Programs in Korea or Japan are not immune to program devaluations, the difference is they always provide huge advance notices to members for the slightest cutbacks. That’s also what Korean Air did when they announced in December 2019 quite a massive increase of award prices, notably on its partner airlines, to come into effect in its SkyPass program in April 2021. But this change has now been postponed until April 01, 2023 – as customers haven’t had sufficient opportunity to burn their miles since the initial announcement, given the events nobody could predict at that time. Let’s hope such customer orientation will also prevail when Korean Air merges with its rival Asiana Airlines and that the interests of frequent flyers of both programs will be well taken into consideration.
When Alaska Airlines joins oneworld on March 31, international members will find it more difficult to reach elite status in its Mileage Plan, by introducing the requirement of a minimum number of segments to be flown on Alaska Airlines. By joining oneworld there was fear that award levels would become less attractive, however, Alaska Airlines confirms that no changes to current award levels are planned for March 31 and that any future changes would be properly communicated with a 90-day advance notice. This leaves some interesting sweet spots in the program, notably low award levels with Cathay Pacific. It seems that individual award charts per carrier will be maintained, but will most likely be extended to cover the whole network of the corresponding (oneworld) partners. Today, many partners offer award flights to/from North America only.
Etihad Guest has lost several of its airline partners over the last few years, but the loss of Czech Airlines on January 31 will be particularly painful for many European members. As a matter of fact, Czech Airlines represents/ed one of the most interesting niche possibilities for the use of awards since award flights to/from Prague were available between 7,000 and 10,000 miles for a roundtrip from almost everywhere in Europe. This clearly represented an excellent value. It is our advice that you use the remaining time until the end of January to book such a flight, what can be done up to one year ahead of travel.
One of the worst things you can probably do with your hard earned miles is to spend them on an upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy. This will certainly be the case in Emirates’ Skywards program as Emirates joins many other airlines offering that cabin. However, Emirates has currently only one new Airbus 380 equipped with that cabin and won’t commercialise it until they have a critical number of planes equipped. In the meantime, “valued” customers will be offered a complimentary upgrade. And with 56 seats in the cabin on an Airbus 380, there is a fair chance that Emirates may even consider base Skywards members as such valued customers and that you may be eligible for that slightly superior treat. But even with the current reduced capacity, you still need to be very lucky to find yourself on one of the equipped aircrafts at all. The first Airbus 380 is usually deployed on one of the current five daily flights to London Heathrow.
In case your love for hotel loyalty programs has somewhat faded over these past years in favour of the flexibility offered by the third-party booking platforms (with corresponding direct mileage earning opportunities), 2021 might be the year to reconsider your position. Most major hotel programs will make it easier than ever to qualify for elite status. While elite status will become achievable at less effort, it will ultimately come down to the questions how much you personally value the benefits that come with the elite status of the programs, and whether you are happy to forego certain flexibility in exchange for them.