So, Alaska Airlines changed its award charts yesterday. And the change is, without a doubt, shitty for consumers. No warning and a significant increase in the points required for some awards. Except the changes are isolated to Emirates metal and represent a very small portion of the total points redeemed annually. And thus the debate begins anew:
If it really is such a small number of points/redemptions why change it at all?
Mostly because they can. And to not do so would be foolish from the company’s perspective.
The rate paid for partner awards comes up for negotiation on a regular basis. It is part of the bilateral agreements between various airlines and it can be the source of many issues when the numbers become imbalanced. If Emirates decides that partner awards cost more for Alaska to buy then Alaska can either eat that cost or pass it on to consumers. And eating it is simply not going to happen. And so, with the updated agreement signed, the numbers change. It does not happen because Alaska hates its MileagePlan members; it is simply business.
It is also not the first time a bilateral agreement has forced changes to the way awards are redeemed. Remember when United pulled redemption for Singapore Airlines flights offline? Similar reasoning, though in that case United met the challenge in a different way, keeping the old costs while no longer auto-pricing the awards online. For Alaska and Emirates that may have not been an option or the two decided that it was better for business to make the change. Either way, those truly loyal to the program and the airline are almost certainly not the ones affected by this change.
The awards were a “bargain” for what they were. But they were certainly not cheap. And the people redeeming them were not the ones flying the airline on a regular basis nearly as much as they were the ones churning credit cards or buying points on dips for the redemption. Yes, those actions were relatively profitable to the company and within the rules of the program. But playing by the rules doesn’t always make one a good customer. In fact, playing exactly by the rules and working the system to maximize personal benefit makes one a pretty bad customer in most cases. So, why change the rules? To get rid of the bad customers.
It is a shitty change for those lured in to the “travel hacking” world, convinced that they can churn credit cards ad infinitum to get cheap flights all the time. But I’m not shedding a tear for them. If for no other reason than that such changes have been happening more and more recently and anyone playing that game who isn’t redeeming immediately is playing poorly. If you bought points earlier this month (which the company will refund, though it was not obligated to) and didn’t redeem them immediately that, too was playing badly. And those encouraging any other form of behavior are providing bad advice.
Points don’t accrue interest sitting in the account; they do not increase in value (with very, very limited exceptions). Hoarding is a great way to get played rather than to play.
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