Alaska Responds with an FAQ on Emirates Redemption Devaluation

Alaska has just released an FAQ on their corporate blog that addresses a lot of questions regarding the Emirates Award Redemption last night.

If you’ve missed this morning’s news, Alaska MileagePlan released a new award chart for Emirates business and first class redemptions, doubling some redemption prices. For example, North America to Africa is now 400,000 miles roundtrip in first class.

Emirates A380 First Class

Emirates A380 First Class

A lot of people were rightly annoyed, me included, especially since I had been saving for an Emirates First Class Award. Scott at Travel Codex has a very rational analysis on these awards. He says this was an unsustainable award, and that the concept of loyalty is arguably tossed out the window when the only thing you’re doing are opening credit cards and buying Alaska Miles to get Emirates at 90% off retail price.

Alaska explains this in their FAQ:

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.

While exploiting is a strong word, most people would agree that this award was a good value, and had not changed since Alaska launched award redemptions with Emirates. Actually, it might not might be – just take a look at this viral Mashable article on maximizing the number of Emirates segments you flew.

I doubt that the internal reimbursement rates with Emirates had changed with this date. If so, they would have been able to shift the blame to Emirates, as well as giving advance notice. Other points that could redeem for Emirates First Class, such as Qantas, Korean, and JAL, have not been affected.

Alaska can get away with these changes, because there is no other option to redeem for Emirates First Class, arguably one of the most aspirational redemptions available. It’s not like the domestic 25,000 economy class North American award, which will not change for a very long time because everyone other mileage program offers it.

Even though my trust in Alaska is diminished, I do trust that they will not devalue without notice, which they’ve clarified:

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.

They’ve offered to refund miles purchases made before March 1 due to the fact that many people have purchased Alaska miles specifically for this redemption, and I think that is a reasonable move. When people complain about this, however, I think there’s not really anything they can do.

Will I and others stop getting the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard which most Canadians did to access Emirates First Class? No, I won’t. It offers 25,000 bonus miles upon approval. If I could get it 20 times in a day, I would. Even if this redemption is devalued, I’m still going to pick up these miles for a ridiculously low cost to redeem for on Cathay Pacific, Qantas, or any of their other partners which still have great premium class products.

Will I stop putting everyday non-AMEX spend on this card? Probably. But for most people that read BoardingArea, that’s a laughably small percentage of how they acquire all their miles. Keep in mind, this devaluation doesn’t make Emirates First Class impossibly inaccessible. It just makes it harder.

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