Alaska Airlines is officially a Oneworld member, and recognition of the new place in one of the world’s strongest alliances is already in full force.
On day one, Oneworld elites enjoyed status perks when flying on the airline, and vice versa, which opens up a variety of new flight routes and options to complement American Airlines position in the USA and beyond.
For Oneworld members, it’s largely fantastic news.
But Alaska Airlines flyers and Mileage Plan loyalty program enthusiasts have been dreading this day for months. Why? Well, many believe that there’s little chance the little airline will retain its boutique charm and excellent points values, now that larger forces are in play. Alliances can be brutal.
Alaska Airlines Is Now Oneworld: What That Means
Oneworld is the alliance covering American Airlines, British Airways, Qatar, JAL, Qantas, Cathay and a handful of others. Now, Alaska Airlines is also part of that mega alliance.
The most instantly noticeable change and benefit is that travelers have more than one choice of airline when flying in the USA, where they can earn miles and elite status with their preferred airline program, while flying on American or Alaska. They can also now redeem miles for flights on Alaska too, which also helps.
Alaska flyers now benefit from more airlines to earn and redeem miles on, too.
British Airways has already made Alaska Airlines flights bookable online using Avios Points and others are quickly adding this capability for loyalty program members. Yep, it’s not just American as your only option in the USA now to redeem points!
Elite Status Perks
If you happen to hold elite status with a Oneworld airline, that’ll now be recognized on Alaska flights, and will entitle select flyers to enjoy priority services, checked bags and lounge access in some instances.
All Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members with programs other than Alaska Mileage Plan or American Airlines AAdvantage will be able to enjoy complimentary Alaska Airlines lounge access when flying on Alaska or another Oneworld airline, even domestically, and even when flying economy in the USA.
In places where American doesn’t have lounges, that’s valuable.
For Alaska flyers, this is an instant positive with more airlines to earn and spend points on, and receive status recognition perks when flying on, but then again Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program users could already earn points when flying on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Qantas and most other Oneworld airlines anyway.
The big-big plus is being able to earn more elite status points with the Alaska Mileage Plan program when flying on these other airlines now too, in addition to points, if you want to stick with the Alaska program over other Oneworld options. This will make it easier to earn elite status with Alaska, which is why they added a higher tier.
More airlines where perks are recognized is fantastic.
For Alaska elites, having status perks and extra bag allowances on more airlines is super and will make the world of air travel a much friendlier place, in all corners of the globe, now also including Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Jordan among an ever growing list.
The only obviously downside is Alaska lounges may become more crowded with lots of foreign status holders flying domestically in the USA, like British Airways Executive Club members using the lounges.
Alaska Points Devaluation & Doom?
Will elite members of other loyalty programs start picking off upgrades from Alaska’s own loyal flyers? Not so fast.
Having more elites who are entitled to perks can always crowd the ‘boarding area’, but programs almost always prioritize their loyalty members first, and other alliance elites second. Even if there’s a big queue of Oneworld Emerald elite members from other programs looking for an upgrade on Alaska, an Alaska elite should still get it first.
Alaska may start to hold seats available for upgrades back in hopes of selling more seats though, and allowing other airline loyalists to redeem their miles for first class on Alaska flights could cut down on the number of complimentary upgrades going around too.
Many Alaska flyers will no doubt be thrilled at the chance for upgrades or preferred seating on American and other airlines, which previously wasn’t really a “thing”. That’s a plus side, without doubt and adds value to Alaska Mileage Plan. It’s just a mixed bag.
Alaska Mileage Plan Points
When it comes to Alaska Mileage Plan loyalty program points, it’s a different story, or at least it’s widely expected it will be. As an underdog, Alaska Airlines has always used its Mileage Plan loyalty program to attract loyalty. A novel concept these days, indeed.
In practicality, that meant Oneworld travelers were often better served earning miles with Alaska than another Oneworld airline, even often better than the one they were flying on. That’s because Alaska awarded lots of miles when you took a flight, and also made it easy and lucrative to redeem miles for desirable air travel experiences.
For people seeking aspirational value from their points, a la first class to Asia, USA Europe or Australia, it was hard to find a better program than Alaska, with rates of just 50,000 to 70,000 points one way, even in first class. Business class was often 50,000, even for super long flights.
Points could also be purchased at attractive rates during frequent sales, which allowed for phenomenal arbitrage. If you bought points at the right time and redeemed at the right time, you could save a fortune versus buying cash tickets. It’s arguable that other Oneworld airlines probably didn’t love that – and still don’t.
Past tense was used above, because it’s almost a foregone conclusion to many travelers that these values, both on the ‘earning’ miles side, and the ‘redeeming’ miles side will be eroded over time, under pressure from Alaska’s new Oneworld partners.
In a must read post which effectively says “stop complaining, start playing better” about new trends in the miles and points game, I argued that airlines will continue to plug up situations where another airlines loyalty program offers better values for flights on their airline than they do.
American Airlines can’t be happy that it’s easier to earn miles and redeem miles for American Airlines flights by earning and burning with Alaska Airlines, than by earning with American.
Read as: if you are sitting on “too many” Alaska Mileage Plan points, you might really want to consider some brilliant ways to redeem them while the going is good. There is a chance that the values to use Alaska Miles on other Oneworld Airlines remain in tact, but there’s also a fair chance that by the end of 2021 they’ll take another look and give the ‘hottest tickets’ the chop.
For now, enjoy the sun on this dynamic new partnership which gives Oneworld loyalty members a brand new airline to earn and burn points on, and Alaska flyers an entire alliance full of perks, benefits, earning and redemption opportunities. I just wouldn’t wait too long for the other shoe to drop for Alaska Mileage Plan fans.