Alaska objectively has the best frequent flyer program of any US airline. They are the only US airline to award miles based on distance flown rather than how much you paid, offer awards at bargain prices, and have an incredible range of airline partners. Unfortunately, earning miles on an important Alaska partner just got a lot harder.
I’m sure most of you remember that Alaska used to partner with both American and Delta. The latter partnership ended after the relationship between AS and DL soured, with Delta setting up a hub on Alaska’s home turf in Seattle (which itself grew out of ). However, the American partnership was just as healthy as ever, despite the FAA’s attempt to put some distance between the two carriers (by preventing them from codesharing on certain routes) in the wake of the closing of the Virgin America merger. However, it certainly seemed like a possibility that American and Alaska might weaken their partnership or end it all together in the future, as Alaska becomes a “big kid” airline and doesn’t need such a strong domestic partner.
Unfortunately, Alaska and American announced sweeping changes to their frequent flyer relationship effective January 1 of next year, none of which are for the better. These include:
- Alaska Mileage Plan members won’t be able to earn miles for domestic flights on American that aren’t sold by Alaska, and American AAdvantage members won’t be able to earn miles for domestic flights on Alaska that aren’t marketed by American, meaning you have to buy your flights on the website of the airline you intend to credit the mile to. Not all domestic flights of one airline are marketed by the other, so this does cut down on the number of flights you can earn miles on. Fortunately, international flights operated by American (or Alaska, though they only have a few international flights) are not effected by the changes, so you can buy these flights wherever you want.
- Elites will no longer get special benefits when flying the other airline (currently, elites get free priority boarding, checked bags, and extra legroom seating when ). Starting January 1, these benefits will be going away entirely (well, it was great while it lasted), which pretty much stinks. You’ll just be treated like a normal passenger, which is a massive step down from what is currently offered.
- Alaska is devaluing its award chart on American: This isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. Economy class award prices are only growing very slightly (an increase of 2,500 miles no matter what region you’re flying to as far as I can tell), and American is terrible about releasing saver premium cabin award space (it’s almost always easier to book awards on Alaska’s other partners, which generally release more space), so you’re essentially paying more in theory for something that was not usually available in practice. It’s almost always a better deal to book an award on one of Alaska’s great airline partners, where the award rates are still quite cheap.
These changes are definitely not for the better, but they don’t change how I view Alaska Mileage Plan. While these changes make it harder to earn miles (especially for those without easy access to Alaska’s west coast-focused route network who use American to earn Alaska miles because they can’t fly Alaska conveniently), make the experience for elite flyers a little less pleasant (priority boarding and extra legroom seating are pretty nice!), and generally weaken the Alaska/American partnership, Alaska is still a great airline with an incredible mileage program. American, on the other hand…