It’s official: Alaska Airlines is invited to be the next Oneworld alliance member

Jul 23, 2020

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Alaska Airlines has publicly shared its plans to join Oneworld for months, but a crucial step has been missing: an official invitation to the frequent flyer alliance.

Now, with that invitation in hand, the Seattle- based carrier is officially a “Oneworld member-elect” and on its way to becoming the alliance’s 14th member airline. That could happen as soon as the end of the year, if Alaska CEO Brad Tilden gets his way.

“The first thing we have to do is learn the Oneworld fight song,” Alaska senior vice president of finance, alliances and treasury Nathaniel Pieper jokingly told TPG about the carrier’s impending membership with the alliance, which counts American Airlines as one of its pillar members.

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Alaska Airlines’ intent to join Oneworld was announced in February. The invitation that was officially extended Thursday was a formality, but it heralds a new era for Alaska Airlines and its frequent flyers.

Oneworld membership will be boon for Alaska and its customers. For the airline, it can sell a global route map to lucrative corporate customers. This will allow it to better compete with Delta Air Lines, which maintains a hub in Alaska’s hometown of Seattle, and United Airlines which dominates San Francisco (SFO), where Alaska acquired a hub through its merger with Virgin America in 2016.

The alliance, which serves more than 1,000 airports globally, says the addition of Alaska will add 34 destinations in the western U.S. to Oneworld’s map.

For Alaska Mileage Plan frequent flyers, Oneworld membership will mean “full earn and burn, reciprocal access and everything” on other member airlines, including American, said Pieper. This includes access to the alliance’s more than 650 lounges globally for those who are eligible for entry.

Related: Alaska Airlines plans to join Oneworld, forms alliance with American
Alaska and American have forged a broader partnership ahead of Alaska’s membership in the alliance. However, joint Oneworld status will allow Alaska or American flyers full reciprocal benefits on each other’s flights — even those outside the airlines’ West Coast partnership that includes codesharing.

However, all of these alliance benefits depend on Alaska actually being in Oneworld. That process typically takes six to 12 months from the invitation, something that Pieper said the airline is “trying to do that on the short end.”

Pieper and his team have their work cut out for them. In addition to getting Alaska’s technology platforms to communicate seamlessly with those of Oneworld, the airline also has to sign bilateral agreements with all 13 other alliance members. And, because of the coronavirus pandemic, they have to do that virtually.

Related: Alaska Airlines accelerates Oneworld plans with aim to join by year end

“We are going to do this in record time,” Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney told TPG about Alaska’s integration into the alliance. He described Alaska as “an amazing brand” with “an amazing market presence” that will boost Oneworld’s presence in the U.S., especially along the West Coast.

One place where Alaska is in a strong position to support its future Oneworld partners is at Los Angeles (LAX). Already among the top U.S. domestic carriers at the airport, the airline plans to add eight new routes from the airport this fall and winter. The new routes include nonstop flights to Bozeman, Montana (BZN), Fresno (FAT) and Medford, Oregon (MFR).

Related: Alaska makes bigger play for Los Angeles with 8 new routes from LAX

Alaska is not entirely giving up on its former polyamorous approach to partnerships, however. For years it espoused what it called the “Swiss strategy,” eschewing a single alliance in favor of multiple bilateral tie-ups. Part of that included forging relationships with six current Oneworld members — American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas — but also with unaligned airlines like Emirates and Icelandair.

“We’re going to retain those that deliver network uniqueness and quality to us,” Pieper said. However, where a Oneworld member can provide comparable connectivity, that alliance member will be preferred over a non-alliance partner, he added.

In addition to Alaska’s six Oneworld partners, other alliance members include: Iberia, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc — which just joined in April — Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and SriLankan Airlines. Fiji Airways is a Oneworld Connect member, giving it limited benefits in the group.

Related: Royal Air Maroc is officially Oneworld’s newest member

Featured by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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