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Alaska and Delta Announce Closer Ties

For years, Alaska has been the slut of the industry, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The airline has set up codesharing and/or frequent flier agreements with just about everyone without committing to a single partner and that has been a solid strategy for them. Yesterday, Alaska and Delta announced that they would getting even closer, and though many will say this is the end of the “slut” strategy, in my eyes this is just an extension of the existing Northwest partnership.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll bet that Delta would love to have Alaska alone in the Delta family, but for Alaska, this is just affirmation that they gained a benefit from the Northwest agreement and they want to extend that to the new Delta/Northwest. Here are the details:

  • Reciprocal club access so members of Delta/Northwest clubs get access to Alaska’s and vice versa

  • Priority seat assignments, check-in, and boarding for Platinum and Gold members in each elite program

  • Expanded codesharing on more flights, including the new Delta Seattle-Beijing flight that begins next year

Ok, so what does this really mean? Well, Delta has a big hole in the west and it needs to fill it, especially since it has Pacific aspirations. Codesharing is one thing, but a closer tie-up is much more attractive for elite fliers, and that’s who these airlines want to attract, of course. So let’s look at a couple maps to show why this is good for both, thanks to the Great Circle Mapper. First, how about flights from LAX.

Delta, Northwest, and Alaska in LAX

I’ve gone ahead and shown routes from Delta/Northwest as well as Air France/KLM in blue. You can tell it’s mostly an east-west route structure with longer hauls. This has been the case since Delta dismantled its short-lived hub in Los Angeles recently. But when you overlay Alaska in red, you can see significant north-south operations that mesh quite nicely with the existing Delta route map. Now Delta can have more feed for its longer haul flights, in particular potential new destinations in the Pacific. Now let’s look at Seattle.

Delta, Northwest, and Alaska in Seattle

It’s a similar story here but with much more power added from the Alaska route map. Delta/Northwest/Air France have a smaller presence, but it’s still east-west, long haul based. Alaska, however, while having a strong north-south network also has the ability to bring people in from all over the country to Seattle nonstop. So if Delta really wants to continue to build a Pacific presence, it needs to be able to tap into the western markets, and it has already proven it can’t build that itself. Alaska is the perfect fit for what they want to do.

So will this be the end of Alaska’s cooperation with other airlines? I highly doubt it . . . for now. There’s no reason for Alaska to end its myriad of codeshares unless Delta ends up actually buying Alaska. That wouldn’t surprise me, eventually, but I think Delta would probably like to make sure that this sort of feed will actually be worth trying to buy in the first place. This is a way for them to do that without having to lay out the cash.

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