No, Alaska Airlines Miles Aren’t Suddenly Worthless

No, this has nothing to do with Alaska taking over Virgin America. 😉

A bit over a week ago I posted about how Alaska Mileage Plan drastically devalued Emirates first class redemptions without any notice. They increased the cost of many first class awards by 100%. It goes without saying that this was extremely disappointing to many members, given how many people had been collecting Alaska miles with the intention of redeeming them for Emirates first class.

Emirates-Shower
Bye bye showers in the sky!

Adding insult to injury, Alaska passive aggressively blamed Mileage Plan members for the devaluation, and then later changed their story as to which subset of members they were blaming.

While award chart devaluations are inevitable, there’s generally an expectation that we’ll get some advance notice of changes. After all, loyalty programs are intended to generate loyalty and goodwill, and devaluing miles without notice accomplishes exactly the opposite. The good thing is that even though Alaska didn’t fully take responsibility for the devaluation, I’m confident they’ll provide notice of future changes, given the backlash they got from members with these changes.

What has surprised me is that over the past week I’ve received a countless number of comments and emails from readers along the lines of “what am I supposed to do with my worthless Alaska miles?”

I’ve long said that I consider Alaska Mileage Plan miles to be among the most valuable out there, and that wasn’t simply because of the ability to redeem Alaska miles for Emirates first class.

Alaska miles are still extremely valuable.

I’ve written in the past about some of the really awesome features of Mileage Plan award redemptions, like:

  • The ability to do a stopover even on a one-way award, which makes Mileage Plan one of the few programs where that’s possible
  • The very reasonable change and cancelation fees (you can cancel and change an award for free up until 60 days before departure, and after that it’s just $125 per person)
  • A truly unique array of airline partners, ranging from SkyTeam airlines to oneworld airlines to several independent airlines

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777 - 27
Cathay Pacific first class

I’ve also written in the past about six great uses of Alaska miles, and only one of those involved Emirates first class. As a reminder, here are Alaska’s award charts, which are region based, as a refresher of just how great some of the values are:

Intra-StateContinental U.S. and CanadaHawaii
MexicoCaribbean Central and South America
EuropeAfrica – Middle East – India Australia – NZ – South Pacific
Asia

I’m not going to rehash the whole program here, though I figured I’d post a reminder of just how good some of the one-way award values are (and keep in mind that in all cases you’re allowed a stopover on a one-way award):

LAN-Business-Class-787 - 25
LAN Chile business class

Bottom line

I’m as pissed as the next person about Alaska devaluing Emirates first class redemptions overnight. Heck, I’m probably significantly more pissed than the average person, given how much I’ve enjoyed redeeming for Emirates first class.

This doesn’t change the fact that Alaska continues to offer some incredible redemption opportunities, including the best redemption rates in Cathay Pacific first class, as well as fantastic business class redemption rates on many airlines (which is where most of the good award values are nowadays). You also can’t undersell how awesome it is to do a stopover on a one way award.

Hainan-Airlines-Business-Class-787 - 79
Hainan business class

On a value per mile basis, I’d still consider Mileage Plan miles to be the single most valuable mileage currency issued by a US airline.

Which redemptions using Alaska miles are you most excited about going forward?

Comments

  1. Lots of availability this summer to Europe redeeming Alaska Miles on Iceland Air business class with a free stopover in Reykjavik. Not the best seat, but no British Air surcharge and it’s available.

  2. Korean Air doesn’t offer one way redemptions on mileage plan, so you might want to clarify the 60,000 one way business to Asia

  3. I just booked Qantas Business to Australia and then Cathay (Business to HKG, First to LAX) home over Christmas with my AS miles — total of 130k miles. Not bad.

  4. You can only have one partner and Alaska flights. nothing else. This makes it hugely inconvenient for those of us not served by Alaska to a hub with good partner awards.

  5. I disagree. It’s the trust gap. That’s what makes them worthless. Crediting to AA instead of Alaska from now on. They haven’t executed a btchslap change for a year or two now

  6. @Stvr AA miles have been devalued across the board for redemption. Earning has also taken a huge hit. Crediting to them would just be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  7. Hey Ben, I heard Tiffany talk about Alaska’s great touring with stopovers is that only a mile redemption deal? I attempted to book a multi city trip on a paid fare and I couldn’t figure it out. Every segment was priced. Did I do it wrong?

  8. If you book Cathay in business class using Alaska miles, is your trip on AS to your departure city in coach or in first?

  9. Why are there no Cathay awards when I search? They never come up at any time…just searched JFK-HKG and LAX-HKG on a few dates. Plenty of other airlines, nothing CX.

  10. @Mark

    CX is not bookable online, instead search for them using BA’s site, and then call AS.

    If BA shows them available for Avios, you can also book them using Alaska miles.

    @Daniel

    If you book J on a CX award, the agent will be happy to put you in F for your positioning flight on AS. I’ve never had any issue doing this as long as there is availability.

  11. Here is an example of a company trying to fix a problem that they don’t completely understand. As a long time Alaska elite member, I understand what the problem is and how to actually fix the actually fix the problem without pissing off the people they don’t want to offend. Alaska in their response blamed the whole thing on “travel hackers”. While I believe there are “freeloaders” in the system the labeling of these people as “hackers” is simply wrong. Calling them hackers would be saying that they were circumventing the rules which they were not. The freeloaders were merely taking advantage of the generous rules at Alaska and that is the problem. Freeloaders are those American and Delta refugees that status match and post all of their AA and DL miles to AS when they have no intention of flying AS. This is the problem. The solution is to eliminate the freeloaders from the flock.

    My solution to the problem employs three simple fixes:
    1 – Eliminate status matches. Most of these people are AA and DL hub hostages and will do all of their flying on AA and DL.
    2 – Require earning elite status by requiring at least half of the EQMs on AS and
    3 – Delay gift distribution (free upgrades) by a month after the system flushes out all of those that failed to qualify or requalify.

    What Alaska did was like a doctor curing cancer by killing the patient.

    My wife and I are flying to LHR this summer in first class on an AA 777-300er with the flagship first class suites. Thank you Alaska Airlines for 125000 miles round trip.

  12. @ KG — Correct, that’s one of the benefits of an award ticket. On revenue fares you pretty much pay for each segment separately. Good question!

  13. @Steve Case,
    I don’t think they were targeting people who earn miles through flying, so I’m not sure your suggestions help. I think they were targeting two types of people:
    People who take advantage of lax routing rules on EK to fly really complex routes with many legs on a supposed one way ticket.
    Ticket brokers who buy miles and then purchase tickets for customers who are willing to pay cash for first class. For example a 1st class ticket might cost $8k. Someone could buy 200k worth of miles for $4k and then buy the FC ticket as an award and sell it to someone else for $5k. The broker makes $1k and the buyer saves $3k. This is what Emirates was trying to stop, but it is basically their fault for releasing so much award space in the first place. It’s like a death spiral. Can’t sell first class, so release award space. People who would have bought FC then buy miles and use the award space and even less FC gets sold at retail.

    Alaska should have instead fixed their routing rules and put more restrictions on purchasing miles and then using them on EK.

  14. Can we do away with forever the endless file photos of Emirates showers, now that Alaska has made us take a bath on Emirates redemptions?

  15. Is Korean air US to SE Asia actually 120,000 miles one way? I tried to look on Alaska’s site, jfk – Seoul – Ho Chi Minh city and it comes up as 120,000 without a return.

  16. How do you find Cathay tickets on Alaska? I’ve looked for many months out, and I can’t find a single Cathay award. It’s usually DL, or EK.

  17. And for those of us who, you know, actually fly on Alaska day to day it’s still the best domestic carrier and they treat their Golds / 75k’s very well.

  18. In terms of doing multi-stop on Alaska paid fare and it being priced per segment, has anyone checked to see if it is much more than if you just did a straight round-trip? I think I did some dummy bookings to test and I came up with very similar amounts. Much better than when I try to do it with Delta. So maybe Alaska doesn’t provide “free” stopovers on their revenue fares, but it is pretty close, and being able to do that with your $99 companion fare along which you DEFINITELY cannot do with Delta, makes me lean towards changing over to the Alaska card over the Delta card next year since it would help to combine our family vacations into one trip window (not to mention saving money in the process) by being able to go to visit family, and then do a separate nuclear family only kids thing along the way.

  19. I have been meaning to ask this, I understand that there is “one stopover” per leg (one for each way plus open jaw), but normally the stop-over has to be the airline’s hub city, is that correct? Or can I make the stop-over in the gateway city after my positioning flight? I am flying from Hawaii, so would I be able to book First Class/Business Class with a stop-over in Seattle, on my way to my destination in Hong Kong?

  20. I called the AS award desk a few times – and I cannot find any CX biz or 1st class availability from Sept – Jan 2017. I was told you could ( if you have an avios account ) search the BA site for CX availability – however i did that and found availability, however those seats are allocated for BA and will not be necessarily available for AS. In this case – that was true. The seats were only for BA. Similarly, it seems near to impossible to find any Qantas biz or 1st availability. The AS award desk rep said “Yeah, they are know for that” ..

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