Alaska + American partnership crumbling

3

In a disappointing if not unexpected move, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines announced today the termination of most of the benefits of their partnership beginning January 1, 2018.

The Major Changes

  • You will only earn miles on codeshare flights between Alaska and AA
  • No recognition of partner elite benefits
  • Some award chart changes for booking awards on AA metal with Alaska miles

Things that are not changing

  • Members can still earn Alaska miles on all American Airlines international routes
  • Members can still earn miles on codeshare flights
  • Award redemptions when using American Airlines miles for travel on Alaska Airlines are not changing
  • Reciprocal lounge benefits for Boardroom and Admirals Club members

Quick Thoughts

These changes are very disappointing for those who currently credit American Airlines flights to Alaska Mileage Plan as well as for Alaska Airlines elite members. Currently (and until January 1, 2018), American Airlines flights can be credited to Alaska Airlines with Mileage Plan members earning miles based on the distance flown. After that date, only codeshares (flights where you can book through Alaska Airlines and get an Alaska Airlines flight number for your AA flight) will earn miles in MileagePlan. Bookings made directly through American Airlines will not earn any miles with Alaska Mileage Plan after January 1st. That’s a disappointing change because crediting flights to Alaska has often worked out to be more rewarding — especially with Mileage Plan elite status.

Speaking of elite status, the changes to reciprocal benefits are a particular bummer. Last year, I matched my Southwest Companion Pass to Virgin America Gold — which, in turn, got me MVP Gold when the airlines merged. I recently flew several segments on American Airlines. As an MVP Gold member, not only did I earn a minimum of 1,000 miles per segment, but I was able to choose Main Cabin Extra seating at booking on American without any fee.

Main Cabin Extra will no longer be free for Alaska elites

The other major change is award rates for travel on American Airlines metal using Alaska Airlines miles. Some awards are going down in price and some are shooting up, but the general lack of saver availability on American probably makes these changes mostly irrelevant anyway. Rates for other partners — like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines — are not changing. Here are the changes to the Alaska/American award chart when using Alaska miles to book unicorn saver space on American (note prices for travel booked by December 31st, 2017 and for travel booked on or after January 1, 2018):

Again, some of those changes are substantial, but they are unlikely to be very consequential given the challenge of finding AA saver space (and the existence of partners with arguably better value redemptions on the same routes).

On the flip side, American Airlines AAdvantage members will see similar changes in earning — with miles and elite-qualifying activity only counting on codeshare flights. If you are an American AAdvantage flyer who counts on Alaska/Virgin segments to get you closer to elite status, these changes will similarly affect you come January 1st.

Final Word

Overall, these changes are a blow to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members and perhaps a small segment of American AAdvantage members. That said, with the Alaska/Virgin merger complete, it’s not surprising to see these changes. For many years, Alaska was a unicorn of a loyalty program, its partnerships with Delta and American meaning that you could credit all sorts of domestic flights to Alaska. Now that Alaska is competing with its former partners, it was only a matter of time before these partnerships ended. For more analysis , see this post from One Mile at a Time.

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