Alaska Airlines Blames Travel Hacking for Their Sudden Emirates Devaluation Today

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alaska emirates devaluation explanation

Alaska’s Public Response to Emirates Devaluation

This morning the news broke that Alaska Airlines had raised redemption rates on Emirates first class between 67-100% depending on the region. Business class rates were also increased and all of this came without any notice to members. I covered the differences this morning in greater detail.

All day the Alaska Airlines Twitter account has been receiving complaints and for much of the day this was the only response:

Eventually they did start to answer questions and now they have posted a Q&A on their blog with some more information. Among the interesting tidbits is the answer to, “Why Is Mileage Plan making this change?” Here is their explanation:

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.

As for why they couldn’t communicate this in advance:

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.

In other words, they knew people would suddenly start booking a ton of awards that would cost them money and thus decided to implement this without allowing that to happen. Gotta love their “policy”.

Buy Miles Promotion

Alaska is currently offering a 40% bonus on purchasing their miles. A lot of people bought miles with the intention on using them for an Emirates premium cabin redemption. Fortunately it seems Alaska is going to refund anyone who wants to get their money back.

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

Finally, what if you have been saving miles for one of these redemptions? Well, Alaska says you are out of luck, but you can still book on their partners.

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.

You can read the full Q&A including a quote from Alaska’s Managing Director of loyalty marketing for more information. The only good thing I can say about this response is that at least they are refunding people who purchased miles. I’m glad to see that, but I am still not convinced that this change couldn’t have happened with at least some notice and furthermore I don’t trust that Alaska won’t do it again despite what they say their “policy” is.

What do you think about this response? Do you feel better about the whole thing or does it make you angrier that they blame travel hacking and went against their policy of giving notice?

HT: Points MD on Twitter and PDX Deals Guy via secure message

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  1. So I booked a ticket on emirates with alaska miles a few months ago and am set to fly at the end of the month. Should I be worried?

  2. No one here should be mad. If anything, people who used their really good 1st class rates should feel bad that honest people (who aren’t churning) who aren’t playing ‘the game’ got screwed because of people here.

    All I’m saying is you should feel bad for others who legitimately lost out – and not be mad at the company. I think the lesson here is to somehow keep some of these really good deals away from the public.

  3. That would be reaped what they have sown. Or maybe ripped what they have sewn. (Sorry, just couldn’t resist.) I only use miles to bring singers and orchestra players to Helena Montana, where the price of going ANYWHERE is $500 and up. So I read these distressed messages about premium cabin devaluations and shake my head. It would be wonderful to travel like this, but I’m just trying to make music happen in an airline-underserved region (importing 5 tenors, etc and a 17-piece orchestra for FIRST EVER period instrument performances of Bach’s B minor Mass in 4 Montana cities April 14-17). I still have about 500K American miles, from when I lived in DC in another life, but they don’t fly here. Sorry about the devaluation. Alaska is a great — and independent-thinking — airline. I love their spunk.

  4. To be blunt… It sucks if you were saving for an EK ticket but this comes as no shock to me. And no notice? Boo how.

    It’s become so mainstream that if it’s too good to be true… It won’t last. TPG’s article in Travel & Leisure even mentioned it.

    Seriously. They’ve reaped what they’ve sewn.

  5. With the amount of push on various websites to travel hack an Alaska redemption on Emirates, I can’t say I blame Alaska for doing what they did. Stories of people opening up multiple credit cards, buying miles specifically to redeem for EK awards, etc were commonplace on most of the big time blogs, and it’s not surprising that the end result is the present situation.

    I think it’s exactly right to say that Alaska showed their true colors today: they didn’t have to offer a refund for paid miles, but they did going all the way back to March 1. What other airline would do that? They told people on twitter that they’d look into their complaints, and ultimately tried to offer a solution. At the end of the day, they were getting burned by people on this particular award. Their response targeted only the reward being exploited, and they offered more than I would have expected to make up for the people who got innocently burned in the process.

  6. I’m disappointed I didn’t get in on the great deal, but I like AS just as much as yesterday. Having watched the rush to get AA awards before a smaller devaluation, I don’t blame AS for wanting to avoid tens to hundreds of similar redemptions-at-a-loss. Probably 99.8% of their customers were completely unaffected, and those that ARE screaming contributed little if anything to their bottom line. Refunding recent purchases goes beyond what I would expect – I’d have only refunded if the purchase had taken their total over yesterday’s business or first class price point., indicating that they’d plausibly purchased them to make that specific redemption.

  7. People can blame travel bloggers all they want, but Alaska showed its’ true colors today. Doing this with no notice is absolutely inexcusable.

  8. This just made me remember that we play their game, not ours. We don’t make the rules. Essentially every frequent flyer and hotel rewards program can make whatever modifications they feel like at any time. I have long looked at the Emirates awards and thought the price was too low. And with the ability to get 25k Alaska miles for $75 multiple times, it’s a fairly easy target for exploitation. The airline can and should cut off ways people exploit the system. If people are getting Alaska miles cheaply from BofA cards just to spend on Emirates flights, they really aren’t a loyal Alaska flyer. Why should Alaska care if they drop a bomb like this on them? I would feel worse for the elite Alaska customer who has been saving miles for a year to book this award. But that’s probably far fewer of the cases.

    • The price wasn’t too low, it was about right. In fact, I’d say it was a waste of miles vs. some of the business awards to Asia, like CX. I flew Emirates first once and wasn’t terribly impressed…it’s all glitz.

      Back to the subject though…..Airlines certainly enjoy selling out millions of miles to banks, they just don’t like to face the music when people come to redeem. There’s no hacking in this case, their miles were just too easy to earn, and with AA’s old chart being better for everything else, Emirates was only logical “aspirational” redemption.

  9. The partiea over folks. All these. Travel bloggers are going to have to go back to the real world and get a 9-5 job. The bloggers absolutely are the ones to blame for letting the herd in on the party. They can deny it all yhey want and try to blame somebody else but its cryatal clear.

  10. You can blame topmiles all you want, but Ben at One Mile at a Time has done at least 50+ post that feature Emirates first class flights obtained w/ Alaska Air miles that were purchased with cash. Then you have Million Miles Secrets who broadcasted that he signed up for 5 Alaska Airline Visa cards in one day and got approved. Then you have The Points Guy featuring similar information as well.

    What do all them have in common? They’re travel bloggers!

    Between the four I’m going to estimate that all their Emirates articles together have gotten over 50 million views (conservatively). Topmiles went on a press tour with his story and many of those websites have a view count posted along with his videos.

  11. you can blame topmiles who sent this article to mashable about emirates:

    I think this is the reason why they made the devaluation. One thing is for this community to be aware of how to use our miles, the other thing is to let all the world know. Im pretty sure Alaska saw that article and they were pissed. I bet they didnt mind hundreds of people doing the 100,000 EK flights but now they opened the flood gates with those mainstream articles.

    • FYI, Frank, I think you posted the wrong link. That story is about an AA miles redemption on Etihad, not AS on Emirates. In any event, I imagine it wasn’t a single story that prompted their devaluation, but rather a combination of factors over time.

      • Yes, you are right sorry for the wrong link, was in a rush. I saw another one on Mashable and other main stream sites about the EK redemption. The article had over 65k shares!


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