Alaska’s Mileage Plan Members Losing Delta, But Gaining Much More

Losing the ability to redeem miles on Delta flights is a small hit. Delta’s transatlantic award availability can be pretty decent especially during low season and on really lightly booked flights. Getting Delta domestic flights to pair up is tough, and of course you couldn’t book one-way awards on Delta for half the miles.

The real hit is no longer being able to credit Delta flights — especially cheap Delta domestic first class flights — to a Mileage Plan account. It was possible to fly a decent reliable domestic airline in Delta while still earning valuable miles instead of earning SkyMiles. That’s going away.

However Alaska Airlines has acquired Virgin America, becoming a major force on the West Coast, and they’ve already introduced reciprocal points-earning.

Alaska members can earn miles on Virgin America flights and vice versa. In addition, Alaska and Virgin elite members receive priority check-in and boarding on each others’ flights.

Reciprocal redemptions will launch January 9, and Virgin America elites will be status matched to Mileage Plan. Hopefully we’ll see Virgin America fully recognizing Alaska elite status at that point, as it makes no sense for Virgin America customers to be well-treated on Alaska flights but not to treat Alaska elites well on Virgin America flights.

Meanwhile, softening the blow further of losing Delta as a partner Alaska is promoting reduced pricing for domestic short haul redemptions.

They’re also promoting increased earning on partner airlines. And SkyTeam members other than Delta remain partners of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

Alaska’s Mileage Plan program remains the only major US frequent flyer program which awards miles for flights based on distance traveled.

Alaska believes their loyalty program, and their co-brand credit card deal, are key to making the Virgin America acquisition profitable. It’s notable then that the airline says they aren’t planning to go revenue-based with its frequent flyer program.

I’m always skeptical of such claims, but there’s a good chance that this merger will forestall any move to go revenue-based that would otherwise have been on the table. It’s unlikely we’d see a major upending of the program before 2019.

Alaska Airlines explained that the majority of frequent flyers would do worse under such a system. And airlines don’t usually like to gut their members’ benefits during a merger, preferring instead to portray only upside.

The only unique thing here is that Virgin America’s program is already revenue-based. There are many outstanding questions, such as the rate at which Elevate points will eventually be converted to Mileage Plan. Over the next year much of interest will develop.

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. Losing AS credit on DL is a big hit to my strategy – i take a lot of LGB-SLC or SNA-SLC cheap 1st class nonstops. The alternative is to now Amtrak down to SAN or up to LAX (with flyaway bus) for n/s to SLC on AS.

  2. My town has very few airline choices. Delta year round, Alaska and United only 5 months a year. I wonder if there will be more price competition now in the months Alaska flies here.

  3. A lot of Alaska “customers” were Delta/American flyers on the East Coast and in the Midwest. They are going to lose these folks.

  4. Alaska didn’t do reciprocity well with Delta, anyway (no, they really don’t honor your status), so this isn’t a big loss for me as Delta PM. I’d already sworn I would never fly Alaska again.

  5. How does this impact the use of Ultimate Rewards and British Airways – specifically for flights to Hawaii. I often would transfer UR to British Airways to fly from West Coast to Hawaii for 25,000 on either AA or AS.

    Now with AS including Virgin American as partner, along with the new distance based award chart, what are the best options for getting to Hawaii from the West Coast?

  6. do you have any advice for someone who has no status in either one world or alaska flying PE in Cathay?
    I keep going back and forth decided whether or not to credit to AA or Alaska, OR if I should dump both and do better with BA since then it would open the door to family earning (traveling with my husband.)

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