Alaska Airlines Was Shocked When Delta Partnership Unraveled

Delta and Alaska were once close partners. In fact, at one point it was expected that their partnership could grow to exclude American (which also partners with Alaska). Indeed, though Alaska Airlines is relatively pricey and the Department of Justice in no mood to approve more airline mergers, it’s certainly been contemplated that Delta could buy Alaska.

Instead Delta has built up a hub operation in Seattle — first for transpacific flights, and then feeding those flights with its own domestic route network rather than transferring passengers on its partner Alaska.

The two airlines have been competing brutally. Some think the idea was to force Alaska into a merger, or to beat down their financial performance to the point that a merger was less expensive. Though that may have been in some minds, I see it as Delta taking on a one-time (and still in name) partner.

Alaska has competed well. They’ve grown their schedule, including into cities traditionally served by Delta in order to compete rather than cooperate.

They’ve leveraged their mileage program and checked bag fee pain points. (They see their frequent flyer program as an advantage of Delta.)

They’re relied on their excellent flight operation that performs even better than Delta’s.

Sadly you can no longer earn full Alaska miles on discount Delta fares. Though you still earn full miles on discount Alaska fares!

The back and forth between the carriers even spawned this bad joke.

The airline’s CEO shares that Alaska Airlines was ‘shocked’ when their Delta partnership unraveled.

“At first we were just sort of shocked, you know, that the thing seemed to be unraveling,” Tilden said Thursday at a Puget Sound Business Journal Live event.

…“I would say we did flap around on that for awhile before we sort of came to peace with exactly what our mentality was, what our mindset about the competition was and how we were going to respond,” Tilden said.

The airline has stuck to the original plan it landed on: Control yourself, don’t try to control anyone else.

That would be great advice for Delta as it goes up against Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Speaking Alaska’s mileage plan, can someone explain why they have also de-valued mileage earnings for other carriers? Earnings we’re recently reduced to 50% on Emirates and British Airways. Not good news for Alaska fliers. I might end up switching now.

  2. Don’t waste time collecting delta or united miles. Don’t fly them unless they are the cheapest.

  3. Had a question- If you fly strictly on Alaska airlines, and you bank the points to Delta, would you earn full MQM’s on Delta?

    Thanks for the help.

  4. Follow up question- If you did bank to Delta, would you still qualify for upgrades being MVP 75K with Alaska?

    Thanks again

  5. I would think they would be a good merger partner with another airline, heck even AA for that matter. AA should push to get them into Oneworld, that would upset Delta I bet?

  6. The value of the AS FF program is that it offers redemptions and mileage accumulations outside any single alliance. As for “devaluing” the mileage earned on other carriers, this is always a decision made by those carriers and not by the program you’re putting your miles into. AS has little say on what BA or any other partner wants to deposit, since it’s the partner you fly that buys the miles in the program you’re depositing them into. If the partner wants to reduce the cost of buying those miles, then it reduces how much you earn within the parameters of the given program.

    I like the idea of a small feisty regional carrier — regional in the geographic sense, but not in the “feeder” definition generally used by the majors — that gives you a real taste of that region when you fly it. Alaska and Horizon have always been my choice when flying in the NW…really enjoy the rotating offerings of craft beers or boutique wines from the region. Being based in the east, just wish I had more flying to do out west.

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