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.