With Alaska Airlines accelerating its membership into the oneworld alliance, I’d recommend you enjoy the present Mileage Plan program while you still can. The loyalty program itself isn’t going anywhere, but I predict its value is, even as most partners will remain. Here are my predictions for Alaska Mileage Plan.
Alaska Airlines Will Join oneworld In 2020: What Does This Mean For Mileage Plan?
I’m of the opinion that loyalty programs move in a linear direction over time, and that direction is not in the customer’s favor. There are always peaks and troughs along the way; sweet spots and superb relative value. But over time, we always see more than award chart inflation (award charts themselves are disappearing), we see a cutback in benefits on both the earning and redemption side that must constantly force us to evaluate our loyalty and our credit card spending.
Alaska Airlines has been a jewel of a loyalty over the years. While other airlines have drastically reduced value propositions by inflating premium award pricing, Alaska has maintained pricing on many partners, offers stopovers even on one-way awards, and has a wide range of partners including members of oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance.
The program is not without defects. There are seat-blocking issues on some partners and Alaska betrayed members by massively devaluing Emirates awards without notice. It added advance booking restrictions to certain redemptions originating in Asia and greatly tighenend routing rules on Singapore Airlines.
But overall, Alaska Airlines remains a very valuable program. As Alaska transitions into oneworld, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Will MVP Gold 75K become oneworld emerald members? Will non-oneworld partners remain? What will happen to award charts and redemption prices?
Three Alaska Mileage Plan Predictions
Here are my three Mileage Plan predictions:
Most Current Partners Will Remain
Alliance “rules” have weakened tremendously over the last five years. I can point to example after example of airlines that partner with other airlines outside its alliance. Thus, I think the we may see most current partner airlines, including Singapore Airlines, remain partners. With Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and JAL now oneworld partners, it may seem odd to leave Singapore Airlines in the mix, but I would not be surprised to see Singapore remain, especially if Singapore resumes its nonstop Seattle to Singapore service after the pandemic.
I also think Emirates will remain, at least for some time, much like American Airlines still partners with both Qatar Airways and Etihad. While Qatar Airways won’t like it, Qatar’s strategic investment in airlines around the world makes the business case for why Alaska Airlines should be reluctant to sever ties with Emirates, which brings feeder traffic to Alaska in Seattle and other stations.
Delta, however, will likely pressure Korean Air and LATAM to cut ties. I predict those partners will not stick around, which is fine for Asia but showcases tremendous weakness in Latin America.
Expect Partner Awards, Especially In Premium Cabins, To Rise In Price, But A Great Ability To Mix And Match Partners
We are long overdue for updated pricing on carriers like Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Right now Alaska Airlines has a different award chart for each carrier, with options to mix and match quite limited. I expect a unified oneworld award chart which will allow more mixing, but that will come at the expense of many of the business and first class sweet spots we enjoy now. My gut tells me we will see premium prices go up 25-30%.
Theoretically, we could even see the ability to mix and match all partners.
Stopovers Will Continue, Even On One-Way Awards
I believe Alaska Airlines recognizes the unique value proposition of its award stopover policy and these will continue. I predict they will still be limited to hub or gateway cities, though with so many new partners coming in, this should not be a huge hindrance.
Right now, if you can book the space, you cannot find a better deal on premium cabin awards on partners like Cathay Pacific, JAL, and Qantas then when using Alaska miles. But I expect that to change. Indeed, I expect pricing to more closely resemble what American Airlines offers. But if partners like Singapore and Emirates remain and stopovers stick around, Mileage Plan will still be valuable. The addition of new partners and the possibility of mixing and matching awards is alluring, but may not compensate for new higher pricing that removes relative sweet spots savvy travelers have enjoyed for years.
What are your predictions for the future of the Alaska Mileage Plan program?
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