Wow! Alaska joins Oneworld in mid-2021, expands partnership with AA

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In a surprise move that I don’t think anybody saw coming, as reported by The Points Guy this morning, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are scrapping plans to reduce their partnership and rather expanding it. Furthermore, Alaska will join the oneworld alliance. While on the one hand I’m not disappointed to have a multitude of options for earning and using Alaska Mileage Plan miles, we do not yet know what the new award charts will look like. I imagine that some of the standout values currently available may change over time, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for opportunity with Alaska Mileage Plan. It is also well worth pursuing Alaska Airlines status now as the requirements are relatively easier and could be particularly useful when they join oneworld.

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

Expanding the partnership with American Airlines

While we had previously reported that Alaska would cut back on its partnership with American Airlines effective March 1, 2020, that plan is now nixed in favor of an expanded partnership with American Airlines. Exact codeshare routes haven’t yet been announced as there are some regulatory hurdles, but it will once again be possible to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles on more American Airlines routes as the partnership expands.

It is great news that members of both programs will retain the ability to redeem awards for travel on both airlines and it will be great to see the ability to still earn Alaska miles on at least some American Airlines flights (and presumably all routes at some point when Alaska joins oneworld). Elite members should also enjoy reciprocal benefits — again, full details haven’t yet been released, but the news is positive.

What will happen with Alaska’s award charts?

Alaska Mileage Plan currently maintains separate award charts for each partner airline (you can find those charts here). One would expect that they will at some point be forced to consolidate this and at the very least create a new oneworld award chart. While it’s possible that Alaska will have an awesome award chart, I think it is hard to imagine that current sweet spots will remain intact.

One huge advantage of current Alaska Mileage Plan awards is that they allow a free stopover even on a one-way award ticket, which makes it easily possible to see two destinations on one award (or to tack on a “free” one-way at the end of a return trip in some cases). Will that remain with oneworld? It’s hard to say.

However, I imagine that Alaska’s particularly generous award charts for travel on oneworld airlines Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific are likely to change and most likely not for the better.

As a reminder, here is the award pricing for travel on oneworld member Japan Airlines to/from Asia:

And here is pricing for travel on Cathay Pacific to/from Asia:

Both business and first class are incredibly reasonable. Further, with Cathay Pacific, it is possible to fly from the US to Hong Kong to Johannesburg, South Africa in first class with a free stopover in Hong Kong for just 70K miles. Here is the chart for travel from the US to/from Africa on Cathay Pacific.

Current coronavirus concerns aside, that last one above is an amazing deal that has long been one of the shining stars of the Alaska partner award charts and it is the spot I imagine least likely to last upon joining oneworld.

I further think it is possible that we’ll see a devaluation in terms of the ability to redeem just 55K miles to fly to Australia in business class on partners Qantas and Fiji Airways, so those are other awards to consider sooner rather than later. I can’t see any of the above awards decreasing in price.

All that said, we do not yet know what the award chart(s) will look like when Alaska joins oneworld and at this point we have a decent amount of lead time since the change is expected in mid-2021. Still, Alaska didn’t instill confidence a few years ago when they massively devalued the Emirates chart overnight. If you’re interested in travel to/from Asia in premium cabins with Alaska miles, I think the time to plan is before 2021.

What will happen with Alaska’s other partnerships?

Alaska’s current partnerships include both airlines that are not in alliances (like Emirates and Icelandair) and several that are in non-oneworld alliances (Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines and SkyTeam member Korean Air among others). At the moment, Alaska says that they intend to keep those partnerships. Time will tell how that shakes out, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those partnerships go.

Earn Alaska elite status now

If you have the ability to work towards Alaska Airlines elite status, now may be a great time to do so. As a reminder, here are Alaska’s tiers and qualification requirements:

If you’re primarily earning through Alaska, requirements are relatively low compared to other oneworld airlines. If you’re flying on elite partners, MVP Gold is still pretty reasonable at 50,000 miles. With Alaska’s frequent flyer program offering good rates of return on its own flights and terrific returns in some partner premium cabins, having elite status can be well worthwhile. If it also means the ability to snag oneworld benefits starting in 2021, that could be valuable for many readers. Alaska does offer a status match program, which could make it easier to get the ball rolling on moving business to Alaska.

One Mile at a Time points out that Alaska may change status requirements with the move toward oneworld, so now may be an opportune time to match / earn Alaska status.

Bottom line

This is big news. While we don’t yet know what the award charts will look like when Alaska joins oneworld, the fact that they offer a program where you still earn 1 mile per mile flown and their longstanding competitive award charts make this feel exciting. Certainly the expanded partnership with American and eventual reciprocal elite benefits will be welcomed by Alaska elite members. It may be prudent to keep an eye on opportunities to take advantage of some of Alaska’s current oneworld sweet spots as I think it is at least possible if not likely that we will see some unfavorable changes in those charts when Alaska joins up officially in 2021, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them maintain a free stopover, which would be great to see. Time will tell.

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Gary Leff
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Gary Leff

Minor point but since it’s in your lede, TPG wasn’t ahead of others on the news actually.

YoniPDX
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YoniPDX

Nooooooo.
I can’t see this a being a good omen -esp for earning great miles on other In’tl premium cabin paid flightts.

It might have a small window of great partner redemptions, but then again we may see Cathy and a few other airlines disappear from the market if the Corona virus continues into June/July.

That said AS status is not to hard to earn.

Definitely have mixed emotions about this -but considering that collecting AS via CC or transfer partners is not as easy other options.

JB SanDiego
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JB SanDiego

Nice coverage on the award chart and the possibilities of devaluation!

Thanks Nick!

Buzz W
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Buzz W

Currently Alaska MVP and have enough flights booked already this year to hit MVP Gold. I hope Alaska doesn’t go to revenue based Elite status.

docntx
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docntx

Found it ironic that I smiled mournfully when I saw this, because we by now have to surmise that what will happen is that the alliance invariably means that the new member drops down to the lowest denominator (AA+BA)

Tom
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Tom

I think this is ultimately bad news. I don’t see how AS will be able to continue to generously award miles on actual miles flown vs. AA spend-based “miles” and elite qualification. Plus AS has middle tier at 40k miles (AA=50k) and AS top tier is 75k miles (vs AA=100k). I think AS will head down the benefits spiral vs. AA moving to compromise upwards.

WR2
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WR2

Bad news all around. CX/JL sweet spots are toast. AS easy elite tiers are toast. Mileage based earning is toast. Beware, AS, you sleep with dogs you get fleas.

Billy Bob
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Billy Bob

I hope they don’t treat the free stopover on one-way award flights as the tall poppy.

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YoniPDX
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YoniPDX

@Nick

1) CX offers no F HKG to JNB

While the AS award chart shows F to Africa – CX no doesn’t fliy a 3 cabin plane HKG to TLV/JNB its the 767-400.

Last year the only AS partners I could find with F to/from JNB was BA. for 80K AS, we flew F from JNB to PDX ilast December. IiIRC you can book EK F JNB to NA but not for 80K. But you can book F wiith AA out of Africa to NA (Gregs return on 40K challenge).

2.) AS new OW partnerships could keep sweetspots and may not be so horrible.

Alaska joining OW might not be the omen of ugliness to come. AS only CC transfer partners are 3:1 Marriott and churning AS miles with AS is no longer easy with BofA, and mileage runs are not purely revenue driven.

So Alaska could keep or make minor tweaks to existing partnerships awards- no compelling reason to do a major devaluation. Because they are not selling miles like other carriers – award charts have been somewhat static.

What might be so-so is the earning rates and awards on the new partners – since Mexico is the only Int”l destination AS flies they are more a domestic carrier and not a competitor to most new partners (except AA) -where AS awards may not be competitive is the number of award seats the recive with OW partners.

I’m speculating of course – so unless AS looks to make FF a profit center like DL, AA, and UA but they all have major Int’l routes. So AS can remain profitable with current earning system (less certain about code share)