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Alaska’s Deal with American Makes Its Frequent Flier Program Even More Valuable

Alaska and American have inked a deal that will give reciprocal elite benefits to each other’s elite members. This might not sound like much, but it could make Alaska’s frequent flier program even more interesting for a lot of people, some of whom might not even set foot on an Alaska airplane.

Alaska Loves American and Delta

The program had actually started becoming attractive to me before this move, but this just makes it even better. With my “somewhat frequent but not too frequent” travel schedule (one that I assume many of you share), this program really hits a sweet spot for me. But before we get into that, let’s talk about what’s happening. The following benefits will be available to elite members in each program when flying the other airline.

  • Priority check-in
  • Priority security lines
  • Priority boarding
  • Preferred seating
  • Two free checked bags domestically
  • Elite qualifying miles (this isn’t new)

This might not sound like anything special, right? I mean, American has these benefits with its oneworld partners. Most airlines have some sort of program like this within their alliances. It doesn’t even have reciprocal upgrades, so who cares?

I do. And that’s because Alaska has done something that’s very difficult to do. It has cultivated very close partnerships with arch rivals.

Alaska is already closely tied with Delta. Mileage Plan elite members earn elite qualifying miles and they get priority boarding, priority security, priority seats, and two free checked bags on Delta. They even get free upgrades on the day of departure on Delta, if available. Now similar (though not quite as robust) benefits are exchanged with American as well.

If I tried to consolidate all my paid flying in a year on one airline, I would probably qualify for silver status. But I don’t like to fly one airline. It’s rare that one airline is going to provide me with the best option every time. Even if I did squeak out elite status, I would just be an entry level elite so I wouldn’t be looking at a lot of upgrade opportunities. It would really just get me priority screening/check in/boarding and free bags, something that might become much more handy with a kid on the way.

And that’s why I find myself drawn to Alaska. First off, I like the airline. It’s a nice airline to fly with a sharp management team that has created a great business. The biggest problem is that Alaska doesn’t fly very many places. It’s pretty much up and down the west coast for me being based near LA. But when you throw in Delta and American, then it provides a ton of opportunities.

Though I don’t like consolidating my travel with one airline, there’s a better chance of me flying American, Delta, and Alaska enough in a year to get 25,000 miles than with any other program. (And if I did fly all on Alaska, I would only need 20,000 miles for elite status. It’s only 25,000 when including partner airline travel.)

It also opens up a lot of redemption opportunities. Alaska is partners with a good number of oneworld and Skyteam airlines, including Qantas, British Airways, Air France/KLM, Korean, etc. So there are some great ways to spend miles.

What do I lose by not earning on Delta? Not much. I mean, I don’t get upgrades in advance, but I probably wouldn’t get those anyway with lowly status. I also lose out on redeeming for standard awards on Delta itself. That’s ok, because those are usually overpriced anyway. I’m not a fan of Skypesos. (If you haven’t seen it, View From the Wing has a great overview of the program and how to make it work for you.)

The same goes for American, though the AAdvantage program is much more flexible for redemptions. So there is a bit more of a loss there. But it’s not a huge loss for me.

The main point is that I can quite possibly qualify for elite status on an airline without having to change my behavior much. I don’t live for elite status, but if I can earn it without a ton of effort, it will save me from having to pay for checked bags. So as a friend of mine who just made the same decision up in the Bay Area said, I’m going all-in.

In the past, I’ve just earned either Delta or American miles when I’ve flow Alaska, but on my last trip, I signed up for a Mileage Plan account and even earned Alaska miles when I flew Delta. I’m going to stick with that plan next year and see where it gets me. I’m also probably going to sign up for a Mileage Plan credit card, though I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. Seems like a good move for someone like me.

[Original photo via Flickr user Bucajack/CC SA 2.0]

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