Major changes are coming to the American Airlines relationship with Alaska Airlines at the end of 2017.
The airlines announced today that they will be greatly reducing their partnership. That arrangement allowed for a great deal of benefits reciprocity between the programs.
Details of the changes to the American Airlines relationship with Alaska Airlines
Starting on January 1, 2018, major changes to the American Airlines relationship with Alaska Airlines will occur. Members of the American Airlines AAdvantage program who are flying on an Alaska Airlines operated flight no longer automatically earn miles. Now travelers will only earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs), and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) when the flight is marketed by American Airlines.
Most other benefits of the former relationship will be discontinued. Those include allowing members to have elite reciprocity for many privileges. Those include benefits such as priority boarding and check-in, express security lines, preferred seating, and free checked baggage.
This marks a continued separation between Alaska Airlines and the other major airline programs where reciprocal privileges were once enjoyed. As the merger of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America was finalized, relationships have shifted. Alaska ended their partnership with Delta Air Lines earlier this year. The two airlines continue to fight for domination of their respective hubs in Seattle. The end of the American Airlines relationship leaves travelers to the Pacific Northwest with fewer options within their own current alliances.
Alaska Airlines has announced similar changes to their program to reflect how their members can utilize benefits on American Airlines.
How this might affect you
A number of American Airlines travelers switched their loyalty to Alaska Airlines after the major changes to the AAdvantage program were announced (and subsequently took place in 2017). Those travelers felt that the Alaska Airlines program offered them better opportunities to enjoy elite status benefits. That accrual pattern might no longer be optimal, particularly for heavy American Airlines travelers.
For travelers who travel frequently to the Pacific Northwest, this narrows options considerably. In my case, my firm is headquartered in Seattle. Due to my visits there, I frequently take flights that originate or terminate there. Many of those are not part of an American Airlines codeshare relationship. In the future, I could participate in the Alaska Airlines mileage program to credit those flights. Since I fly Delta frequently as well, however, I am more likely to seek out their flights from Seattle instead.
Those who do not have a secondary loyalty to another carrier might consider joining the Alaska Airlines program. (They are currently offering 5,000 miles for new account sign ups which could be an incentive to start now!) This will result in split mileage accrual for many travelers. Alaska does have a number of low mileage redemption options available on its award chart though.
For more details about the program, including current and future earning rates, visit the Alaska Airlines page on the AAdvantage program website.
What might happen next?
One change to watch for may be the relationship between American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Alaska Airlines Board Rooms. Right now members of both club programs enjoy reciprocal access to respective club locations. No changes to lounge privileges have been announced. It would be reasonable, however, to expect that this benefit might be devalued in the future.
We’ve also already seen some quiet but subtle signals that the relationship between the two carriers was weakening. One quiet change, for example, is that American Airlines won’t allow flights to/from Dallas Love Field to accrue mileage as of July 8, 2017. The battle over Love Field versus Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is a long and turbulent one for American Airlines. The expansion of Alaska’s presence at Love Field (Virgin America’s local home) was evidently not well-received by American. American has largely ignored Love Field in the past, using it infrequently only to make strategic plays in attempts to weaken competitors.
As the year ends, it will be important for travelers to pay attention to Alaska Airlines bookings. Flyers will need to decide how they want to approach flight routes affected by this change. The American Airlines relationship with Alaska Airlines has been a nice program enhancement for many years. But these changes will no doubt shape changes in travel patterns for many travelers.