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]


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

  1. AirlineDorkDerek says:

    Man, I love this, and I’m probably gonna do the same thing! If only I could transfer some of my current AAdvantage miles into the program too! What would actually make this PERFECT for me would be the ability to Transfer AMEX Membership Rewards into Alaska’s program. No plan is perfect, but it seems like Alaska is trying to make theirs close to it!

  2. Jason H says:

    This has been on my “to-do” list for quite awhile now, but my large mileage balance with DL and UA has kept me from doing it. Now however it looks like moving to Seattle is in the cards, so I think I’m going to start next year. Sadly everything else this year is booked on UA… booo.

  3. ohianjo says:

    Qantas being Oneworld… not skyteam

    • CF says:

      Who said anything about Qantas being Skyteam?

    • Sanjeev M says:

      @Ohianjo, you forgot to read the whole thing :) It happens to all of us.

      The quote was “a number of oneworld and Skyteam carriers” meaning either oneworld or Skyteam members. Therefore this includes Qantas.

  4. Ken says:

    Great move on your part. We’ve been concentrating on just 2 mileage programs –Alaska for all Delta, AA, etc. miles, and United for Star miles. Keeps life simple. And the Alaska credit card is a great deal — the only card we’re willing to pay an annual fee for.

  5. Mark this date down on a 2012 calendar and let us know one year from now how it worked for you.

  6. Oliver says:

    Definitely agree it’s the right move for you.

  7. Anon says:

    I live in STL and kept Alaska as my main frequent-flyer program, even after moving out here from the west coast. I almost never fly Alaska (which only recently started a once-daily non-stop flight from here to SEA), but I’ve maintained MVP (bottom tier elite) status on them, being a somewhat frequent flyer.

    DL and AA are the biggest carriers here that believe in assigned seating, so it works out pretty well. It’s esepcially nice to be able to earn on DL (which has nicer planes than AA and even upgrades me with some frequency on STL to SLC flights), and burn on AA, BA, CX, or LAN. I’ve found that AA gives Alaska folks access to more-or-less the same award inventory as their AAvantage folks, and I’ve enjoyed three award trips to South America in recent years on AA. Another benefit is that Alaska gives 50% bonus miles for bottom-tier elites, while everyone else gives 25% (United’s new program is especially stingy on bonus miles now).

    The only real downside compared to major carriers’ programs (for a semi-frequent traveller like me) is no lounge access when traveling internationally, but that’s not a huge deal.

  8. I’ll summarize this the same way I do with my friends who work for Alaska Airlines: Alaska Air is a whore, and sleeps with everyone. :-)

  9. Hey, Brett. Glad that you see value in the new AA benes and great to have you in Mileage Plan at last! Please keep the feedback coming.

  10. I think you are making the right decision.

  11. Ron says:

    I had the same bright plan about a year ago when I flew with my son on my favorite route — Alaska’s non-stop LAX–DCA flight. I was already invested in Delta but he had neither American nor Delta accounts, so I got him an Alaska account to be able to pool miles from many airlines. Brilliant move! Except that later, in the summer, we flew to Tel Aviv on El Al, who partner with American but not Alaska. So he had to get an AAdvantage account after all, and now it’s not clear where he should credit his future Alaska and OneWorld flights…

  12. Fred says:

    I started banking with Alaska too about a year ago, so it’s just AS, UA and EK programs for me.
    A lot of my flying recently has been with Cathay Pacific, which does not give miles towards elite status, just for award tickets. However, I fly internationally more than domestic anyways, so having the low elite tier wouldn’t make much difference other than the occasional domestic AS or DL flight.

  13. tharanga says:

    I’m sure somebody at Alaska is cracking up over that picture.

  14. A3*G says:

    I don’t know if anyone has suggested this to you before Brett, but I strongly suggest you check out Aegean Airlines Miles & Bonus (A3) instead. For 19k miles, you get Star Alliance gold, which gives you
    Priority check-in
    Priority security lines
    Priority boarding
    Preferred seating
    Two free checked bags domestically
    Lounge access

    You get the choice of 3 (well really 2) airlines to fly domestically, US, CO, and UA, and all of *A’s international connectivity…

    • CF says:

      It has been suggested before, but I really don’t want to deal with those guys. They have no US-based customer service line so you have to call Greece for any issues. In my limited interactions, I’ve found that they don’t speak English very well and so it’s just not for me. Could I take advantage of this without ever having to talk to someone over there? Possibly, but it’s just not worth the potential hassle for me.

      • A3*G says:

        In my email communications with them, their english has been fine, and they don’t use canned messages like major airlines do. The personal touch is really appreciated….

        I’ve never had any issues with their english when I call the UK line…

  15. Rob says:

    I did the same thing for years after moving to a couple places between ORD and MDW. The good news was that I had MVP Gold status while I was doing enough AS, NW/DL, and AA travel; and ended up with a ton of miles; and had a decent shot at upgrades between ORD and ANC. The down side is that now I have a decent amount of Mileage Plan miles… but can only use them for round-trips on partners. I can’t get a RTW like I could if I had kept my earning with AAdvantage, for example.

    Mileage Plan works well as a sort of universally translating loyalty program for the dis-loyal, just keep in mind that the initial flexibility comes with some limitations later.

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