Update Regarding Emirates First Class Awards Using Alaska Miles

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards

For a while now there has been an issue whereby Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t seem to have access to Emirates first class award space for travel after March 28, 2015.

In the past we’ve seen blocking of award space between partner airlines when there’s too much of a redemption imbalance. This started back in the day between United and Lufthansa, whereby MileagePlus members didn’t have access to Lufthansa first class award space once a quarterly quota had been reached. We later saw the same between US Airways and Lufthansa, which ended up being even more punitive for Dividend Miles members.

A couple of weeks I speculated that Alaska not having access to Emirates first class award space wasn’t a coincidence. The partnership between Alaska and Emirates isn’t huge, though I have to imagine there’s a huge imbalance in terms of award redemptions between the two carriers.

Emirates A380 first class cabin

At the time I reached out to an Alaska Airlines spokesperson, who released the following statement:

First thank you for bringing this to our attention. When you first contacted me, we thought that perhaps your search return was limited because of the original query. However, in digging deeper into this issue, we learned that we were wrong and quickly launched an investigation with our vendors to identify and try to resolve what we believe is a system glitch. We have a strong partnership with Emirates and our mutual customers have been enjoying award travel on both airlines fora number of years. I assure you that Mileage Plan™ members have been able to book First Class awards on Emirates without issue and we are working to restore that functionality. We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing our customers and assure you and your readers that we are working with Emirates to resolve the technical glitch and hope to have it fixed soon.

I really appreciate that they acknowledged the problem and are working towards fixing it. I know they’re doing their best.

They just provided me with the following further update:

We’ve determined the source of the problem. It is a known technical limitation when sharing availability between multiple systems. Seats will stop displaying when Emirates inventory gets low in a particular cabin. That said, our members continue to see strong award availability on Emirates. They booked over 10,000 individual award trips in 2014 which was almost double what we saw in 2013. Nearly a quarter of these were booked into Emirates’ First Class cabin.

Alaska also says they’re “working toward a long term-solution to this technical issue.”

I’m obviously not privy to the ins-and-outs of these relationships, but I interpret this to mean that Alaska members are booking too many Emirates awards. 😉

It’s fascinating to get some redemption numbers, which are incredibly high. In 2014, 10,000 Alaska Mileage Plan awards were booked on Emirates. 25% (~2,500) were in first class. Keep in mind you can only redeem Alaska miles on Emirates for travel to/from the US. That means on average, roughly seven Emirates first class seats per day to/from the US are booked with Alaska miles. Given that Emirates doesn’t release much first class award space to the US, that’s a ton.

If I had to guess I’d say that a vast majority of all Emirates first class redemptions to/from the US are booked with Alaska miles.

Bottom line

I really appreciate that the folks at Alaska are digging into this, and I wanted to update you guys with all the information I had. I’ll continue to follow up with them.

I think it’s safe to say something isn’t adding up, and that in reality this probably isn’t a technical glitch. To be clear, I’d speculate that this is on Emirates’ end and not Alaska’s.

Is Emirates business class the best we can hope for in the future?

I’m sticking to my theory, that this isn’t a coincidence and that the blocking is intentional on Emirates’ part.

Does this mean Emirates first class redemptions using Alaska miles are gone forever? Not necessarily. There are a couple of other ways this could play out:

  • It could be that going forward Alaska has a “quota” of Emirates first class award seats over a certain time period, and once that time period is over the quota is reset
  • It could be that going forward Alaska just gets access to a small sub-set of what Emirates makes available to their own members

In the meantime there is still a workaround for booking Emirates first class awards for travel after March 28

But now you know all I know…

  1. “Keep in mind you can only redeem Alaska miles on Emirates for travel to/from the US.”

    So how did you book DXB-SIN in The Best Trip Ever? LAX-DXB-SIN with a stopover?

  2. @ Abdel Rahim Abdallah — Correct, travel has to originate or terminate in the US, but you can have connections. So it was LAX-DXB-SIN on one ticket.

  3. Well, that statement fell woefully short of the resounding endorsement I’d hoped for. Though not much different that I expected, I’m afraid.

  4. 1) That is great news. I am still a bit skeptical after I had an experience last year where my EK dream flight award was available in AS system’s and then declined by EK.

    2) Avoid Space Cakes. They can make you sick.

    Looking forward to visiting Dubai one day soon, and it will because AS sent me there.

  5. @ ryan — It’s still a great business product, it’s just that first is quite a bit better and was only marginally expensive. But if business is the only option, it’s certainly not a bad redemption!

  6. I tried the trick that Ivan(from FT) shared with me and I can see the Emirates availability just fine, you just have to import the correct cookie hash(the old one really that they used before they made the fix). I can confirm that this is on the AS site alright.

  7. Any reason to believe this isn’t a repeat of what UA did (aka is doing) with SQ space? Perhaps AS just doesn’t want to pay the price for so many thousands of F seats to EK? If so, it could only be good things for those of us “in the know” like your savvy readers 😉

  8. @ AwardMagic — United stopped displaying Singapore award space online, but it was still bookable by phone. in this case it’s not bookable by phone or online, so it seems different to me.

  9. @Lucky — I don’t understand something. An award seat is an award seat is an award seat. If EK is making that seat available then why would they care if it’s booked by an Alaska member or anyone else (their own members notwithstanding, of course)? What I’m getting at is that EK doesn’t have to “block” Alaska, they could just adjust their own revenue management logic and offer less seats across the board. They could even make different levels available for their own program members if they want, like SQ or LH.

    Now, if the issue here is that they get paid less by Alaska than everyone else, then that’s another matter, but I doubt it. Emirates is not dumb and they wouldn’t have put themselves in that position. Furthermore, I understand that these numbers (fares) are an IATA standard and not negotiated on a case-by-case basis among airlines.

  10. @ A. S. — I think that’s exactly the point. Their other partners aren’t redeeming many miles on Emirates, so it’s basically Skywards members vs. Mileage Plan members. The upside for Emirates for SkyWards members redeeming is obvious, so I think that’s the crux of the issue. They don’t want so many partner redemptions.

  11. One thing I know about Emirates is it’s hungry to expand. Back in 2008 when they debuted the A380, EK only had one US destination and that was JFK. Since then, EK has expanded to over 5 US cities and became partners with JetBlue, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines. Though I’d presume EK passengers who fly the DXB-SEA/SFO/LAX routes are the only ones who utilize the AS partnership, I hope that’s enough for EK to continue its partnership with AS. I can see EK blocking First Class awards to AS given AS doesn’t have a comparable product or even a first class product in a 3-cabin plane. In addition, I don’t think it’s even possible for JetBlue or Virgin America loyalty members to redeem on EK first.
    Anyway, the AS-EK partnership is nearing its 2 year anniversary and perhaps they’re both reevaluating the pros/cons of their deal.

  12. I really don’t understand why EK does this. In fact, they don’t really care about profit as long as they think it helps them to be the best airline on the market. It starts with the ridiculous F-lounge in DXB, where you’ll find more employees than guests and continues with their 500 Million Wine-Programm. So they shouldn’t be bothered about the imbalance of AS awards to regular-rate prices. We’re still talking about max. 2 seats per flight. They often fly with half-empty cabins from IAH or DFW, so releasing awards on that routes wouldn’t (shouldn’t) bother them at all.

  13. Despite the spokesman comments, I am still having a hard time getting any business seats 11 months off. Called multiple times and am constantly told that AS agents are not supposed to grab seats from the ‘old system’. Very frustrating.

  14. @ Stephen — To clarify, you’re seeing discrepancy between space shown on ExpertFlyer and space shown on Alaska’s site for Emirates business class saver award availability?

  15. @Lucky, correct: see a lot of open space on EF but nothing on the site and nothing through the AS rep. Am I doing something wrong?

  16. Count me in. Family of 4. SEA-SFO-DXB(stop over)-HKT, two in first, two in business on EK and first for all in AS. all for just 350k AS miles (4 AS cards, 4 SPG personal and business). Booked last year, leaving in 11 days… can’t wait!

  17. @Nasakoto, Care to share what you are talking about. Id like to get in another EK award. FT PM is fine since obviously its something no one wants public.

    @Lucky. AS just needs to put a cap on mileage purchases and this won’t be an issue anymore. Its obvious a majority of these bookings are made with purchased miles vs. earned. I’m sick and tired of not being able to use the miles I earned the hard way of actually sitting my butt in a seat

  18. The AS on-line partner booking engine is worthless for European travel from SEA. Virtually every trip appears as “mixed cabin itinerary” which means the international leg is usually in coach. No thanks! Save yourself grief and call the partner desk. I just did and a wonderful agent booked my wife and I on a one way trip SEA-SFO-DXB-FRA for mid-September with an overnight in Dubai.

    We’re going SEA-SFO to be able to take the SFO-DBX leg in suites class. The SEA-SFO leg is in coach but I may get an upgrade close in as a Gold. The DBX-FRA leg the next day is also in first. 100,000 AS miles for each of us and $39 in total fees for us both.

    Our return in early October is FRA-LON-SEA in business (no availability in first) with an overnight in LON. I’m OK with the fuel charges, which are a bit better than in the past at about $419 each.

  19. Less than 6 weeks left until the end of March – AS needs to get us some update.

    Any more luck in chasing them?

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