Alaska Says Its My Fault for Emirates Devaluation, But Still Caves to My Demand

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Yesterday, Alaska Airlines doubled the price of flying Emirates First Class awards with no notice whatsoever. Here was my take:

Devaluations stink.

Major devaluations stink more. (Please do it the Aeroplan way of small yearly devaluations with a few months notice instead.)

No-notice major devaluation stink the most.

They are plainly unethical. For weeks Alaska has been selling its miles with a bonus to entice you to buy. This is a revenue stream in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually for them.

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The implied promise is that you buy the miles and redeem them at the stated award chart prices, and then those prices change with no warning. I am sure someone got caught out on this sale with the no-notice Emirates devaluation, and that is slimy as all get out, Alaska.

In some cases, I think letting the airline hear our displeasure can help. Obviously Alaska wouldn’t roll back the price increases, but I hoped they could be shamed into future notice on price increases and into refunding miles purchases. I tweeted this and got 69 retweets.

Other miles bloggers did something similar. We had an effect.

Alaska was goaded into an explanation and an offer to refund miles purchases.

Explanation

Here is what Alaska says prompted the slaughter of its award charts.

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It’s those dang travel hackers. Translation: it’s my fault. It’s your fault.

Of course, the specific reason stated is pure hogwash. Alaska says we wanted to exploit Mileage Plan’s award routing rules, and we did want to do that–see Three Showers in Emirates First for 100k Alaska Miles–but that has nothing to do with a price increase. If the problem was the routing rules, limit Emirates awards to two flights or start charging for every flight. But it doesn’t make sense that the 10-20 (my estimate) people who tried to book a huge award with Alaska miles that flew Emirates First Class should cause the price to double.

Refund of Miles Purchases

I figure a few dozen people probably bought Alaska miles during the current sale with the idea to redeem for Emirates First Class and were caught out by this change. I called Alaska out in my tweet for unethical behavior in encouraging people to buy miles with a sale and then breaking the implied promise that those miles could be redeemed at current prices.

(Now I have no sympathy for people who bought the miles expecting to redeem them in a few months. As I always say, only buy miles for an immediate high value use because things change frequently in the miles world. But if you bought expecting to redeem in a day or two, and then the devaluation happened, you were wronged.)

Alaska did the right thing and is offering those people a refund.

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Good work complaining to Alaska; they listened.

Future Promise

I’d like to say Alaska promised not to make any more no-notice devaluations. They’d probably like to say they promised that also. Unfortunately they used words that almost sounded like that, but left themselves a huge loophole.

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Oddly this is contradicted by the next paragraph, which says “Future changes, if any, to these award levels will be given with advance notice.”

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I have several thoughts on these two paragraphs:

  1. So we’ll get notice “when at all possible.” What’s the explanation why notice was not possible this time?
  2. Which is it? One says when possible, and one says we will get advance notice.
  3. “Future changes, if any” lolololololol at “if any.” There will be future changes.

Bottom Line

As a travel hacker, it is my fault for the changes. Although they were caused by us exploiting the routing rules, which were not changed.

As one of the people who complained, I goaded Alaska into an explanation (airlines don’t usually do that) and a refund offer for the unethical mileage sales.

Alaska promises future notice when possible but also promises future notice even though those are two different promises.


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10 COMMENTS

  1. How can you ethically provide estimates of people booking huge Alaska awards or how many people were buying miles during the promotion? What are these estimates based on, if anything? It’s hugely unfair to Alaska to speculate about the numbers of people booking awards or buying miles when you have no possible way of knowing the real numbers.

    It’s insanely ironic to be calling AS unethical when you speculate the way you do, and HUGELY contributed to the demise of MP redemptions on EK.

      • es·ti·mate: an approximate calculation or judgment of the value, number, quantity, or extent of something

        If you have some legitimate data upon which you’ve based this estimate, please share it with us. Otherwise, it’s not an “estimate”, it’s a “guess” or “number I pulled out of my ass”.

        I have absolutely no data myself, but I’m fairly certain 10-20 people in a program with millions of members would not be enough to cause a change this big.

  2. You really have to wonder as they call you (all bloggers, flyertalk etc) travel hackers. That means if you acrue miles for an award and book that award you are a hacker. The reason? The intention must be that very few of those sort of awards are to be booked. I once had a fight with Chase bank over a program that stated the word unlimited. To them unlimited was not unlimited. It was what they said it was. Same thing here. Hard to believe they put that in writing though. Over the past few years many of the great program redemptions etc have dried up. I think the discussion of these sweet spots may have played a role in this for sure. I booked Emirates a few weeks ago with Alaska miles. I am glad I did. When you see an award you want grab it. Going forward many more devaluations and changes to come to every program. I like when others tell me how bad a program is (Delta top target) and obver the past three years I have gotten huge redemptions from them all at low level etc. Its tough and only getting tougher. Flexibility and creative routing may help get you where you want to go.

  3. The key point is the changes with no notice, which really destroy anyone’s ability to rely on a program. If you just move the goalposts whenever and wherever you want, people feel burned. I personally have no interest in the Emirates award, as I prefer to use my AS miles to fly Qantas to Australia, but I feel for those who were saving up and got screwed here. Sort of like me with the Explorer award on American that I had finally saved up for, and was just waiting for dates to enter the bookable window when they did their no notice elimination of it. It reinforces the spend as you go approach to miles collecting.

    • Spend as you go has been reinforced dozens of times now; good point. I agree with everything you’ve said.

  4. Hey, you know what. At least give them some credit for being totally honest and up-front. I’d rather they do that than blow smoke up our asses with some well worded release about “adjusting value to our customers” or some other BS. It was a loophole in their award chart. They explained why they did it and were honest. Sure, a little notice would have been nice. But all in all, they are caving and offering a refund on miles purchased and they were up-front. I am having a hard time finding fault with their taking away the ability to book a $10,000 Emirates suite for $2,000. 🙂

    • It was not a loophole. I thought the price was already on the high side of fair, really only justifiable if you booked an award that had at least two segments in Emirates A380 First. They were making money hand over fist from selling miles and allowing the redemptions. They changed their story (see link above) as to why they changed the prices, and they still haven’t given a good reason for no notice.

  5. […] The salt in the wound was that the surprise move was executed during a “buy miles” promotion.  Some people had undoubtedly just purchased miles, planning to use them on one of these flights, only to find out they now had half the miles they needed.  Because of the social media outrage, Alaska Airlines backed off a bit an is now allowing refunds on purchased miles in some cases.  For the whole story, read Milevalue’s post. […]

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