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Yesterday, Alaska Airlines added Aer Lingus, a Dublin-based airline, as an award booking partner, and Aer Lingus awards are now bookable on the Alaska website. There’s lots to unpack here — good, bad, and … interesting.
The Good: Use Alaska Miles to Fly Aer Lingus to Europe
First, the good news. You can now book business class awards on Aer Lingus from North America to/from Dublin from 60,000 Alaska miles each way, plus work in a free stopover if you like. (Here’s how we would spend a Dublin layover.) This means you can fly from North America to Dublin, see the sights for a few days, and then continue on to London or wherever you wish to visit in Europe (to which Aer Lingus operates) for 60,000 miles and very minimal taxes/fees. You can do the same in economy from 30,000 miles each way.
Should you wish to simply explore Europe utilizing Aer Lingus as your carrier for flights within the continent, you can now do that from 8,000 Alaska miles each way — and again, you can add on a stopover if you like. For example, you can travel from Amsterdam (AMS) to Dublin (DUB), stop for however long, and then continue onto Milan (MXP) or wherever Aer Lingus flies from just 8,000 total miles (plus taxes and fees which would be under $70 on that example).
Related: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days
The Bad: Business Class Saver Availability is Pretty Terrible
Now the bad news. Business class availability on Aer Lingus from the US to Europe is almost non-existent via Alaska Airlines at the moment, and the appears to be discrepancies between award seats that ExpertFlyer sees and those that Alaska can access. We’re finding that if ExpertFlyer has one business class award, it can’t be booked using Alaska miles. Since you’ll see several dates with only one business class award seat to start with — at most — this means there’s usually nothing available at the saver level in business class via Alaska. We searched many US to Dublin routes and found multiple months with zero 60,000-mile business class awards.
On the flip side, we found a few instances instances where there were actually four business class awards from the US to Dublin (or vice versa) via Alaska miles at 60,000 miles each, when according to ExpertFlyer there should have only been two. Note that United provides a disclaimer of this possible discrepancy during the award booking process:
Alaska provided no such warning.
As a result, we highly recommend you search using Alaska’s site to see exactly what Aer Lingus space they have access to. We have booked business class awards at 60,000 miles for more than two travelers as a test to be sure it is truly bookable space.
The Ugly: Alaska Award Pricing Varies
The bad-for-consumers trend in frequent flyer programs for 2019 has unquestionably been the spread of dynamic or variable award pricing. This is bad for all cabins of travel, but it hits business and first class cabins especially hard when the price of the award is tied in some way to the cash selling price of the ticket.
As far as Aer Lingus operated business class awards to Europe go, the pricing in our tests is either 60,000 miles each way or an astonishing 280,000 miles each way. More on that in a minute.
Frequent flyer programs have long had a saver and a non-saver rate for some types of awards, so that two-tiered system by itself isn’t terrifying. More worrisome is that Alaska economy awards on Aer Lingus have at least three pricing tiers that we could find — 30k, 60k and 80k miles each way. When multiple award pricing tiers are utilized, that raises warning flags that a program is pricing awards dynamically.
This has not been the historic norm for most Alaska Airlines partner awards, so the fact that the newest partner has different award pricing tiers is concerning on some levels.
TPG had a chance to speak with Erik Smith, Director of Alliances at Alaska Airlines, and we took the opportunity to ask all about these different rates. He told us that the higher pricing tiers (60,000 and 80,000 miles in economy or 280,000 miles in business) are essentially buy-up fares that exist to allow Alaska’s members the ability to redeem miles on higher-demand dates, in some cases with near last-seat availability. He emphasized that they have members with lots and lots of miles who simply want the opportunity to redeem miles for flights, almost regardless of cost, and the biggest frustration for partner award flights is lack of availability. According to Smith, these higher-priced awards exist so members can fly when they want using miles, not just when there happens to be saver availability.
We also asked whether this model will expand to other carriers and were reminded that Icelandair and Condor already use this approach. Smith also said that they intend to expand this model to other partners in the future, though it obviously must overcome some IT and logistical challenges before implementation. He also stressed the following:
“This approach is an additive option to fill out the award calendar. Rather than having no availability, members will now have the ability to redeem their miles on additional options, even if the price point is higher.”
Finally, it’s worth noting that while the booking class for the 280,000-mile business class award books into the “I” fare class, Alaska was clear that it will not earn redeemable miles, even though paid I class tickets do earn miles.
Alaska Airlines adding Aer Lingus as an award redemption partner should have been solely good news across the board, especially since awards are bookable online. However, very limited 60,000-mile business class availability from the United States and the introduction of partner award pricing tiers results in this development being much more of a mixed bag than an across-the-board win. Alaska states that the high priced awards will solely supplement saver awards, not replace them, but at TPG history has taught us to view these variably priced developments with a questionable eye.
That said, if you can find the award you want on Aer Lingus using your Alaska miles, then cheers — have a pint of Guinness for us.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images
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Alaska miles are extremely valuable because you can book awards on partners like Emirates, Icelandair, Korean Air and Japan Airlines. The current bonus of 40,000 miles can book you a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Airlines from Boston to San Diego or New York to Seattle, for example.
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