Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a program of which I’ve long been a fan. I’ve written extensively about multiple aspects of the program covering how they are the easiest airline with which to earn status and comparing the earning rates with other carriers (i.e. how much better Alaska is). But I’m now a bit worried about the potential Alaska Mileage Plan devaluation, given their unexpected move into Oneworld.
Why I’m Concerned About Alaska Joining Oneworld
As far as I cam concerned, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has nowhere to go but down. Award charts rarely get better, and when they do, its typically for tickets that are objectively cheap. An example would be Alaska moving to a distance-based award chart for their own domestic flights. Many of these are routinely available for $59-79. There is no circumstance where I’d spend 12,500 miles on one of them. But 5,000 miles? Maybe, but still unlikely.
We almost never see things get better for premium cabin awards. It’s obvious that Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage are not matched when it comes to the number of miles required for awards. Mileage Plan typically has better earning and cheaper awards than the world’s largest airline. This isn’t true in all cases, obviously, as Alaska’s partner charts vary substantially. But when you can book Cathay Pacific first class between the U.S. and Hong Kong for 70,000 Mileage Plan miles versus 110,000 American AAdvantage miles, which would you choose?
My biggest worry is that Alaska will standardize their award charts among partners. They already partner with many Oneworld airlines, but it would be awkward to maintain charts for each partner. I’m not sure if they could even maintain this sort of pricing once they join the alliance. There isn’t another alliance airline that I’m aware of that does this. Oneworld airlines typically offer region-based or distance-based pricing. Some charge more for partner flights (*cough* Cathay *cough*), but they don’t have specific pricing for each partner.
Most Logical Outcome for Standardized Award Pricing
If Alaska must standardize their award pricing, I don’t expect it to be for the better. They’d more likely take the lowest common Oneworld denominator and apply the pricing to all alliance partners as a region-based chart. For example, suppose they use the mediocre Finnair pricing across the board. This would really kill the value you can find on Qantas, Cathay, and JAL. Their non-Oneworld partners have some of the worst pricing, but I wouldn’t expect them to factor those into their new rates.
Speaking of non-Oneworld partners, I’m worried about Alaska being able to maintain their partnerships with airlines in other alliances. I don’t expect independent partnerships like Icelandair or Emirates to go anywhere. But they could lose Singapore and Korean. Not that there really is much value in the latter for award travelers, given the stratospheric pricing.
Is There an Alaska Mileage Plan Devaluation In The Cards?
For now, things are business as usual, and they will be for a while. It will be at least a year until Alaska Airlines joins the alliance. No changes have been announced, but they will surely be in the works during the coming months. Given the carrier’s overnight devaluations that have happened before, my worry is that the worst will happen unexpectedly. I have many good things to say about Alaska, but award devaluations without advance notice are one of the worst thi
I’ve always wanted to use Alaska Mileage Plan to book Cathay Pacific first class. It’s one of those tickets that is way under-priced with Mileage Plan, and among those that I’ve called “ripe for devaluation” for quite some time. Honestly, I’m surprised it hasn’t gone away already. But we could be in the final stretch of this sort of award being available.
Personally, I would bet money that we see a significant Alaska Mileage Plan devaluation as Alaska formally joins the Oneworld alliance in mid-2021. I hate to cry wolf when there is no wolf, but given the tendency for Alaska to not provide notice of a devaluation, I’d plan to burn miles sooner rather than later if you want to book one of the better premium cabin awards currently available through Mileage Plan.
What I Don’t Expect to Devalue
One thing I think Alaska will be adamant about it crediting miles based on distance flown. They have used this fact many times in their loyalty program marketing, and they are the last real holdout among a bunch of U.S. airlines that have moved to revenue-based mileage earning. Given how integral their earning structure is to maintaining a strong elite program, I don’t expect this to change. It’s the primary reason I’m so keen on Mileage Plan.
My guess is that other aspects of their elite program will also stay the same. It’d be weird for Alaska to add a fourth status tier, but they may need to in order to align themselves with the Oneworld elite structure. However, I don’t consider Alaska MVP Gold 75K to be comparable to American Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald, so this could be a problem. Alaska could either run without a fourth status tier (and therefore without a Oneworld Emerald equivalent) or add something like MVP Gold 125K.
Major changes like this are rarely good for award travelers. I don’t expect much to change with Alaska’s elite program, other than the fact that reciprocal benefits between Alaska and American will strengthen again. What worries me are potential changes to the partner mileage earning and burning rates.
Alaska needs their strong loyalty program to maintain their edge as one of the best U.S. carriers. I’m worried that American will get them to bend. As someone who loves Alaska and writes off American, I may be a bit biased, but I really think we will see an overall Alaska Mileage Plan once the dust has settled. Hopefully everything is not all gloom and doom and other aspects of the partnership will make up for it.
What do you think of Alaska Airlines joining Oneworld?