Alaska Airlines adds Malaysia Airlines as partner…or is it just a terrible joke?

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I’ve flown Alaska Airlines almost exclusively for domestic travel for several years, consistently impressed by the value to be had in its frequent flyer program.  When the airline joined the One World Alliance earlier this year, I was among those who was cautiously excited but also a little leery about what the effect would be on Mileage Plan.

Since then we’ve seen Alaska add awards on Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Iberia, and Qatar. These could have been exciting additions indeed, but the redemption rates were so extraordinarily bad that the folks predicting doom and gloom for Mileage Plan seemed almost optimistic.  Alaska even devalued its own premium awards.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, Alaska has announced Malaysia Airlines as its newest redemption partner…and even the previous dismal rollouts couldn’t prepare me for how gross this one would be.

Sometimes it feels like Alaska is laughing at us

Mileage Plan and Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia Airlines has a relatively compact route network that consists primarily of flights within Asia but also has a few routes to Europe, the Middle East and Australia/New Zealand from its hub in Kuala Lumpur.  Their “first-classish” Business Suite gets good reviews, while their regular business class seems a tad behind some of its competitors in the region.

I was originally excited to hear that Malaysia was being added to Mileage Plan as it would provide another direct route from Europe to Southeast Asia and from Southeast Asia to Australia. Then I saw the redemption prices and nearly fell over. The saver level one-way award pricing is as follows:

  • Within Asia – 25k miles economy, 65k miles business class
  • Asia to Australia/New Zealand – 40k miles economy, 120k miles business class
  • Asia to Middle East – 40k miles economy, 120k miles business class
  • Asia to London – 50k miles economy, 175k miles business class (!!)

If the last few partner redemptions that Alaska has added were bad, these are downright shocking. By comparison, below is AA’s award chart for Asia 2, which includes Malaysia:

  • Within Asia – AS – 25,000 miles, AA – 17,500
  • Asia to Australia/New Zealand – AS – 40,000 miles, AA – 30,000
  • Asia to Middle East – AS – 40,000 miles, AA – 25,000
  • Asia to London – AS – 50,000 miles, AA – 35,000

Alaska is consistently 30-50% higher than American, its own domestic One-World partner, without even adjusting for the fact that Alaska’s miles have historically been looked at as being quite a bit more valuable than AA (and not as easy to earn).

And what about in business class? It’s even nastier:

  • Within Asia – AS – 65,000 miles, AA – 22,500
  • Asia to Australia/New Zealand – AS – 120,000 miles, AA – 40,000
  • Asia to Middle East – AS – 120,000 miles, AA – 40,000
  • Asia to London – AS – 175,000 miles, AA – 75,000

In business, Alaska is 230%-300% the cost of the same flights on AA.  That’s Delta-level bad. These are, quite literally, some of the worst redemption rates for Asian travel in the world.  You could fly from the US to Japan ROUNDTRIP in the far superior JAL Business Class for the same price as a one-way flight from Kuala Lumpur to Australia.  That flight would only cost 40,000 miles if booking on AA.  Two people could fly roundtrip Cathay Pacific business from Hong Kong to London for 5,000 miles less than one, one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur.  Blech.

Malaysia Airlines A 330 Business Class

Quick Thoughts

Each time Alaska rolls out a new One World award partner, I get shocked anew.  In less than a year, Mileage Plan has clearly fallen from being arguably the best domestic program for international travel.  While there are still terrific values to be had (although to currently hard to use destinations like Japan and Hong Kong), the continued pulverizing of the award chart seems to indicate that’s only a matter of time before the remaining sweet spots are obliterated as well.

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justmeha

i think we need to count our blessings. even if every new partner added is a worse value then Malaysian airlines, i think we should be happy that they aren’t devaluing the charts they already had.

in other words they don’t become less valuable for adding options at poor value.

Sam

Math police here.

You said “In business, Alaska is 230%-300% more expensive than AA.“. It actually means the price on AS is 3.3 to 4 times that on AA, which is not true from the values.

From the content, the business class redemption prices on AS are 230% to 300% as high as those on AA. You may say “Alaska is 130%-200% more expensive than AA”, or “Alaska is 230%-300% as expensive as AA”.

If you are confused, think about the difference in the meanings of “X is 10% more expensive than Y” and “X is 10% as expensive as Y”.

Last edited 5 months ago by Sam
Dave Hanson

Thanks Tim,

I appreciate your calling out alarming developments in what has historically been an unusually customer-friendly program.

My guess is that Alaska felt pressure to deliver on the promise of greater flexibility that they billed a OW alliance as offering. So, when they weren’t able to negotiate great terms with new partners, they just took what they could get. But it’s a mistake to compromise their value proposition on the altar of flexibility.

(Not sure if AS fans are trying to spike this useful piece? My 5 star rating just now bumped it from a 1.3 to a 1.9–can’t recall a lower rating here.)

paul5795

Perhaps the rating system is ambiguous. I gave this post five stars because it contains interesting news and is well written. Others may give it fewer stars because they are rating the news itself (i.e., Malaysia redemptions are crappy).

paul5795

I have been trying to use my Alaska Airlines miles for travel in 2022 to 2023. Am having trouble finding any good redemptions. Contrasted with Aadvantage miles, where I have burned all my miles on great redemptions. Frankly, I no longer value Alaska miles as better than Aadvantage miles.

Christian

While things are looking worse, there are still some decent redemptions. If you’re looking at Europe, Aer Lingus has business class space available at times and AA works fine for economy. For Asia, JAL offers a fair bit of business class space and Korean is an option as well. One caveat: for Korean, Alaska always prices as round trip so the price is the same ow or rt.

paul5795

It is true that the value of points redemptions depend a lot on where you are and where you are going.   Recently, I found Aadvantage to be very useful for one way business class/first class flights SFO-CAI, CAI-FCO, MIA-SFO, and SFO-SCL.   On the other hand, the only decent Alaska redemption I found was for YVR-SFO.  If I was traveling to Asia, I know I could get good value out of Alaska . . . but am not flying to or from Asia in near future.

Christian

Another well written piece. I’m trying to reconcile Alaska’s good-to-great value/terrible-to-striving-for-worst-in-the-world value contrast. Obviously, the awful stuff has been recent while the good stuff is legacy but why is Alaska doing this? Alaska has traditionally had two strengths: very loyal customers and an immensely strong loyalty program. It doesn’t seem to require too much imagination to see the connection. Why would they intentionally destroy their strongest advantage?

paul5795

Frequent Miler and other bloggers have been talking about an impending Aadvantage devaluation for many months now. Surprisingly, it hasn’t happened yet, at least when looking at the “web special” award redemptions that are available on many routes. Fingers crossed.