See comment from Alaska Airlines at the bottom of the piece.
Alaska Airlines is surveying potential changes to their program, including moving to revenue-based earning and offering elite tiers starting at just 5000 qualifying miles.
With Alaska’s renewed partnership with American Airlines and plan to join oneworld I’m expecting to see the Mileage Plan program devalued.
It’s hard to imagine American would have re-engaged on the partnership with Mileage Plan as rich as it is. The miles are worth more and the status is easier to earn (without a minimum spend requirement even) and mid-tier elites on Alaska will receive most of the privileges of mid-tier American Airlines elites even when flying American. (This is true even assuming that discount American Airlines fares earn less than one mile per mile flown when crediting to Alaska.)
While programs survey potential changes all of the time, and many of the potential ideas being surveyed never see the light of day, since it’s reasonable to expect to see changes to the program coming as a result of the American and oneworld partnership, changes that Mileage Plan is surveying now become especially interesting.
The survey described the current program and asked for feedback on it: how unique, how rewarding, whether it drives choice of airline (even if more expensive), whether it’s first choice program and one that you’d recommend. Survey recipients were also asked for open-ended feedback on likes and dislikes about the program.
There was one item worth noting in the current program description. The survey said ‘miles never expire’ (which is something JetBlue and Delta and more recently United and Southwest have done) without reference to requiring activity every 24 months as they actually do today. I assume this was a mistake, because the survey uses 24 month expiration versus no expiration as a feature they’re testing.
Then they tested three different versions of Mileage Plan.
- Redeem miles for low value stuff (think Delta). They tested redeeming miles for airline fees, inflight purchases, shopping, hotels, and experiences.
- Begin earning elite benefits after very little travel “Just 1 roundtrip can earn you beneﬁts like drink vouchers or complimentary in-ﬂight WiFi.” New lower elite tiers after 5000 and 10,000 qualifying miles. The first tier earns drinks and wifi, the second tier adds priority boarding.
- Replace miles with a rebate to spend with Alaska “No more confusing points or miles to track. It’s simple. Earn 5% back on every dollar you spend with Alaska Airlines, and use it toward ﬂights, conﬁrmed upgrades, fees, onboard product, lounge access, partner airlines, hotel stays, car rentals, merchandise and more.” Elites earn 10%, 15%, or 20% back in ‘Alaska cash’.
And they compared various program features against each other, presenting 5 different program ‘bundles’ with various combinations of the following features:
- Revenue-based earn vs. miles flown interestingly they surveyed base earn at 6 points per dollar rather than 5 which many competitors offer.
- Small value airline purchase redemptions vs. current travel options does adding in options for “In-Flight purchases (food, drinks, WiFi), Fees (bag fees, change fees, pet fees), Airport Lounge
membership, Car Rentals, Merchandise” move the needle?
- Miles and cash as an option.
- Lower starting threshold for elite status versus current 20,000 mile minimum
- No change fees versus $125 fee
- No expiration of miles versus requiring activity every 2 years to keep an account active
I don’t know which of these features are under serious consideration, but it’s interesting at a time where they’re preparing for major change – full oneworld membership and partnership with American Airlines – that they’re also surveying a revenue-based program. One thing they notably did not include in the testing, however, was minimum spend for elite status.
(HT: To the reader who sent me screen shots of the full survey, whose name is distinguishing enough that I won’t mention it.)
Update: Ryan Butz, Managing Director, Guest Loyalty, at Alaska Airlines says this is just a standard survey and not to read too much into it,
Our Mileage Plan is highly regarded as one of the most generous programs in the industry. We want to keep it that way and frequently conduct customer research in an effort to make sure it remains as generous as possible for our members, and to ensure that the benefits provided are relevant and valuable. The survey this was pulled from is no different than similar research projects we’ve conducted over the past five years. This research is unrelated to the AA relationship announcement and frankly was initiated months before that came to fruition.
I still believe that (1) American was unhappy with the generosity of the Mileage Plan program and that was a point of friction for them in their earlier partnership, so (2) a cost of the renewed partnership and oneworld membership has to be some devaluation of Mileage Plan. However Butz suggests this survey wouldn’t tell us that.