Details are scarce, but it looks like we should brace for some significant changes. Let’s unpack this unwelcome news as we try to anticipate what might be in store.
Changes Coming to Partner Redemptions
Alaska has bundled a handful of changes together, some good and some bad. Here’s the text they’ve added to the award chart page:
Good news for 2022! Cathay Pacific awards will be available to book on alaskaair.com in October and LATAM awards will be available before the end of 2022.
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.
Let’s start with the good news: Cathay Pacific awards will be bookable online starting in October 2022. This will be a relief to those of us hunting elusive award space for a premium experience, making it easier to find and book award space quickly without having to phone the contact centre.
LATAM awards will also be bookable online before the end of 2022. While South American award travel is far from the most luxurious experience, especially compared to Alaska’s other tantalizing worldwide partners, the convenience of a self-serve booking is a welcome improvement for visitors to the continent.
However, the big news is that Alaska will be changing its partner award chart. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons.
Thus far, Alaska has used individual redemption charts for each of its airline partners. For example, a trip from North America to Asia would cost a different number of Alaska miles depending on which partner airline is operating the route.
This has created some phenomenal sweet spots in the program, with many world-class aspirational airlines offering redemptions at a low mileage cost.
The phrasing on Alaska’s website leads me to believe that they might finally move towards a unified partner award chart, using the same pricing for each airline partner. This would bring Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan in line with its US competitors, and many other frequent flyer programs around the world.
A unified partner award chart has long been speculated as the final step in their integration into the Oneworld alliance, as Alaska fills in any remaining gaps for redemptions with its new partners within the alliance.
While this would make it simpler for travellers to estimate the price of our award trips, it would certainly gut the sweet spots that we can leverage by booking a cheap ticket for a valuable aviation experience.
In fact, pricing may not be so simple after all. Alaska has also hinted that it will introduce dynamic pricing on partner awards, where the mileage cost may vary depending on route, distance, or demand.
This may mean distance-based variation within a region, like we’ve seen with Aeroplan’s award charts.
I’d hope it’s less likely that demand will impact partner awards, as Alaska Airlines has little control over costs and availability in that regard. They’d have little reason to introduce demand-based dynamic pricing on partner tickets, which no other frequent flyer program does to the best of my knowledge.
Interestingly, Alaska already uses variable pricing on partner tickets in some cases. How this is priced is anyone’s guess, and hopefully they don’t start using an excessively complex model.
It’s also hard to say what will happen with Alaska’s generous stopover policy. I’m optimistic that these will remain on one-way award tickets, as it’s one of the unique features that will help Alaska set itself apart as it moves closer to the model used by its peers.
I’m also hopeful that with a streamlining of the award chart, Alaska’s routing rules will likewise be consolidated. Currently, each partner has its own routing and stopover rules, which are often unnecessarily restrictive to the partner’s home region and hub.
It would be nice to see these unified, if prices will also be harmonized.
Book These Sweet Spots Now!
With these changes set to take place sometime in December 2022, I’d anticipate that many of the best individually-negotiated sweet spots in the Alaska Mileage Program are due to disappear.
Here are some of the best-value opportunities on the current award charts:
- Japan Airlines First Class between North America and Asia for 70,000 miles, with a stopover in Tokyo; or business class for 60,000 miles
- Cathay Pacific First Class between North America and Asia, Africa, or the Middle East for 70,000 miles, with a stopover in Hong Kong; or business class for 50,000 miles to East Asia
- Fiji Airways business class between North America and Australia or New Zealand for 55,000 miles, with a stopover in Fiji
- Qatar Airways Qsuites business class between North America and the Indian subcontinent for 85,000 miles, with a stopover in Doha
- Cathay Pacific First Class between North America and Australia or New Zealand for 80,000 miles, with a stopover in Hong Kong; or business class for 60,000 miles
I’ve long assumed that these changes were overdue – these sweet spots were simply too good to last. Book your flights now, before these prices might be gone forever.
Partner award redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan will be changing significantly before the end of 2022. Without further details, I’d brace for a unified partner award chart, and variable pricing on partner awards.
Thankfully, when they joined Oneworld, Alaska pledged to give its customers a heads up before altering its redemption levels. Indeed, we’re seeing this warning shot fired about three months before any potential negative changes are due to be implemented.
Make sure you book your sweet spots on the old charts before these mysterious and largely disappointing changes kick in, which will occur sometime in December 2022.