom fly to all ends of the world just by signing up for a few credit cards. Ever try to explain the “game” to a foreigner? It makes ZERO sense, and no where but murica can you play it (to the scale that many of us do). Enjoy it, be thankful, and be fly steerage on occasion to keep yourself grounded.

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