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A Q&A From Alaska About This Week’s Massive Emirates Devaluation

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Yesterday, we shared some pretty devastating news from Alaska Airlines — Emirates partner awards were going up by as much as 100%, with the biggest hit coming to first-class redemptions. While the previous redemption rates were clearly very generous, Alaska seemed happy to take your money (in the form of purchased miles) to book these awards.

Most disappointing of all was the fact that Alaska made this change without providing any warning — the new levels went into effect immediately, even for flights booked and flown yesterday. So after receiving significant customer backlash, the airline published a Q&A, in which it explained yesterday’s changes by essentially blaming “travel hackers” taking advantage of an “exceptionally good deal.”

Alaska's new redemption rates for flights on Emirates.
Alaska’s new redemption rates for flights on Emirates.

Why Did Alaska Make the Change?

Let’s let the Alaska team explain that:

Alaska’s premium Emirates awards have long been known as an exceptionally good deal. With the rise of “travel-hacking,” intended to exploit Mileage Plan’s award routing rules, coupled with below-market award levels, our previous award levels were unsustainable. The new award levels enable Alaska to continue to offer Emirates Business Class and First Class as a redemption option.

Clearly Alaska’s Emirates redemption offered an exceptional value, made even more lucrative through the ability to add stopovers (what Alaska refers to above as an intention “to exploit Mileage Plan’s award routing rules”). So perhaps a change was due. Why make it without providing any warning, though?

Again, here’s Alaska:

Given the dynamics of this particular award, we were unable to announce changes in advance. This approach doesn’t represent a new normal. Our policy is to communicate significant program changes with at least 30 days’ notice when at all possible.

In other words, by providing 30 days of notice here, Alaska would have prompted a run on the bank, encouraging members to redeem millions of miles quickly. This would have been costly for the airline.

You can still get a great deal when redeeming for Cathay Pacific first class.
You can still get a great deal when redeeming for Cathay Pacific first class.

How To Get a Refund on Purchased Alaska Miles

Perhaps the one saving grace here is that Alaska is allowing customers who purchased miles recently to claim a refund, saying “If you purchased miles on or after March 1, 2016, you can contact our Customer Care team for a refund.”

You can reach the Mileage Plan Customer Care team at 800-654-5669. The office is open Monday-Friday from 8:00am until 5:45pm Pacific Time and Saturdays from 8:00am until 4:45pm.

Interestingly, Alaska doesn’t mention a deadline to do this, nor is there a future cutoff. Based on the very basic language here, you could wait indefinitely before calling for a refund, and refunds could apply to purchases made after today as well. I imagine Alaska will update that language, so if you definitely want your money back, I’d advise calling as soon as possible.

Will you be contacting Alaska for a refund?

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

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  • 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days.
  • Annual companion fare from $121 ($99, plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
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  • 3 miles for every $1 spent on Alaska Airlines tickets, vacation packages, cargo and in-flight purchases.
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Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
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