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Update 2/18/15: I cancelled my award reservation in Emirates First Class using Alaska miles. I was invited to a wedding that changed my plans. I tried to change my reservation to different dates.
I called up and asked for the change. The agent said the date I wanted had no First Class award space even though Z = 3. I asked her to look in the old system, and she said a supervisor had told her not to.
I called twice more, running my little social-engineering trick of “I just got cut off trying to make a change. The agent had found the space in the old system.” Both agents said they couldn’t use the old system. In the end, I canceled my award because it was 61 days before departure, and free changes and cancellations only last until 60 days before departure.
I reached out to Alaska Airlines asking for a statement on what’s going on because this is what they told One Mile at a Time in January:
First thank you for bringing this to our attention. When you first contacted me, we thought that perhaps your search return was limited because of the original query. However, in digging deeper into this issue, we learned that we were wrong and quickly launched an investigation with our vendors to identify and try to resolve what we believe is a system glitch. We have a strong partnership with Emirates and our mutual customers have been enjoying award travel on both airlines fora number of years. I assure you that Mileage Plan™ members have been able to book First Class awards on Emirates without issue and we are working to restore that functionality. We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing our customers and assure you and your readers that we are working with Emirates to resolve the technical glitch and hope to have it fixed soon.
I will update if I hear back from them. My take is that maybe it is Emirates fault that its First Class award space isn’t showing up on Alaska’s main system, but it is definitely Alaska’s fault that we can’t book the space if they are telling their agents not to use the old system, which displays the award space perfectly well.
One Mile at a Time broke the news that Emirates First Class award space does not appear on alaskaair.com for any flights beyond March 28, 2015. Business Class and economy class award space does appear until the end of the bookable schedule (mid-December.)
He speculated that the Alaska/Emirates partnership might be ending or at least the chance to book Emirates First Class beyond March 28, 2015 might never again exist. My interpretation is similar: I suspect Alaska permanently wants to block Emirates First Class award redemptions for travel beyond March 28. (Any flights already booked for travel beyond March 28 are safe.)
But just now I was able to book myself an award in Emirates First Class for April. Following my steps, you should be able to book yourself Emirates First Class through mid-December, the end of the schedule.
Being able to book Emirates First Class with Alaska miles is a BIG DEAL because Emirates First Class on the A380 is one of the nicest products in the sky, and until recently, its A380 was the only commercial airline that offered First Class passengers the opportunity to shower onboard.
I flew Emirates First Class on a 3.5 hour hop from Auckland to Sydney and was blown away. Here is the first part of that trip report, and my video inside the shower spa.
Why Alaska Miles?
I desperately want to get back into Emirates First Class because Auckland to Sydney was the best flight of my life. The best way to fly Emirates First Class is with Alaska Airlines miles. Alaska charges 90,000 miles one way to Dubai and 100,000 to Africa or Asia.
Unfortunately you cannot use Alaska miles for all Emirates routes. Your award needs to start or end in North America and cannot go to Australia.
Alaska does not collect fuel surcharges on Emirates awards. You just pay low taxes + $12.50 per one way partner award + a $15 phone fee.
Someone is blocking Emirates First Class award space from appearing on alaskaair.com for flights after March 28. It’s probably Alaska, but it might be Emirates.
You can search Emirates First Class award space on Expert Flyer, a paid service, that I explained how to search here.
The fare bucket to search is Z. This is where it gets a little bit weird.
- If Z = 1, Alaska may have access to 1 award seat in Emirates First Class.
- If Z = 2, Alaska may have access to 2 award seats in Emirates First Class.
- If Z = 2, Alaska definitely has access to at least 1 award seat in Emirates First Class.
So I looked for dates with Z = 2.
In these search results, you can see that the Emirates flight from Houston to Dubai on April 19 has Z = 2, but on April 20 only has Z = 1. That means Alaska definitely has at least one award seat on the Emirates flight for April 19.
But that seat does not appear online. Online the April 19 flight only has economy and Business space.
This is why this hobby is amazing. As commentors despaired in the One Mile at a Time comment thread, commentor Carlos provided the solution.
After a lot of [hang up call again], I was able to book a F award flying on april. After getting the same answer that there was no F available (even though in EF Z=2), the magic sentence was to ask if the search could be made on the old system and voilà, space was found.
The “old system” is the magic phrase.
I picked out flights from Houston to Dubai and Dubai to Bangkok with a day and a half in Dubai. You can get free stopovers on Alaska one way awards on Emirates flights.
This is going to be 15 hours in the A380 First Class and then six more hours a day and a half later.
For both flights, I found Z = 2 space.
I called Alaska Airlines at 800-252-7522 and politely told the agent I wanted to fly First Class from Houston to Dubai and then Dubai to Bangkok in First Class.
She searched and came back excited, but it turned out there was space on the flights I had in mind in Business Class but not First Class.
It is important to note that apparently the agents have no idea that the website and their system only show Emirates First Class award space until March 28.
I tried Carlos’ trick.
“Hmm…I really want to fly First Class. I’ve heard that if you check your old system, there might be space available.”
She hemmed and hawed and eventually said she couldn’t do it. I thanked her and hung up after the six minute call. For the second call I had a different strategy.
The successful eight-minute call started out like this:
[in a friendly voice]
“Hi, I want to fly Emirates First Class from Houston to Bangkok. I was just on the line with another agent, and she had found the space and given me the flight info when my phone was disconnected. She said she found the space in the old system. Can I give you the flight info?”
When I said “old system,” this agent actually interjected, “That’s the right way.”
She took the flight info that I had found on Expert Flyer and disappeared for a few minutes, coming back to tell me that she had found the award space in First Class and it would cost 100,000 miles. Success!
I booked the flight on the spot. She gave me an Alaska and an Emirates confirmation number. Twenty minutes later, my confirmation email appeared from Alaska. I went to the Emirates website to make sure they can see my reservation, and they can! I am all set for travel.
Hat tip to One Mile at a Time for uncovering the possible end of the Alaska/Emirates partnership at least as far as First Class awards. Hat tip to Carlos for uncovering the trick to book Emirates First Class on flights beyond March 28.
When calling Alaska to book the award, the magic words are “old system,” and I recommend starting the call with a white lie about having just been disconnected after an agent found space through the old system. That may arouse less suspicion and make the agent feel comfortable that her colleague thinks it’s OK to use the old system.
Now there are a couple possibilities:
- This could just be a glitch, and Alaska may resume showing Emirates First Class space for flights March 29 and later. In that case, this post is nearly useless.
- This blocking could be intentional and could get worse by an outright prohibition on booking Emirates First Class that becomes widely known among Alaska phone agents. In that case, use the trick in this post ASAP if you’re hoping to fly Emirates First Class on an A380.
Alaska has no cancellation fee more than 60 days before departure and a manageable cancellation fee of $125 after that, so somewhat speculative bookings may be prudent if you fear that possibility 2 is more likely.
Are you going to book Emirates First Class now?