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Once the closest of partners, Alaska Airlines and Delta seem to be on the brink of all-out war in their fight to dominate the Seattle market, Alaska’s traditional homeland. The latest salvo comes from Alaska, which announced in March that it would launch flights between Seattle SEA and New York’s JFK in September and award double miles on the new route between September 16-October 28, 2015.

For its part, Delta has increased frequency on this route between its two hubs to four times daily, servicing them on both 757-200 (once daily) and 737-900ER (3x daily) aircraft. Unlike Delta’s other transcontinental routes—for which Delta Medallion elites must redeem global upgrades—this one is eligible for complimentary Medallion upgrades.

Alaska is launching its new SEA-JFK route in September.
Alaska is launching its new SEA-JFK route in September.

Previously, Alaska has flown two daily flights from Seattle to Newark (and that flight still exists), but this new route brings its number of daily flights to the NYC area up to three. A direct attack on partner Delta’s JFK service, this is also an important new development for an airline with several partners that use JFK as a hub rather than Seattle, making transatlantic connections easier for some passengers.

These partners include various Oneworld and non-alliance airlines, such as British Airways (who do fly to Seattle), Cathay Pacific and Emirates, as well as some of Delta’s own partners, like Air France/KLM.

Alaska Airline’s new route goes into service on September 16, 2015:

  • Flight 18 will depart Seattle to New York JFK at 9:35pm and arrive at 6am the following morning
  • Flight 7 will depart New York JFK to Seattle at 7:15am and arrive at 10:15am

Tickets for the route have been available for sale for a couple of weeks (some for as low as $149 each way):

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.12.51 PM

And using miles:

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.14.29 PM

Note that although the Delta non-stop from Seattle to JFK is available for an award redemption, it’s nowhere to be seen in the revenue ticket search.

The End is Near

Perhaps that’s not so surprising given how quickly the two airlines’ once-close relationship has soured as Delta has made more and more aggressive moves to muscle its way into Alaska’s Pacific Northwest hegemony.

This move is just the latest in a series of strategic jabs both airlines have made at one another in a continuing sparring match for Seattle’s airspace. Though Delta is the clear heavyweight in this fight, bantam Alaska has landed a few powerful punches of its own.

Alaska
Alaska’s double miles promo on the new route is just the latest punch thrown in this fight.

I won’t go through the entire saga in detail, but here are some past developments that have been significant to this developing story, many of which have been to the benefit of flyers for which these airlines are now competing.

Delta has made some strong moves, including offering double Medallion-qualifying miles to Seattle flyers, opening up a slew of new routes, and offering targeted Delta Amex offers with higher bonuses and statement credits to Seattle residents. Finally, in mid-March, Delta downgraded Alaska from a Group 1 partner on which you could earn both award and Medallion-qualifying miles to a Group 4 airline that earns just regular award miles but no elite miles.

For its part, Alaska has offered various promotions such as double miles for flights from Seattle to various destinations, as well as double elite miles to others; purchased and redeemed mileage discounts; and MVP status and double miles to flyers in Delta’s Salt Lake City hub.

My Thoughts

I don’t have a crystal ball, but in my opinion, the relationship between Delta and Alaska will only continue to deteriorate. I think that we’ll see Alaska align itself more closely to its Oneworld partners (e.g., American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas) and non-alliance partners like Emirates and Fiji Airways, and pull further away from Delta and its SkyTeam partners, such as Air France/KLM and Korean Air.

Ultimately, I think that while losing some partners will hurt Alaska and Delta customers alike, Seattle flyers can reap tremendous benefits from this competition—including new routes to both domestic and international destinations, as well as promotions that award double miles, elite-status bonuses, and even targeted credit card offers. My advice would be to maximize these promotions as much as possible and to play the airlines off one another as much as possible while this competition lasts, and to start thinking now (if you haven’t already) about whether Delta or Alaska will be your carrier of choice once the dust settles.

What are your thoughts on this new route and the greater Delta-Alaska competition? How are you taking advantage of it?

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