Questions and Answers About Alaska Airlines' Acquisition of Virgin America
This morning, the deal became official: After eight months of finalizing approval, Alaska Airlines has formally tied the corporate knot with Virgin America. This is a merger that some are dreading, while many others are excited about the possibilities of the combined carrier. There's still plenty of speculation about what this means for the future of both airlines, so let's take a look at what today's news means.
Question: I'm team #NeverMerger. Does this mean the battle is over?
Answer: Yes, the deal has passed all the regulatory hurdles and has been legally formalized. There's no turning back.
Q: Is the Virgin America brand going away?
A: Let's turn to Alaska's official statement from this morning's announcement: "No decisions regarding the Virgin America brand have been made. Alaska plans to continue to operate the Virgin America fleet with its current name and product for a period of time while it conducts extensive customer research to understand what fliers value the most. Virgin America will continue to fly under its brand with no immediate changes to the onboard product or experience."
Back in June, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden floated the idea that both carrier brands could be maintained post-merger, creating a two-brand airline group. For the time being, that's how the two brands are going to operate; each will continue as before.
Q: Where do I book my tickets now?
A: Through Sunday, the same as before. Starting Monday December 19, you'll be able to purchase Virgin America tickets on Alaska's website. No phase-out of the Virgin America website has been announced.
Q: What does the merger mean for my Virgin America Elevate points?
A: Nothing for now, but beginning January 9, 2017 "Virgin America Elevate members will be invited by Alaska Airlines to activate new Mileage Plan accounts." The announcement doesn't clarify if the Elevate program will be phased out then, or if the airline will proceed similar to Starwood and Marriott's merger and allow both accounts to continue to exist.
Q: What's the transfer ratio going to be from Virgin America's Elevate points to Alaska's Mileage Plan miles?
A: No transfer ratio has been announced.
Q: How will I earn points/miles on upcoming flights?
A: "Starting Monday, December 19, Mileage Plan members will be able to earn miles on Virgin America flights, and Virgin America Elevate members will be able to earn points on Alaska Airlines flights." It seems that you'll earn Virgin America Elevate points on Alaska Airlines flights as if you were flying on a Virgin America flight — and vice versa.
Q: When will the airlines offer reciprocal elite benefits?
A: Effective Monday December 19, "elite members will receive priority check-in and priority boarding on each other's flights." Strangely, no other elite benefits are referenced. So, it's TBA regarding upgrades, checked bag fees, preferred seating, standby priority, partner benefits (i.e., if Virgin America Gold elites get checked bags and preferred seating on American Airlines) and other perks.
Q: I'm a Virgin America Gold elite. Will I earn MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K status?
A: The airline hasn't announced how status will transfer from Virgin America to Alaska Airlines.
Q: How many destinations will the combined airline serve?
A: 118 destinations throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and a daily Los Angeles (LAX) to Havana (HAV) flight launching in January. In addition, the combined airline's partners will provide access to "more than 800 destinations worldwide".
Q: How many daily flights will the combined airline fly?
Around 1,200 daily flights. This a fact that the airline is celebrating by giving away 1,200 free trips.
Q: How big is the combined airline?
Unlike American Airlines/US Airways, Delta/Northwest and United/Continental, the combined Alaska/Virgin America is still going to be a relatively small airline. The new Alaska Airlines will be the fifth-largest US-based airline behind American, Delta, United and Southwest. But, there's quite a gap between Alaska/Virgin and the top four carriers; American Airlines boards about 200 million US passengers a year, while Alaska and Virgin combine for about 40 million passengers a year.
Q: #AvGeek to me about the fleet
A: OK sure. The airlines will have a combined fleet of 286 aircraft with an average age of 8.1 years, which Alaska claims makes it "the youngest of the top five U.S. airlines." But Alaska's pilots are going to have to get some training before flying Virgin America planes (and vice versa), as the carrier maintains a Boeing 737-based fleet while Virgin America brings in a Airbus A320-based fleet.
We don't have an exact breakout of the 286 aircraft, but here's the breakout of the 283 aircraft we could find to combine:
- 10 Airbus A319s
- 53 Airbus A320-200s
- 16 Boeing 737-400s — including one cargo-only plane
- 13 Boeing 737-700s
- 61 Boeing 737-800s
- 65 Boeing 737-900s
- 52 Bombardier Q400s registered to Horizon Air
- 13 Embraer E175s registered to SkyWest
The two airlines are formally merged, and today's announcement addresses many of our questions. However, there are still plenty of important questions left unanswered — including when the Elevate program is going to be phased out, the transfer ratio from Elevate to MileagePlan and how elite benefits will be merged in 2017. Hopefully we'll get answers to these soon.