Travel News

Following The Rules Is Travel Hacking, According To Alaska

Written by Charlie

To explain the overnight change on Emirates awards, Alaska offers an explanation. Apparently, following the rules is travel hacking.

Yesterday, the brutal news came that Alaska Airlines had devalued premium redemptions on Emirates overnight. What had been one of the most popular award options now had been almost doubled.

Following The Rules Is Travel Hacking, According To Alaska


Let me say this first – of course, there were some travelers that really pushed the limits on the routing of Emirates flights. But, I do not think that the number of people doing that would have pushed Alaska to make the drastic change they did. Not that alone, anyway. However, even the travelers that did have some strange routing of their award tickets were still doing it with the Alaska “rules” since it was Alaska that had left the routing rules open.


The new first class chart for Emirates

Alaska’s Statement

While Alaska took a big hit on social media and in the blogs yesterday for this drastic change, I am thankful that they at least put out a public response to it. It can be found on their blog here. Here are some of the “highlights” of the post.

Why is Mileage Plan making this change?

Alaska’s premium Emirates awards have long been known as an exceptionally good deal. With the rise of “travel-hacking,” intended to exploit Mileage Plan’s award routing rules, coupled with below-market award levels, our previous award levels were unsustainable. The new award levels enable Alaska to continue to offer Emirates Business Class and First Class as a redemption option.

There it is – “travel-hacking” was the primary driver for the award changes. Yes, it likely had to do with some crazy routes that people were booking. Also likely was the press that one blogger drove hard to highlight how he took advantage of what he called “loopholes” in the routing rules of the Mileage Plan program (not a BoardingArea blogger).

But, it is strange that they would put the blame on “travel hackers” (never been a fan of that term anyway!) for redeeming awards against a chart and routing rules that Alaska Airlines had set up. No one “hacked” them to force an award that was against the rules or illegal. Awards were issued that were consistent with the rules that Alaska themselves had made.

Routing “Gifts”

All airlines have little “gifts” in their redemption programs. For example, US Airways used to have the fantastic award option of flying to North Asia in business class for only 90,000 miles – and they let you route via Europe to do it! Never mind that just going to Europe and back to the US was 100,000 miles by itself! So, their own award chart let people save 10,000 miles and add a lot more business class travel to an itinerary. The same is true for how some airlines categories certain regions and other little nuggets. These are the rules that the airlines set up!

Internet Uproar

Some people, I feel, have gone overboard with their anger against Alaska Airlines. I still feel they have a great award chart for several airlines (across alliances). This is one airline redemption that has been affected. There is always going to be disappointment in this game and if you are no longer able to redeem for Emirates, consider Cathay Pacific. They are fantastic and the award rates are very reasonable.

Still, if I had been saving my Alaska miles for Emirates first class specifically, I would be upset. This was not a popular, customer-friendly move on this particular redemption but I still feel the airline has a lot of positives.

Courtesy Refund On Purchased Miles

As I wrote yesterday, it was a real shame for the many people that had bought Mileage Plan miles under the recent promo for such a redemption. Alaska made the smart decision of offering to issue refunds to anyone who purchased miles since March 1. If that was you, you can call Customer Service and request a refund for your purchase.

What About Starpoint Transfers?

While that was helpful, unfortunately, there are others that transferred large blocks of SPG points to Alaska’s Mileage Plan program for Emirates awards as well. Given that the SPG cards had big bonuses, that was probably quite a few people. Those points take time to transfer and some of those people still have the points in transfer to Alaska – when this news hit. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done for everyone who has transferred Starpoints to Alaska. Starwood makes it clear that point reversals cannot happen and that is out of Alaska’s hand.

Better Notice Next Time?

Alaska notes at the bottom of their post that “Future changes, if any, to these award levels will be given with advance notice.” Except, their Twitter team says this – “We can be better prepared, but you are right, we can’t pre-announce ticket price changes.” So, who knows what will happen the next time they devalue a partner redemption (and there will be a next time). I do think that the outcry was swift and strong enough this time that they will attempt to give a bit more notice.


Alaska Airlines has long had a fantastic award program – and they still do have some great redemptions. But, this terrible change to a popular award was sudden and harsh to many who had saved for it. To put the blame back on people who followed the rules that Alaska had setup is not a good move.

Alaska would have been better off having said something like, “We are thrilled that so many customers find great value in our award program. With such an increase in interest and award redemptions on one of our partners, we have realized that our current award levels were unsustainable and we would not be able to continue to offer Emirates’ awards if we did not make a shift.

Or, maybe just fix some of the routing issues if that was the real problem instead of being so harsh across the board on premium redemptions aboard Emirates.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • I agree it was a poor choice of words from Alaska. There should have been asterisks or exceptions in the routing rules (i.e. no routing via Australia.) Redeeming on Emirates is *still* possible, but a lot more expensive. I may be an outlier here but I actually think it’s crazy how AS Mileageplan even offers EK F redemptions in the first place (or any partner F redemptions) given the F in AS metal is not up to par with EK, QF, CX, etc.

  • While I agree that the wording of their posting was not PC, it is actually the honest statement. “Travel hacking” and indeed hacking in general has nothing to do with breaking the rules. It has to do with exploiting the rules or system in place so that you maximize the benefits to you.

    MS is travel hacking, as is signing up for multiple instances of the same rewards card. Taking advantage of the routing “gifts” as you call them is also travel hacking as the average person may or may not be aware of that.

    My gut feeling is that the routing rules was only 1 leg of a 3 legged problem, the other two being those who would continually sign up for BOA cards just for the bonus and those buying the discounted miles all for the shot at an Emirates shower. Changing the redemption levels was the easy move to fix the issue, just not the customer friendly one.