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If you're an Alaska Mileage Plan member, you could be forgiven for thinking April Fools arrived a day early this year. The surprise award chart devaluation on partner airline Emirates came without notice yesterday and has left loyalty members angry at the airline for the lack of transparency.
The change affects all routes from North America, with costs for some regions increasing by 100% for a round trip. For those members putting in the work earning miles towards that First Class ticket on Emirates, it’s a dream that’s looking a lot further off right now.
The move is perfectly legal, and well within Alaska Air’s rights under the programs terms and conditions. But the way the company has conducted the devaluation feels slightly unethical.
Loyalty Members book flights and purchase award miles based on the rewards advertised by the airline. And they trust the airline will uphold its end of the bargain in the future.
For Mileage Plan members, including the extremely dedicated ‘Travel Hackers’ Alaska Air has blamed for the reduction in value, it takes a lot of spending and a lot of travel to accumulate the miles for a First Class return trip.
And although devaluations are fairly common, doing so without giving customers a chance to redeem their points isn’t fair. It breaks the trust those customers have placed in the brand.
The devaluation was also announced at the end of a promotion advertising ‘up to 40% bonus miles when you buy miles’.
There is a stark contrast in offering your customer 40% extra value towards purchasing from your rewards program, and then removing the most sought after rewards without notice.
For those that did purchase miles for that purpose, Alaska is offering to refund any miles purchased after March 1, 2016, you can contact the customer care team for your refund. At least that is a respectable move.
It’s a surprising move for Alaska given they have made a real effort to position Mileage Plan as a better value loyalty program than competitor plans this year. Not switching from the current miles’ model to a revenue based model has lead to a big increase in income from the rewards programs.
In a Q & A style statement, posted on the company blog, Alaska Air blamed ‘Travel Hacking’ for the overnight devaluation. But that still begs the question. Why did they change the program without notice?
My theory? It was a short-term money decision without looking at the bigger picture. A management team thinking too hard about the bottom line and not about their customers.
Alaska knows that, had they given notice about an impending change to the Emirates program, members would have scrambled to lock their rewards in place, costing the airline a hefty chunk of money.
What I don’t think they have taken into account, though, is the backlash they will receive from customers for the unannounced shake-up.
Consumer trust in airlines is at an all time low, and Alaska Air has put a lot of work into differentiating itself from Delta, United, and the other big players in the airline business through higher service standards and a unique awards offering.
To squander that trust on short term monetary gain is not a smart move and could possibly backfire in the form of lost customers in the future.
What do you think of the shock devaluation? Let us know in the comments.
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