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This topic has been rehashed ad nauseum in the blogosphere, but in case you’ve been living under a rock…
Emirates First Class on their A380 is a bit of an enigma. It made waves when it launched nearly a decade ago for offering the first commercial shower onboard, though you are limited to just 5 minutes of water.
You get a private walled in suite gilded in gold tones. However they cram a lot of suites in a small area, making it a bit tight compared to other suite products. The bed and seat aren’t particularly comfortable compared to other first class products. The service is not particularly memorable compared to the Asian carriers.
That’s a lot of nitpicking, it’s still a great first class product. But it’s not as great of an overall experience as you can have in first class on other carriers.
So the shower class moniker does seem appropriate, as that is the main draw. Just ask Jennifer Aniston. And granted, those are some nice bragging rights, though Etihad now also offers a shower in their A380 first class “apartments” product.
Until last week you were able to use 90K Alaska miles for a one-way award to fly Emirates Shower Class between the US and the Middle East or 100K between the US and Europe or Africa. And Alaska allows a free stopover on one-way awards as well.
Then without notice, on March 31st those rates went up to 150K for the Middle East, 180K for Europe, and 200K for Africa each way.
The internet went crazy and Alaska was left scrambling to explain why the rate changed and why they failed to provide notice.
Story #1: We don’t control it, Emirates does:
Rumor had it that Emirates had gotten fed up with people using Alaska miles using their showers 😉
Out of political correctness and because it’s going to be offensive to some, I won’t repost DDF member Ilherman’s post that he made at that time, but you can read it here. It sounds plausible enough to me as Alaska then changed course and put up a blog post saying,
“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.”
So Story #2: is that they were now blaming Sam Huang and his round-the-world award for the devaluation?
Why not just change the routing rules by simply allowing only 2 Emirates flight segments on the award?
And the rates were not below market. Clearly they have never heard of JAL.
All they said about the lack of notice was
“Given the dynamics of this particular award, we were unable to announce changes in advance. This approach doesn’t represent a new normal. Our policy is to communicate significant program changes with at least 30 days’ notice when at all possible.”
Interestingly, last year Alaska also had problems issuing Emirates awards past March, so it seems very likely that Alaska’s contract with Emirates expires each year at the end of March.
Perhaps they were negotiating new rates until the 31st before Emirates demanded that the rates go up?
But that leaves so many unanswered questions, such as:
-Didn’t Alaska know Emirates rates would skyrocket?
-Did Emirates really not allow advance notice of the devaluation?
-Or did both airlines not want a rush on those awards that would ensue with prior warning?
-Or was Alaska caught off-guard with the Emirates demand for higher compensation and not want to swallow the higher compensation rates for 30 days while people used 90K miles for flights that would now cost them double?
-Did Emirates reach out to Alaska as Ilherman posits and demand that they stop making them look bad? Is there another explanation for their behavior?
You would think 2 explanations would be enough, but then came Story #3: Per Ben, Alaska elites that emailed Alaska for an explanation of the sudden devaluation were told,
“I am truly sorry that more notice was not given with regards to the changes made to Emirates award travel, but this was the direct result of fraudulent activity that has been happening with our award level on Emirates. Both Alaska Airlines and Emirates have been dealing with issues of “travel hacking” or the selling of award tickets for a profit by individuals and brokers in direct violation of our policy and Emirates policy. The decision was made that in order to continue to offer award travel on Emirates changes had to be made to curb this fraudulent activity. Normally when we make changes to our Mileage Plan we give 30 days notice but in this instance with the rise of fraudulent activity we needed to make a drastic change to fend off the rise of “travel hacking.”
So we’re treated to an entirely different definition of travel hacking. And one they could have easily solved by just requiring people to redeem Emirates travel for immediate family only. Why use a nuclear bomb to solve a problem that a sharpshooter could take care of?
Beyond bizarre. I have no words. But Alaska lost a lot of trust last week for the way they handled the devaluation and in their response to people’s criticism.
Alaska’s excellent rates for travel on airlines like Cathay Pacific (where you’ll get a better seat, a better and bigger bed, and better service) were left unscathed.
Still want to fly in Emirates shower class?
As mentioned before, the best way to do that is with JAL and their excellent partner award chart.
A round-trip flight from JFK to Milan in Emirates shower class is 100K JAL miles (vs 360K Alaska miles), JFK to Dubai is 135K JAL miles (vs 300K Alaska miles), JFK to the Maldives is 155K JAL miles (vs 300K Alaska miles), and JFK to Johannesburg is 200K JAL miles (vs 400K Alaska miles). Neither JAL or Alaska charges fuel surcharges to travel on Emirates from the USA.
Yes, that round-trip shower class is available from JFK to Milan for just 80K Starpoints round-trip thanks to the 25% bonus you get for transferring Starpoints to JAL. Or you can use 290K Starpoints transferred to Alaska.
As I wrote a month ago, you can also buy Starpoints for 2.625 cents each, which comes out to 2.1 cents per airline mile with the 25% transfer bonus. And there are workarounds to buy as many Starpoints as you want, so that means a round-trip first class ticket to Europe for just $2,100.
How long will those rates last? I suppose until Emirates calls up JAL on the day of their contract expiration and demands that they be hiked…which can happen at any time.
You can also transfer Chase points to Korean to book Emirates tickets, though their mileage requirements are higher and fuel surcharges apply.
Have you flown Emirates Shower Class before?
Have another explanation for Alaska’s behavior, other than staying up late shoving money down Richard Branson’s throat wildly overpaying for Virgin America in a deal that makes even less sense than this story?
Hit the comments!