Today was supposed to be Hyatt day at Middle Age Miles (and we’ll eventually get there), but huge airline news that promises a dramatic impact on the travel and points-and-miles world broke this morning.
Alaska Airlines has announced that it will reconnect with American & expand its AA relationship and join the Oneworld alliance over the coming months. The airlines’ announcement also includes AA launching non-stop service between Seattle and Bangalore, India, in Fall 2020, and between Seattle and London Heathrow in Spring 2021.
Given the magnitude of this news and its impact on many Middle Age Miles readers, we wanted to address this thunderous news sooner than later and share our initial thoughts.
Details of the Alaska-AA News
According to the Alaska Airlines Blog article from this morning, in general the new “West Coast international alliance” between Alaska and AA will result in the following benefits:
- the ability to earn and use miles on both Alaska and AA
- full elite status reciprocity
- lounge access to nearly 50 AA Admirals Clubs worldwide and 7 AS lounges in the US
- continued domestic codeshare and expanded international travel from Los Angeles and Seattle for hassle-free booking and travel between AS & AA
The details and timeline that have been supplied at this time are:
- Effective immediately:
- Ability to redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles on all AA flights
- This had been scheduled to end soon, as of 3/1/2020
- Continued ability to earn AS miles on AA flights with an AS codeshare flight number
- Alaska Lounge members can access any of AA’s 50 Admirals Club locations worldwide
- Alaska Mileage Plan members can continue to earn and redeem AS miles on Alaska’s current portfolio of 16 Global Partner airlines
- Ability to redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles on all AA flights
- Starting sometime in Spring 2020:
- Ability to earn AS miles on any AA flights, domestically and internationally
- Starting in Fall 2020:
- AA launches non-stop service between Seattle and Bangalore, India
- Starting in Spring 2021:
- AA launches non-stop service between Seattle and London Heathrow
- Starting in Summer 2021:
- Alaska becomes a full member of the Oneworld alliance
- Ability to earn and redeem AS miles on all Oneworld airlines
- AS elite members “will enjoy privileges, including priority boarding, premium seating, baggage benefits and more when you fly” on AA or any Oneworld airline
- Presumably, this means that AS elite members will be mapped to Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald status
- AS MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75k members can access lounges within the Oneworld airline network
Alaska says that, for now, agreements with its global partner airlines will continue uninterrupted.
Our Initial Thoughts
We were very excited to read this news, for several reasons.
In the immediate term, the continued ability to redeem AA miles for AS flights (and vice versa) is a big positive. There are many times when we’re searching for domestic fights that an AA redemption on AS is the best deal for the circumstances. In particular, we remember back in late 2018 when we were trying to make contingency plans to get from DFW to the Bay Area for the College Football National Championship game, and using AA miles on AS provided a perfect play (sadly, the ND Fighting Irish didn’t provide a perfect play in the semifinal game, so our trip planning was for naught).
In the short term, we hope that Alaska’s announcement of the ability to earn AS miles on all AA flights as of Spring 2020 also means that the flip side is true – that we will also be able to earn AA miles (and elite status qualification credits) on all AS flights. The ability to earn AS miles on AA flights is very nice for Alaska Mileage Plan members and dramatically increases their ability to earn AS miles (and presumably, elite status). This doesn’t impact us personally at the moment, but it might in the future. On the other hand, if we can earn AA miles and elite qualification credits on AS flights, that’s a big plus for us.
Looking ahead to when AS achieves Oneworld membership, this will also be a huge boost to Alaska Mileage Plan elite members.
Longer term, we do worry about devaluation of Alaska Mileage Plan’s award redemption charts, particularly when redeeming on partner airlines. We are also concerned that Alaska will lose some of its current non-Oneworld global partner airline relationships, which we’ll discuss next.
What Might Happen with Alaska’s Global Airline Partnerships?
Currently, Alaska has 16 global airline partnerships. Let’s break them down by the major airline alliances:
- Oneworld – AA; British Airways; Cathay Pacific; Fiji; Finnair; JAL; Qantas
- Star Alliance – Singapore
- SkyTeam – Korean Air
- No Alliance – Aer Lingus; Condor; El Al; Emirates; Hainan; Icelandair
- Special Situation – LATAM (leaving Oneworld as of 5/1/2020; now 20% owned by Delta (SkyTeam))
Obviously, Alaska’s partnerships with Oneworld airlines will continue, and they should be strengthened by Alaska joining Oneworld as a full member.
Alaska’s partnerships with Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines and SkyTeam member Korean Air seem to be at substantial risk with Alaska joining Oneworld. Instances of alliance member airlines having partnerships with airlines in a different alliance are few and far between. In addition, due to its rivalry with Delta, Alaska already has recently seen its partnership with SkyTeam members Air France & KLM go by the wayside.
For now, we’ll remain hopeful that Alaska will continue its partnerships with the “No Alliance” group of airlines. There are plenty of instances of airline alliance members partnering with non-alliance airlines. For example, AA partners with non-alliance airlines Air Tahiti Nui, China Southern, Etihad and Hawaiian Airlines, among others. Beyond that, in particular, Alaska’s partnership with Aer Lingus seems likely to continue given Aer Lingus’s common corporate ownership with Oneworld members British Airways and Iberia.
We’re not nearly so optimistic about Alaska’s partnership with LATAM. With Alaska’s rival Delta now owning a major stake in LATAM and LATAM’s imminently departure from Oneworld, we won’t be surprised to see Alaska’s partnership with LATAM come to an end fairly soon.
On a Personal Note
Regular readers of Middle Age Miles know that my AAdvantage account is currently locked and at risk of being shut down by AA. In our follow-up article about planning & strategy in the face of my AA situation, we discussed what airline loyalty program I might use if I’m shut down by AA. Today’s news gives me an obvious and very useful landing place – Alaska Mileage Plan. With Mileage Plan, I should be able to attain MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K elite status easily, which should translate into Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald status once Alaska becomes a full Oneworld member in 2021.
In addition, I should be able to leverage my current AA Executive Platinum status into an Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K status challenge. Alaska used to do one-time outright status matches. As of late last year, Alaska shifted to one-time Status Match Challenges. Alaska’s Status Match Challenges provide a 3-month match, with the ability to keep your status long-term if you hit mileage-earning thresholds. The thresholds are high – 5,000 miles to keep MVP status; 10,000 for MVP Gold; and 20,000 for MVP Gold 75K – and all of the flights must be on Alaska or its regional partners Horizon or SkyWest; codeshares and global partner flights do not count. But even at that, the ability to soft-land into a high-level status with AS would be quite valuable to me. I’ve taken screenshots of my AA Executive Platinum status to submit to Alaska Mileage Plan if needed, and I’ll continue to do so after each trip as long as my situation with AA remains in flux.
In an ideal world, I’d wait until at least July 1 to submit my status match to Alaska Mileage Plan, so that the status I earned through the challenge would be good through the end of 2021.
A More General Strategy Thought for Couples
For couples who fly enough on AA that they both earn elite status with AAdvantage, we wonder whether it would make sense for one spouse to maintain their AAdvantage membership and the other to switch over to Alaska Mileage Plan. We think there will be more details to come with the Alaska-AA renewed partnership and Alaska’s eventual Oneworld membership that will help sort out this issue.
We could certainly see a situation where having one spouse with high elite status in each program could help with companion benefits (including upgrade priority), mileage-earning, and lounge access benefits, just to name a few.
Here is the AA Newsroom article on the AS-AA “West Coast International Alliance”:
- American Airlines Newsroom: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines Announce New West Coast International Alliance: Alaska’s West Coast Network to Connect With American’s Long-Haul Flying to Create More Choice for Travelers (February 13, 2020)
And earlier today, Gary Leff had a nice article that included quotes from AA management:
- View From The Wing: Alaska Is Joining oneworld and American Launching India Service (February 13, 2020)
What are your thoughts on the Alaska-AA “West Coast International Alliance” partnership and Alaska joining Oneworld? What other strategic plays do you see that may be helpful? Please let us know in the Comments!
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