Alaska Airlines has made several announcements about their Mileage Plan program since they closed the deal on their merger with Virgin America (a San Francisco-based airline) last month. Here’s a recap of the announcements they’ve made, and what they mean for Alaskan fliers:
Partnership with Delta Air Lines Ending April 30, 2017
This is the big negative change that Alaska announced last month.
People have been predicting this since Delta expanded their Seattle operations several years ago and launched head-to-head competition on some of Alaska’s core west coast routes (including flights to Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau) and it’s finally happened: the last day of the partnership will be April 30, 2017.
After that, Alaska and Delta will stop selling seats on each other’s flights, and members of their respective mileage programs will no longer be able to earn or redeem miles on the other airline. (If you already had a Delta ticket booked before December 19th for travel after April 30th, you can still get Alaska miles for that flight, but if you have MVP status you won’t get any benefits.)
This means that, starting in May, if you want to earn miles on flights to the Lower 48, you’ll mostly be forced to fly Alaska (or the occasional American flight in the summer). Same thing for using your miles to get out of town.
Cheaper Mileage Tickets for Short Flights
For a few years now, Alaska has offered a mileage discount on intra-state flights, with prices starting at 7,500 miles each way. They’ve taken this a step further now, reducing the mileage required for many tickets under 2,100 miles — which means you should see some cheaper pricing for flights within Alaska, as well as to Seattle or Portland.
New Partnership with Virgin America
Now that Virgin America is owned by Alaska Air Group, you can earn and redeem miles on Virgin flights. Virgin doesn’t have any flights to Alaska, but if you find yourself traveling out of state, it provides another option for travel in the Lower 48 and Mexico. Virgin flights are now available for booking with cash or miles on alaskaair.com — mileage pricing is basically the same as Alaska flights, except that distance-based prices don’t apply to Virgin.
If you happen to have had a Virgin America Elevate account before December 5th, you should see a bonus of 10,000 Alaska miles hit your account sometime this week. Alaska is also allowing Virgin members to transfer their points to Alaska miles at a ratio of 1000 Virgin points : 1300 Alaska miles.
More Alaska MVPs and Golds
As part of the merger, Alaska is extending MVP and MVP Gold status to everyone who had Silver or Gold status with Virgin America last year. This means you may see more competition for upgrades, especially combined with Alaska’s reduction of First Class seating in favor of their new “Premium Class.”
First Class Upgrades on Mileage Tickets
Last month, Alaska also started allowing their elite members to get first class upgrades on mileage tickets. The most expensive refundable tickets can be upgraded at time of booking if space is available, and cheaper mileage tickets can be upgraded at the same time a paid ticket would be (one to five days before departure depending on status level and First Class availability).
This series of announcements is a bit of a mixed bag for Alaskans.
The end of the Delta partnership is unfortunate and reduces our options for travel, but the writing has been on the wall for a long time — and they’ve done the right thing by providing four-plus months’ notice and honoring mileage for tickets booked before the announcement.
The Virgin America merger opens up new possibilities for award redemption, and gives Alaska a much stronger position to compete against the big four airlines — but there doesn’t seem to be much direct benefit for Alaskans in the near future. (Maybe we’ll finally see direct flights to San Francisco that last more than one season?).
The reduced-price mileage awards could be a big win for Alaskan travelers though, depending on how many seats Alaska makes available at the cheapest prices.
For more details on less significant program changes and the Virgin America merger, check out a more detailed post I wrote at Travel with Grant and the official Alaska-Virgin merger website at differentworks.com.