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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