Alaska: Why Emirates First Class Awards Increased 100 Percent with No Notice

Alaska: Why Emirates First Class Awards Increased 100% with No Notice

Alaska Mileage Plan increased Emirates A380 First Class awards 67%-100% with no notice effective March 30, 2016, which Alaska's Q&A rather petulantly blamed on “travel hacking” and below-market award levels making the previous award rates unsustainable. First, here are the actual rate increases:

Emirates First Class Award Increases Using Alaska Mileage Plan Miles

  • North America to Middle East, India, Maldives: from 90,000 miles to 150,000 miles each way = 67% increase
  • North America to Africa: from 100,000 miles to 200,000 miles each way = 100% increase
  • North America to Asia: from 100,000 miles to 180,000 miles each way = 80% increase
  • North America to Europe: from 100,000 miles to 180,000 miles each way = 80% increase

And the new rates for both Emirates Business Class (top portion) and Emirates First Class awards (bottom portion), using Alaska Mileage Plan miles:

New Alaska Award Chart for Emirates First Class and Business Class


Why No Notice?

Alaska claims in its Q&A “Given the dynamics of this particular award, we were unable to announce changes in advance.” Translation: Alaska has been experiencing huge demand for Emirates First Class award redemptions, and knew if they did give advance notice of the new Emirates award rate changes, there would be a feeding frenzy, with a huge uptick in Emirates First Class award bookings, meaning a lot of money Alaska would be paying to Emirates for these bookings. Emirates may have also increased the rate at which Alaska has to pay for each Emirates First Class and Emirates Business Class award booked, and it's possible this Emirates rate increase occurred with no notice, prompting Alaska's sudden increase.

No doubt Alaska would have preferred to keep the revenue from the Mileage Plan miles sales, but in the face of the huge backlash after the no notice devaluation, figured that refunding Mileage Plan miles purchases made in March was the best way to at least partially diffuse the anger of those who had just bought Alaska miles with the intent to book Emirates awards. Which leads to:


Alaska WILL Refund Mileage Plan Purchases Made On or After March 1, 2016

Naturally I would never have included the Buy Alaska miles with a 40% bonus offer in my roundup of March Expiring Deals had I known Alaska was going to increase Emirates first class award rates from 67%-100% with no notice whatsoever. But if you did buy Alaska miles in March 2016 with the 40% bonus, intending to book Emirates awards, yet weren't able to book before this no notice devaluation, contact Alaska Customer Care at 800-654-5669 and request a refund of your Mileage Plan miles purchase(s).


What About If I Transferred SPG Starpoints to Alaska Miles?!

Unfortunately Alaska's willingness to refund Alaska Mileage Plan mile purchases made in March 2016 does nothing to help those who transferred Starpoints to Alaska with the intent to book awards at the old Emirates award chart rates. While you could certainly call Alaska Customer Care and press for a refund, I'm not optimistic and haven't heard yet of anyone successfully getting a Starpoints transfer to Alaska reversed, due to the no notice devaluation. It's a similar situation to the risk you take in the award availability disappearing during the time it takes for Starpoints to transfer, since Starpoints transfers aren't instant. See SPG Points Transfer Times to Airlines.


Is Alaska About to Change Other Award Rates?

Alaska claims in its FAQ that “future changes, if any, to [other partner airline] award levels will be given with advance notice.” Of course, Alaska has just lost the trust of many of its Mileage Plan members, so some are not sticking around to find out. But as always, don't hoard miles–earn and burn. It's never a question of if frequent flyer programs will devalue, but rather of when, and sometimes these devaluations are with no notice. Also see my post Redeeming 800,000 Miles and Points: Why We Don't Save Our Miles.


Other Alaska Mileage Plan Awards?

If you're now stuck with a lot of Alaska Mileage Plan miles but aren't willing to pay the new Emirates award chart rates, these are the awards I'd consider, if you can find award availability:

  • Cathay Pacific First Class North America to Asia: 70,000 miles each way (usually only 1 award seat available per flight)
  • Cathay Pacific First Class North America to Hong Kong, then Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to Australia or New Zealand: 80,000 miles each way
  • Cathay Pacific Business Class North America to Australia or New Zealand via Hong Kong: 60,000 miles each way
  • Cathay Pacific Business Class North America to Asia: 50,000 miles each way
  • Qantas Business Class North America to Australia or New Zealand: 55,000 miles each way
  • Fiji Airways Business Class North America to Fiji or to Australia or New Zealand via Fiji: 55,000 miles each way 
  • Air France or KLM Business Class North America to Europe: 62,500 miles each way
Best Alternative Miles to Fly Emirates First Class?
Your best alternative if you still want to fly Emirates First Class is with JAL Mileage Bank, which has a distance based award chart. Examples of roundtrip Emirates First Class award rates are:
  • New York to Dubai roundtrip in Emirates First Class: 135,000 JAL miles
  • New York JFK to Maldives via Dubai roundtrip in Emirates First Class: 155,000 JAL miles
  • Los Angeles LAX to Dubai roundtrip in Emirates First Class: 155,000 JAL miles
  • New York JFK to Bangkok via Dubai in Emirates First Class: 155,000 JAL miles
The main issue is that, unless you happen to fly JAL a lot, it's hard to earn JAL Mileage Bank miles. For most U.S. based flyers, it will mean transferring SPG Starpoints to JAL, so it will be challenging unless you have a stockpile of SPG Starpoints handy and/or are able to top up by buying some Starpoints (maximum of 30,000 Starpoints can be purchased per account per year, although it is possible to transfer points to another member of your household.


The Bottom Line

Alaska's drastic Emirates First Class devaluation with no notice makes me wonder just how badly Alaska is bleeding cash (or how much Emirates just raised the required rate Alaska has to pay for Emirates First Class awards). While Alaska is well within its rights to change its frequent flyer award charts with no notice, I doubt this no notice devaluation would have happened without some significant financial driver involved.

If you are one of many frustrated by Alaska's approach, recognize that while this sharp increase in Emirates First Class award rates isn't going to be rolled back, you can insist on a refund of any Alaska Mileage Plan miles purchases made in March 2016.

Alternatively, consider using your Alaska miles for a different award entirely, such as Cathay Pacific Business Class via Hong Kong to Australia or New Zealand. I'm in New Zealand now, and it's quickly becoming one of our favorite destinations in the world for its natural beauty and views, friendly people, great food and wine, and unique animals.

Has Alaska's sudden increase in Emirates First Class award rates impacted you? Will you be seeking a refund of March 2016 Alaska Mileage Plan miles purchases?

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