Last week, Scott broke the news of an apparent Alaska Mileage Plan devaluation. In this round, Alaska significantly increased the cost of certain Singapore Airlines redemptions; perhaps more significantly, it eliminated the option of stopovers on all intra-Asia itineraries. Scott argues that these changes aren’t that big of a deal. I take the opposite approach – that these changes together represent a major program change that wrongs loyal Mileage Plan members.
Alaska Mileage Plan Devaluation Basics
As mentioned above, the latest devaluation consists of two parts. The first is a simple redefinition of “zones” for Singapore Airlines award purposes. Instead of one zone for all of “Asia”, you now have “Southeast Asia” and “Japan, Korea, and China”. This increased the cost of some awards substantially; for example, Bangkok to Singapore to Tokyo in Business Class went from 25,000 miles to 60,000 miles.
Second, Alaska eliminated the ability to book stopovers on solely intra-Asia awards. For example, under the old rules, you could fly from Tokyo to Singapore, spend a few days there, then continue to Bangkok.
That award cost just 25,000 miles in Business Class under the old system. Today, that same booking requires two awards, for a total of 85,000 miles – a nearly 3.5x increase. Also note that this new prohibition applies to ALL Mileage Plan partners in Asia. You can no longer, say, book a Cathay Pacific award from Beijing to Hong Kong to Bangkok with a stopover in Hong Kong. Instead of one single award for 22,500 miles in Business Class, the same booking now costs 45,000 miles.
On their face, the changes themselves strike me as reasonable enough. Particularly in the case of Singapore Airlines, 35,000 miles to fly in Suites Class from Tokyo to Singapore is a screaming good deal. That’s nearly 7 hours in Suites for less than the cost of an Alaska recliner seat from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Many suspect Alaska accidentally mispriced these awards to begin with, so some correction seems logical. In addition, there’s quite a bit of chatter regarding creative misuse of Singapore Airlines stopovers. I’ve seen suggestions that something like Beijing-Singapore-London-Singapore priced as intra-Asia with a stopover. If true, I certainly don’t blame Alaska for wanting to shut that down. That’s clearly not an intended use of the program.
Why This Devaluation Betrays the Trust of Mileage Plan Members
Although I regard the changes as reasonable on their face, this devaluation rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons. And it should rub you the wrong way, too. First, no matter the excuse, I simply can’t support this kind of stealth, no-notice devaluation in the dark of night. Especially coming on the heels of a major sale on purchased miles. There is, no doubt, at least some percentage of customers who purchased miles intending to redeem them for Japan to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, or to book routings with intra-Asia stopovers. I’ll forgive these customers for feeling baited and switched.
Scott argues this doesn’t matter, on the basis that people can buy miles at any time, and sales are frequent. Or as he says, there’s no good way to time a change like this. Which is precisely the point – the right thing to do is to provide advance notice of changes. I don’t expect a lot of lead time here; even something like 30 days seems fair enough to me. That gives those that purchased miles a chance to use them as they intended. For a permitted use under the rules of the program, I might add. And a use (free stopovers) that Alaska frequently advertises as a benefit of its program.
Second, this strikes me as Alaska making its own poor IT and pricing decisions the customer’s problem. Alaska delayed redemption opportunities on Singapore metal for a whole 26 MONTHS after announcing the partnership. You’re trying to tell me they couldn’t figure out appropriate pricing and bug fixes in that time? In all that time, they couldn’t figure out how to block abusive uses such as China-SIN-Europe-SIN? Why is that my problem as a Mileage Plan member?
Finally, after getting torched for the no-notice Emirates devaluation in 2016, Alaska famously promised not to do it again. Well, technically, they promised to provide at least 30 days advance notice of changes “where possible”. Yet here we are again 3 years later, with another no-notice devaluation. Alaska’s been tight-lipped about this change, but I suspect they’ll eventually blame Singapore for demanding the changes due to fraud. Ok, so even accepting that, that addresses Singapore. But what about intra-Asia stopovers on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines? Those aren’t new.
I guess what bugs me most, though, is that this feels like overkill, and frankly underhanded. If abusive routings really was the problem, why not kill those immediately, then give 30 days notice of the price increases and elimination of stopovers? That’s a perfectly reasonable response in my book. Sadly, this is starting to look like a pattern with Alaska. Management identifies a redemption as too costly, then blames fraud and “travel hackers” for a no-notice devaluation. What’s to stop them from using the same excuse to increase Cathay award costs and kill stopovers entirely? After all, “travel hackers” and bloggers point out that these provide outsized value all the time.
I agree with Matthew on this issue – this Alaska Mileage Plan devaluation violates our trust, again. It’s not the changes themselves, which I consider reasonable on their face. It’s the lack of notice, and frankly, lack of honesty. I think Scott’s right, though; I unfortunately expect them to keep acting this way going forward. It’s easy, after all, to vilify the small percentage of “travel hackers” while most members simply shrug. But it’s still wrong on their part.