Why One Mile At A Time Is Wrong To Excuse The Alaska Airlines Devaluation

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is raising the price of first class awards on their own flights. They haven’t told members they’re doing it – but they posted a notice on their award charts that it’s happening in less than a month, even though they’ve previously said they would give 90 days notice of changes (which is hardly generous).

One Mile at a Time comes to their defense,

  • “Alaska is providing nearly a month of advance notice about this change”

  • “I don’t view this as being a huge deal”

  • “This isn’t the same as a partner award devaluation”

  • “View from the Wing is frustrated that Alaska didn’t provide 90 days notice of the change…I think that frustration is more on principle than practical”

I take issue with this. Respectfully, ​90 days is what Alaska committed to, there may be times when contractually they cannot do this on a partner award but that’s clearly not the case with own-metal awards. So in a sense it’s worse when they do it with their own flights than when they fail to give their promised notice with partners. There’s no external coordination required, they can make the changes whenever they wish – if they’d forgotten to notify members, just delay the change 60 more days.

Ben suggests that anyone booking more than a month in advance shouldn’t be paying the highest prices that are going up anyway, but that misses the point. A month isn’t enough not because members have to redeem now rather than waiting in order to get the best price – members look to the award chart to know how many miles they’ll need to redeem in other words to set a goal and earn towards that goal.

While members are on a quest towards that goal they get the rug pulled out from under them. They no longer have as much time to earn the points they were targeting. (And the lower prices are available for a shorter window, Alaska only publishes schedules about 11 months out.)

He congratulates Alaska for actually still having an award chart. But an award chart is a promise of value. Any devaluation means miles are worth less, but doing it suddenly, and contrary to a commitment, is worse. To be sure Delta doesn’t actually promise their miles have any value. I agree that Alaska miles are worth more than Delta miles, even with this incident. But that faint praise aside, it takes a certain kind of Stockholm Syndrome to be excusing a program encouraging business with miles that are promised to have a certain value and then not honoring that value.

Ultimately, like Ben, I care less about these awards than partner redemptions. But when Alaska won’t honor their advance notice commitment EVEN FOR own-metal redemptions my concern isn’t principle it’s TRUST.

The value of a currency is based on trust – how well it will hold value. Alaska has announced it is holding value well with this change, and telegraphed it will hold value less well in the future by how this change is being made.

This makes me downgrade how much I value an Alaska mile. Although seeing the direction of award pricing with new partners I’ve begun to do that anyway, since they clearly appear to be on a downward trajectory (as I predicted would be the case as part of joining oneworld), and I tend to expect that as bilateral contracts for award redemption get renegotiated we’ll see more increases even for legacy partners

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I suspect Ben isn’t even writing One Mile at A Time these days. The articles are almost exclusively guides, puff pieces for credit card promotion, or free advertising for his boyfriend’s travel agent company. He is probably paying a ghost writer. His blog is actually worse than The Points Guy these days.

  2. Basically Alaska airlines does not need low value customers such as those that care about award redemptions to such a degree of detail

  3. Devaluations lowers value for customers. It should also lower the value of the frequent flyer program.

  4. Incredible that Alaska would even think about raising redemption rates for their own F class product.
    It is total rubbish, has always been and probably always will. They are really getting way ahead of themselves to even consider this action.
    The shining star of the AS enterprise has always been its MileagePlan program, not its actual airline operations, and instead of going onto greater things with joining the OneWorld alliance, it is squandering the opportunities it could grasp, and has turned a soufflé into a pancake.
    I’m a long-term MP member, and have taken many excellent value partner award flights over the years (zero on AS metal) but now relegate MP to the also-rans basket.
    I have said it before and will say it again: Alaska needs an urgent wholesale cleanout of management or the Board, or both~ who knows, I’m not a shareholder, who should know!

  5. Great point, Gary.

    Plus let’s not forget their own FA’s promoting credit card signups with the promise of how far you can go with their miles.

  6. Gary is right. The issue is trust.

    I’m a 75k and a very satisfied Alaska customer. That said, Alaska needs to honor its promises. In the event that they cannot for some specific reason, they need to explain why not. In this case they have done neither.

  7. For us up in SEA this is another reason to fly DL. Seat back video, 5,000k nonstop reward flights to Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska & transcon (frequent), nonstop Europe & Asia service. Yes, there are definitely loyalist customers here that don’t care but for anyone paying attention, the value has & continues to shrink.

  8. Thank you calling out TPG2. He used to love flying. Now he is Capital One’s fan boy. Couldn’t care less about Alaska.

  9. Probably the link to where Alaska Air made the 60-day notification promise needs to be provided?

    This type of outrage is understandable but no one can claim that a loyalty program stepped out of bound by not providing advance notice of a programmatic change, when the T&C of virtually every program contain terms like the following, which are verbatim from Alaska Mileage Plan’s T&C. Only advance notice of program termination has an explicit ‘grace period’ stated (180 days):

    Changes to the Mileage Plan and member accounts

    Alaska Airlines may terminate the Mileage Plan program 180 days after publishing notice of program termination on http://www.alaskaair.com.
    Alaska Airlines may, in its sole discretion, amend the Mileage Plan conditions of membership, including terminating any member’s ability to redeem miles already accrued, at any time.

    Any and all changes in the conditions of membership, including rules regarding the number of miles needed for a Mileage Plan award, are retroactive and apply to all previously accumulated mileage.

    The accumulation of mileage in a member’s account does not entitle the member to any vested rights with respect to any specific awards or specific Mileage Plan benefits. In accumulating mileage, members may not rely upon the continued availability of any award or award level, and members may not be able to obtain awards for all destinations or flights. Alaska Airlines may, among other things:
    Change Mileage Plan benefits, participant affiliations, or cities served
    Limit the number of seats available for award travel or otherwise restrict the continued availability of travel awards or special offers
    Increase or decrease the mileage required for an award
    Modify transferability of miles and awards
    Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan partners may on occasion implement changes affecting Mileage Plan benefits without prior notice to members.

  10. C’mon, Alaska! We’ve counted on you here on the forgotten West Coast to treat us better than UA, DL, AA. If you’re going to squander our trust, the others are bigger, their first class is better, and if you ALL treat us like fools, well, why should we steer loyalty to you??

  11. @SST or anyone actually:

    Since I don’t fly Alaska but continue to read the fans on the various blogs, is it accurate their FC isn’t up to par with the others? My “impression” from reading posts through the last two years at least was they had a pretty decent FC.

  12. Why do morons in these blog comments always harp on loyalty? A for profit company exists to make money, you are only as good to them as the money you spend or influence others to spend. Loyalty does not come into the picture.

  13. @SST Alaska’s flight attendants by and large do treat you better than other airlines because Alaska hires from places where giving polite customer service (with no attitude!) is more of a virtue

  14. @Big Booty: thanks for the comments on Alaska FC, I really wouldn’t expect flat seats from them since most flights are domestic (at least from what I know and not going to research it). But I do agree with you about “trust” from these programs or companies, the word “trust” went out the window years ago from any company regardless of the industry. Once the world got locked onto a 401k and how the stock valuations played a part of it, profit has been king and loyalty be damned.

  15. The fact is capitalism as practiced by America doesn’t work. Capitalism with socialist characteristics, as practiced in Asia, is highly promising. All you need to do is look at mega cities such as Shanghai, HK, Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore. These are real mega urban cities where people thrive. Americans think NYC is a “real” city? It’s certainly as close as America gets, but – bahahahaha!

    By economic measures such as GDP, NYC does hold its own, but by quality of life, it’s a joke and a disaster. MTA is a joke and a disaster. The NYC area airports are a complete disaster compared to PVG, HKG, NRT, ICN, and especially SIN. NYC has some very nice things but they are oases of luxury in a concrete jungle wet dreams tomato. (“Where dreams are made of”)

  16. Putting the issue at hand to the side for a moment . . .

    Big Booty might be a U.S. citizen or resident now — emphasize “might” — but Big Booty is not a native of the U.S. Big Booty’s world view and thought processes were formed and developed outside the U.S. Big Booty’s job — yes, his job — is to sow discontent.

    My advice, tune out Big Booty.

  17. AS first class recliners are great. This is about devaluation of their award redemptions. This includes all of their partners which they say is the customers benefit of joining OW. Considering how difficult their miles are to earn, their uncompetitive credit card offers, this metal devaluation & their continued OW devaluation… As long as DL offers a better product & outcompetes their milage redemptions in their key West Coast markets, bad move IMHO.

  18. Reno Joe, who is your agent for service of process? I need to sue you for defamation. I am not only a native of the United States, I was born and raised in Gardnerville, a town most people haven’t heard of, but you might have — emphasis “might”. As you and I both know, Nevada isn’t a place to make it, hence I moved posthaste to a coastal city. My job isn’t to sow discontent, although that effect may be had on clients who dislike what I hear. But I tell them, and everyone, the truth, at all times.

  19. It’s quite simple. Luckys customers are the airlines and cc companies. Unlike you and a lot of bloggers his blog is his business and the readers are the products he sends to his customers. Hence he would be bound to say more good things than not about his favourite programs

  20. Or maybe, “Here’s Why I Disagree With Ben’s Opinion”. Not quite as arrogant or provocative as “Ben is Wrong”, but you do you.

  21. @FNT Delta Diamond: Great observation. Completely agreed with you about the article posted at Ben’s blogging site. It changed and did not get updated as it used to be. Maybe he and Tiffany sold the site already.

  22. @Big Booty – LGA has probably the single nicest terminal in the US now (save for maybe Tom Bradley at LAX), you should check it out. JFK re-do is up next…EWR will always be an s-hole but at least the new Terminal One is opening soon.

  23. I flew Alaska last summer for the first time. Bought a premium or what they call their comfort/extra-legroom seats based on Alaska advertising drinks and snacks on the 1-hour mainline flight within Alaska. Guess what? No drinks and snacks were served. I complained to Alaska and included screen shots of the false advertising. All I asked was they refund the difference between economy and premium. They refused. Screw them. If it was worth my time, I’d sue them in small claims court.

  24. Presented in the FWIW mode; just voicing my own personal opinion…

    I happen to agree with Gary. Perhaps I am naïve, but I expect people to abide by their agreements. In legal terms, a corporation is a person, and I expect Alaska to stick with their agreements. In that regard, 90 days *should* have been the advanced notice prior to the devaluation. And YES, it’s a trust issue. But my primary use of AS points is *not* to fly in F — if I get upgraded due to my status, great! But no AS flight is so long that sitting in an Exit Row isn’t enough room/comfort for me. It’s partner redemptions that are the big concern for me…

  25. @Jason Brandt Lewis — I believe that a case for duplicity on the part of Alaska Air could possibly be made if anyone could provide, in context, the text of Alaska’s purported 90-day “promise.”

    I’ve seen references and links (at OMAAT) to where Alaska purportedly ‘promised’ to give a 90-day notice before modifying its own or partner award chart, but when I get there I never see the “promise” itself exactly as stated by Alaska. Instead, I’d see something like this (OMAAT):

    In the past an Alaska Airlines spokesperson had also stated that the company hopes to provide at least 90 days notice of any award chart changes, so I’d expect that to be the case going forward.</b.

    Hardly a “promise” to bank on. Context is important here, especially since virtually every loyalty program, Mileage Plan included (quoted above verbatim), reserves the right to implement programmatic changes, except program termination, without prior notice to members.

    What I see here may be another case of self-anointed “travel gurus” misinterpreting or reinterpreting a loyalty program term, rule, condition or statement to make its meaning more favorable and expansive than originally intended by the program. Then. invariably, they’d accuse the program of duplicity when reality intrudes and a program implements something according to its interpretation of its own rule rather than according to self-anointed “travel gurus'” mis/reinterpretation of it. A case in point is the outrage that followed the realization that SPG’s “best room available” did not mean “guaranteed” suite upgrades as reinterpreted in travel blogopshere.

    G’day.

  26. In 2019 Alaska devalued earnings on low-fare partner travel (from 100% of actual miles to 25%) with 3 months’ notice. I had already bought my ticket 9 months in advance based on the longstanding earning rate. I consider that a retroactive change.

    I was confident that Alaska would make it right after I flew and mailed them a polite request. I was wrong. They flat out refused, twice (since I couldn’t believe the first refusal). They didn’t even address the propriety of changing the earning rate after purchase of a nonrefundable ticket. It was the kind of canned refusal I would have expected from United.

    This was my first-ever disappointment with Alaska Airlines. It would have cost them very little to treat me fairly.

  27. Partner devaluation has already happened. Business on Fiji Airways and all Cathay awards non-existent.

  28. @Big Booty. My guess is you work in an oligopolistic enterprise. You think like a banker. Getting new customers is arduous, so keeping them once you have them is important to the bottom line.

  29. @ Big Booty. Asia is the most ruthlessly capitalistic region on earth. Contracts and law will not stand in the way of profit. What they have is not socialist characteristics but a high value placed on social solidarity. There is also a pronounced degree of mono-culturalism in the places you mentioned.
    btw, I prefer Jakarta, KL, Bangkok to the places you mentioned.

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