Alaska Mileage Plan will be introducing some changes over the rest of 2022, and unfortunately they’re unlikely to be positive. Per an update posted to their awards 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 any frequent flyer will know, airlines tend to have a very different definition of what constitutes “good news”. While the ability to book Cathay Pacific and LATAM awards online is welcome, the new award chart will likely bring with it a devaluation of existing sweet spots, including travel on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
Nothing’s confirmed at this point, but the signs are ominous.
Online Cathay Pacific & LATAM bookings coming
Let’s start with the real good news. Alaska Mileage Plan is adding online booking functionality for Cathay Pacific in October 2022, and LATAM “by the end of 2022”.
These currently have to be booked through the Alaska call centre, which adds another layer of work, not to mention the agent might not see the same award space as what you found through Asia Miles or some other oneworld programme.
Cathay Pacific and LATAM were the only two Mileage Plan partners requiring phone bookings, so with this change, all Alaska partner awards can soon be booked online. I’m assuming Alaska Mileage Plan will see the same award space that other partner programmes see, but that’s yet to be confirmed.
In one sense, this is happening at just the right time, now that Hong Kong is reopening its borders. Once Cathay Pacific adds additional capacity to Singapore (remember, pre-COVID they had 9x daily flights), options for award flights to Europe and the USA via Hong Kong should improve.
Of course, that’s provided Alaska doesn’t nerf its sweet spot for Cathay Pacific travel, which could very well be happening…
“Simplified award chart” from December 2022
Alaska Mileage Plan currently has separate award charts for each of its partner airlines. This means that the same routing can cost a different number of miles, depending on which partner you fly.
Ever since Alaska Airlines joined oneworld in March 2021, it’s been adding separate award charts for each of its new partners, while retaining rates for existing partners such as Cathay Pacific and Qantas (these oneworld airlines were Mileage Plan partners before Alaska joined oneworld).
Alaska now says they plan to introduce a “simplified award chart to show you where award levels start based on which regions you’re traveling from and to”, starting late December.
I read this as saying two things:
- Alaska will have a single award chart for all partner airlines
- Dynamic pricing will be coming (or expanded, rather, since it already exists for some partners like Aer Lingus)
With regards to (2), notice how Alaska says the award chart will show where award level “start”, suggesting it reflects the minimum number of miles required. Alaska has further stated that “partner award levels may vary depending on multiple factors including route, distance, or demand”.
While it’s almost certain they won’t go full dynamic pricing and assign each Mileage Plan mile a fixed value, it seems more likely than not that award prices will display much more variability than before.
What will that award chart look like? No one knows. As Ben over at OMAAT pointed out, Alaska Mileage Plan has promised to provide 90 days advance notice of any award chart changes. But 90 days from today is late December, and Alaska could technically say they gave advance notice, even if they didn’t say exactly what is changing.
That sounds disingenuous, but I wouldn’t put anything past them given the fast one they pulled with unannounced Emirates award devaluations back in 2016.
I’m also not overly optimistic that the simplified award chart will represent good value. After all, with the possible exception of SriLankan Airlines, all the recent award charts that have been added for oneworld partners have been universally poor value (e.g. Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines)
Potential sweet spots on the chopping block would include:
- Singapore to Japan in Japan Airlines Business Class: 25,000 miles (O/W)
- Singapore to USA in Cathay Pacific Business Class: 50,000 miles (O/W)
- Singapore to USA in Cathay Pacific First Class: 70,000 miles (O/W)
- Singapore to Hawaii on Korean Air: 120,000 miles (R/T)
If you have Mileage Plan miles, I don’t think it’d be the worst idea to start looking for a potential exit strategy. Last I checked, award space to Japan was pretty good!
Alaska Mileage Plan has put members on notice about upcoming changes that will take place over the rest of 2022.
It’s certainly good news that Cathay Pacific and LATAM award space can soon be booked online, but that’s dwarfed by the dread over potential award chart devaluations. Long-time sweet spots for Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines travel could well be nerfed, and dynamic pricing would be an unpredictable wild card.
Alaska has promised to provide 90 days’ notice of any changes, and this could very well be it. I wouldn’t hold my breath about seeing a new award chart in advance.