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At some point in the past 24 hours, a new message has been uploaded to the Alaska Airlines airlines award chart page and miles & points fans of a nervous disposition are not going to like it. The wording seems innocuous but those of us who have been around this hobby for some time will recognize that something bad may be heading our way.
Here’s the wording that has appeared on the Alaska Airlines website:
Update on partner awards
Good news for 2022! Cathay Pacific awards will be available to book on alaskaair.com in October and LATAM awards will be available before the end of 2022.
Starting late December, the way you view award charts online is changing. We’ll have a simplified award chart to show you where award levels start based on which regions you’re traveling from and to. With this change, similar to awards on Alaska, partner award levels may vary depending on multiple factors including route, distance, or demand. You’ll continue to be able to enjoy great value for your miles. As always, the best way to view pricing and availability for the routes you’re interested in flying is to search for your specific travel dates and destinations.
[HT: VFTW for the heads up]
I’m always wary when a message from a loyalty program starts off by telling me that something is “good news” because the
cynic realist in me is always left wondering what the program is trying to hide.
Clearly, finally being given the ability to book Cathay Pacific awards on the Alaska Airlines website is very good news, and if you like booking LATAM awards using Alaska Miles, I guess that the news that they’ll soon be bookable online is good news too.
The worry here, however, is that Alaska Airlines is also talking about a “simplified” award chart and more dynamic pricing and while nothing bad may come of this, we have to keep in mind that any opportunity a loyalty program gives itself to play around with its award charts is an opportunity for the program to devalue.
I was one of the thousands of Mileage Plan members who were beyond excited when Alaska Airlines joined the oneworld alliance and I couldn’t wait to see what fantastic award redemptions would be coming our way.
To say that what we’ve been served up since then has been disappointing would be an understatement as most of the partner awards that have been brought online as a result of the move to oneworld have been horribly overpriced.
What this has resulted in is a situation where there’s a clear discrepancy between the value that Mileage Plan offers through some of its legacy partners (e.g. Cathay Pacific) and what it offers through its recently acquired partners (e.g. Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, and Royal Jordanian) so what’s to say that the program won’t even things up (in a negative way) as it creates a “simplified” award chart?
What’s to say that the wonderful value we can currently get by booking Cathay Pacific awards with Alaska Miles won’t be but a happy memory come this time next year?
Yes, what may be on the way may be nothing more than a few more levels of awards above the saver level (with the current saver level awards being left alone) but as that doesn’t sound like a simplification of the award charts, you would have to be quite the optimist to believe that that’s as bad as things could get.
What I think may be coming
I’m just guessing and speculating here but what this sounds like to me is that Alaska Airlines is planning to simplify its award charts by creating a set of charts based on the ones used by American Airlines.
As things stand, the way that Alaska’s award charts work means that the cost of an award between the continental US and Europe (for example) will vary depending on the partner airline – booking BA Business Class costs 60,000 miles each way while Iberia Business Class costs 75,000 miles each way – and this is what I think Alaska Airlines will eliminate.
I expect Alaska Airlines to unify its award charts so that the cost of awards between two regions will be the same regardless of which partner airline is being booked. Essentially, I expect the award charts to be based on this:
This is the American Airlines partner award chart for travel from Europe to the various regions you see listed on the left and this is the format that I think Alaska will use as a starting point.
The way that the Mileage Plan award charts could differ from what you see above is that while American’s partner award pricing is fixed, the prices that Alaska Airlines publishes in its charts may only be the starting price.
As the airline says in its announcement:
“We’ll have a simplified award chart to show you where award levels start based on which regions you’re traveling from and to” – this is where Alaska Airlines could copy the American Airlines model.
“[A]ward levels may vary depending on multiple factors including route, distance, or demand” – this is where Alaska Airlines could finesse the American Airlines model by making the pricing dynamic.
If this is what actually happens (and I may be completely wrong), I highly doubt that the starting point for the award prices will be the more generous awards that Alaska Airlines currently offers – 50,000 miles each way for Business Class to/from Asia on Cathay Pacific is likely to be a thing of the past – and that would be a crushing blow to the Mileage Plan program.
As I said, this is nothing more than pure speculation and guesswork on my part so something entirely different could be on the way and as long as it’s better than what I think is coming, I’ll probably be slightly relieved.
Cathay Pacific and LATAM awards will soon be bookable through the Alaska Airlines website but the bigger news is that the airline is creating a simplified award chart that will be unveiled towards the end of the year. For now, we have no real idea what changes are on the way but I have a bad feeling about what’s coming and I expect the news to be disappointing. Let’s hope I’m wrong.