Alaska Tries to Sway Disgruntled Delta Loyalists

Alaska Airlines, Delta

When Delta rolled out its big elite program devaluation this month, I thought that overall the risk of people defecting to other airlines was low. That being said, I also noted that “the real risk is on the west coast. Alaska is undoubtedly waiting with open arms in Seattle….” It turns out, Alaska is indeed ready to pounce, and it is not wasting any time.

The most direct response is Alaska’s juiced-up status match program. It has a regular status match program that will get you 90 days on Alaska in the equivalent tier, extendable if you actually fly Alaska enough during that time. But now the airline has a special upgrade program for Delta SkyMiles members that match by October 31.

The key in this plan is that you have to get yourself an Alaska Airlines Visa card. If you do that and have Delta status this year, you’ll be granted the equivalent status on Alaska all the way through 2024. And if you’ve already earned Delta status through next year? Then Alaska will bump that status up by a tier. In other words, if you’re a Silver on Delta, you’ll get MVP Gold on Alaska. For a lot of people this is like a double upgrade since going forward Delta elites are likely to be downgraded a level in the new earning program.

This is a very rich offer, but it’s also a smart one. If Alaska can get people signing up for the credit card, then it has a better chance of keeping them in the airline’s ecosystem for awhile. Combine that with higher tier elite status and it would be a no-brainer to fly Alaska as much as possible, then using American to fill in the gaps if needed.

While this won’t woo anyone who, say, lives in Detroit (unless they exclusively fly to Seattle), this is more than just being about Seattle. Alaska with the elite benefits applicable on American can lure people away all up and down the West Coast. Heck, people even elsewhere around the country might find some value if they fly primarily west. But for Delta, the biggest risk is obviously in the Seattle hub where Alaska offers the most compelling competition. Presumably Los Angeles would be the closest second place option, but if I happen to be elite on Delta anywhere in the west, I’d be eyeing Alaska very closely.

While the frequent flier program match is obviously the most direct response to Delta’s incursion, Alaska has been making network improvements to potentially target Delta loyalists as well.

The most visible of those changes is this week’s announcement that Alaska will start flying from San Diego to Atlanta. Yes, it’s only once a day, but this is meant to appeal to those people in San Diego who may have Atlanta in their plans and could be loyal to Delta for that reason. With Alaska’s broader ability to serve San Diego travelers, this could help to win more loyalty in San Diego, Alaska’s third most important market after San Francisco and LA but also where Alaska has the strongest competitive position in the state.

Alaska is also making moves to boost frequences to Seattle in Delta hub markets. Just last weekend, the airline made a few changes for next summer.

  • Minneapolis/St Paul – Seattle was supposed to go from 2x to 3x daily next June, but now it will climb to 3x daily in April and then go up to 4x daily in June.
  • Salt Lake will gain a 6th daily flight next June from Seattle. It had previously been pegged at 5x daily.
  • Alaska was already planning on increasing its Seattle – Detroit service from 1x to 2x daily next summer, but it has now moved the start on that frequency increase up from May into April.

Alaska is wise to try and make a move while Delta’s devaluation is fresh in travelers’ minds. If people truly are cutting up their Delta Amex cards as some say on Twitter, then Alaska can swoop in with that $99 companion fare deal (plus tax, of course) on its own card and get some more takers, especially if these are Delta loyalists on the West Coast. And once someone is a credit cardholder, they tend to be stickier in their loyalty.

Alaska has the best chance of converting people, but it’s not the only one. JetBlue is taking a similar swing as well with its own “Mosaic on the DL” promotion. It will match status for Delta elites through the end of this year too. Then if you fly enough to qualify or if you have the airline’s credit card, it will extend that through 2024.

I believe the pitch here is “are you ok with delays and cancellations? Come fly JetBlue instead.” It’s certainly a tougher sell than it is to get someone to switch to Alaska in Seattle, but it’s a worthy effort nonetheless.

The question now is whether this will work. An Alaska spokesperson was cautiously optimistic, saying “the enthusiasm for the program has exceeded our expectations. We’ll need to see how things play out over the next few weeks.” So far, he added, that they have had “a few thousand” status matches. Of course, a status match does not mean that these people become newly loyal, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.

All of this seems to be eating at Delta CEO Ed Bastian. In remarks earlier this week, he said they would be making changes. He didn’t say what those changes would be, but his team is now going to have to figure something out to back up those words. In the meantime, other airlines will keep trying to feast on the opportunity.

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45 comments on “Alaska Tries to Sway Disgruntled Delta Loyalists

  1. 3… 2… 1, cue the Delta fan boys. Now I understand why I keep seeing JetBlue Plus card ads on YouTube.

    1. Yeah, the one fan boy I’m thinking of will probably say something along the lines of “Delta is doing this to drive lower-value customers to others as part of their five-dimensional-chess game to ensure their further dominance.”

      1. Seriously.. we need a CrankyConcierge/ CrankyFlier online shop :)

        Stop leaving all the fun stuff for Dorkfest!

    1. Speaking of frequent flyer programs, I often tell the story of Air France/KLM back in the 1990s. I had accrued a significant amount of mileage in their program, when they arbitrarily and capriciously canceled my mileage with prior notification! I wrote emails, I protested, went to higher ups, all in vain. Finally, in disgust I informed Air France/KLM that if they did reinstate my mileage, I would never fly on their airline again. I suggested that the business they lost from me and friends who agreed to join the boycott would cost them far more than my lost mileage. I have not flown on either airline in at least 25years and I am certain the loss of that mileage has been far exceeded by the business they lost. Voila!

  2. I grew up in the bay area, lived in Seattle for university after Delta’s buildup there, and now live in the Midwest for work. I’ve been primarily loyal to UA in practice because they are fairly big in both regions of the country. I honestly don’t know why anyone in Seattle would stay loyal to Delta at this point. They’ll have an uphill battle there, especially domestically, which will have a ripple effect on an ability to sustain a long haul hub there.

    Alaska is in virtually every domestic market DL is in and serves it with equal or better frequency, and most of its long haul markets have Oneworld or Star competition, many of which partner with AS. DL is also frequently priced at a premium to AS, and while I do think DL has a better onboard product, I also think no one cares about PTVs except for possibly Transcon/Hawai’i – and even then, would you rather adjust your schedule to take one of Delta’s 2 SEA-HNL flights or get on one of Alaska’s 5 (using today as an example)? Delta seems to be set in its ways from pre-pandemic and seems to think it commands a pricing premium which it doesn’t. I remember in 2020, Vasu Raja at AA said something in an interview that will stick in my memory – “Delta was yesterday’s genius – tomorrow is up for grabs.”

    1. My experience is that on the one route that I fly where there is competition with Alaska (SJC-SEA), Delta is always slightly cheaper.

      Anyway, I think the advantage of Delta is that they are the one carrier who can do both domestic and international from Seattle. If you are flying domestic out of Seattle, Alaska has the stronger network unless you are going to other Delta hubs.

        1. Also relevant that many of those cheaper fares are only basic economy. The one area where others, especially Alaska, come out as significantly cheaper is in regards to First Class and Premium/Comfort+ classes, where Delta’s cost above other airlines is frankly exorbitant. If it is indeed the case that people are buying “up” in regards to travel, then it’ll be interesting to see whether or not that holds true when people are comparing apples to apples versus simply looking for the bottom fare regardless of class.

          In either case it is a good thing that airlines are competing for customers, as that can only mean improved service and better prices.

    2. It’s a great quote. I’d take it a step further- Hauenstein /was/ a genius, but he’s started to belief his own press, and it shows.

  3. As a United flyer in a Delta focus city, I’m concerned. I need Delta loyalty flyers to remain in boarding group 4 of their respective carrier, and out of my quaint little lounge :-)

  4. Good on Delta for realizing that they overstepped. Totally agree that loyalty to an airline continues to mean less and less from all of the major carriers but Delta left me scratching my head when they decided to penalize instead of incentivize frequent flyers.

    My guess is they may soften the MQD requirements a bit and allow the Delta Reserve card to continue to have unlimited lounge visits. AmEx Plat will likely stay limited as it would be more in line with other carriers to have a co-branded card for lounge access.

  5. Ed Bastian must not have read the posts from his own Iraqi information minister TD on why SkyBigspenders is the greatest advancement in the history of loyalty programs and, possibly, all of human history.

    Basically it sucks and other airlines should aggressively pounce. Agree that Alaska on the West Coast is the big potential gainer, good for them for acting quickly and aggressively. Don’t see why B6 can’t peel off a few loyalists in NYC and Boston, especially at the lower end of the elite spectrum.

    The chum is in the water! Let the feeding frenzy begin!

  6. The problem for Delta, though, is status without benefits means nothing.

    And if there are so many elites that you can never get an upgrade and there is no place to sit in the club, what good is the status?

    They had to weed some out. The other majors are probly going to have to do also.

  7. Delta is not immune to public feedback and they demonstrated that with the NRA controversy which was their Bud Lite moment.
    These changes are much more like their New Coke moment but, unlike Coca-Cola, Delta is not going back to the old formula. They are just simply slowing the rate of change such that they tamp down the very loud PR noise. Delta is very protective of its brand and the noise had alarm bells ringing.

    No one should believe that Delta is going back; they are now in the strongest position ever to be the leader in redefining loyalty programs. Their presence in top corporate travel markets has never been stronger and the DOT shows that DL is running a substantially better operation than its peers even while having gained size relative to competitors in major markets from coast to coast.

    Every carrier is going to look for opportunities to win over customers that are willing to play the game of chasing loyalty but many people are coming to the reality that Delta wants people to see – it is not interested in spending money for customers that are only going to be loyal based on a borderline attraction that will fade as soon as the incentives stop flowing. Delta is attracting more than enough people who will be very loyal at much lower levels of incentives and Delta wants to reward those people.

    Alaska is a very well-run business, just like Delta, but the two know each other’s strength and weaknesses and don’t do things that harm themselves in order to get unsustainable business. AS and DL overlap in western US markets from SEA and AS has the larger share and comparable average fares to DL but to the eastern US, DL has the clear size and average fare advantage. And AS is not a global airline and being a part of oneworld doesn’t give AS any advantage in winning global contracted business. The same is true for AA in the western US; unlike as was the case with B6, AA and AS do not have antitrust immunity and cannot revenue share.

    AS might win a few passengers on the fringe but DL continues to build SEA. DL will operate daily flights to PVG by next spring, one of just 4 cities in the US – and the smallest one – that will have daily US carrier service to China.

    If you spend enough money loyally flying Delta, you’ll be rewarded.

    If you are on the fence, DL is not likely to reward you sufficiently to keep you.

    Every other airline will follow Delta even if the degree and timing of their changes lags Delta.

    1. > If you spend enough money loyally flying Delta, you’ll be rewarded.

      enough being a ton of money.

      Is that going to fill their planes?

      1. As EB said, Delta has doubled the number of customers with status since the pandemic. It needs to cut those numbers back so its lounges can operate as designed. Delta could have been more strategic with the rollout, but it was going to have to raise limits.

  8. No company is perfect, not even Delta. We all make mistakes (including the writer of this comment). But to those who love to be critical for the sake of being critical (again, including me at times), I offer these words from Theodore Roosevelt.

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    1. As a long-time airline sales / distribution contractor (and consultant), it boggles my mind how many C-Suites and high-level airline folks I have worked with that really have NO clue how the real world operates. They sit in their big offices, with big windows, with degrees hanging all over the wall – but not a single one can tell you how the airline actually operates. They know nothing about the processes or even their own policies, they are so used to being “chiefs”, with many never having worked the front line, ever. Even as a kid.

      I’d always talk about, what is now called Change Management, to the C-suites/execs when looking to implement whatever project I was working on. I made sure to explain the entire process, including how it will affect front line staff, management, and most of all – the customer.

      Some of you may call this “street smarts” versus “book smarts”, and sadly, most of what’s running airlines nowadays are lacking street smarts. I’ve watched people and companies struggle when my contract ends/I leave, etc as they lack the human involvement in what the company/software is doing, and I think that’s exactly what has happened here at Delta. Some intern or noob, who is NOT a frequent flyer, or a corporate buyer, suggested some of these changes – and a manager/director, who also has never been a passenger or frequent flyer – gave it the green light. It was then brought up to the C Suite without giving all the nitty gritty, and was given the green light. $20 says Ed never knew the entire details of all the cuts!

      1. I disagree. Ed knew the details and was likely a bit on the fence about doing it all at once vs in phases. It was Glen H with his ego & greed that pushed this plan forward. No interns, but lots of analysts and number crunchers to calculate customer ‘tolerance’ to the changes vs reaching the AMEX goals early, with likely alarm bells raised along the way. But where I start to agree with you; Glen and his team are likely out of touch with the average customer. But that yacht and Tuscan vineyard don’t pay for themselves.

      2. With respect, why would Delta care?

        These changes…the best customers, the ones that fly a ton and pay high fares? They are going to LIKE the changes, because it adds value to their status.

        More upgrades, more room at the club.

        If everyone is elite, no one is. Delta is just stepping back and actually making being elite something, and they are reserving that for people who bring them the most money.

        The other? If they swear off Delta where are they going? Southwest? No upgrades and no clubs anyway. Frontier or Spirit? Lol.

        1. They’ll go to United or American, who do have clubs and upgrades. In fact, I’m sitting in a United upgrade right now. A repositioning flight on a 767 from EWR to ORD with my butt comfortably cushioned in a Polaris seat.

          It gets them out of the clutches of the scummiest, sleaziest, most overrated airline and to a location where customers are actually respected. And probably with a status match.

          I’m elite, and that’s all that matters

          1. Here’s the problem. Delta has more elites than upgrades or club space.

            What good is being elite if it had no benefits?

            AA has similar issues, and I am an EP.

            The better answer is to actually have enough flights and clubs to handle the load but that ain’t gonna happen.

          2. ‘most overrated airline’ – I finally have had to fly Delta twice in the past 9 months (once in C (LHR-DTW), the other in Y (DTW-PHL), I completely agree with your assessment. A thoroughly over-priced, and mediocre, experience on both occasions.

          3. ask yourself for a minute why UA is consistently cheaper than DL, or conversely why DL is more expensive and you will get the gist of why DL is able to make the changes it did.
            And let’s not forget that UA is making long term cuts to its size at EWR because of the operational disaster there in June that DOT stats are just now beginning to show. Just like WN in December 2022, one very badly operating hub has an enormously negative impact on operations. The difference is that UA did not lose operational control but UA’s on-time performance suffered badly enough that they know they cannot repeat what happened there. In summer or winter, UA was simply pushing EWR beyond what it was operationally capable of supporting.
            All of a sudden DL’s two airport NYC hub operation looks brilliant. and DL is about 20% larger than UA in NYC now.
            Even if UA wants to grow in LAX, it will be the end of the decade at the earliest before they have the terminal facilities to do so.
            And in addition to expanded terminal facilities at multiple airports, UA will be bearing the brunt of the costs for the massive terminal expansion at ORD because AA has shrunk so much.
            Loyalty rewards are still costs and UA will cut its costs as much as it can. So will AA.
            DL just set the pace of how loyalty program cuts will go in the next few years and, just like travel agency commission cuts which DL started years ago, everyone else will follow. It is just a matter of when and how much.
            But DL will still get the premium revenue it is now getting and have even greater access to top corporate travel markets
            DL’s addition of DFW-SEA and a host of secondary CA markets – AA’s bread and butter – all indicate DL is not through looking for opportunities to grow in key AA and UA strength markets.

            1. Don’t care, Timmy. Delta is not the world’s only perfect airline like you claim. I’ve never had a good flight on DL, ranging from regional to trans-Atlantic. The FAs are out of the cast of Heathers if you don’t have status. The interiors are, to put it politely, showing their age. And I’m not claiming that UA is the world’s only perfect airline. I just happen to enjoy flying them, and they’re my Hometown Airline like the ads say. I support my home team, so my money will go to United. Ask yourself this: why was Delta put in the Terminal From Hell at ORD along with the rest of the low-rent low-cost brigade?

            2. Hey Tim, How much does Delta pay you to write these responses? Are you a “brand ambassador” or some sort of “influencer” for them?

            3. ORD and Bethune,
              the numbers don’t lie.
              Delta made substantially more profits in the 2nd quarter than United or American.
              It is fine if you don’t like Delta but you can’t argue that they have a very good grasp of how to lead the industry which is what they are doing.
              Feel free to let us know when Delta falls out of the top position – but I can assure you it won’t be because of the SM changes.
              And the simple reason why DL is in T5 at ORD is because AA and UA will be paying for the grand and expensive new international terminal while DL will not.
              and DL’s international partners are next to its operation and its new Sky Club.

              I bet paid nothing by anyone to write anything on this site

              and as for the routes noted below, I am pretty sure that AS has flown AUS-LAX but they certainly have flown ATL-PDX but don’t fly either now. ATL-SAN will end up the same way in all likelihood

    1. That feels like less of an extreme reaction though, as Delta has used widebodies on SAN-ATL before. I’ve done it on the 767-300.

      Currently it looks like they’re mostly using A321s, with a 757-300 in the mix as well.

  9. As an LAX based DL Platinum, I fully understand the need to clear the ranks of people like me. I haven’t yet returned to my pre-COVID levels of business travel, and thanks to the rollover I have been able to keep PL through 2024. After that, it was going to be tough to maintain and these changes will make it darn near impossible to get PL for 25, even if I place all my personal trarvel on DL.

    I think Ed’s backtrack is 100% due to AMEX. The devaluation of the spend on AMEX by removing MQM bonuses and then earling 1 MQD for every $10 is not worth it. Sure, I’d lose the 15% redepmtion benefit, but what other value do I get?

    It is way more beneficial to grab a no-fee 2% cash back card, for with a $75K spend I could buy a SkyClub memebership and still have about $850 leftover. I could still fly Delta, but drop the reserve card. My renewal is June, so I will wait to see what happens, but I think these re-evaluation was brought on by AMEX. I already 2 people who dorpped to Gold, just for the baggage benefit. Yes, it is an anecdote, but I can’t be alone.

    1. Yeah, the only reason I have the DL Platinum is I can throw a (small) conference worth of hotel spend on it, so the significant miles per hotel dollar count, plus the 15% rewards discount, has worked out well…and I got Medallion Gold off of it for this year, and will have Silver next year off of one long intl flight, a domestic segment, and card spend. Zero chance I’ll qualify for anything for 2025 at the current levels, and if my situation changes such that there’s no longer the big chunk of hotel spend, that card’s getting cancelled, as basically all other txns make more sense to put on a cash back card or Sapphire Preferred. And dropping that card would drop my AmEx spend to zero.

      Getting back to the AS status match, given that AUS is an AA focus city now and I fly them a decent (but not elite-worthy) amount right now, the AA benefits on MVP 50K status are worth picking up the AS card for, and would probably shift my travel toward AA/AS more than DL has just because AA/AS still have more nonstop routes here. I’m sure I won’t keep status past 2024, but AA/AS will get a few extra legs out of me in return, so fair’s fair.

      Would be nice to see AS on AUS-LAX but I know it’ll never happen without ability to at least coordinate scheduling, so routes out of AUS will continue being AA or AS but not both.

      My guess is that AS will pick up a few matches from folks traveling west from AUS who have DL status, as there’s plenty of traffic in that direction, and the aforementioned AA/OW benefits work well here, even as DL finally adds point-to-point service from here, supplementing our two SkyTeam intl destinations.

  10. I’m a SEA & SFO based flyer and DL Plat. I had the AS Visa card for a while, but dropped it. Other than the initial mileage bonus, it didn’t seem too valuable. The companion fare would be nice if it included first class, but it didn’t. I have Amex Plat for the bennies and lounge access; we’ll see in a year if it’s worth keeping. Thought about getting one of the Delta co-branded Amex cards for the MQD waiver, but now that that’s gone, no way. Overall I think the airline cards are poor value.

    I normally enjoy my flights on DL, and their route network works for me. But I also fly AS and occasionally UA if it’s more convenient. There are differences, but they’re not huge. Honestly the lounge access is a bigger differentiator. Airport food is expensive, and it allows me to grab a quick bite and be really efficient, both for time and cost.

    I do kinda wished I’d hung on to the AS Visa given how generous the status match is, but I’m not going to obsess over any of it. It’s just transportation.

  11. “ORD and Bethune,
    the numbers don’t lie.”

    You seem pretty defensive there, Tim. I asked you a legitimate question given your constant praise and puffery of all things Delta, and you went into a rant about Delta’s “numbers”.

    It’s funny how you never seem to talk about Delta’s soft product versus other global carriers. It’s always about “numbers” and “industry leading” with you. I’m guessing you must be a bean counter or statistics nerd who gets a thrill about those things.

  12. Delta thought that loyalty was a one-way street. Now they have begun to realize that it might not be true. But it’s too late. Even if Delta rolls back a lot of the changes it won’t matter to me. I do not trust that I won’t get screwed in the future. Granted, I am only a PM but I thought that my loyalty was appreciated. Now that I know it wasn’t I moved over to B6/AA. B6 is great, AA not so much. B6 is cheaper and the seats/service is on par with Delta. Screw you Ed.

    1. “Delta thought that loyalty was a one-way street.”

      Not the first time that mindset has burned them.

  13. A few weeks ago, cranky opened my eyes to a bad habit I had unwittingly been sucked into. Namely, chasing status….
    I will still fly on Delta and I never count on upgrades. I just buy first class when I want it. i’ve already started buying Alaska tickets for next year. PALM SPRINGS and the rest of Southern California to Minneapolis is always cheaper than Delta so I will use Alaska to get to Minneapolis or Chicago and then fly in coach for 90-120 minutes on American, or United to get to my Harrisburg/Philadelphia home base. My credit cards will get me 1 to 2 free pieces of checked luggage. and I can find high-quality food and beverages for 20 bucks at any of the aforementioned airports. so by not chasing status I can cherry pick the best deals on first class, save money on short flights and No more 650$ annual CC fee. Hats of the Cranky for opening my and a lot of others eyes. The clubs have now been deemed to be so 2022!

  14. Delta offers more amenities than on board Alaska flights. In addition the ALASKA AIRLINES credit card doesn’t offer many benefits other than on board food purchases. I value the Delta credit card over that of Alaska and I think many would agree that it would be difficult to match the service amenities on-board all Delta flights (excluding regional jets).

    1. I have to agree about Delta. Except for one thing… never in 20 years have I consistently got the service I do from Alaska. They are behind the majors in the first class cabin ( old fashioned seats) no video screens. I’m going To be using Alaska when I can. Delta will be my main airline.

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