The airline has previously stated that it will give at least 90 days advance notice for any changes to its frequent flyer program. Those 90 days are now up, and the changes have been implemented.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan now has a new, integrated award chart for all partner airlines instead of separate charts for each one. At first glance, it doesn’t appear that any dramatic changes have been made, but there’s also less clarity about how much awards can cost.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan’s New Award Chart
Prior to diving into the details, here’s a refresher on what Alaska Airlines announced back in September about the upcoming changes:
Starting late December, the way you view award charts online is changing. We’ll have a simplified award chart to show you where award levels start based on which regions you’re traveling from and to. With this change, similar to awards on Alaska, partner award levels may vary depending on multiple factors including route, distance, or demand. You’ll continue to be able to enjoy great value for your miles. As always, the best way to view pricing and availability for the routes you’re interested in flying is to search for your specific travel dates and destinations.
The new award charts are indeed simplified: rather than having a multitude of award charts for each partner airline, there are now just two streamlined award charts that essentially cover all partner airlines.
However, factors such as “demand” aren’t clearly specified on the new award charts, and how much each factor will affect pricing is not immediately clear. Instead, what we see in the charts is from where award pricing will begin, but importantly, there’s no listed ceiling.
Here is the new award chart for flights within North America:
And here is the award chart for international flights:
Prior to the new award charts, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan had a unique pricing structure for each partner airline, as well as limitations as to which airlines could be booked to travel to certain regions, even if the route network extended beyond the destination.
For example, members are not able to book Japan Airlines from North America to Australia, even though Japan Airlines flies to both destinations, and you could book a nearly identical itinerary using Alaska miles on Cathay Pacific.
Presumably, this had to do with the different agreements Alaska Airlines had in place with each partner, which led to different pricing and different bookable regions. Now, all partner airlines are included in this new integrated award chart, and the prices are no longer shown per partner, but rather under a single unified “starting at” price.
If you use Alaska miles to fly between two regions that don’t include North America, you’ll have to conduct individual searches to determine the cost, since the new award chart only shows prices for flights departing from or to North America.
Nothing Really Changes (For Now)
Importantly, it appears that many of the program’s sweet spots remain intact following this change:
- Flights from North America to Asia in First Class start at 70,000 miles
- Flights from North America to Asia in business class start at 50,000 miles
- Flights from North America to the South Pacific in business class start at 55,000 miles
By this alone, it looks like nothing major has changed, and all the sweet spots we know and love will remain. For one, Japan Airlines First Class between Asia and either Europe or North America used to cost 70,000 miles, and a preliminary search shows that it still does.
Similarly, even though prices for flights between Asia and Europe aren’t listed on the new chart, it appears that there haven’t been any changes. For example, a Cathay Pacific First Class flight from Hong Kong to London still costs 70,000 miles.
Previously, members couldn’t book Japan Airlines for travel between North America and Australia, and this appears to still be the case. After finding North America–Australia availability on Japan Airlines with British Airways Avios, a similar search yielded no results on the Alaska Airlines website.
Therefore, it appears that the only substantial changes that have taken effect are cosmetic changes to the award chart.
However, just because nothing has changed so far doesn’t mean that there won’t be further changes in the future, and the implications of the new award chart stand out more than the chart itself.
As the new award chart simply shows the lowest cost you might find for a particular route, it’s inherently more opaque than the old award charts that showed exact prices per partner and destination. Now, it’s impossible to determine the actual price of a flight without first running a search and finding availability.
In this manner, the new Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan award charts are very similar to the award chart recently introduced by Air France/KLM Flying Blue, which also just shows the lowest price you can find without an upper ceiling. This lack of transparency for pricing puts the burden on travellers to search for awards and submit themselves to whatever the pricing may be on that date.
Another downside of the new award charts is that it’s not at all clear which airlines can be booked to get between two parts of the world.
As demonstrated by Japan Airlines’s geographic restriction between North America to Australia, there’s now no way to know which regions can and cannot be booked with certain partner airlines using Alaska miles other than experimenting on the search engine.
Furthermore, this new chart makes it much easier for Alaska Airlines to quietly change award prices in the future without any due announcement.
For example, flying Japan Airlines First Class between Tokyo and New York currently costs 70,000 miles, which is the same cost as flying Cathay Pacific First Class between Hong Kong and New York.
If, say, the Japan Airlines price were to increase without a change to the Cathay Pacific price, the new award chart is technically still accurate. If there is a devaluation to Japan Airlines pricing but not Cathay Pacific, Mileage Plan members are left in the dark as to any such negative changes.
At the same time as these negative implications, the new simplified award chart could be the first move towards Alaska Airlines allowing award bookings with multiple partner airlines at a flexible price. Until now, the program has only allowed redemptions with a single partner or a mix between one partner and Alaska Airlines flights.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has released new award charts for travel within North America and to international destinations. The new award charts are more simple than their previous iterations, as all partner airline prices are combined in the same chart.
Unfortunately, the new award charts don’t show any fixed prices, but rather a “starting at” price for every possible flight. For now, there doesn’t appear to be any changes in award prices compared to before the new award chart came out, but the more opaque nature of the new chart makes it possible for this to change at any point in the future.
We’ll be sure to let you about any major changes going forward, but for now, it’s best to book high-value flights using your Alaska miles before anything else changes.