The Double Whammy on Emirates Premium Class Awards by Alaska Airlines — and Why I am Not Surprised

I  am not be any means absolving Alaska Airlines for not giving members of its Mileage Plan frequent flier loyalty program any notice for the severe devaluations of its redemptions for premium class award travel on flights operated by Emirates Airline; but when I first learned of the news, I suspected that the devaluation — up to 100 percent for travel in the first class cabin — was the result of Emirates Airline raising the rates without notice.

Combine that with the departure tax of 35 United Arab Emirates dirhams — or approximately $9.50 — to be levied as of Thursday, June 30, 2016 on virtually all travelers using Dubai International Airport as well as Al Maktoum International Airport; and you have a double whammy that had caused frequent fliers to be reeling today.

Dubai International Airport is the home hub airport of Emirates Airline.

I am not surprised at all by these developments for three reasons.

My Personal Experience in Dubai

My personal experience with a “devaluation with no notice” occurred with At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY. I decided to go against my better judgement and splurge the 500 United Arab Emirates dirhams on the premium experience, which at that time was approximately $136.00.

Although you can only spend up to 30 minutes at the observation deck on Level 148, visitors then are supposed to descend to Level 125 — one level above Level 124, where the observation deck is located for those who did not pay for a premium experience — for what is supposed to be a unique experience; and you can stay on that level for as long as you like until it officially closes for the evening.

I did not get to experience any of that at all despite having paid a premium for that. Instead of a spacious deck, I got to “enjoy” the crowds on Level 124, which had very few places where a person can sit. I made the most of it — but I should not have had to do that. If I wanted to do that, I could have paid significantly less money in the first place.

At no time was I informed that there were any “irregular operations” with the premium SKY experience, for which I paid an extra $102.00. As a result, I felt like I was cheated and deceived, which left a sour taste in my mouth of what otherwise could have been a pleasant and positively memorable experience at At The Top, Burj Khalifa.

When I submitted feedback pertaining to my experience, the response I received was that the highlight of a visit to At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY is the access to level 148; and to avoid an incomplete experience at Level 125 — which was undergoing maintenance — my journey was redirected to Level 124, which “offers the same breathtaking panoramic views in addition to a spectacular outdoor terrace unlike 125” and therefore justifies that “the experience is ideally chargeable at an additional AED 125.”

I was extended a reschedule of my visit for a duration of six months, which has already expired. Even a partial refund of that difference of $102.00 would have been enough of a good measure of customer service recovery for me; but that experience destroyed my trust — causing me to recommend that you avoid the premium experience, as a similar situation could happen to you without any warning or advance notice.

My experience may not be indicative of how business is typically transacted in Dubai; but then again, there are examples which have been imparted by others — such as Dan Miller of Points With a Crew, who was disappointed with a particular hotel property in Dubai and was not exactly happy with the official response pertaining to his experience.

My Personal Experience Lately With Frequent Travel Loyalty Programs

I am currently experiencing several situations — on which I will report in detail in future articles when the time is right — where I have been undergoing an inordinate amount of time, effort and even expense in attempting to collect what I have rightfully earned.

Let me just say that none of it was worth it to me.

The Difference Between Trust and Loyalty

I believe that many people — both frequent travelers and the administrators of frequent travel loyalty programs — confuse the words loyalty and trust. Those words are not interchangeable.

Loyalty is the act of pledging allegiance to an entity by giving or showing firm and constant support; whereas trust is a firm and established belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of that entity.

One basic but obvious example of the difference is that the redemption of a certain number of miles which is required for award travel increases by double the amount. You may consider that a devaluation and choose not to be loyal to a frequent flier loyalty program as a result; but if enough notice was given in advance, you might still trust being a member of that frequent flier loyalty program — unlike what happened today with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Emirates Airline, where the devaluation occurred with absolutely no notice…

…and that destroyed the trust many frequent fliers had in both of those entities in one fell swoop — ergo, the outrage about which you have been reading in frequent flier forums and on seemingly countless weblogs.

Although I discuss trust pertaining to frequent flier loyalty programs in this article, the actions which lead to a lack of trust by members seems to pervade virtually every frequent travel loyalty program for airlines, lodging companies, rental car companies and even train operators.

Summary

If in the year 2016 you are still of the mindset that you can trust frequent travel loyalty programs, get over it. All that the actions of those entities do is encourage “gaming” the system even more — especially when members themselves feel like they have been “gamed.” Choose your battles wisely from here on in.

It is even more important than ever to maintain perspective and adjust your expectations with regard to travel in general. There is no debate that an experience in Dubai can potentially be prohibitively expensive. After all, it costs a lot of money to create and indulge in excessively ostentatious luxury; and someone has to pay for it when experiencing it…

…but if it appears to you as though wandering through the frequent travel loyalty program landscape is little more than ruins and burnt embers with fires still smoldering, blame that on actions which contribute to the destruction of trust. It is one thing to devalue an entity and potentially cause an erosion of loyalty; but to blatantly disregard trust is to potentially damage relationships — and therefore future business — with customers who used to not think twice about patronizing a product or service is simply foolhardy, in my opinion.

Once trust is destroyed — especially when it is done blatantly and with disregard — it is extremely difficult to earn again…

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

3 thoughts on “The Double Whammy on Emirates Premium Class Awards by Alaska Airlines — and Why I am Not Surprised”

  1. Mark R says:

    Double whammy? A nearly doubling in Alaska miles for an Emirates first class ticket and…a $10 charge for the airport in Dubai? I had to read this post again looking for the second whammy…LOL

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Ten dollars may not initially be a lot of money, Mark R; but to someone who may travel to, from or through Dubai often, that ten dollars adds up.

      That does lead to a question: what amount would be considered a good threshold to qualify for a “whammy”: $20.00? $50.00? $160.00?

      To me, charging for something where there was not previously a charge is a “whammy” — especially when there is always the potential that that charge can increase in the future…

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