One Restriction That Will Be Placed On Elites When Alaska Joins oneworld

Worldwide elite frequent flyers usually get airport lounge access. U.S. airline frequent flyers generally have to pay for lounge access, at least when traveling domestically. This is ironic because in Asia and often in Europe the lounges are better.

This dates back to the Civil Rights era, before formal elite programs. The government told U.S. airlines they could either let everyone into their lounges or let everyone buy memberships. They couldn’t have an invite-only program out of fear the subjective criteria for admittance would be discriminatory. And once there was a revenue stream attached to the lounges, we’d reached a different equilibrium where airlines weren’t willing to give that up.

However if you are a oneworld sapphire member – think British Airways Silver – you get lounge access domestically within the U.S. even though American Airlines frequent flyers don’t. (The same holds true for Turkish Airlines Star Alliance Gold elites flying on United within the U.S., accessing United lounges, while United’s own frequent flyers cannot do so.)

In fact oneworld sapphires, which is the mid-tier elite level, get American’s Flagship lounge (international business class lounge) access on U.S. domestic itineraries. American gets a carve-out in oneworld rules so they do not have to offer this to their own members.

American Airlines Airlines AAdvantage members, regardless of their tier status or class of travel, are not eligble for lounge access when travelling solely on North American flights within or between the U.S, Canada, Mexico (except Mexico City), the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Carribean.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK

Alaska Airlines will get the same carve out as American when they join oneworld, so that their elites will not get lounge access on domestic trips. (Alaska does offer their elites access to their own lounges when flying paid or award domestic first class.)

If the carve out wasn’t extended to apply to Alaska, then Alaska’s mid-tier elites (MVP Gold) who will presumably become oneworld sapphire members would get:

  • Alaska Club access without a membership, and those clubs are already crowded
  • American Airlines flagship lounge access (as well as Admirals Club access) on domestic itineraries

The American Airlines Flagship lounge at LAX especially would be overwhelmed.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX

Meanwhile it wouldn’t surprise me to see Alaska no longer willing to status match American Airlines elite members so if you want to match to Alaska you may need to do it soon.

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. i mean the lounges are pretty crowded already. imagine how crowded it would be if they gave lounge access to EVERY elite? the US is the busiest country for air travel, so there are more elites flying here than say hong kong or singapore. There aren’t enough lounges for everyone to be able to waltz in.

  2. Given that they are both US airlines which operate out of so many of the same airports (no such similar situation exists elsewhere within OW), I wonder if they will carve out a mutual exclusion where they also bar each other’s elites from lounges on domestic flights. If not, Alaska status becomes hugely valuable given the number of airports with AA lounges.

  3. Gary, as you have so often mentioned, perhaps the only primarily reason to have any lounge membership is for those knowledgeable agents to help out in case of irregular problems. Otherwise the purpose of overpaying to sit in a “preferred” space is ridiculous which the exception of accessing the showers. Even then, most domestic lounges don’t offer showers (the only one I’ve seen so far is in LGA; even HNL doesn’t have a shower lounge). Priority pass restaurants offer better food selection in airports that have them apart from the occasional banana or cookie I can take from the lounge before departure.

  4. I wonder what will happen with Alaska’s plans to open a lounge at SFO terminal 2, where AA already has a lounge?

  5. Do you think Citi Executive MasterCard holders, who have Admiral’s Club access, will be granted access to Alaska clubs?

  6. This unique distinction amongst US carriers is why I credit my flying to non-US carrier programs. For my current job, which involves a LOT of international travel, I negotiated a contract that says I fly paid F or C, so upgrades don’t matter to me. On the other hand, lounge access, which isn’t included on domestic trips (AS the notable exception), is important to me. I’ve thus aligned myself to Flying Blue, Miles and More*, and Executive Club. I’ve needed to explain the rules to some lounge gatekeepers (UA @ RDU, I’m looking at you), but it’s been a great sidestep overall.

    I will say that I’d thought I’d be flying LH metal a lot more than I do, so I might be figuring out a move from M&M to another *A program though, since I’m unlikely to qualify for HON Circle and I’ve found I prefer connecting in the US than flying intra-European C.

  7. @SST The AS SFO lounge is supposed to open this Fall. AA is moving to Terminal 1 along with the Admiral’s club.

  8. Yes, AA at SFO is moving to Terminal 1 on March 24th. AA clubs are too crowded, especially JFK & LAX. AS Club SEA was the same, waited for someone to get up & leave. Quiet Room isn’t quiet. These clubs are not what they used to be, not much refuge these days.

  9. So tell us “old great one ” where do we MM’er stand in all this ? We are lifetime Gold but

    Just curious if you have asked that question. Also if we are One World or whatever if we AS flyers got in to look for awards are we second fiddle when it comes to availability?

    Thanks Gary

  10. ‘They couldn’t have an invite-only program out of fear the subjective criteria for admittance would be discriminatory. ’

    What exactly is subjective or discriminatory about only giving access to frequent flyers?

  11. @Gary —> Just because I’m still working through my morning coffee and not quite awake, let me see if I have this right…especially since I have spent years trying to *avoid* flying AA.

    Regardless of my AS status, I won’t be able to access any AA lounges if I’m only flying a domestic/North American itinerary on AA. (This leaves aside the question of why I would *want* to fly AA on a strictly domestic itinerary, but I digress…) However, as an AS MVP Gold and Lounge member, I can access AS lounges (in the relatively few places they exist).

    If MVP Gold translates to oneworld sapphire, am I able to access oneworld lounges in North America if a non-AA lounge exists? Or, is having any sort of lounge membership largely irrelevant anymore in the world of Priority Pass, crowds, and ….?

  12. @Jason Brandt Lewis – As an Alaska lounge member you’d be able to access AA lounges, just not based on your status alone when flying domestically. There are a limited number of non-AA oneworld lounges in North America and they too have a carveout that generally excludes American elites flying domestically and I’d expect that carveout to extend to Alaska elites. (This is in contrast to Star Alliance where United Golds can access Turkish, Lufthansa etc lounges in the U.S. on domestic itineraries)

  13. @GaryLeff @ JimM I have Citicard Exec MasterCard with Admiral’s Club access and I am platinum elite on AA. I just flew last week and was in Anchorage at the Alaska lounge. The attendant said I was not able to enter into the Alaska lounge just by having the citicard. She said I would have had to have the actual AA Admiral’s Club physical card that shows my status. I showed her the Citicard and she would not honor my access and repeated that I had to have the physical card showing my elite status. I beg to differ.

  14. @Julie O – if you are a primary cardholder (not an authorized user) then you were entitled to access and incorrectly turned away

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